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What is fascia and is 'myofascial release' the secret to better canine health?

The anatomy and function of fascia is a relatively new and evolving science. Due to studies that are being performed in the human and more recently, the animal world the significance of fascia is growing exponentially.

What is fascia? Fascia is the white connective tissue that can be seen surrounding everything inside the body, not just around muscles. Fascial tissue can be found in different thicknesses, from thin spider web like strands, to something that is dense and incredibly strong. Fascia whether it be thick or thin, superficial or deep inside the body, has different direct purposes such as forming muscle connections, facilitating neurological and vascular network, and supporting proprioception. What’s fascinating and very important about fascia is that it is all interconnected and connects the whole body.

Fascial connective tissue is shown to form functional connections throughout the body or otherwise known as myofascial connections; Myofascial - myo = muscle, fascial = fascia. It creates muscle to muscle activation which means joining muscles together to form a functional kinetic chain which is important for strong and stable movement. It connects movement of the body as a whole rather than a singular muscle unit.

Fascia is also thought to be a major factor concerning proprioception. Proprioception means awareness of the position and movement of the body as a whole, so for example your dog knows where their legs are so they can safely manoeuvre around and on obstacles. It also gives internal feedback on force and effort so your dog can safely jump over an obstacle.

Fascia as a tissue, has the ability to morph its cellular structure so it can respond physiologically to form more collagen over areas where there is added physical load. Fascia is totally interrelated with changes in posture and inhibited movement. When a dog compensates for an injury or changes their posture due to discomfort, their fascia will respond to this change in load and either become thicker and less mobile, due to overuse, or thinner from underuse.

These changes in posture and loading can be seen very clearly in the picture above. The dog’s back is roached due to a complexity of myofascial connections being compromised as a result of pain protection and to accommodate the unbalanced loading or compensation.

One of the load changing components within fascia’s physiology or cellular structure, is collagen. Collagen helps to maintain the integrity and strength within the myofascial connections, however collagen as a substance is not overly flexible. If the fascia has responded to load changes or compensation in the body resulting in more collagen forming over an area, that area will be strong, but with reduced health and flexibility. Therefore the dog in the example is less healthy partially due to restrictive movement because of myofascial dysfunction, compromising their natural functional movement*. Typically a dog with this level of myofascial dysfunction will find every day actions such as walking, eating and interacting very uncomfortable and could therefore choose to avoid some of these situations.

Galen Myotherapists use unique assessment tools to identify where fascia is potentially forming postural changes through compensation. These assessments are the key to understanding where to start a dog’s massage treatment. Through this knowledge they use specific myofascial release techniques to improve a dog’s mobility and minimise compensatory issues. Myofascial techniques are fundamentally massage techniques positively influencing the balance of the internal environment of the body being worked on, and over.

Massage benefits the body and movement through working manually on myofascial connections. Galen Myotherapists are skilled in interpreting tissue through their hands, as they receive direct feedback from the dog, and the integrity of the tissue or tissue health. They target muscle and surrounding soft tissue using different techniques that have specific effects on the underlying structures, such as squeezing, stretching and lifting. They also use different rhythms, pressures and depths, depending on the condition of the tissue being worked on. This enhances peripheral circulation and cellular metabolism promoting the healing of tissue, reducing inflammation, as well as rebalancing the tissue matrix (referring mainly to the physiology or in this case balance of collagen within areas of the body) facilitating flexibility and healthier movement.

The image below shows the dog before and after they had three Galen Myotherapy treatments. During treatment the Galen Myotherapist released the tissues, easing inflammation and tissue restriction, thus improving mobility, posture and the dog’s overall health. The postural differences in their back as well as their head and neck carriage are clear to see.

A picture is worth a thousand words! A dog demonstrating postural and myofascial dysfunction, before Galen Myotherapy (left) and after three treatments (right) with Galen Myotherapist Beate Bjørnhom from Norway.

In conclusion, fascia is a dynamic reactive tissue that has a massive bearing on physical health. The dynamic qualities of fascia have the ability to respond to load and stresses both positively and negatively. Galen Myotherapy incorporates a targeted approach identifying fascial changes through the interpretation of a dog’s posture. Understanding this allows us to facilitate myofascial release through targeted massage techniques to improve canine health. This methodology has proved to be successful for the thousands of dogs we have helped over the last 20 years.

*We are excited to share how fascia relates to functional movement in our next blog!


Further reading

‘How to Build a Puppy………into a Healthy Adult’ by Julia Robertson, for further explanation of the importance of understanding this with a new puppy.

All the information in this book is relevant for all dogs and most especially rehomed or rescued dogs.

Schleip R, Klingler W, Lehmann-Horn F. Active fascial contractility: Fascia may be able to contract in a smooth muscle-like manner and thereby influence musculoskeletal dynamics. Med Hypotheses. 2005;65(2):273-7. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2005.03.005. PMID: 15922099.

Zügel M, Maganaris CN, Wilke J, et al. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1497. Fascial tissue research in sports medicine: from molecules to tissue adaptation, injury and diagnostics: consensus statement

Bordoni B, Mahabadi N, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Fascia. 2022 Jul 18. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan–. PMID: 29630284.


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