Now that you know about the properties of different types of connective tissue, how they function, and where they are found, you might be wondering how massage can affect these variant tissues. Of course, if you’ve read my blog before you know that massage can be beneficial for your entire body, and if you read my last two posts, you know how vast of a network your connective tissue is. Those articles left a lot up in the air, though. For example, what is the anatomy of connective tissue, how important is it to the body, and how does it react to massage? This article will answer those questions!
Connective tissue is the largest, most widely distributed and varied type of tissue in the human body, and many of its variations can be aided by massage therapy.
When I was a teenager, I worked at KFC. At the end of the night, one of our responsibilities was to skin and de-bone the left over chicken for use in pot pies. If you’ve ever pulled the skin off of chicken, you may have noticed a thin, delicate, clear substance separating the skin from the meat. This is what your connective tissue – or fascia looks like.
Fascia is a type of areolar tissue, and is responsible for anchoring your skin to the bone and muscle underneath. Fascia has a thixotropic property – meaning that it can exist in a gel-like or a liquid-like state. For this reason, fascia is often compared to jello. When it’s cold, fascia is a jelly substance, but when it’s warm, it becomes liquid. You feel this change in the morning as the stiffness in your body leaves once you’ve used your muscles a little!
So, which state of fascia is the most desirable? Well really, it depends. When it’s gel-like, fascia can absorb shock produced by everyday wear and tear on the body, and it also holds the collagen fibers in place. Areas of the body that have become sedentary (such as with injury or old age) may become gel-like, because the area lacks the heat necessary to turn the fascia liquid.
Sometimes, the fascia can become too hard, causing restrictions. This can happen with an injury, sedentary life style, or just being still for long periods of time (such as a long car-ride or a good night’s sleep.)
Myofascial release (MFR) is a type of bodywork employed by massage therapists, physical therapists, and sometimes chiropractors. This modality takes advantage of the thixotropic property of fascia. Fascia surrounds every muscle fiber, every bundle of fibers, every package of bundles of fibers, and every muscle made up of these packages. When a muscle becomes tight, the fascia clings to it, almost as if for dear life (probably).
MFR is employed with no lotion or oil. The practitioner applies light pressure to dry skin and very slowly moves her hands over the skin. The light pressure and heat from the practitioner’s hands allows the fascia to become more liquid – thereby taking pressure off of the muscles it surrounds. This releasing of the fascia is called “creep.” So if your therapist tells you that “you have good creep,” she’s not calling you mean names.
Allowing the fascia to release can also have benefits for your posture, as tight fascia can cause restrictions in the muscles.
MFR can be especially beneficial for people who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, as it is believed that this elusive pain may originate in the fascia.
Although your tendons and ligaments are made of very tough connective tissue that can withstand high levels of stress, they are not immune to injury. Massage can help these structures to heal better!
Massage increases blood flow throughout the body. Although connective tissue does not have its own blood supply, it does receive nutrients from blood that flows through nearby structures. Improved blood flow will help to rush oxygen and other nutrients necessary for repair to an injured tendon or ligament.
Massage over the tendon or ligament itself can also help speed up the healing process. Cross-fiber friction (fast-paced friction applied transversely to fibers) helps to prevent scars from forming at the injury site. Scars in muscle or connective tissue can cause restricted movement. Scars must be prevented in the early stages of formation because once they have set in, it is impossible to get rid of them.
Massage for injuries should be avoided while the injury is still fresh. When the injury has started to heal, massage can be gently applied, and over time become more vigorous as scar tissue begins to set in.
In general, regular massage is beneficial for your connective tissue because, as mentioned, your connective tissue does not have its own blood supply. Instead, it relies on the blood flow of the surrounding tissues. Massage therapy increases blood flow to the tissues of the body, thereby supplying connective tissue with a better supply of blood. This means more nutrients and oxygen to the connective tissues.
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