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Myofascial Release

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by: Raymond H. Cralle

We all know that injuries induce the muscles to splint in order to support the area and protect it from further trauma.  Fibroblasts are stimulated to lay down more collagen fibers to prevent movement.  The inactivity of the splinted area causes the ground substance in the connective tissue to gel around the muscle fibers, which puts pressure on the capillaries, decreasing the oxygen supply to the muscle, and on the nerve endings, decreasing the efficiency of the neural signal.

This increases waste build up, and decreases the fluidity and grace of movement, which results in more immobility that exacerbates the situation and sets up a pain-spasm-pain cycle, keeping the muscle in a state of chronic tension. The cerebral cortex learns the limited movement and precise effort needed to maintain the splint.  This information is exchanged between the golgi tendon organ which then does not inhibit the alpha muscle fiber contraction until the correct amount of effort is achieved that maintains the tone set for the splinting activity.  Whatever tone is in the muscle spindle, the skeletal muscle around it will be in one synapse affair.  The anulospiral receptor signal comes into the spinal cord and synapses to the alpha motor neuron; for all practical purposes, they fire simultaneously since they are one synapse apart.  However, the antagonistic muscles fire to compensate for the tension in the splinted area in order to keep the overall structural complex in place and support the joints, as well as the respiratory and circulatory systems. On an emotional level, the trauma may be disassociated from the conscious centers in the cerebral cortex to the subconscious level.  Memories can get locked in the neuromuscular complex as a survival strategy and means to support the holding pattern to protect the body.  With respect to each trauma, the mind creates its own impressions or interpretations.  Negative fear thoughts can result in causing the body to respond by protecting itself with preparing for flight/fight.  Since the brain stem is only responsive to the “now,” if the cerebral cortex perceives danger, the body will respond in real time to danger, whether it is imagined or actual.  Emotions can tell the muscles to hold the body together so it doesn’t fall apart from the mental messages.  The basic muscle tone is kicked up a notch or two by the brain stem telling the gamma motor pathway to activate to constrict the muscle fibers in the muscle spindle cells which stretches the anuloreceptor fibers which fire, going directly to excite the alpha motor which constricts the muscle skeletal fibers to the same degree.  The golgi tendon organ does not inhibit the alpha motor because it is hooked into the brain stem which sets the tone for what is needed for this circumstance in order for the cerebral cortex to feel satisfied.  For instance, the neck muscles may be instructed to constrict until they hurt enough to indicate that the body is being held tightly together.  The cerebellum coordinates the whole scenario, which quickly becomes a sensory message and stays ahead of the cerebral cortex.  The brain stem responds at a reflex level and finds the best solution for what its going to take for this circumstance to allow the cerebral cortex to determine that satisfaction has been achieved.  The golgi tendon organ determines how much effort is being applied and how much is needed to achieve satisfaction, and knows when to inhibit the alpha motor once satisfaction is reached.

During myofascial release, the body moves into a “still point” where the new information is evaluated and integrated, accepting new beliefs or insights and responding accordingly in the musculature to open space and free movement.  The free movement in unwinding brings in fresh fluids and pushes toxic waste out, bathing the local area, especially free nerve endings, with fresh blood.  A sensory signal feeds a reassuring message to the sensory motor loop.  One of the motor responses is to cause the anulospiral receptor to drop its guard.  The brain stem is also receiving a supply of fresh blood and no warning signals are coming from the cerebral cortex.  Therefore, the pressure on the anulospiral sensors of the muscle fibers are being stretched which would usually cause them to excite the alpha motor nerve to fire and contract, but lengthen instead, which lengthens the alpha motor muscle fibers to the same degree.  The pain-spasm-pain cycle is interrupted on a most intimate level, beyond the physical structure.  The fascial voice of unwinding seeks balance and homeostasis among the entire being … emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

A study from the Department of Neurology, University of Vermont evaluated Mechanical signaling through connective tissue.

Myofascial release results from manipulation of soft tissues, transmitting a mechanical signal to connective tissue cells via mechanotransduction.  This may explain local and remote and long term effects in the body.

According to this study “many cell types such as fibroblast, endothelial cells, and sensory neurons form a mechanical link between extra cellular collagen matrix and intracellular cytoskeleton.  The mechanism of mechanical load detection is thought to be a mechanosensory complex composed of extra cellular matrixintegrin-cytoskeletal components linked to a kinase cascade.  The cell membrane displacement is transduced by an integrin to an intergrin binding protein such as talin and then to associated proteins such as viuculin, tension, paxillin, Sac and focal adhesive kinase.  In addition one or more of these proteins can undergo a conformation change in response to displacements and initiate a series of phosphorylation and binding reactions in the protein complex.  Therefore, the result of mechanical load determination of an intergrin molecule via extra cellular matrix attachment is activation of a signaling cascade leading to a wide range of cellular responses including changes in the actin cytoskeleton with formation of stress fibers”.

Different types of sensory receptors are stimulated directly as a result of matrix deformation generated by myofascial techniques.

“Group III muscle afferents are found in perimuscular fascia and the adventition of muscle blood vessels and respond to a variety of stimuli including pressure, stretch, and mechanical stimulation of the muscle surface which could occur as a result of mechanical connective tissue matrix deformation.”

In connective tissue, fibroblast and collagen matrix are the underlying milieu in which these regulating events take place.  This connective tissue milieu has the property of responding to mechanical signals such as those produced by myofascial release techniques.


Excerpt from Energy Medicine in Therapeutics and Human Performance

"Soft Tissue Memory" pp 268-269, Energy Medicine in Therapeutics and Human Performance, by James Oschman


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About Raymond Cralle

Raymond Crallé has been a practicing Physical Therapist for 39 years, most of that time in his own private practice. There is no physician ownership since Crallé was one of the original private practices in Florida founded by his mother Ruth Crallé in 1957. Read More

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