Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST)
Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST) is therapist-assisted stretching practiced on a massage table by a certified FST provider. The goal of therapy is to increase the amount of pain-free movement, or range, available at each major joint in the body. Stabilization bands are sometimes used to isolate movement and stretch into specific bands of tissue. The therapy requires active participation from the client who is cued by the therapist to breathe and gently resist movements. A specific assisted-stretching technique called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is used to facilitate the quick release of neuromuscular tension while simultaneously increasing mind-body connection.
What is fascia?
An extension of skin, fascia is the most prevalent, thin, translucent, fluid-filled, web-like tissue that surrounds all of the cells and structures of your body. Fascia is a connective tissue that supports your bodily structure through a combination of tensile forces that hold you up right and give your body shape. Without fascia, you would collapse into a pile of muscle fibers, organs and bones onto the floor!
To better conceptualize the interconnectedness of muscle and fascia, consider a link of sausages: the outer plastic casing is comparable to fascia, both connecting and separating the sausage meat or muscle tissue inside. According to the Anatomy Trains model of fascia, created by world-renowned fascia expert, Tom Myers, there are 12 different fascial lines connecting over 600 individual muscles. For example, the pectoralis minor muscle is linked to the biceps brachii muscle through a specific line of fascia (called the Deep Front Arm Line) that can be followed all the way to its insertion at the thumb. Some scientists argue that we would be better to imagine the human body as consisting of 1 large muscle divided into 600 fascial pouches rather than as 600 separate muscles. When we view the body as 1 large muscle divided into 600 interconnected fascial pouches, it becomes easier to see that attempting to target and stretch one individual muscle at a time is out-dated, misguided, and ultimately impossible.
How is FST different?
While massage therapy can feel good and certainly has its place in tuning the nervous system into a state of rest-and-digest, or relaxation, it is not uncommon for clients receiving massage to remain completely passive for the duration of their treatment, and for any positive effects to last no more than a couple of hours. Without active movement and participation from the client, permanent structural change and learning new and sustainable ways of pain-free moving is nearly impossible. With the exception of cross-fiber friction massage applied to an already injured tissue (that will most certainly be a painful experience for the client), or deep myofascial contouring (another painful technique), massage is relatively ineffective in creating permanent structural change. Though massage feels great and temporarily relaxes our muscles, without proper home-care and lifestyle changes, when the stress returns to our lives, our tight muscles will return with it!
So how is FST different? A Fascial Stretch Therapy session differs from massage in many ways. Clients remain clothed in yoga/athletic attire. The therapist assesses for limitation in flexibility and mobility by gently moving the client into various positions/stretches that sometimes resemble simple yoga poses. Once a limitation has been identified, the client and therapist work together to find a stretch and hold it at the client's pain-free edge. Similar to a yoga class, the client is reminded to stay connected to their breath and will be cued to gently contract a muscle group with the inhale breath, while relaxing into a deeper stretch with the exhale. While one session is nearly always enough to increase joint mobility to some degree, weekly sessions may be recommended to sustain and/or improve upon mobility gains, in addition to daily homecare exercises.
Who can benefit?
While FST was originally created to address the flexibility and mobility limitations of professional athletes (specifically those in the NFL), nearly everyone can benefit. A Fascial Stretch Therapist will help to identify restrictions in your movement and to increase the range of motion available at each of the major joints in your body. FST is largely indicated for those seeking gains in joint mobility and muscle flexibility, and overall pain relief. Book your appointment with one of Calgary’s only Registered Massage Therapists also certified to provide Fascial Stretch Therapy, Breanne Hamper. All sessions with Breanne, including FST, are covered under extended health care insurance plans with massage benefits.
Written by Breanne Hamper, November 2019