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Within the body there is a complex 3-D network of connective tissue called fascia that extends continuously from top to toe. This web of tissue surrounds, infuses and protects every other tissue and organ of the body. Fascia is a fibrous tissue that is extremely strong but is also very flexible. Healthy fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration, providing a cushioning of other tissues and structures, allowing us to move safely without restriction or pain.
Following all physical or emotional trauma, inflammation or prolonged poor posture the fascia scars and hardens in the affected area. This causes the fascial network to lose its cushioning mechanism and the internal structures can become pulled out of alignment as the fascia binds down. Where the fascia is `bound down' it compresses blood vessels and nerves, impeding circulation of blood and fluid and adversely affecting nerve conduction. There is tension on nearby structures and along lines of fascial pull. It is therefore possible for a person to report symptoms in one area of the body that may originate from another site.
The result of fascial restrictions are pain, imbalances and discomfort, and the body's healing capabilities are compromised.
Fascia which is restricted can be painful itself and can cause protective stiffening of surrounding fascia. Tissues and structures around an area of restriction cannot move without friction either. Over time continuous loading of that area through normal activities can lead to total restriction in which movement is impossible without extreme pain. This will not show up in orthodox medical tests such as x-rays or scans.
Fascial pain can take a long time to develop after the initial trauma has occurred and it can be quite difficult to pinpoint the centre of the pain. If left untreated wider and wider areas can become affected and the pain can become more generalised.
Treatment is designed to locate where the problem arises rather than where the symptoms emerge.
Myofascial release is the term used when referring to the various techniques for releasing restrictions in the fascial tissues.
The therapist will look at the body as a whole, taking into consideration what they see such as movements and postures as well as what they feel and sense from palpating and treating the body.
Each technique involves a gentle application of pressure that slowly allows the body's tissues to release down to the deepest levels, reorganise without force and let go of physical restrictions. It is a mild and gentle form of stretching that has a profound effect on the body, sometimes even incorporating an emotional release.
Even though the patient may not feel much happening the therapist can feel the fascial restrictions, where they go to and the release of these restrictions with the treatments.
Responses to treatment vary with each person and the area being worked on. You may feel warmth, coldness, sensations of movement, twitching, tingling, heaviness, relaxation of part or all of the body and even pain in the area of your symptoms.
Following treatment the effects can continue, in the day or two after the body may feel an increase in symptoms or other sensations as it adjusts to the internal changes that have occurred. It is a good idea to avoid strenuous activity for 24 hours or so and keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Occasionally during myofascial release the body can go into spontaneous movement as both the fascia and muscle release. This is known as `unwinding' as it is as if the body needs to move in a particular way to unwind restricted tissue. The therapist does not force the movement but allows it to occur, supporting the body where needed, working with it to obtain a full release.
Myofascial release can be beneficial in treating a wide range of symptoms when combined with other techniques as part of an integrated treatment programme. To restore full function muscle and joint techniques may also be used. Once movement is regained specific exercise programmes such as Pilates can help to strengthen and retrain muscles that have become weak through incorrect or under use. These types of exercise are also beneficial in re-educating the brain to recruit muscles properly.