The horse’s body is interconnected by layers of fascia, a very thin but strong 3D web of connective tissue that envelops everything in layers, whole muscle groups down to each individual cell.
Myofascia refers to the fascia that wraps, connects and supports muscles. Every muscle has three layers of fascia; the endomysium, the perimysium and the epimysium.
The endomysium is a delicate network of connective tissue that surrounds individual muscle fibers and contains the vessels and nerves that supply the muscle fibers as well as the proteoglycan matrix for ion flux and metabolic exchange.
Perimysium is a continuous layer of collagenous connective tissue that separates the skeletal muscle tissue into muscle fascicles (bundles of muscle cells).
Epimysium is a sheath of fibrous elastic tissue that surrounds a muscle.
These three layers of myofascia merge at the ends of the muscle, align themselves in parallel form and become a tendon that then attaches the muscle to bone. The tendon embeds itself into the bone and then fans out, surrounding the entire bone to become the periosteum of the bone. The periosteum of the bone becomes another tendon that melds into another muscle with another tendon that attaches to another bone and so on until the fascia in your horse’s hooves are connected to the fascia in its head.
Fascia consists of cells and the extracellular matrix (ECM). The cells in the fascia produce, control and maintain all the complex ingredients of the ECM. Fibroblasts are the most common type of cell in Fascia. Fibroblasts produce the ECM’s ground substance (liquid/gel), structural proteins (fibrous strong, hollow collagen and thin, stretchy elastin) and adhesive proteins (laminin and fibronectin). Once a tissue injury has occurred, Fibroblasts proliferate in that area, providing a sticky matrix to seal the wound, which will eventually become scar tissue over time. Fibroblasts rely on a healthy ECM for movement to an area where they may be needed for stability and health.
The ground Substance of the ECM is primarily composed of water and large organic molecules that trap water and give the ground substance its liquid-gel-like texture. It flows in and around the cells and fibers, facilitating cell communication, dispersing shock, supporting the tissues, hydrating and lubricating fibers for glide, slide and pull movements. It plays an essential role in the immune system, allowing T cells, mast cells, macrophages, lymphocytes to move where they are needed as well as providing swelling pressure and regulating inflammation. Just like Jello, when cool ground substance is a jelly, and when warm, it becomes a liquid. This is called thixotropy. Changes in the density of ground substance can allow collagen fibers to form aberrant cross-links.
Individual structures within fascia should have some degree of freedom in its own compartment and from its neighbors. Lack of free movement between tissues (rather than a strain in a muscle or tendon) is often a cause of myofascial pain. Sufficient, healthy ECM facilitates smooth action between layers of fascia so it can slide across other tissues without restriction. Fascia can become adhered through chronic stress, overuse, inflammation, inactivity or injury. When this happens the ground substance in fascia becomes a harder gel increasing the friction between the layers of fascia and tissue. As fascia’s ability to move independently diminishes, muscles have to work harder, compensatory movement patterns develop along with asymmetric loading body parts and joints. If ground substance become too hard it begins to dry up and inhibit motion in the tissues, squeezing the structures it surrounds, creating pressure, malnourishment and pain, affecting entire chains of motion. Restrictions can be so firm that they trap toxins in the tissue, limit range of motion, inhibit circulation, distort muscle and nerve function and cause pain and associated behavioral issues.
Massage uses movements like kneading and stroking to stimulate circulation, supple and warm the tissues and take the ground substance from a gel to a liquid. In its liquid state it allows more movement and the exchange of nutrients and cellular wastes to occur more efficiently.
Massage with Myofascial Release is a whole body, hands-on approach to reducing fascial restrictions and balancing the body.
Benefits of massage with myofascial release include improved muscle function, improved joint alignment, mobilized fascia, improved circulation, stronger muscles, increased stride length, enhanced relaxation and improved overall performance.