Fascial Release:Craniosacral and Visceral Fascial Release

Fascial release is key to maintaining tissue health. Fascia is strong connective tissue. Fascia has three layers, starting with the superficial fascia directly under the skin and ending with subserous fascia, deep inside the body that envelopes the viscera or organs.

  • The superficial fascia may be mixed with varying amounts of fat, depending on where it is on the body. This lies directly under the skin and anchors the skin to the underlying layers.
  • Beneath the superficial fascia lies deep fascia, covering the muscles in connective tissue sheaths which help to keep the muscles divided and protected.
  • The subserous fascia lies beneath deep fascia and envelopes the major organs of the body. It is more flexible than deep fascia, and the body leaves for space around it so that the organs can move freely

Visceral manipulation and craniosacral therapy are two popular methods of fascial release that address the subserous fascia that envelopes the organs. Consider the following orthopedic dictum: any structure that crosses a joint has the ability to restrict that joint.  It is true for muscle and certainly holds true for organs. Research has determined that 90% of neuro-muscular-skeletal problems have a visceral component to them.  Hence lasting change is never possible as long as there is a fascial-visceral problem at the bottom of a neuro-muscular-skeletal problem and we don’t address it. The determination of the need for fascial therapies lies in the fact that every organ has physiologic motion. This occurs differently in the visceral and craniosacral system. A confluence of  visceral and craniosacral movement occurs in the brain. These motions are evaluated with reference to their symmetry (i.e. equal on both sides of the both), quality (i.e. weak and thready or strong and bounding or smooth or vibratory), amplitude (i.e. the range of motion of the movement of the organ in question) and rate (this weakens or slows down when the body is tired or ill). Naturally any variance from normal calls for intervention.

VISCERAL  physiological motion can be divided into two components: mobility and motility. Each organ has an inherent axis of motion. In healthy organs, mobility and motility have the same axes and when diseased these are at variance with one another. Interesting is the fact is that these axes of movements are exactly like those that occur during embryological development.

Mobility is the visible extrinsic movement of a structure in response to its environment.  This motion is in response either to actual physical movement like walking or to the motion of the diaphragm during breathing.  In treatment, we as the practitioner actively move the organ in order to realign and reset its moorings.

Motility is the innate intrinsic motion of a structure  and is of low frequency and low amplitude, generally invisible to the naked eye occurring independently of the causes of mobility. This is an involuntary motion and is governed by the autonomic nervous system.  In motility the organ exhibits an inherent subtle energetic rhythm. Of all the visceral techniques, tracking motility is the one that interacts most with the patient’s energy.Every cycle of motility has 2 phases: expir and inspir.  The frequency is 7-8 cycles/minute. Expir is the movement of an organ closer to the median axis and inspir is the movement of an organ away from it. In the case of organs located on the median axis, inspir moves them anteriorly while expir moves them posteriorly.

Visceral restrictions result in a decrease in the mobility and motility of organs. Any restriction, fixation or adhesion of an organ to another structure, no matter how small, implies functional impairment of the organ. Using visceral manipulation techniques, we are able to get motility and mobility back for each specific organ and by virtue of this reinstate the structural integrity of the entire body.

CRANIOSACRAL motion is the other physiological motion felt in the entire body in response to the craniosacral system’s rhythm and is felt like a pulse throughout the body. This motion is related to the fluctuation of the fluid pressure in the craniosacral system and is felt within the dural tube (the sleeve that holds the spinal cord) which in turn influences the tonus of the body tissues, from where it is picked up by the practitioner. This dural pulse of the craniosacral system is felt as a flexion and extension in the body. During the flexion phase the body rotates outward, away from midline and broadens. During the extension phase the body rotates inward, towards midline and narrows down.

Fascial immobility will always appear as an asymmetry or abnormal alteration in the craniosacral rhythm. While the asymmetry of motion will not indicate what the problem is, it will tell us where the problem is. Because body fascia is a single system, trained practitioners are able to palpate the motion of the craniosacral system anywhere on a patient’s body and can thus determine any restriction or dysfunction in the craniosacral system, no matter where hand contact is made. Impairments to this normal physiological motion within the body are called restrictions.The dissipation of a restriction is called a release which is palpable as a relaxation of the tissues. This obviously forms the basis of fascial release.

Ongoing body problems outside of the craniosacral system can be discovered there by a skilled practitioner. Many layers of fascia along with muscles attach to the skull and sacrum. Therefore muscles pulling upon these fascial layers can affect the craniosacral rhythm. Through the premise of fascial continuity, an injury or inflammation, adhesions (from trauma or surgery) and postural stress cause fascial contracture or edema also always affects the craniosacral rhythm. This only serves to emphasize the great importance of fascial release.