Three years ago, Donna Emery of rural Covington was violently assaulted in her home. Her assailant beat the psychologist, shot her in the head and left her to die, which Ms. Emery nearly did.
In the aftermath of the attack, her multiple disabilities included an immobilized torso and left arm, the consequence of lying on her dining room floor in a state of semi-consciousness for nearly 24 hours.
A battery of therapists tried to relieve the wheelchair-bound victim's paralysis using several regimens, including heat, massage, and ultrasound. Nothing worked. "They didn't have a clue what was wrong
with me," Ms. Emery says. "It felt as if I'd turned to stone."
Then a physician referred her to Frankie Burget, an occupational therapist who is one of the area's few highly trained specialists in a little-known therapy called myo-fascial release, or MFR. In a matter of weeks, Ms. Burget had restored full 180-degree motion to Ms. Emery's left
arm and -- for the first time in nearly a year -- the patient was turning her head without moving her entire trunk.
"I could feel the release as she worked on me," says Ms. Emery. "If it were not for MFR, I'm sure I'd still be in a wheelchair."
Myo-fascial release, which takes its name from the Greek word for muscle, plus fascia, the tough filmy-white connective tissue that sheaths and surrounds muscles, is an
old practice finding newfound popularity as a treatment for conditions as acute as Ms. Emery's and as chronic as fibromyalgia, the mysterious (possibly auto-immune) and painful neuro-muscular condition thought to
afflict millions of women, particularly those at menopause.
Ms. Burget has used MFR techniques to relieve conditions as various as cerebral palsy, stress, spinal cord injuries, sinus headache, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) -- even bowel disease and the injuries a
utility lineman suffered from electrical shock.
"The key is to allow the body to tell you, the therapist, what it needs," says Ms. Burget, who lives in Euless. "I follow the body. I do not force it."
Whether or not there's a close casual link between healthy fascia and general well-being is where MFR diverges from traditional medicine.
Current medical thinking does not discount fascia's structural importance. The American Medical Association's Encyclopedia of Medicine gives "fascia" a one-paragraph entry, defning it as fibrous connective
tissue that surrounds many structures of the body. One layer of the tissue, the encyclopedia says, envelops the entire body just beneath the skin. Other layers enclose muscles and soft organs.
Whereas traditional medicine views the tissue as essentially inert, MFR therapists have a different view. They say much human pain and suffering is traceable to flaws in the fascial system. They see the
tissue as an endless, three-dimensional ribbon, a sort of interior body stocking that provides shape, protection and structural integrity. Without fascia, a human would crumple into a lumpy bag of skin and
John Barnes, MFR's leading theorist, who also has developed many of its techniques (and also trained Frankie Burget) puts it this way: "When you get myo-fascial restrictions, it's the equivalent of that internal body
stocking being knotted. In turn, the tissue inside becomes twisted and shortened and all the nerves and blood vessels that pass through that three-dimensional web are crushed."
Both the fascia and the "ground substance" -- Mr. Barnes' term for the chemically complex fluid associated with the fascial system -- are susceptible to damage from injury, inflammation and stress. Ms. Burget,
for example, describes Donna Emery's condition as akin to a massive snarl -- "Think of a truck driving through a chain-link fence," she says -- which had to be unsnarled one painstaking step at a time.
Unlike related therapies, MFR involves little rubbing, kneading or pounding. There also are no charms or amulets employed, no chants or incense, nor any substances to ingest. Rather, the therapist
indirectly scuplts the fascia as if it were taffy, slowly pulling, torquing or pushing at it through the skin, exerting constant, even pressure all the while. The object is to free up the "ground substance"
and to break or release the tangled fibers of fascia -- sort of like shutting your eyes and donning mittens to untangle a sticky wad of Velcro sheets in a bag.