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Whether due to its inherently gentle nature or its ability to correct an array of common childhood misalignments, myofascial release is an ideal technique to incorporate into pediatric bodywork.
Myofascial release originated in osteopathic medicine, but has since spread into the fields of physical therapy and massage therapy. Based on an understanding of the body’s connective tissue as a densely woven, three-dimensional covering that joins all of the body’s structures together, the fascia can be viewed as a continuous formation. In a healthy state, the fascia is relaxed and wavy with the ability to stretch and move without restriction. However, the fascia loses its flexibility with physical trauma, scarring or inflammation of localized tissue. Due to being tightened and thus restricted, fascial injury creates a source of tension to the rest of the body. By applying sustained pressure into myofascial restrictions, myofascial release has helped countless recipients find pain relief and restored range of motion.
In the 1991 Pediatric Myofascial Release Seminar Workbook, John F. Barnes, PT, describes progressively stretching the fascia until deeper layers of fascial restriction can be accessed. Barnes explains that releasing fascial restrictions is accomplished by stretching the fascia’s elastic and linking components to change its viscosity.
Myofascial Release for Children
When babies or older kids have chronic pain, illness or any noticeable dysfunction, advocates of myofascial release believe that fascial restriction may be a contributing factor. Effective myofascial release sessions have been reported for children with the following issues:
- Orthopedic problems
- Scoliosis or other postural anomalies
- Birthing injuries
- Head trauma
- Cerebral palsy
- Neurological conditions
- Movement disorders
- Chronic respiratory disease
This technique is especially valuable when working with the pediatric population, because fascial restrictions often result from the fetus’ position in utero and are present at birth. Most healthy children appear to outgrow fascial restriction causing deformities as they become increasingly mobile. However, fascial shortening may have a profound impact on movement and posture and could remain for life.
In general, myofascial release is well-suited for children because tissues are not manipulated forcefully. Instead, fascial restrictions are gently held at their barrier for as long as it takes to release. Barnes describes myofascial release in a step-by-step approach:
- With relaxed hands, slowly stretch out the elastic component of the fascia until you reach a barrier.
- Maintain sufficient pressure to hold the stretch at the barrier and wait a minimum of 90 to 120 seconds, usually longer.
- Do not try to force through the barrier.
- Prior to the release, you my perceive a heat buildup, a throbbing or fluttering sensation.
- As the restriction barrier recedes, the practitioner feels motion and softening under his or her hands.
- Continue the pressure as long as the motion persists.
- Be gentle.
- Do not try to force or aim the movement in any way.
- Merely engage the barrier, wait and go with it wherever it takes you.
Although there are a wide range of applications for myofascial release in children, below are three examples of when this modality is warranted:
- Sternocleidomastoid – Releasing a shortened sternocleidomastoid may relieve local discomfort and pain, improve the head’s posture, promote cervical spine mobility and support cranial bone growth. Restriction of the sternocleidomastoid can easily result from a twisted neck in utero.
- Diaphragm – Releasing the fascia surrounding the diaphragm can help ease difficult respiration and chronic hiccups while improving oxygenation of the blood supply. Tightening caused by a baby’s rotational twist in the birth canal could create diaphragmatic fascial restriction.
- Growing Pains – Typically occurring in kids between the ages of three and six, growing pains usually occur after strenuous activity in the lower legs at night. The cause is believed to be fascial strain due to rapid growth. By stretching and releasing restrictions in the sacrum and the lower extremities, the fascial tension can be effectively relieved.
A bodyworker merely needs training in myofascial release, an understanding of childhood fascial restrictions, a gentle touch and patience to apply this modality to the pediatric population. Whether working with an infant, pre-schooler or teenager, myofascial release has the potential to correct troubling body dynamics stemming from tightened, inflexible fascia.
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