To properly access the deeper layers of muscle tissue during a massage, it is imperative to work the fascia first. Fascia acts as a tough, elastic sheath of connective tissue, that encircles most structures of the human body. As a massage therapist, I am most concerned with the fascial sheath and how it acts as the top layer over the muscles. I rely on Myofascial Release techniques, whereby the fascial layer is opened through slow, broadening and lenghtening movements.
For some clients, there is an inordinate amount of tension within the fascial sheath; it may become restricted and tight from overuse (athletes), trauma (emotional tension held in the tissues from childhood and/or other), inactivity, and stress as a few of the more common factors contributing to this tension. Interestingly, to gain a more thorough release of the deeper muscle fibers, we need to gain an adequate release of the fascial layer!
Maintenance: Foam rollers are quite effective to maintain some elasticity in the fascial layer. They are found in multiple colors, indicating the density of the foam (white-least dense, blue- mid density, black- most dense) and now there are ribbed rollers, adding texture to the rolling. I will also use hard water bottles for rolling the hamstrings and low legs when a roller is not accessible.
There is also an electronic tool called “Jeanie Rub” and the variations on this theme, that utilize rapid vibration to unwind and lengthen the sheath.
Finally, a cupping set is quite helpful: have a friend/mate/sibling etc apply some oil to the area to be cupped, in effleurage style of massage. Then using the hand pump for plastic cups, pump 1-2 times to draw more tissue upward (more pumps, more tissue), and move the cup back and forth to release the fascial layer. This technique OFTEN leaves marking on the skin, as capillaries are burst and redness is shown on the skin so do NOT utilize this technique if you don't want the marking.
Once the fascial layer is opened sufficiently, then it is time to work the deeper muscle fibers. At this stage, I often incorporate movement to engage the stretch reflex to achieve a greater release. Virtually all deep work to this stage is done with hands, and perhaps forearm for slow, broadening work on the fascial layer.
If the client can handle the depth, we may begin to use an elbow now, particularly in regions such as the hip (gluts, external hip rotators), and upper legs. There are elements of trigger-point release that I utilize in deep work, particularly in the neck and upper back, yet if the client is accepting and likes the approach, then we will apply movement to the point-specific work. This is the foundation of Thai massage and many other modalities that are effective for athletes and generally people with ischemic problems in general. Often, we work with cross-fiber friction, C-clamp, and other elements of sports massage with deep work designed to shift the muscle memory away from ischemia and towards an improved blood and lymphatic circulatory process.
Maintenance: Therapeutic canes, such as the Body Back Buddy, are ideal for trigger-point release work. Again, it is best to roll out the fascial layer FIRST then proceed with deeper point-specific work with the cane. I work head to toe with this tool
Acu-massager: This is the only tool I have found that can apply the C-clamp technique for self maintenance.
Roll-Recovery- Great for legs, ideal for runners who can handle deep work
Arm-Aid- Great for arms, ideal for climbers who can handle deep work on forearms