Myofascial release – it’s a bit of a buzz word in the horse world. But what is it, why is it so widely spoken about in the world of horses at the moment? This blog reveals how amazing this type of therapy can be, what it can do for your horse and how to learn some of the techniques.
To learn about this subject in more detail check out the online course and book: Massage for Horses.
What is Fascia?
Fascia, is the largest system in the horse’s body. This 3D web encapsulates the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and organs. It connects everything to everything else, surrounds every muscle, muscle fibre bundle, the internal organs and is between all these structures. It also provides the place through which nerves and blood vessels travel.
There are different types of fascia. Although made of the same basic components; collagen fibres, elastin fibres and retinacular fibres all in an extracellular matrix (fluid), it is the proportion and organisation of the components that mean fascia can be broadly divided into:
1. Loose Areolar Fascia
· Superficial fascia is made of loose and chaotic fibres and is underneath the skin connecting to the superficial muscles underneath. It is easiest to access with massage.
· Intermuscular fascia is the same make up as superficial fascia but it is located in between the muscles.
2. Epimysial Fascia, sometimes called myofascial or deep fascia, is the fascia surrounding muscles, muscle fibre bundles and individual muscle fibres and ultimately connects tendon to tendon. The fascial fibres are more densely packed and organised compared to the superficial and intermuscular fascia.
3. Visceral fascia surrounds the organs and is often named separately. For example, the fascial membrane surrounding the heart is called the pericardia, the fascia surrounding the lungs is called the pleura and the fascia surrounding the brain and spinal cord is the meninges.
Another important fact about fascia is that it is innervated (has lots of nerve endings), making it a sensory organ, and it is often said to hold emotions and feelings. Fascia needs to slide and glide and requires hydration (not only water but also good nutrition) and pressure points (such as ill-fitting tack) can cause dehydrated fascia. It also has a ‘memory’ and can return to shape once it has been stretched, plus it has a high proportion of proprioceptors assisting the horse’s awareness of where their body is in space.
To learn more about fascia, the different types and how to keep it healthy watch the on demand recorded webinar Understanding Muscles and Fascia
Fascia and Massage
Superficial fascia is the easiest to affect with massage, however due to the connections directly from the superficial fascia to the intermuscular fascia and intervisceral fascia, massage can affect the deeper structures too.
We go into a lot of detail about superficial fascia and the massage techniques you can do in the Horses Inside Out Online Massage Course. The third video in this course focuses more on the skin, its relationship with superficial fascia and the techniques that you can use to affect this fascia.
Assessing Skin Movement
Performing a skin scan (simply moving the skin over the structures underneath) is a great technique to assess your horse’s skin movement and gives you an indication of the mobility of the superficial fascia directly underneath.
To give you an idea of what a skin scan is try this exercise on yourself first:
Place your hand over your forearm
Feel like your hand sticks evenly to your skin
See how much you can move your skin up towards your elbow and down towards your wrist
Notice the affect varying the speed has on your own skin movement:
Move your skin quickly and you will feel like your skin stops short - these could be described as anchor points
Slow the movement down and you will get an entirely different feeling
Now you can try this technique on different areas of your horse and feel how much skin movement there is. You will find that the movement varies between horses, but there will be a pattern - every horse will have certain areas where there is more movement and certain areas where there is less movement.
Skin Scan Tips
When you place your hand on your horse imagine you are trying to glue your hand to the skin
Allow a moment of acclimatisation for your horse before slowly pushing the skin up and then pull it down.
Try moving the skin slowly side to side and then draw a complete circle.
Systematically perform this skin movement on every part of the horse’s body and compare how the amount and direction of movement varies in different parts.
The slower you go, the more movement you will feel.
Basic Myofascial Release Techniques
Taking the basic skin scan you can develop this technique from a means of assessment to a gentle and therapeutic tool. By simply moving the skin, you affect the fascia and muscles underneath. If during your skin scan you find any areas of tension, using skin movement is a nice way to release that tension.
There are a number of basic myofascial release techniques involving skin movement, these include:
Lateral Myofascial Release
Myofascial Torsion or Cross Hands Technique
As well as our online learning options of Understanding Muscles and Fascia and the Horses Inside Out Online Massage Course, we also run a two-day practical course at HIO HQ - Fascia Release Techniques. During this course we will look at the anatomy of different types of fascia, fascial connections, function, dysfunction and how to keep it healthy.