Many types of massage therapy, including percussive massage, interact with the tissues of the body, producing beneficial results. They range from tension release and stress reduction to increased energy and muscle activation. Although massage has been around for thousands of years, we are now just understanding what these tissues can really do. And if we know what the tissue can do, we know how to get it to work for us.
The most responsive of the tissues that can be affected by massage is what we refer to as myofascia. Thomas Meyers referred to it more accurately as a “neuro-myofascial web” (Anatomy Trains 2001), which creates a more visual representation as to the body’s internal design and its role in human movement and function. It is important to know what fascia is and how it works, so we know how to influence it to work strategically for us.
I have found that through percussive therapy with my athletes and clients, I have been able to guide the fascia into greater assistance to help transfer force more efficiently and effectively. And it can be used to stimulate areas that may have adhesions or trigger points to increase proprioception and ultimately result in increased range of motion. I think of it as freeing the moth in the spider web so that the web can function as initially intended; everything moving and interacting holistically.
It is very important that we understand how everything is connected. Knowing the anatomical myofascial lines in our bodies gives us a clearer picture of how the fascia mitigates stress and force through the body depending on the direction and application of force.
Fascia forms a whole-body, continuous three-dimensional matrix of structural support around our organs, muscles, joints, bones and nerve fibers. This multidirectional, multidimensional fascial arrangement also allows us to move in multiple directions (Myers 2001; Huijing 2003; Stecco 2009). Internal and external forces are transmitted and dispersed within the body through the fascial network. Fascia prevents or minimizes stress and helps harness forces through its viscoelastic properties. This protects the integrity of the body while minimizing the amount of energy used during movement. And this is critical to us, since impacting human movement and heightened performance is what we (strength coaches) are all about!
Fascia has also been proven to self-heal after being torn. A 2011 study performed by Matias et al found that some people with ACL tears were able to return to full function without surgery and that the ACL healed completely. I recently worked with a woman on the USTA. She was 44 years old and tore her PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament). An MRI clearly showed the rupture. I started her on a standard PCL rehabilitation protocol, but added light, cross-friction percussive therapy on the surrounding muscles, especially the hamstring. The results were amazing. She was back playing tennis competitively only 6-weeks later and recent MRIs (years later) show complete re-attachment.
For athletes or others looking to improve or maximize function, understanding the fascial web allows us to integrate modalities like full-body movements and to utilize various types of massage therapies, including percussive.
The more we learn about our “web” of connective tissue, the more we can integrate it within our training, thus gaining further insight into human movement and performance. As stated before, using myofascial lines in our training and body work can give us a unique perspective on how to maximize our ability to mitigate force, save energy, build endurance, improve multi-joint mobility and strength, and promote self-healing.