top of page

“Sensory input, an emotional crutch?”...

(Following the theme of authority, survivorship and confirmation bias, critical thinking when it comes to training and rehab via sensory stimulation).

Some definitions of fascia and manual therapy

Fascia can be described as a tough membrane of fibrous, protective tissue that encases the body's muscles 1 2 3, and can be categorised into biomechanical, physiological, neurological and psychological subsections 4. Fascia is innervated by mechanoreceptors which are sensory structures that relay internal/external information to the central nervous system and are responsive to touch or manual pressure 5. Myofascial or self-myofascial release is the manipulation of fascia and is believed to be an effective treatment for improving circulation, relieving pain and increasing mobility 2 6. Manual therapy of fascia and or skeletal muscle and joints is classed as a pseudoscience and is often used to treat patients by alternative therapists such as osteopaths and chiropractors 7 8. Manual therapy currently has little to

no useful scientific evidence supporting long-term effectiveness in rehabilitation or sports performance 4 9 10 11 12 6 13.

Why is it used?

Research indicates that manual therapy is heavily related to psychological and neurosensory mechanisms and shows that short-term structural change via various techniques may relieve pain or increase range of motion in individuals by manipulating the soft tissue momentarily

4 14 15 16 17. This can be considered useful in a sport performance-related environment and may even speed up recovery from delayed onset muscle fatigue and increase range of motion before a bout of training. However, in relation to adaptation, it could be argued that gradual loading of tissues using methods such as post-activation potentiation (PAP) 18, through a specific range of motion may achieve the same outcome as well as being more task-specific and saving time 19 20 21 22. The effect of short-term changes in tissue via manual therapy or self-manual therapy and its efficacy on long-term recovery and performance could be a step further in the discussion. For example, how does short-term manipulation in range of motion out of its normal position followed by direct loading affect the tissue long term? Is there a potential for concern over manipulating structures beyond a predisposed condition? Moreover, what is a practitioner's incentives for treatment methods and recommendations overall, especially with an understanding of the lack of long-term effectiveness 23.

Are we conditioned to understand body or the mind?

Within medicine, the biomedical approach is the standard model used in healthcare practice throughout the world today 24. Primarily its strengths are that it gets to the bottom of the pathology for treatment, rather than focusing on preventative measures 25. The baseline perspective of the biomedical model is “health” which constitutes a disease-free state. It offers a dualistic view of body and mind but does not account for psychological or social conditions 26. Although reductionist in its approach it reduces the cost to treat and process patients 26. The drawbacks are that this process marginalises individuals and the potential frameworks that underlie their symptoms. Despite being useful in several ways, the biomedical model has failed to demonstrate the placebo effect rationale 27, which has been discussed as a specific link between psychological condition and clinical pathology 28.

The biomedical model is the primary treatment method across a broad range of healthcare systems and could be seen as an indoctrinating methodology, which might explain the reliance on a broad range of systematic processes to relieve pain. Conversely a psycho-social understanding or bottom-up vs top-down approach could drive more comprehension of pain mechanisms and bridge a gap creating longer-term solutions to short-term problems 29 30.

Discussion of efficacy

Regarding the possible manipulation of fascia, it is an ongoing topic and does seem that the majority of reviews are seeking more longevity or quality of evidence to determine its effectiveness. In recent years research projects, systematic reviews and meta-analysis studies have highlighted the ineffectiveness of many manual therapy techniques, often summarising the similar outcomes on subjects and low-quality studies calling for further understanding 31 32 33 34 35. Nevertheless, practitioners continue to use and recommend these methods to fit a various protocols and the abundance of research in this area might only highlight that misunderstanding further. This may bring into question a rationale for using specific trade tools and marketing them to improve well-being.

Other examples that are still being used despite the considerable body of evidence to suggest a high rate of placebo are, percussion therapy, kinesiology tape and dry needling to name just few 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43. If these methods are still being used despite a lack of scientific consensus on its effectiveness, then from an individual or practitioner’s perspective it might seem that the jury is out and if a positive placebo effect is shown and no harm is done, this may well legitimise its use further.

Arguments against research might suit most bias´s, and it can often be related to the quality of studies and sometimes inconclusive results. If the short-term effect is more potent than any long-term progress, this might sway decision making.

However, this might also be delegitimising more long-term clinical and coach practices that are doing excellent work, using appropriate testing, asking the right questions and applying evidence-backed techniques and critical thought that show they are treating case by case with appropriate feedback. No doubt, marketing is targeted and divisive and may benefit from enhancing short term results.

Not one size fits all

Strength and conditioning specialists and clinical practitioners may often run tests that aim to troubleshoot, or problem-solve while increasing trust and confidence from the individual. Sensory input and a healthy dose of placebo might leave both practitioners and patients feeling much better; the individual perceives results and practitioners consider their position valid. Repeating the process over several sessions might further improve the individual's situation. The focus might be that practitioners and coaches could apply carefully considered individual pathways toward each case with a more hands-off approach to display confidence and trust rather than rely on manual stimulus to catch all dogmatic bias.

What is the alternative?

Utilising reactive indexing 44 45, range of motion testing 46 47, strength and force output 48 49 50, can help determine markers of improvement in rehabilitation or readiness to train for sports performance. This can create a focal point for positive activation and objective methods of improvement that ushers’ individuals in the direction that is more supported by the research pandering less to a particular bias and a need to utilise more inferior non-evidence-backed techniques.

If the work is done there can then be a rationale to reward the central nervous system with sensory stimulation to improve recovery and or wellness and reduce stress provided it is applied with efficacy and methodology in the right setting. The idea might be less leaning on it as an emotional crutch for the ego, but as a tool in the box of individual and practitioner showing that it might not be about fixing a problem but understanding the cause and preventative measures long term.

The bigger picture

The 2020 pandemic might have taught humanity that being underprepared has grave consequences. However, it has also shown that strong capabilities in problem solving and innovation are key drivers in achieving results.

In strength and conditioning, helping individuals understand how to develop skill and capacity is critical, encouraging confidence in fear-avoidance situations and furthermore, deemphasising fads and fallacies is paramount in succeeding at autonomy and understanding. Perhaps if the supply-demand is reduced in unnecessary areas, and a less dualistic methodology is implemented, it might be increased in regions that are more critically based on improving overall health and well-being “long-term” in recreational and performance sport.

1. Schleip R, Jäger H, Klingler W. What is “fascia”? A review of different nomenclatures. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2012. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2012.08.001

2. Beardsley C, Škarabot J. Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2015. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2015.08.007

3. Stecco C, Gagey O, Belloni A, et al. Anatomy of the deep fascia of the upper limb. Second part: study of innervation. Morphologie. 2007. doi:10.1016/j.morpho.2007.05.002

4. Weerapong P, Hume PA, Kolt GS. The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Sport Med. 2005. doi:10.2165/00007256-200535030-00004

5. Schleip R. Fascial plasticity - A new neurobiological explanation: Part 1. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2003. doi:10.1016/S1360-8592(02)00067-0

6. McKenney K, Elder AS, Elder C, Hutchins A. Myofascial release as a treatment for orthopaedic conditions: A systematic review. J Athl Train. 2013. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-48.3.17

7. Urits I, Schwartz RH, Orhurhu V, et al. A Comprehensive Review of Alternative Therapies for the Management of Chronic Pain Patients: Acupuncture, Tai Chi, Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, and Chiropractic Care. Adv Ther. 2020. doi:10.1007/s12325-020-01554-0

8. Gale N. The Sociology of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Sociol Compass. 2014. doi:10.1111/soc4.12182

9. Kalichman L, Ben David C. Effect of self-myofascial release on myofascial pain, muscle flexibility, and strength: A narrative review. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2017. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2016.11.006

10. Smith MS, Olivas J, Smith K. Manipulative therapies: What works. Am Fam Physician. 2019.

11. Xu Q, Chen B, Wang Y, et al. The effectiveness of manual therapy for relieving pain, stiffness, and dysfunction in knee osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain Physician. 2017. doi:10.36076/ppj.2017.243

12. Ho CYC, Sole G, Munn J. The effectiveness of manual therapy in the management of musculoskeletal disorders of the shoulder: A systematic review. Man Ther. 2009. doi:10.1016/j.math.2009.03.008

13. Behm DG, Wilke J. Do Self-Myofascial Release Devices Release Myofascia? Rolling Mechanisms: A Narrative Review. Sport Med. 2019. doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01149-y


15. Geri T, Viceconti A, Minacci M, Testa M, Rossettini G. Manual therapy: Exploiting the role of human touch. Musculoskelet Sci Pract. 2019. doi:10.1016/j.msksp.2019.07.008


17. Hendricks S, Hill H, Hollander S den, Lombard W, Parker R. Effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery: A systematic review of the literature to guide practitioners on the use of foam rolling. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2020. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2019.10.019

18. Blazevich AJ, Babault N. Post-activation Potentiation Versus Post-activation Performance Enhancement in Humans: Historical Perspective, Underlying Mechanisms, and Current Issues. Front Physiol. 2019. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.01359

19. Ng CY, Chen SE, Lum D. Inducing Postactivation Potentiation With Different Modes of Exercise. Strength Cond J. 2019. doi:10.1519/ssc.0000000000000522

20. Lum D, Chen SE. Comparison of Loaded Countermovement Jump with Different Variable Resistance Intensities on Inducing Post-Activation Potentiation. J Sci Sport Exerc. 2020. doi:10.1007/s42978-020-00055-4

21. Sanchez-Sanchez J, Rodriguez A, Petisco C, Ramirez-Campillo R, Martínez C, Nakamura FY. Effects of Different Post-Activation Potentiation Warm-Ups on Repeated Sprint Ability in Soccer Players from Different Competitive Levels. J Hum Kinet. 2018. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0131

22. Dobbs WC, Tolusso D V., Fedewa M V., Esco MR. Effect of Postactivation Potentiation on Explosive Vertical Jump: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J strength Cond Res. 2019. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002750

23. Collins NJ, Barton CJ, Van Middelkoop M, et al. 2018 Consensus statement on exercise therapy and physical interventions (orthoses, taping and manual therapy) to treat patellofemoral pain: Recommendations from the 5th International Patellofemoral Pain Research Retreat, Gold Coast, Australia, 2017. Br J Sports Med. 2018. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099397

24. Biomedical Models and Resources: Current Needs and Future Opportunities. ILAR J. 1997. doi:10.1093/ilar.38.3.152

25. Wade DT, Halligan PW. Do biomedical models of illness make for good healthcare systems? Br Med J. 2004. doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7479.1398

26. Deacon BJ. The biomedical model of mental disorder: A critical analysis of its validity, utility, and effects on psychotherapy research. Clin Psychol Rev. 2013. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.09.007

27. Ongaro G, Kaptchuk TJ. Symptom perception, placebo effects, and the Bayesian brain. Pain. 2019. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001367

28. Geuter S, Koban L, Wager TD. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Placebo Effects: Concepts, Predictions, and Physiology. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2017. doi:10.1146/annurev-neuro-072116-031132

29. Wickramasekera I, Davies TE, Davies SM. Applied psychophysiology: A bridge between the biomedical model and the biopsychosocial model in family medicine. Prof Psychol Res Pract. 1996. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.27.3.221

30. Foster NE, Pincus T, Underwood MR, Vogel S, Breen A, Harding G. Understanding the process of care for musculoskeletal conditions - Why a biomedical approach is inadequate. Rheumatology. 2003. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/keg165

31. Kent P, Marks D, Pearson W, Keating J. Does clinician treatment choice improve the outcomes of manual therapy for nonspecific low back pain? A metaanalysis. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2005. doi:10.1016/j.jmpt.2005.04.009

32. Armijo-Olivo S, Pitance L, Singh V, Neto F, Thie N, Michelotti A. Effectiveness of manual therapy and therapeutic exercise for temporomandibular disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Phys Ther. 2016. doi:10.2522/ptj.20140548

33. Desjardins-Charbonneau A, Roy JS, Dionne CE, Frémont P, Macdermid JC, Desmeules F. The efficacy of manual therapy for rotator cuff tendinopathy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2015. doi:10.2519/jospt.2015.5455

34. Fredin K, Lorås H. Manual therapy, exercise therapy or combined treatment in the management of adult neck pain – A systematic review and meta-analysis. Musculoskelet Sci Pract. 2017. doi:10.1016/j.msksp.2017.07.005

35. Beumer L, Wong J, Warden SJ, Kemp JL, Foster P, Crossley KM. Effects of exercise and manual therapy on pain associated with hip osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2016. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095255

36. Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, Pan H. Rhabdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report. Phys Ther. 2020. doi:10.1093/ptj/pzaa199

37. Poon KY, Li SM, Roper MG, Wong MKM, Wong O, Cheung RTH. Kinesiology tape does not facilitate muscle performance: A deceptive controlled trial. Man Ther. 2015. doi:10.1016/j.math.2014.07.013

38. Giray E, Karadag-Saygi E, Mansiz-Kaplan B, Tokgoz D, Bayindir O, Kayhan O. A randomized, single-blinded pilot study evaluating the effects of kinesiology taping and the tape application techniques in addition to therapeutic exercises in the treatment of congenital muscular torticollis. Clin Rehabil. 2017. doi:10.1177/0269215516673885

39. Chown G, Innamorato J, McNerney M, Petrilla J, Prozzillo H. Perceived Benefits of Kinesio Tape® Compared to Non-Kinesiology Tape and No Tape in Healthy Collegiate Athletes. Open J Occup Ther. 2016. doi:10.15453/2168-6408.1228

40. Reneker JC, Latham L, McGlawn R, Reneker MR. Effectiveness of kinesiology tape on sports performance abilities in athletes: A systematic review. Phys Ther Sport. 2018. doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2017.10.001

41. Slevin ZM, Arnold GP, Wang W, Abboud RJ. Immediate effect of kinesiology tape on ankle stability. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2020. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000604

42. Gattie E, Cleland JA, Snodgrass S. The effectiveness of trigger point dry needling for musculoskeletal conditions by physical therapists: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2017. doi:10.2519/jospt.2017.7096

43. Hall ML, Mackie AC, Ribeiro DC. Effects of dry needling trigger point therapy in the shoulder region on patients with upper extremity pain and dysfunction: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Physiother (United Kingdom). 2018. doi:10.1016/

44. Ramirez-Campillo R, Alvarez C, García-Pinillos F, et al. Optimal reactive strength index: Is it an accurate variable to optimize plyometric training effects on measures of physical fitness in young soccer players? J Strength Cond Res. 2018. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000002467

45. Byrne DJ, Browne DT, Byrne PJ, Richardson N. Interday Reliability of the Reactive Strength Index and Optimal Drop Height. J Strength Cond Res. 2017. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001534

46. Howe LP, Waldron M, Read P. A systems-based approach to injury prevention for the strength and conditioning coach. Strength Cond J. 2017. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000346

47. Howe L. Restricted ankle dorsiflexion : methods to assess and improve joint function. Prof Strength Cond. 2015.

48. Suchomel TJ, Nimphius S, Bellon CR, Stone MH. The Importance of Muscular Strength: Training Considerations. Sport Med. 2018. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-0862-z

49. Dorrell HF, Smith MF, Gee TI. Comparison of Velocity-Based and Traditional Percentage-Based Loading Methods on Maximal Strength and Power Adaptations. J strength Cond Res. 2020. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003089

50. García-Ramos A, Pestaña-Melero FL, Pérez-Castilla A, Rojas FJ, Gregory Haff G. Mean Velocity vs. Mean Propulsive Velocity vs. Peak Velocity. J Strength Cond Res. 2018. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001998

bottom of page