Myofascial Release And The Frozen Chicken
I remember taking “Myofascial Release” courses in school and learning how we were affecting the fascia and the restrictions within it.
As time went on, I met several therapists that focused their entire practice on being fascial therapists. Then I started hearing about entire conferences based on fascial research. Then came the facebook threads, dear god, the facebook threads.
As new research developed and understanding changed it was hard to keep up with what was fact and what was fiction. Were all the techniques that I had learned in school no good anymore?
Then from one of those facebook threads I came across something new (well at least new to me), something that helped me understand things a little better. It turns out the techniques were still good, it was just that my understanding of how they worked had to change.
I stumbled upon Walt Fritz.
What Is The Deal With The Frozen Chicken?
Using analogy can be an effective means of teaching new concepts.
Since I started my Foundations in Myofascial Release Seminars in 2006, I have moved in a direction that makes my teaching style unique. Moving away from mysticism and toward plausible explanatory models has been the hallmark of the direction I’ve taken.
The term “disruptive innovator” came across my computer the other day, and I think I can relate to this concept. I read an article describing Southwest Airlines role in the industry and how Southwest was once was a disruptive innovator and has now become one of the “legacy” carriers.
That is pretty much how business often works; a newcomer makes some big waves and is seen as fresh and innovative, but over time this past innovator becomes conventional and less than cutting edge.
Businesses continually attempt to remake themselves to stay current then eventually market shares lessen to those who are bringing in fresh new concepts. This concept is not lost on the therapy community as well. As science and reason advance, previously innovative, groundbreaking therapeutic techniques and thoughts give way to a new generation of thought.
To me, myofascial release was always about connection; connection with the tissue in distress. For a few decades I believed that when I found tightness in the body I was finding fascial restriction, as that was what I was taught. But with a greater knowledge of science and anatomy, I am reasonably sure that what I am effecting is much more than just the fascia. I know now how the nervous system drives much of what we do with our hands.
Whether it is the nervous system/fascial system/muscular system/skeletal system creating pain matters little if the therapist has no way of connecting with the patient’s pain and dysfunction. Over the past ten years it has become more obvious as to what draws me toward a client’s pain while evaluating and treating. What I care about is a simple feedback loop that has simplified my approach. Whenever we touch our patient, we are looking for a sign of their pain or dysfunction. My most reliable sign is a very characteristic tightness, that can take a wide variety of forms. To help therapists learning my approach, I’ve come up with the following very simple analogy.
Imagine that you take a frozen chicken breast out of the freezer and set it on the counter to thaw. You return in an hour or so (I know…not supposed to do this, but this is only an analogy!) to check its status/see if it has thawed. As you touch the meat, allowing your fingers or hand to sink in a bit to check and see how things are progressing. You work your way through the outer, thawed layers, but encounter that central area that is still frozen. It feels quite different from the thawed part, as it is dense and stiff. This is what happens when I reach into the body.
This is what I describe as tissue in distress and is the starting point for intervention.
There are a lot of very effective modalities out there with some very fine teachers; I know, I have learned from many of them.
All have their manner of connecting you with dysfunction. I just think most modalities stress the elaborate process of learning and mastering more than they stress the feel of what should be taught.
If everyone told you how simple manual therapy really can be, there would be little market for all of these teachers and their modalities. Many of you have heard my take on myofascial release and manual therapy and know that I believe many of the explanatory models that are taught today to be complete rubbish.
Even more of you know how I have come to admire folks in various fields who are not afraid to poke holes in the great sacred cows of our therapy world. The ones I admire most are those who are not afraid to say something like “when I put my hands on a person and move in this way, they seem to get better”.
Admitting what one does NOT know is admirable, instead of using false facts and pseudoscience to weave a semi-believable tale of explanation. Since most of the science used to explain our work makes less sense than this statement, why not be honest and say the truth?
Tissue in distress is the term I use to describe how the body reacts to injury, trauma, or surgery.
I believe it is primarily a function of the nervous system, rather than blaming the fascia being the primary culprit. As ischemia or injury effects the nerves, it seems that a characteristic density or tightness envelops the area, creating pain or other dysfunction. This is the felt-sense that I seek out when evaluating and treating and this is the frozen chicken that I send my students in search of.
Once the therapist finds the frozen chicken, I ask them to narrow their focus on the chicken, snagging it, so that both they and their client are in connection with it. Then, the therapists ask for feedback from the client, determining if this tissue is part of the pain/problem. If the client affirms the sensation, the therapist stays in contact with the snagged frozen chicken until they note a change in tone of the area.
As the chicken thaws, so to speak, the normal effect is a lessening of the pain or dysfunction. The therapist continues to seek out the frozen chicken until the area feels clear and loose.
Simplistically, we are engaging the nerve and its surrounding tissue in distress and creating a sensory feedback to the brain, which in turn signals the affected area to change its tone, reducing tightness/pain. While not an explanation to satisfy a neuroscientist, it meets my needs while treating.
I have come to find that most of us have many areas of so-called frozen chicken, but it may have no bearing whatsoever on pain or dysfunction. Paul Ingraham explains this concept in one of my favorite articles of his, Palpatory Pareidolia.
In keeping with Paul’s piece and views, I am not really labeling the frozen chicken as, for instance, a fascial restriction/trigger point/muscle knot/subluxation/spasm/or pooled metabolites (I heard this from a patient; her therapist said she could feel metabolites pooled in the patient’s lower back!).
The more I have learned, the more I realize what I don’t know. I realize now that while I sounded to my patient’s/students like I knew more five years ago, I was just parroting nonsensical pseudoscience in a manner that sounded science-like. I am completely comfortable now not acting like I know the source of every problem in the body. By the way, my patients seem to appreciate this honesty.
By using the frozen chicken analogy, I in no manner mean to disrespect or bring humor to a patient’s condition, or to try to overly simplify the true problem.
It simply refers to the felt-sense that a therapist seeks out when evaluating for soft tissue dysfunction and seems to be an effective teaching tool, based on the feedback. It is the basis of my teaching approach in the Foundations in Myofascial Release Seminars. Try it yourself; can you find your client’s frozen chicken and make a change?
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Thankyou for your post Walt! So what is your opinion of John Barnes!” Myofascial Release?”
He us supposed to be the Grandfather of that one….love to hear your opinion. ..
Thanks for the feedback. I did quite a bit of my early training with Barnes and actually worked as one of his teaching assistant for 10 years, so I am quite familiar within his approach. The origins of MFR are a bit murky, with most sources agreeing the term was first coined by Robert Ward, DO, who first taught a class titled “myofascial release” at the University of Michigan in the 1970″s. (http://www.studentdoctor.net/blogs/omtguru/2006/12/about-myofascial-release.html). Barnes is certainly credited with making MFR well known over the past few decades. I have posted frequently on my own blog about being thankful for the gifts that Barnes taught, in terms of what I do with my hands, me as well as my need to move away from the new-age perspective from which he teaches MFR. What I believe I am doing under the skin is now vastly different than what I was taught. I believe MFR, and manual therapies in general, to be quite powerful and helpful, but just not for most of the reasons stated in most myofascial release CE training.