Fascial Unwinding: Tissue Memory (4)

A literature review from manual therapy books as well as scientific literatures was conducted to find possible explanations and theory on why and how unwinding occurs. This includes: tissue memory, fascia and myofascial release theory, neurobiological explanation, ideomotor action, and consciousness model.

Tissue memory

The metaphors used to explain fascial unwinding include: unwinding tangled telephone wires (Frymann, 1998) or unwinding twisted rubber bands (Brooksby, 2005). The most common explanation that can be found in manual therapy books is that tissues hold memory of trauma, and unwinding will allow the client’s body to move to self correction (Manheim and Lavett, 1989). Sills (2003) states that the motions are often expressions of frozen stress responses and unresolved trauma.

Upledger and Vredevoogd (1983) described it as follows:

“When an injuring force occurs, the tissue which receives the force changes. Perhaps it retains the energy of the impact. A level of increased kinetic activity or higher entropy is set up in the impaired area. The human body then either dissipates that energy and returns to normal; or the body somehow localizes the impact energy and walls it off.”

Upledger (1987) developed the concept of energy cyst as “a localized area of increased entropy, which the host’s body has walled off.” These energy cysts are areas in which kinetic energy is now stored as potential energy in the connective tissue matrix.

“Energy cysts are essentially considered to be regions of foreign energy that are disorganized and which do not allow the normal conduction of microelectric currents through these disorganized regions. The disorganized energies may be thought of as entropic. They usually seem to derive from non-physiologic sources, such as from external trauma, pathogenic organisms or severe emotional shocks, etc. The body appears to be unable to discharge these ‘foreign’ energies and as an alternative minimizes their effect by compressing them into the smallest possible volume.” (Upledger, 2000). Unwinding attempts to free these stored energy. (Upledger, 1987)

Another attempt to explain it incorporates a bit of physics terminology: “Unwinding is an exothermic process in which the kinetic energy originally imprinted in the tissue is released as heat” (Alexander, 1998). It is also added that when the unwinding is taking place, the client’s may re-experience thoughts and feelings that they had when the tissue was originally injured.

In bodywork literature it is generally accepted that fascia or connective tissues can hold memory and trauma (Upledger, 1987; Rosen and Brenner, 2003; Barnes, 2004; Paoletti, 2007). This tissue memory is believed to cause the unwinding phenomena. The idea of tissues can store memory independent of the nervous system is discussed in length by Chaitow (2003) and Oschman (2006).

There are various theories regarding memory for traumatic events maybe encoded differently from other events. The first is called state-dependent memory which comes from observation that memory in one state of consciousness cannot be recalled until the person returns to the same state. Another idea is suggested by Freud, who proposed that unwanted memories can be excluded from awareness, a process called repression. Anderson et al. (2004) showed that a biological mechanism exists in the human brain to block unwanted memories. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging Anderson et al. (2004) identified the neural systems involved in keeping unwanted memories out of awareness. Depue et al. (2007) showed further evidence including neural mechanisms. This idea also means that the neurobiological mechanism can be recruited to control memory retrieval as well.

Barnes (1990, 2000) suggested position-dependent memory, learning, and behavior. Trauma or memory can be state or position dependent and can be retrieved when the client is in a particular state or position. Unwinding is said to assist in bringing the repressed memory to a conscious level, allowing clients to re-experience it and let go.

Although a specific touch or body positioning can trigger specific memory associated with it, yet it cannot be proven that that particular memory is stored in those tissues or cells. Scientific evidences regard this as “triggers” for a memory, while the memory is still “stored” within the central nervous system.

  1. Introduction
  2. Origins & Concepts
  3. Techniques
  4. Tissue Memory
  5. Myofascial Release Theory
  6. Neurobiological Fascial Theory
  7. Ideomotor Action
  8. Consciousness Model
  9. A New Model
  10. Therapeutic Benefits
  11. Discussion & Conclusions
  12. References