The white, glistening fibers you see when you pull a piece of meat apart or when you pull chicken skin away is fascia.
Like the human body, your horse is composed of fascia, which is a three-dimensional connective tissue web that runs from head to tail. Fascia surrounds and infuses within every muscle, bone, organ, nerve, blood vessel, tendon, and ligament in the body. It surrounds every single cell in the body as it travels in one continuous web-like sheath from head to tail in the horse's body.
The white, glistening fibers you see when you pull a piece of meat apart or when you pull chicken skin away is fascia. This connective tissue web acts as a shock absorber in your horse's body. Throughout physical training programs or certain injuries, stress or trauma are too great for the horse's fascial system to handle and it becomes bound down, causing postural and gait deviations, loss of flexibility, and compression of pain sensitive structures in the body. When left untreated, fascial restrictions begin to tighten over time, pulling throughout the horse's body along this continuous web.
Fascial restriction has the capability of pulling 2,000 pounds per square inch of tension in one area. That is an enormous amount of tension to overcome and is the cause of many problems that limit the performance of the equine athlete, including poor collection, balance problems, lack of flexibility, lead change problems, behavioral issues, sore muscles, back pain, and tendon and ligament injuries. This is why Equine Myofascial Release is a whole body connective tissue approach that works very well with other alternative methods like chiropractic and acupuncture.
What is Myofascial Release?
Myofascial Release is a comprehensive, whole body, hands-on approach that restores the necessary slack in the connective tissue web to help eliminate lameness and enhance a horse's performance. Myofascial release uses sustained hands-on pressure into a fascial restriction for several minutes in one area. Therapists who are skilled in Myofascial Release have developed their proprioceptive senses to detect fascial restrictions throughout the horse's body with their hands. Myofascial restrictions cannot be found on any of the standard tests done today such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or EMGs; consequently, they often go undiagnosed.
Prior to treatment, a thorough evaluation is performed by the therapist. The therapist will asses posture as it will give visual cues as to where the fascial restrictions are located in the horse's system. The horse will be observed through various gaits in both directions and any deviation will be noted. Small circles on the lead line will help to asses the hindquarters. Other movement assessments will be noted such as belly sway to both sides, tracking up, spinal movement, and head and neck movement. The pelvis will also be evaluated in detail during the postural assessment, with the therapist looking for rotations, upslips, sheers, or inflare/outflare deviations. Flexibility is assessed through the limbs, trunk, and neck. Then a thorough head-to-tail hands-on assessment is performed, with the therapist looking for any areas of soft tissue that feel ropey, thickened, or like taught bands. These areas of fascial restriction are often tender to touch. The information gathered in the evaluation helps to determine where specific myofascial release techniques will be performed on the horse's body.
Myofascial Release treats the cause of the problem and not just the symptoms and this is what allows for the permanency of results that has been observed with Equine Myofascial Release.
How can Myofascial Release help tendons and ligaments?
Tendon and ligament injuries are common in the competitive equine world. Because of the limitations that fascial restrictions place on the contractile elements of muscle, muscle strength is inhibited by approximately one third of its normal strength in the presence of fascial restrictions. So fascial restrictions not only affect flexibility, but also limit a horse's inherent strength and stability. Muscles will fatigue more quickly because they will have to overcome the enormous tensile strength of a fascial restriction. Muscle and tendon strain is then likely to occur where there is fascial restriction.
Furthermore, the fascial system is composed of elastin and collagen fibers that are embedded in a gel-like matrix. This elastocollagenous complex is normally relaxed and wavy. Restricted fascia becomes like taught bands embedded in a solidified, dehydrated gel matrix. Restricted fascia loses its ability to glide and therefore affects the ability of tendons to glide smoothly at their junctions. So, tendon injuries can result from the inherent weakness and limited tendon glide caused by fascial restrictions. Whenever there is inherent weakness in a limb, the ligamentous structures are also commonly affected. Muscles stabilize a joint; when strength and muscle endurance are limited because of fascial restriction, there is less stability in the joints of the affected limb. When less stability is present, the ligaments become overstretched or lax. This situation easily leads to ligament sprain or rupture, particularly as the fascial system tightens over time or is left untreated.
The rigorous training programs that our horses engage in require a combination of flexibility, strength, balance, endurance, and coordination. Any or all of these components often are adversely affected when fascial restrictions are present, and it is safe to say that all horses have fascial restrictions to varying degrees.
Patrick A. McGraw can be contacted at Hands for Horses - Specializing in Myofascial Release for Horse and Rider, at 610-326-6406 or 267-738-7463.