Myofascial Unwinding – is there a scientific explanation?

What is unwinding?

Unwinding is a word that many people are aware of but may not really know what it represents. The term originated in osteopathy and was originally coined to describe the involuntary movements that many clients experienced in osteopathic treatment.

For some people the idea that someone can develop involuntary movement of their body, shaking, crying or laughing, may still have connotations of sorcery or possession, but these are all natural processes that can occur. In meditation practice these reactions are regarded as the release of stuck emotions. In hands-on therapies they are seen as physical, mental and emotional release of stuck trauma.

However the concept of unwinding is still a grey area for the scientific and medical communities and not much is known about the process itself. The most accepted explanation is that tissues can hold memories (somatic recall) that are independent of the nervous system. As the most commonly occurring tissue in the body, fascia is generally cited as the repository of these stuck memories. However for many people, without scientific proof it is still questionable what causes unwinding or whether it is even a ‘thing’.


What has been known for many years is that all humans emit bio-energy, an energetic field that not only identifies them as human, but also can used to measure their state of health. This field was originally develop by Yale professor Harold Saxton Burr in the early 20th century. His work was ridiculed by many in the scientific community as nonsense but further research by others has proved his findings to be true.

It is now more widely acknowledged that the bio-energy emitted by an experienced therapist’s hands intermingles with that of their client and can release trauma held in areas of stuck fascial tissue and trigger physical and emotional release often accompanied by flashback memory all of which help to discharge tissue tension and resolve pain.

However the process by which this actually happens is still not well understood and there is even debate about what role fascia or fascial release may play.

Research helps explain unwinding

In 2009 researcher Budiman Minasny conducted a literature review of current research into fascial unwinding and from this developed a hypothetical model to explain unwinding. This is based on the theories of ideomotor action, neurobiological fascia theory and the psychology of consciousness.

Ideomotor action is the response of unconscious movement which the client experiences as involuntary. Hands-on therapy such as myofascial release stimulates nerve endings in the fascia through gentle touch and stretching of the tissues. This induces relaxation and activates the rest & digest part of the nervous system. At the same time it also activates the central nervous system (CNS) which responds by encouraging muscles to find an easier or more relaxed position and by introducing the ideomotor action. This action can continue and repeat until a state of ease is reached.

The neurobiological fascia theory is based on the understanding that fascia and the nervous system are intimately connected. Fascia is densely enervated by nerve endings that respond to mechanical pressure. Pressure from myofascial release stimulates these nerve endings which encourages relaxation of muscles and blood vessels which in turn allows more fluid into the tissues. Stimulation of the nervous system results in muscle relaxation and a more peaceful state of mind – the more gentle the techniques, the more this will happen.

The psychology of consciousness model explains how the physical touch of myofascial release can help to move someone from an unconscious or dissociated state from their body due to chronic pain and bring them back to an awareness of body and mind. This change brought about by touch can thus trigger a change in their physical, mental and emotional state.

All three of these theories help to explain the biological processes by which unwinding may occur. For many people it still comes as a surprise when it happens and can feel in some way quite mystical as they don’t have conscious control of what is happening to them.

Unwinding is experienced in different ways by different people and can happen during a therapy session or afterwards. Sometimes people feel physical shifts and unconscious movements, which can be accompanied by a shift in symptoms to other areas of the body, or the temporary return of old symptoms from years ago. Sometimes people feel emotional unwinding which can be experienced as vivid dreams, the urge to cry, or feeling shaky.

If you do experience unwinding as a result of myofascial release treatment be reassured that whatever you feel is a good thing as your mind and body resolve stuck trauma which will leave you more relaxed, and balanced overall.



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