Slow and gentle touch treatment recommended for chronic pain conditions

Softly releasing the fascia of the abdomen, which also affects the psoas and vascular system of the hips. Note the gentle pressure using the whole hand and not isolated pressure.

Reading a social media post about body treatments and chronic pain prompted this blog post, simply because I think that many might need to know why certain soft tissue treatments (e.g. massage) are better than others for certain ailments and which ones should perhaps be considered in the case of chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. 

When choosing a body treatment, the therapist should be asked what techniques they use, and you could go as far as to ask them why they believe that technique is preferred over another, for example, deep vs superficial, fast vs slow. 

We should never underestimate the importance of the vast differences between techniques and the depth they reach within the body. It is often believed that deep is good, pain is sometimes beneficial, and redness indicates stimulation  – which can all have good and bad after-effects, depending on the situation. 

What I do know now, through following research done by the Fascia Research Society, is that slow and steady is best for chronic pain, soft and gentle is best for traumatised bodies, and combining the two brings the best results for someone who suffers constantly from flare-ups and pain cycles.  

I believe the aim should always be to avoid re-traumatising the body, and have it start looking for the feel good times rather than shutting down to keep the pain away. When you’re noticing the positive response to a treatment, it leads to the feeling of being more alive rather than just managing pain and surviving. 

The reason slow and soft is best for chronic pain conditions is that this touch has been shown to affect the limbic system positively (this system is considered the seat of emotion in the human brain). It brings about positive emotional responses, which lead to feelings of safety and relaxation. 

This sort of touch reduces avoidance and stress biomarkers through deactivating the systems related to stress (cortisol production, heart rate spikes, etc.)  It has a direct influence on the neuroendocrine signals, which includes activation of your endogenous opioids (your natural pain relief system) and stimulates oxytocin and dopamine pathways.  

Slow and light touch techniques affect the C fibres (a class of nerve fibre found in the somatic sensory system that accounts for the slow, lasting and spread out second pain) like no other touch method can. C-fibres like gentle, slow movement and research has shown (with fMRI imaging) that the speed and intensity of the type of touch will affect different parts of the brain and nerve fibres, which will in turn have different effects on the body (not all types of touch is beneficial for certain conditions). 

So, in closing, it’s not so much that I want to promote the techniques I use over those of others, but rather the idea of learning to use the correct techniques for the condition we’re battling with. Perhaps we can start by listening to the subtle messages the body sends rather than telling it what we think it needs?

Constant exposure to stress and tension without release can cause major damage and chronic illness.

Most of us encounter stress and trauma in our daily lives, and our world tends to bombard us with constant stimuli and events out of our control.

Whether this is low-grade continuous exposure or one-off intense situations, these stressful incidents cause our bodies to react by producing stress hormones (sometimes flooding the body) as well as physically storing these incidents in our bodies (and our fascia tightens in vulnerable areas).

If the tightening is not released, the fascia can thicken over time, causing lack of mobility or suppleness, and pain. If the stress hormone cycle is not controlled, it can lead to things such as adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, and many other chronic illnesses.

This can be counteracted by helping the body to “let go”, which can be done by manually stimulating the fascia and doing TRE® (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises).

Combining Fascia Release and neurogenic tremoring (as used in TRE®), I find, is proving to be very effective and I’m getting excellent feedback.

In fascia release, the therapist feels their way around your body to establish the source of pain or discomfort as well as releasing tightening, and it has to be remembered: the location of the pain is not always where the problem lies, it can be emanating from a completely different site altogether!

The process of release stimulates the tissue, encouraging it to release stored toxins and plump up as it rehydrates and begins to move fluidly again.

Allowing the body and nervous system to work together to release stress and built up tension through the neurogenic tremors works very well as the brain doesn’t have to retell a story, the body can let go of the stored trauma, tension or stress build-up and stop the stress hormone cycle from continuing unnecessarily.

Four to six sessions on a weekly basis to start with is recommended, and then a monthly maintenance or check in session if necessary.

Fascia release on scars

Don’t underestimate the damage surgery does – the tiniest of cuts still causes much damage under the surface, your fascia is adversely affected, which affects your whole body.

I was privileged to attend a three day Fascia and Trauma Release training session with Liza Kimble (Touch for TRE – recently, and what an eye-opener it was for me (as well as a body opener!).

The one aspect that we focussed on was scars, whether injury or surgery, and their impact on the body as a whole. 

I have a nasty appendicectomy scar, what should have been a straight, inch-long line turned into a twisted 3 inch one with much adhesion and twisting. I had the op when I was 16, the surgeon had not prescribed antibiotics and the wound turned septic – which we only realised on the tenth day when the stitches were removed. I woke up the following day with a bed full of blood and pus and the wound had split open.

I never gave this much thought after the fact, however, placing in a “past events” category and thinking my body had moved on.  The truth is, it hadn’t.  Liza showed me, once we had got to grips, literally, with this eyesore, how deep it ran, how much of my body it affected and what I could do to change it. 

While feeling around and tugging gently from all sides of the scar we found that it affected my fascial spiral, anterior and functional lines.  When she pulled on the bottom section of the scar, I could feel the tightness and tugging on my ribs on the opposite side.  The other end of scar, when pulled, affected as low down as my pubic tubercle and I could feel the tugging in my upper left thigh. 

Checking my legs, we found that the tightness in my fascial lines showed in one leg seeming shorter than the other, which I now realise has affected my ankles as well (many sprained and rolled ankles over the years).  

Apart from the physical release I received, I then tremored (TRE or neurogenic tremors) on the plinth for a while, with an incredible fascial release happening to my front line – I arched backward, with my whole chest and neck lifting and arching and my upper body lifting off the table and opening up.  This release brought so many resolutions to past events (but that’s another discussion). Physically, I felt my breath suddenly had more integrity on the in and well as out-breath.

She then set to work on it, releasing it bit by bit, and after a 15 minute (more or less) session, we could see some lifting and smoothness in the tissue underneath.  Just to pause here to point out an important aspect of fascia release – it doesn’t have to hurt! Apart from some pulling and pushing sensations, there was no discomfort or pain. 

My scar before treatment, straight after, and one day later (in sequence). 

The following day’s photograph revealed that there was a definite improvement – the whole scar had lifted and was much smoother, from underneath, where it’s important. My abdomen was quite achy for most of the day after the fascia release, but by the end of the afternoon the achiness had completely gone.  

I will now continue to work on loosening and smoothing the scar and connected fascia bit by bit, every two days, until I feel that I’ve have corrected most (or hopefully all) the damage.