Facial Stretch Therapy (FST): What Is It & Who Is It For?

Having been back to practice for several weeks, in the era of COVID, many patients are presenting with joint and tissue stiffness resulting from prolonged periods of stress. More often than not, having had to also manage working from home amidst unprecedented changes. For some, previously successful approaches to manual treatment are still effective. But for others, their bodies have reached a new realm of “stressed”. For these individuals, their nervous systems and tissues show signs of a lower threshold for tissue work and they need a more integrative approach.

Fascial Stretch Therapy® / FST® offers one such option. FST® is much more than simply stretching the body or attempting to target specific tissues. It is an integrative and nuanced means of restoring health and function.

But first, I like to keep things as clear and relatable as possible. So, let us unpack some of this and not get swept up in big words or fancy jargon.

What is Fascia?

This has become a buzz word in recent years with countless definitions. The challenge in defining it is that it is so extensive throughout our bodies that there is no discernible beginning or end. It is everywhere and comes into contact with all of our bones, joints, muscles, blood vessels and nerves. One way to think of it is to compare it to the membrane within an orange that houses each individual piece of juicy pulp. In a body that moves often and through enough different directions, Fascia remains well-hydrated and pliable. However, when we do not move often or in varied enough directions, Fascia’s health and make-up changes. It becomes dehydrated and begins to feel progressively stiffer. In a way, it can feel as though these areas of our body have suddenly become “shrink-wrapped”. Our ability to move freely is hindered and can begin to become painful.

Let’s Define “Stretch”

Experience has taught me that words matter! Unfortunately, many interpret the word “stretch” means ‘aggressive lengthening.’ When our efforts reach this intensity, we tend to also hold our breath. This actually signals a “fight or flight” response, resulting in a counter-productive tensioning of the tissues we are hoping to relax and lengthen. This is most often why stretching efforts are less productive than hoped.
Having spent more than eight years devoting my professional development to human flexibility and movement, I have found that for myself and countless others, a more effective and sustainable way of improving range of motion is to first explore gently “taking up the slack” in the tissues you want to stretch. And then practice teasing into that tension by way of taking large, slow, full breaths. This ensures we do not elicit the “fight or flight” response.

What is Fascial Stretch Therapy® or FST®?

Instead, I am going to frame and explain FST® differently that other forms of stretching. Remember tin can telephones, and how as long as there was tension on the string, you could hear what was being said? Well, with FST®, the therapist carefully creates tension through your tissues and into the joint. While maintaining that tension, they then gently and slowly explore your ranges of motion, without pushing into any painful positions. Because the tension is maintained, when they near the edge of your available range, they feel a subtle increase in tension that occurs before eliciting pain. This helps them to “map out” where they can and cannot move you.

By safely mapping out your available ranges and moving your joints through them, the therapist is able to help gently lubricate joint surfaces and improve circulation to soften joint structures and adjacent muscles. This is a very effective means of introducing more slack throughout the body, reducing joint and muscle tension.

Who is it for?

The short answer, as you might expect, is everyone. FST® acquired most of its traction within the fitness and sports world, serving as an incredibly effective means of facilitating performance development and recovery efforts. However, it is just as effective in helping the rest of us achieve improved mobility where we can develop and sustain better balance, flexibility, and strength. Our overused joints and muscles all work in the same way and Fascial Stretch Therapy® is a great way to create the space within your body to be able to live life on your own terms.

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