March 26, 2016
[2:44] National Academy of Sports Medicine
[5:43] The Book “The MELT Method”
[7:53] Sue Hitzmann
[8:43] How Sue Got Into This
[12:40] How Sue Learned About Connective Tissue
[21:17] The Concept of What Dehydration Actually Is and How To Rehydrate Joints
[24:48] Why Soft Rollers and Balls
[30:21] Where and When To Use MELT Method
[36:00] What MELT Stands For
[37:09] How Sue's Maps Work
[40:08] How Sue Learned To Do Things In A Specific Sequence
[43:42] Why You Lie On Your Back Before Actually MELTing
[51:51] What a Typical MELT Method Would Look Like
[58:37.5] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield, and I've been messing around with a new form of deep-tissue work called The MELT Method. You're gonna learn all about it in today's podcast episode. But first, I wanna tell you about Turkish figs. Yes, that's right. Turkish figs. So I know that figs have lots of fructose and sugar in them but, man, they are one of my favorite little health delights to put just a little bit of on my lunchtime salad. They have a little bit of chewiness, they've got some flavor, and of course, are extremely high in minerals, and fiber, and a whole bunch of other great nutrients. And I will just take 2 or 3 Turkish figs, I'll get a pair of scissors, and I'll just cut them up, and sprinkle them on top of a salad. Boom. Done.
So where can you get perfectly moist Turkish figs? I'll tell you. Nuts, nuts.com. So, here's the deal. When you go to nuts.com and you get Turkish figs, or macadamia nuts, or chia seeds, or anything else that satisfies your nut or dried fruit needs, they'll throw in 4 free samples if you click on the mic and you use my code “Fitness” when you order. So that's nuts.com, and use the code “Fitness,” and then you get to choose from over 50 options of all these different samples. It's like a $15 value of goodies thrown in. And, yes, I do recommend the Turkish figs.
After you've had that fantastic salad, you might as well have a fantastic shave, and that's where Harry's comes in. They actually just opened, if you happen to live in New York City, their first barber shop and retail store over in New York City. I'll be traveling to New York City here shortly to race the Citi Field Spartan Race, and I may stop by a Harry's Corner Shop. And the reason for that is that Harry's has this German blade factory where they create these five-blade amazing razors with ergonomic handles that literally give you the cleanest, most comfortable shave you'll ever have in your life. I guarantee, 'cause I've tried a lot of different razors, but the coolest thing perhaps is that they cost about the same as like a cheapo plastic drugstore razor. So you literally are getting like a five star shave for the price of a one star shave 'cause they cut out the middleman and they ship right to your door. And you can save even more when you go to harrys.com and you just use code Ben at checkout. You'll save $5 off anything. So you go to H-A-R-R-Y-S dot com and you enter code Ben. harrys.com and code Ben, and again if you live in New York, go look up for the new Harry's Barber Shop there.
And then finally, this podcast is also brought to you by an organization that allows you to make a huge change in people's lives. That would be the National Academy of Sports Medicine, also known as the NASM. Now what the NASM does is they certify you to get paid to keep people in shape. If you wanna work at a health club, a sports clinic, corporate wellness, you name it, they are not one of these cheapo like weekend personal trainer certifications that turn an average Joe into someone who can count somebody doing dumbbell curls and probably hurt them in the process. No.
National Academy of Sports Medicine instead makes really good personal trainers. I've vouched for them in the past, even before they became a podcast sponsor. They were one of the only companies that I talked about as far as a company that creates a good personal trainers. So, you can get a free 14-day trial, and they guarantee you'll land a job as a personal trainer within 60 days of earning a personal training certification with them or your money back. Guaranteed. How do you do it? You go to myusatrainer.com for that free 14-day trial. Some restrictions apply, they told me I had to say this, but you can visit myusatrainer.com for details. So, check it all out. Turkish figs, get a good shave, go become a personal trainer. And now you're gonna learn how to melt away the pain. Let's do this.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“If you compress fascia too deep, too fast, the fascia is designed to support, protect, and stabilize everything. So the tissue will actually be broaden, and where it broadens or where it contracts, if you will, are in the superficial layers, and that's where all the nerve endings are. So you keep pressing really hard, and you're actually increasing something called nociception, or pain reception.” “That was what I felt in bodies that were not in pain with this consistency of architecture, or fluid motion, and in my clients that had pain, it literally was not that the fluid wasn't moving. It was just very diverted.”
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield, and I am going to admit it, right now, live. I am a complete nerd when it comes to using a dizzying array of body work tools, and massage, and deep tissue manipulation, and mobility methods, and much more on my body. Literally every day. Like I wake up every morning, and while my coffee is on for 10 to 15 minutes, I will hit my body with everything from a rumble roller, to voodoo flossing around my joints, to mobility bands, to vibrating massage devices, and a lot more. It's kind of like a medieval torture experiment on my body every morning. And so I was pretty excited when I got a chance to read this brand new book about how to basically create almost like a map of your own connective tissue, and then using that map, and that understanding, erase pain, and increase mobility, your performance in specific areas of your body using that system.
So this book is called “The MELT Method”, That's M-E-L-T, The MELT Method, and in it, the author goes into this self-treatment system that you can use to get rid of chronic pain and to erase a lot of the effects of aging on the joints. And a lot of these techniques are things that take like 5 or 10 minutes and they can be done in your own home. You don't have to necessarily go and hire an expensive therapist or go visit the doctor for some kind of an injection. It basically teaches you how to use your body's own natural restorative properties. Now before you run for the hills, thinking this is gonna be yet another episode on how to use a foam roller, then stick around because it's not.
I actually thought that that's what this book was gonna be, and then I realized as I was reading it, it is an actual system that goes into a very detailed and a very scientific way to actually restore things like hydration, and mobility, and proper alignment of fibers to connective tissue in your body. So I think you're gonna really dig this episode. If you fall into the category of anybody who ever has any kind of pain in your body, you need to keep listening.
So my author is, of course, the author of that book and her name is Sue Hitzmann, and Sue trains thousands of people around the world on how to do this stuff. She provides continuing education units for some of the biggest certification programs on the face of the planet like ACE, and NASM, and NCBTMB, and all these other alphabet letter soup personal training and fitness certifications, but she's been on Dr. Oz, The Rachael Ray Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, SELF Magazine, Prevention Magazine. And the reason is, I have discovered, 'cause I've been using this on myself, on my lower back, my hands, my feet, my elbows, and this stuff actually works. So we are gonna talk with Sue today about the MELT Method. Welcome to the show, Sue.
Sue: Thanks for having me, Ben.
Ben: Awesome. Well, I have to ask you right now. I think you've got a pretty amazing back story in terms of what drove you to start digging into fascia, and connective tissue, and pain, and movement. Can you talk about how you got interested in this stuff in the first place?
Sue: Well, my background is in fitness, you know. I mean, I actually started as a fitness professional when I was 16 and I think I fell into the category of the “no pain, no gain” mentality. I think that's kind of what I've learned over the years is the dirty little secret of fitness is everybody is injured and they all think that's normal. And unfortunately, about a decade into my own exercise regimen, and after having a masters in physiology and anatomy, and taking extensive trainings in neural muscular therapy, I found myself in chronic pain and nothing that I do was fixing it. And I had to go far beyond the confines of general fitness and therapies to figure out what was causing this chronic ache that I had in my body.
And in searching for an answer, I stumbled upon this emerging field of fascial research in the late 90's and it completely veered me out of the fitness industry almost entirely. I got into more of the healing arts, and the light touch therapeutic techniques and modalities, and I found I had quite a knack of palpation beyond just muscle testing, and understanding how the nervous system operated. And in working on my clients over decades, I had always been able to make good success with my clients. However, I always felt like I became sort of a crutch for them that they constantly had to come back for the repeated tune-up, either each week or sometimes twice a week. And this whole process started in the late 90's, one of my clients said to me, “You know, if you could just invent a way for me to do this to myself the way you do it with your magic hands, I'd stay out of your office altogether.” And at first, I think my first thought was, “Well, I would be unemployed. Why would anybody need to ever…”
Ben: Yeah. Why put yourself out of business?
Sue: Yeah. It was like, I'm gonna have to pay my rent somehow. But it did sound very intriguing and I am one of those curious people who thought, “Yeah, I wonder if it is possible. I never really thought about it, but let me see if I could invent ways to do these light touch therapeutic interventions on myself.” And over the course of a number of years of tweaking and playing with balls, and rocks, and rollers, I'm kind of like you, I'm a little obsessed with all of the tools and objects that were out there trying to simulate more this light touch therapy that I was understanding, what I was doing in my own body, and trying to basically do that with objects and tools. And when I finally figured out how to do it, and I knew I had done it to myself, I started sharing that with my clients, and I was finding not only did they feel like they were able and empowered to do things on their own, they were coming back so much better, so much faster.
It was actually just the opposite effect in my private practice where instead of seeing the same 30 people over the course of a year a couple of times a week, I suddenly was seeing over 500 people a year, able to get them in and out of my office within 3 to 5 sessions, identify what their actual problem was. Develop what kind of just how you said, these MELT maps so that they could go home, and sustain those changes, and actually build themselves out of the pain problems that they had. And today, I'm 16, 17 years into this, and we've got, like how you said, I mean we've got world-wide distribution of a method, the books been translated into eight languages, and we've got 1,300 instructors worldwide who have been the healing hands far beyond my touch, and have literally empowered hundreds of thousands of people to learn how to do this on their own at home, and it is just like a quick 10 minute-a-day treatment.
Ben: How did you learn about connective tissue? Like how'd you learn about connective tissue, and fascia, and stuff like that? And the reason I ask that is 'cause I too have been immersed in exercise science for many years, and I did a master's degree in physiology and biomechanics, and even spent time in the anatomy lab dissecting cadavers, but there weren't really any very intensive courses on how fascia works and how connective tissue works. So what was your method? How'd you learn about this stuff?
Sue: Well, that was just in every hands-on methodology that I had learned from neuromuscular therapy, to cranial sacral therapy, visceral manipulation, there was always one common thread that was in conversation which was connective tissue, and using it sort of as a vehicle to alter other systems because the tissue is three-dimensional and it's kind of connected and seamlessly attached to everything. You can actually manipulate organs through fascia. So I was learning things like that. So there was always a curiosity about it, but I was like you, I had a master's in physiology and anatomy, I had already done dissections, and the thing about connective tissue is it's really kinda considered by the general consensus of doctors, kind of just the passive packing material, and in the dissection I had done in school, we basically either never saw it because the medical students got to the bodies before we did, or you just chuck it in the bucket to get to the good stuff and look at the nerves, and the muscles, and the bones, so that, you know, those were supposedly the important things.
As I started to kind of come up with an understanding of what was it that causes pain to become chronic, and I had found this research on connective tissue and gaining a better understanding about the fact that connective tissue is not only just the supportive infrastructure of muscles and bones, but is actually the environment that every nerve ending, blood vessel, and cell lives in. And when I started seeing it as a system, I found Gil Hedley, who did this layer by layer dissection course. And he defined connective tissue as a system, and I said to him, “Well, it's not a system. I mean, that doesn't have active things going on.” And then he looked at me and goes, “Why would you say that?” I said, “It's just the passive packing material,” and he looked at me and goes, “No, my friend. Your entire world is about to change 'cause I gonna tell you something that nobody else has, that connective tissue is in fact an active system and it's actually where most nutrients are transported, the cells are proliferating, they're reacting and responding to movement and compression and tension every day. It is in fact an active system.”
And that literally unraveled a decade and a half of education in schooling behind me, and I almost had to unlearn anatomy to go back and learn more about this. And I was very privileged to, I think meet Gil, and he basically gave me phone numbers of all of the researchers. So I was calling Robert Schleip, and Tom Myers, and Tom Finley, and all of these researchers from around the world. I was asking them, “What do you know?” Here's my hypothesis, this is what I'm thinking, do you have any research to back this kind of information? And I got taken under the wing in the early 2000's, and I became a founding member of the Fascial Research Society, and basically have taken the science from the Fascial Research scientists and the researchers from around the world, and have assimilated that science and simplified it down so that the general public could actually grasp and understand the importance of this tissue to their overall wellness.
And then of course, I just started to apply the science into a methodology, and that's what the MELT method is. It basically culminates all of that science into an applicable method, and I think what I've hopefully done in the book is to simplify it to cellular science and neurological sciences, down to a level where anybody can understand it. And whether you have science under your background or not, and I think that's what's so great about it is that you get an education as well as a method.
Ben: Okay. So you learned all this about fascia and how fascia is more than just like this sheath, right, that gets described.
Ben: And I've kind of found the same thing. I've talked to guys like Kelly Starrett on the podcast before and we talked about why you feel so freaking good after you do, say, like foam roller work or mobility work because the fascia's actually capable of helping you to produce neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine.
Sue: Well, it's not producing it. It doesn't produce it, but as you stimulate…
Ben: But doesn't cause the release of?
Sue: Well, there's a, I would say…
Ben: Fill us in.
Sue: Yeah. So connective tissue is in fact just basically collagen, elastin, and reticular fibers that are all made, all of these elements are made from a cell called the fibroblast. And the fibroblast is basically producing all of the stuff outside of all of your other cells that allows the sliding surfaces from cell to cell to exist so that cells communicate and not only transport and share nutrients through each other, but also cell-to-cell communication is occurring through connective tissue, but the connective tissue itself isn't where you produce neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are produced in the gut and in the brain, but to transport those neurotransmitters and to utilize them, we are actually utilizing them through this transportation highway called connective tissue. And so what connective tissue is really, if you think about it, like a sponge. You wanna think of these cells of connective tissue as being a protein cell with carbohydrate around it, and when you squish them and pull them, it's like working fluid into a sponge, and the more hydrated the tissue is, the more the tissue is able to morph, and adapt, and stabilize, and protect all of the other structures, but it's not what is producing neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are a part and parcel, a part of the brain and the cellular communication of the digestive system.
Ben: Right. But what's happening is that as you're making your connective tissue, realigning fibers, and increasing hydration to tissue, you're allowing those neurotransmitters to travel more efficiently through tissue?
Sue: Yes, and to be utilized, to be absorbed and transmitted. Absolutely. That is a part of the process. Absolutely. And what I think is important for people to understand is that this tissue is doing more than just being a supportive infrastructure of your bones and your muscles, but it is in fact a cellular communication highway, and it is responding and adapting to our movements, but only when it is hydrated. And the problem that science is starting to recognize is just daily living, our daily activities, are actually throwing the system sort of out of balance. It causes cellular dehydration, and whether you've got pain or not, it's important for people to also know that this is a natural cellular process. It happens to every single one of us, every single day. And we've all experienced the effects of cell dehydration, like when you sit for long periods of time, and then you get up, and your body feels like as stiff as a dried out sponge left overnight on your kitchen sink, that feeling of stiffness, whether you get that when you're sitting for long periods of time or you do a repetitive movement for a long period of time and your joints feel stiff, that's part and parcel part of the dehydration effect that you're feeling.
And the problem with that is that you get up, and you move around, and it goes away, and because it goes away, we actually don't realize that we need to do something about that tissue. And if you don't do anything about it, if you think of connective tissue like a fluid-based river, you're literally laying sediment down in the river, the collagen, they're called micro vacuoles, they're like bubbles or spaces in this tissue collapse. And when the collagen bindings don't morph and adapt efficiently, you still move around, you just don't do it lookin' really good. You kinda look a little funky, your arms raise up and you shrug your shoulder to do it, or your back looks a little more flexed, you don't look as upright, and nobody ever complains about getting taller as we get older, we just lose space, and that is also an effect of cellular dehydration. The good news is that you can reverse that process if you treat the tissue as a system from day to day and don't allow it to accumulate with sedimentation, or what I call struck stress.
Ben: Now in the book, I came across that concept of dehydration and I almost completely skipped that chapter because I thought you were gonna talk about what everybody talks about, right. Like if we get joint pain, drink more water, right. And my eyes roll over in the back of my head when I hear that 'cause it's like, “Okay. I know. I drank a bunch of water and my joints still hurt.” Can you go into the concept of what that dehydration actually is and how you truly rehydrate a joint?
Sue: Sure, sure, sure. Well first, let's talk about the water concept. So water and what we eat is where the body is getting fluid from. It's from what we intake. It just doesn't, not by osmosis. You gotta actually intake fuel, but the thing that I think people do think is that, “Oh, I need to drink more water,” but it's not volume that is more necessary. It actually has more to do with the effects of drinking it consistently enough, and we don't drink water with consistency. Most people drink a bunch of water in the morning, and then they won't drink any water for hours, and that is what causes cellular dehydration. But when we talk about cell dehydration, I know it's kind of hard for people to wrap their brain around because again, you think I gotta drink more water. But if you think about connective tissue again like a sponge, just like a dried out sponge doesn't absorb water as well as a moist one, that's the problem with connective tissue is if you never stimulate these cells, these fibroblasts are again reactive and responsive to tension and compression.
So when you compress or pull on connective tissue for long periods of time, it literally is drawing the fluid out of the collagen. It's causing stress on the collagen fibers and water gets omitted from that tissue, and then the other cells transport it and move it out. But that's, you gotta bring it back in again, and again, the tissue is always in a constant state of tension and compression which is essentially occurring to 99% of humans because we tend to do the exact same things every day. We're repetitive. We sit for the same amount of time, we do the exact same habits, and postures, and movements, and that causes too much tension or compression on the tissue. But what we understand is the very thing that can dehydrate the tissue can actually rehydrate it if you know how.
So what we're also understanding is if you pull or compress small local areas of the tissue and create a frictional type of tension to the tissue, kind of like working fluid into a sponge. You don't just slap water on a sponge, you kind of massage it, you sort of work the fluid, you kinda squeeze and pull it. And then when you do, you compress it in one local area so that you're pulling all the old fluid out, so when you let it go, now the sponge, if you will, is moist, and so now you can attract a new fluid into the sponge.
And that is what MELT does. We use soft balls and soft rollers to basically work and stimulate those cells because it's the cells that, as they become stimulated, they then create signaling through something called, not only the fibroblast, but the nerve endings will react and respond, and that creates all sorts of stimulation. Just like how you said, neurotransmission can fire, and cells, once you compress or pull on them, will then attract fluid back into the cells, and they sort of plump up again, and that's how you get the sighting surfaces back to the tissue.
Ben: Now, I like hard foam rollers. Like I use this one called a Rumble Roller that has a bunch of ridges in it, and like when I'm at the gym, I look for the ones that are just like basically PVC, and I like the really hard balls, right. Like I got to the point where a lacrosse ball was a little bit too soft for me, and so I started using these special like Yoga Tune Up balls, and I already mentioned his name before, Kelly Starrett, he wrote the book “Becoming a Supple Leopard” and he mashes barbells into tissue and all sorts of stuff. And then you talk about soft balls and you talk about soft rollers. Why soft?
Sue: Well, first of all, you know, I mean, I get different strokes for different folks. If you like the hard pressure, whatever. But the things I have trouble with is, first of all, if you're in pain, why would you cause pain to get out of pain? Why would you hurt yourself, inflict such deep pressure that you're actually scrunching your face and your muscles are tensing up? You think you're getting so deep or making resolve, and actually, you can cause more problems because connective tissues are supportive infrastructure. If you compress fascia too deep, too fast, the fascia is designed to support, protect, and stabilize everything. So the tissue will actually broaden, and where it broadens or where it contracts, if you will, are in the superficial layers, and that's where all the nerve endings are. So you keep pressing really hard, and you're actually increasing something called nociception, or pain reception. You're irritating the sensory nerve endings vocal to the skin, and that's then sending signals to your brain saying, “Hey! Danger, danger! Something's wrong,” and that's not really that great of an option.
And I see on, when Kelly starts one of them, I get it, you know. Go ahead put a lacrosse ball on your stomach, and put a weight on it, and jam pressure into your body. But if you don't know where nerves and blood vessels are, if you aren't really savvy, you could hurt yourself. You could actually cause injury, and I've had plenty of athletes who do those kind of mashing-my-fascia kind of mentality actually cause more problems down the road. And so the cool thing about MELT is that it's actually not going after muscles. We're not trying to restore blood flow to muscle, we're not trying to over sensitize your nervous system to send it into submission so that, you know, I don't know what you're trying to accomplish by pressing so hard, but the unique thing about MELT is that we're going after the fluid system of the whole matrix. So it takes a much softer, gentler approach, and its sole intention is to move the fluid through the entire matrix.
And the compelling thing about MELT is that if you are a fan of heavy pressure treatment, whether it be using balls, racks, rollers, PVC piping, or you go to see a rolfer, somebody who does heavy compression force treatment, Graston techniques, or any of those sort of things, MELT, if you MELTed, before you did any of those things, if you just used the soft roller and you actually did the methodology of gliding, sharing, rinsing, of pulling tension in local regions and actually created the fill effect in 10 minutes, and then you walked away from doing those types of techniques, and then got on your hard roller, and by the way, I think the Rumble Roller should not even be used on a horse is my personal opinion, but you want to Rumble Roll yourself to oblivion, whatever you wanna do, but if you MELTed before you did it, you'd find three things. You'd find that using those hard rollers would in fact hurt you less, you would almost intuitively slow down. You would work with a little more savvy and, quite honestly, most clients will get the “Aha!” later on the [0:28:30] ______ . “I don't really think I need to be pushing on my tissue quite that hard. I bet I could slow down and I wonder if I use the MELT methodology using the hard roller, could I then get even more benefit.” And we find that people do that very often who like the heavier compression or they feel like they gotta spot treat their thighs, or wherever they have the issues, they'll go after that way.
Just remember this one thing though: if you have pain in an area of your body, the last thing you should do is go right to the area of pain. Think of the pain areas as victims. If somebody was crying out for your help, you would not walk up to them and punch them in the face to make them stop crying out for help. You would go find the criminal. And that's what we try to do as a philosophy is this concept of indirect before direct approach using MELT. So if you had neck pain, the lesson you're gonna be doing is going anywhere near your neck. You're gonna work on your hands to draw fluid back to the neck region to support the neck and the space that's being compressed. Instead of mashing your fascia in areas that hurt, we go after where stuck stress is living in your body. And again, MELT is a methodology. The one thing that's missing in a lot of foam rolling concepts is actually giving people a baseline and education of identifying what's the problem, where is stuck stress living in your body, not where do you have pain, but where the problem is causing you pain, and then treat yourself, and then reassess in that instance, and have you decreased the pain or the tension that you felt that was bothering you. And if the answer is yes, you just learned how to treat your body more like a manual therapist and not chase your pain or beat your body up to make it feel better. Don't cause pain to get out of pain. It doesn't even make any sense when I say it out loud. I would just recommend that anybody.
Ben: Now since I read your book, what I started doing was like some of this softer stuff, and some of this almost like milking, and using some of the maps that you have in the book to work on the actual, like the joints, the elbow joint, and the knee joint, and the pelvis joint. I've still been, don't get mad, I've still been like mashing more of like the muscle, the deep muscle belly and along the quadriceps, and along the hamstrings. I just feel as though and I don't know, maybe it's just 'cause I'm a big guy or something, but I feel as though that digs into those muscle areas better than like a soft roller or a foam roller. But, I mean, would the MELT method be something that you use just on like the joint area? Or do you use it on like the muscle belly as well?
Sue: Well that's just it, Ben, you know, is that we're not really looking at muscles at all. And the thing is, we never compress spaces. So spaces are the joints in your body. So you'd never roll the roller on your neck, or right on your lower back, or right behind your knee, or at the elbow itself because those are the areas where the connective tissue is the most stiff, and what you wanna do is draw fluid toward the joints so that the joints regain their sliding structures. So again you have to think of connective tissue more globally. On a cellular level, if you go down to the microscopic of level even the molecular level of connective tissue, it is truly like a spider's web that is three dimensional, and it infuses every system cell structure in your body, and there's no separation in it from skin to bone. In cadavers we can create these layers so that you can actually see how the brilliance of the human form that it can actually deposit more collagen closer to the skin, more reticular fibers near the gut. So the structure of it looks different from layer to layer, but the molecular components are the same no matter if you're talking about cartilage, tendons, ligaments, or the myofascia, which is the fascia that's around all of your muscles.
So I think the thing people kinda need to hear here, for me at least, is that we have this idea that we need to dig and push on our muscles to induce a change, but the reality of it is that connective tissue is this infused fluid collagen matrix and it doesn't take heavy forced pressure to really allow the fluid state to adapt. And when the fascia is more fluid, it does create better sliding surfaces so that, again, if you then used a hard roller after you MELTed, you would find that you wouldn't actually need to press so hard. Your own body weight would be enough, and you would feel what you're looking for, and it wouldn't actually hurt you. It would more feel like, “Wow, I actually get where I am,” and instead of landing on the lumpy areas, you'd be more have to kind of think of those lumps as like sediment, and then you'd work around those areas to slip fluid around and under those tissues that have gotten restricted to make the change.
Ben: Okay. Yeah. That makes sense. So you start with the soft. That's interesting because what I have noticed too is, I have an infrared sauna and sometimes…
Sue: I'm coming over!
Ben: (chuckles) Yeah. Seriously. I'll foam roll after I do some yoga and stuff inside my infrared sauna, and I have found, I gotta apply a lot less pressure when I do.
Sue: That's right.
Ben: So that makes sense. So you're achieving something kinda similar in terms of like tissue hydration and the movement of fluid with the soft stuff, and you're saying like if you're going to use like a hard foam roller, you should try doing something like that first.
Sue: That's right because then what you'd be doing is really aiding, the ultimate goal of self-myofascial release, the true concept of it is to restore blood flow to muscle. That's really the key component and concept of using a hard foam roller. So again, if you go too deep, too fast, you'll actually just irritate, like people get bruised and things like that 'cause you’re going too fast. But again, if you MELTed, you apply that softer compression. And again you use an infrared sauna. If you MELTed 10 minutes before you went in, MELTed your feet, did a little lower body compression, and then brought your harder tools into the infrared sauna, you would find that it would not hurt you, and you would get a lot more out of it because the heat of the infrared sauna is actually gonna move blood flow, your heart rate is going to increase.
So you're going to get more blood flow to the muscles by default. So now when you go and you apply a heavier ball or like I love Jill Miller and her concepts with the Yoga Tune Up Balls because she kinda is the same philosophy. She's working more deeply, but she really has a specific intention of all of her techniques. So then if you use those types of tools, you would just get so much more out of it. So MELT doesn't replace foam rolling, or using balls, or anything else. It really is something so unique because it's actually addressing the whole matrix on its own, not the muscle.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. So in terms of the MELT method itself, I think we've been throwing around this term for a while and not actually mention what MELT stands for, and by the way if you're listening in, I know we're mentioning a lot of little resources here, if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/melt, that's bengreenfieldfitness.com/MELT, I'll link to Sue's book and her website and anything else that we discussed during this episode.
But in the meantime, speaking of MELT, what exactly does MELT stand for? Why'd you call it MELT?
Sue: Well, it's really just about when you think about melting something that stiff, it's just about restoring a stiff state back to a fluid state. But when I first developed the method back in the early 2000's, I thought I needed an acronym. And so when I came up with MELT, it started out as an acronym for Myofascial Energetic Length Technique. But it sort of outgrew its acronym over the past decade because what I added to the techniques were neurological techniques to try to quiet the stress reflex in the nervous system, which is sort of easier said than done. It's a kind of a complex process, but also another easy self-methodology I figured out ways to do, what I did with my hands, with my clients to educate them how to do it to themselves, and those techniques worked as well. So it sort of outgrew the acronym. I took the periods away, and now MELT is just about restoring a stiff state back to its fluid, mobile functioning system. That's what MELT is really about.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. Now when I look at the book, you've got, for example, let's say like in the case of a hand, there's like five different spots on the hand that you point out and you have a specific direction that you go, from number one, to number two, to number three, to number four to five, on the hand with like point pressing. And then you do like a gliding movement, and then a shearing movement, then you call a rinsing movement. How exactly does that work? Like how do these maps work and how do you come up with them? I know this is kind of a loaded question. And what are these steps?
Sue: Well, it's actually pretty simple though. Right. So the compression techniques called gliding, shearing, and rinsing are specific. Like if you went to go see a body worker, especially even a heavy pressure person, they don't just look at you and go, “Hm, I think I'm gonna put my elbow right here,” and they start digging into you. We do palpation, and what a gliding technique is a light touch, small, local back and forth movement, either with the balls or the roller. And if the ball or the roller is moving, that's called the glide, and that's a way to prepare connective tissue for something called a shear force. And that is a heavier compression, very focal, kind of a scratching movement. If you're doing a direct treatment, it would be just kinda keeping your thumb on one area of your hand, and wiggling. If that's an indirect shear, or in manual therapy terms if you were to compress, let's say your thigh, and then bend and straighten your knee, your own knee action would create the pulling and the compression to the tissue you are pressing with the roller. That's a shear force, and shearing stimulates those fibroblasts, these cells of connective tissue, and creates the reaction and the responsiveness of those cells like working fluid into a sponge.
And then the secret is once you do a shear force, you compress and you wait so that when you let it go, rinsing is a one-directional fluid motion. So, if you think of connective tissue or your body like a closed-cell environment, think about it like a bathtub. If you put your hand in a bathtub and you started to run your hand in one direction around the perimeter of the tub with the water, when you took your hand out of the water, sure enough, the water like a vortex continues to move in that pathway. Well, interestingly enough, fascia works very much the same way where after you stimulate tissue in a local region, like you do with gliding and shearing, then what you wanna do is push the fluid throughout the entire connective tissue matrix. So if you move the fluid in one direction, through what we call meridians or fascial planes, you can actually create that sweeping vortex, and over the course of a minute or two, the fluid flow throughout the entire connective tissue matrix has been affected from wherever you treat your body. That's really the cool thing about learning how to MELT is that you can MELT local regions to create global changes. That's cool.
Ben: How'd you learn like the specific spots to target as you do the pressure and the rinsing? Is this by looking at cadavers resists? Or is this like self-experimentation? Or how do you know to go from one side of the hand to the other side of the hand in this specific sequence?
Sue: Yeah. Actually, I mean, a lot of it was just from a hands-on body worker, so I was basically taking hands-on therapeutic techniques that I had learned from John Upledger's work with cranial sacral, Jean-Pierre Barral with visceral manipulation, and all of the things I've learned from structural integration, to rolfing techniques, to the Ambrosius positional point release therapy. I've literally been trained in dozens of different modalities and I was trying to figure out ways to simulate those in my own body. And the way that I came up with it was truly trial and error, and I hurt myself, I have to be honest, a lot in the early 2000's when I was really experimenting what would work, and I had this knack of hands-on help palpation. And I always, ever since I was a kid, I've got this weird knack of feeling, this funny fluid flow vibration under the skin that I always tried to explain to people, and my dad used to say, “Don't tell people,” “You're weird,” “It's strange you talk about things like that,” “Don't say things like that.”
And so, I've discovered that the fluid flow that I feel is the continuum of the fascial system. And so the direction that I felt was truly empirical was that what I felt in bodies that were not in pain was this consistency of architecture or fluid motion. And in my clients that had pain, it literally was not that the fluid wasn't moving. It was just very diverted, it kind of meandered a lot. And so that was my first plan of attack with my clients was I wondered what would happen if I reinstated the fluid flow of the supportive infrastructure, and then I went after their liver, or their hip joint, or wherever the problems were, if I did it global and then I went local, did it make the change. And that was really what I found in working with my hands-on clients, that was how I made the changes and then that's what I apply to the methodology of MELT.
So MELT truly is a culmination of dozens of different hands-on therapies that I've sort of put together as a hands-off methodology, I call it hands-off body work so that people can become their own body worker. And for those of us who have money and time, and great therapists that we go to, what MELT offers is that supplement to getting a great hands-on treatment, and then you MELT so that you can prolong those benefits, so when you go back to your therapist, they can actually move you further. But that's really what it is, it was partly experiment, but a lot of it was from what I learned as a therapist using hands-on techniques.
Ben: Yeah, and that's something I do now. I didn't used to do this, but now on Fridays, I try to get a massage. I bought like a bulk massage therapy sessions from a massage therapist, and she comes over on Friday nights and works on me. But then I don't just like sit around and wait for the next Friday until my body's all messed up again. I've been doing, well, foam rolling and mobility work, and now I've started to do some of your MELT stuff on specific joints when they hurt, and it makes a big difference. It's also kinda cool 'cause you learn by looking at these little maps you have in the book, you learn about how to kinda move fluid around your body.
Ben: It's actually, you can almost feel your joints get rehydrated. It's really cool.
Ben: Now this is something that I'm gonna admit to you right now, maybe it's 'cause I have ADD, or maybe it's 'cause I just don't like to feel I'm being lazy, but you've got a lot of parts in the book where you're like lying on your back doing assessment, and breathing, and stuff like that. Why is there so much breathing and lying on your back before you jump into the good stuff?
Sue: Well, the first thing is when you lie on your back, what you're talking about is the rest assess. And the thing that I'm trying to educate people on, and this was actually what I learned from being a body worker, when I first started developing these techniques, I knew that they worked because I could feel the differences. And with my clients who really had severe pain, like I'm talking about clients with fibromyalgia, MS, chronic fatigue, Parkinson's, joint injuries, people who had surgeries, and things like that, they actually, I have to be honest, people who are in pain are scared. They actually are afraid to do things for themselves because they think that they're going to make it worse. And so I would give my clients this homework, and then I would call them or e-mail a couple of days into it before they came back to their session, I'd say, “How's it going”, just to check in. And a lot of them would be like, “You know, what? I haven't done it. I'm afraid,” or “I couldn't remember.”
And so that was where I came up with this idea, “Well, lie on the floor and let me see if you can feel the imbalances that I feel in my hands. Let me see if I could describe it to you.” And what I found over decades of working on people is that there are four common imbalances that many people possess that are left unaddressed from day to day, and those are the four that end up compressing the neck and low back unnecessarily and actually destabilize the neurological core reflexes that keep your abdomen and spine stable. And so, I would bring people through this dialogue to educate them on what it feels like when you've got stuck stress and when it's causing either imbalances in the shoulder girdle, 'cause stuck stress loves to live in the shoulder girdle, the diaphragm, and the pelvis. So I would describe to them the common things they might feel as opposed to what would be ideal. And once they could identify them, and they said, “I feel those imbalances.” I say, “Okay. So now let's come up on the roller and let's see if we can hydrate and eliminate these problems,” and then we would go back into that rest assess, and reassess, and sure enough, I would say, “So, when you started, you felt these imbalances. What you feel now?” And they say, “They're gone,” and I say, “Then you did it right. You did it!” And of course the next question is how long will it last, and I say, “Well, just like brushing your teeth, you brush your teeth today so that people can stand your stinky breath, but you also are brushing your teeth today for the long haul of not getting tooth decay later.”
So I think that self-care should be a daily process that people do, that's just as important as eating a healthy meal every day, or drinking water, or brushing your teeth. And that was the message I was giving to my clients, and then the other part of your question was why are we breathing so much. And the thing about the diaphragm is that the diaphragm, amazing muscle that is told by the brain 28,000 a day to contract and release. And for a lot of us, when connective tissue in the mid-torso is stiff, and it happens from the posture of sitting more than anything, it compresses the mid-region of our back, and we compress the front aspects of our torso, and that causes imbalances in the diaphragm. And if the diaphragm loses it's three dimensional expansion at 28,000 times a day, that's gonna accumulate, and it's actually one of the primary culprits of low back pain, a stiff diaphragm, a diaphragm that doesn't express motion.
So with doing something like the rebalance sequence, which is just this simple process of lying on the roller, doing a little rocking, identifying movement of the pelvis, and then stimulating the diaphragm and your core. It takes 10 minutes. It actually quiets the stress reflex in the nervous system, it boosts your body's own natural rest and repair state, it stimulates the diaphragm, it improves blood flow, it improves heart rate variability, and it basically improves the stress relaxation time of connective tissue, making it more reactive and more responsive to movement when you do get up and move around. So in 10 minutes, it seems like, and that's what I was saying, the movements of MELT seem so benign. They’re like, I don't even feel like we did anything, but I'm feeling all these changes. I say that's the brilliance of connective tissue and the nervous system is they're the most abundant and most complex systems in the entire body, and if you know how to address them, access them, and help them function more efficiently, I gotta tell you, that's even more important than exercising every day. It's just as important as getting up in the morning, and getting out, and just doing general movement. These are such vital components of our body that are completely unaddressed from diet and exercise, and I said it at the beginning of our conversation, is that even people who eat right and exercise, even the big fitness pros, suffer with chronic pain.
So there's clearly something missing in the just-eat-right-and-exercise idea of living an active, healthy, pain-free life. There are two other systems in the body that are not directly addressed through diet and exercise, and that's your nervous system and your connective tissue. You add those components to a healthy lifestyle, I'm telling you, you're gonna live better, you're gonna feel better, and you're gonna wanna be more active. ‘Cause when you feel good, you're more active and that's just the fact of the matter.
Ben: Yeah. That makes sense, and maybe it's 'cause I do a lot of yoga and meditation, and deep breathing to where when I again don't get mad at me, but I've skipped some of those sections of the “Rest and Assess” and jumpstarted into the MELT method, maybe it is because I have higher body awareness or something like that, or maybe I just need to try out the Rest and Assess before…
Sue: Yeah! I would encourage you to just do it because that's just it is. One person who became a MELT instructor had cancer, he had all of this radiation stiffness in his tissue, he couldn't turn his head, and he started melting, he got all range of motion back, and became a MELT instructor. And about eight months into it, he called me. He goes, “You know, I think after you do MELT for a while, it stops working.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, I don't really feel the changes.” And I said, “Well, what happens from the assessment to the reassessment?” And he said, “Oh, I already know what's gonna happen, so I don't bother.” And I said, “You know, you're actually interfering with the ultimate goal of what MELT is. It's not just to rehydrate connective tissue, but to rehydrate connective tissue to improve the environment that your nervous system functions in.”
So if you don't do the assessment, you're actually missing the opportunity to heighten neurological stability and efficiency by giving your nervous system a baseline, treat it, and then return it to a new baseline so that it starts to organize neurological pathways in the direction you want it to go. And that, I gotta tell you, you're like a lot of people. You're actually missing one of the most important pieces, I always say stop interfering with your body's natural processes of restoration. It's not about your thinking self that you need to change. You want to actually allow your body to experience a beginning, a middle, and an end position so that when you lie down in that last reassessment and you are consciously sensing those changes, your nervous system is getting the opportunity to reset and to say, “Oh! Is this my baseline? Is this the easy zone? Is this where the teeter-totter of stress-to-repair is balanced?”
And once you start doing that more and more often, sure enough the nervous system does seem to function in a state of balance longer. So for me, I find that I can MELT three times a week for 10 minutes a day, and I can maintain my changes, but if I feel stiff, or I exercise, or I run, I do more for myself. I give back more than I just take out. We need to give, not just take from our bodies. Our bodies need some attention back. So give it some chance, you know?
Ben: You're not very passionate about this topic, are you?
Sue: No! No!
Ben: (Laughs) Okay. I got more question for you. And that is some people like to wrap their heads around what this actually involves. So let's say somebody's listening in, maybe they're like sitting in their car, driving right now. Or maybe they're riding their bicycle, or running, or something like that, and they have a little bit of low back pain, right. Their low back's been bugging them for a while. What would a typical MELT method look like for something like a low back issue?
Sue: Sure. Well, we actually just did a research paper with New Jersey Institute of Technology, and we brought people through a four week low back pain process. And the very first thing we started every single person with which was the foot treatment. And so we use these soft balls on the bottom of the foot to stimulate those sensory nerve endings that live in the foot, these mechanoreceptors and proprioceptors, to help the brain figure out where the pelvis, or center of gravity is in relationship to the floor. And they did that for an entire week, and then we added to that something called the rebalance sequence, which is using the soft roller along the length of the spine and just basically doing these very subtle movements of the pelvis, and the diaphragmatic breathing, and learning how to find the reflexive mechanism, the contraction in the deep abdomen outside of the voluntary muscles of rectus or your oblique muscles, how to actually neurologically reacquire that contraction that is occurring every time we breathe.
And then in the second week, we added something called the lower body compression sequence, which is a basic gentle compression technique to the back of the legs, the inner thigh and the calf, and then rinsing it to the low back. And then in the final week, we added something called the lower body length and low back release sequence where you put the roller under your pelvis and you create lengthening techniques, a gentle tugging or pulling to the fascia in the front of the hip and the back of the leg, and then mobilizing the soft tissue in the pelvis to draw the fluids back to the low back. And in four weeks we reduced the thoracolumbar thickness, that's the low back thickness. So again, what happens to connective tissue when it becomes dehydrated is it loses its elastic properties. It doesn't move, and adapt, and return to its original shape efficiently. It becomes too stiff. And in low back pain people, not only is the fascia too stiff, it becomes thick, and because of the thickness, it deters muscle contraction on one side of the spine, and that is what causes the compression, the misalignments, and the damage to the discs in the low back.
So in just four weeks, we reduced the thickness by 33%. That is more than they did with acupuncture, hands-on therapy, or any other modality. It was actually a tremendous change that we found in such a short period of time. I think that the researchers were aghast over the idea of like, “Wait, so you didn't even touch the low back?” I said, “Never put pressure on the low back.” They were like, “I've never heard of anything like this.” And I said, “It's the fluid flow. If you can restimulate fascial flow, you can improve the elastic recoil, which decreases stiffness.” So we decrease stiffness, we improve stress relaxation time, we improve flexibility, people improve their forward bend by inches, and it decreased their pain by over 50% in four weeks. So, somebody's got low back pain, this is an easy thing to do. And again, it's taking people 10 minutes a day three times a week. And in the low back pain people, if you were in pain, they did it more often, but still only for about 10 to 20 minutes a day, but they did it about five days a week instead of three, and made those types of changes. Pretty tremendous.
Ben: Yeah, and what I like about it is it's kinda like a little bit every day, right. Like it's not like you're doing a two hour session a couple times a week, but it's like little bites. And for me, again, like I do this while I put the coffee on. It's like my ritual now. We have one of these like Wilfa Precision coffee makers, and I've got it down to a tee to where like if I go downstairs and I put the coffee on, and it makes the coffee, it'll still be nice and piping hot by the time I finish my routine. And then I just go drink my coffee, and waste a bunch of time on Facebook, and then go start my day.
Sue: Well, that's what I do also. I mean, I do my feet when I brush my teeth, 'cause I brush my teeth for about two to three minutes, and so I melt my feet for two to three minutes every morning.
Ben: Yeah. I even have one of these little balls on my desk right now that I'll roll my hand around while were talking. It's cool. I'm glad I read your book, Sue, and I'm glad I discovered you. And for anybody else who wants to check this out, I do recommend adding it into your routine if you happen to be someone who, say, moves. So you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/melt, that's bengreenfieldfitness.com/melt, I will link to Sue's book, I'll link to some of the other resources that we discussed during this episode.
And, finally, if you have comments, or questions, or little thoughts about ideas that we generated during this episode, feel free to jump into the comments section. There's always a very good engaging discussion going on there, and I try and get in there and help whenever I can. So that being said, Sue, thanks so much for coming on the show today, and sharing this stuff with us, and thanks for writing this book.
Sue: Absolutely. My pleasure. I hope to actually meet you in person.
Ben: I'm sure that'll happen someday. I'm sure our paths will cross 'cause I think we're both quintessential fitness nerds.
Sue: No doubt!
Ben: Alright. Well, folks, again, visit bengreenfieldfitness.com/melt for the show notes. And until next time, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Sue, the author of the book “The MELT Method,” signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
You’ve been listening to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com for even more cutting edge fitness and performance advice.
I’ll admit it: I’m a complete nerd when it comes to using a dizzying array of bodywork tools, massage and deep tissue manipulation, mobility methods and more.
So I was pretty excited when I got a chance to read a brand new book about how to create a “map” of your own connective tissue and then erase pain and / or increase mobility in specific areas of your body using that map. The name of the book is “The MELT Method: A Breakthrough Self-Treatment System to Eliminate Chronic Pain, Erase the Signs of Aging, and Feel Fantastic in Just 10 Minutes a Day!“.
In The MELT Method, manual therapist and exercise physiologist Sue Hitzmann describes a self-treatment system to combat chronic pain and erase the effects of aging and active living, in as little as ten minutes a day, all using techniques that can be done in your own home and taking advantage of the body’s natural restorative properties.
Sue has personally trained more than 1,300 professionals worldwide and is a leading presenter for national organizations such as IDEA, ECA, and PMA, and a CEU provider for ACE, AFAA, NASM, PMA, and NCBTMB. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, The Rachael Ray Show, and Live! with Regis and Kelly, and the internationally translated MELT Method book has been featured in magazines such as SELF, More, and Prevention.
I’ve been trying the methods in her book on areas like my low back, my hands, my feet and my elbows and they work with surprising efficacy, so I had to get her on the show!
During this episode, you’ll discover…
-Sue’s fascinating story of how she began digging into fascia and connective tissue and its role in pain and movement…
-What Sue discovered while dissecting cadavers and learning the truth about fascia that isn’t taught in exercise science classes…
-The concept of “fascial dehydration”, and why it is much more than just a matter of drinking more water…
-What most foam rolling and deep tissue work neglects…
-Why you shouldn’t necessarily use the hardest foam roller you can find…
-How to “glide”, “shear” and “rinse” specific areas of your body…
-Why doing a “rest and assess” prior to doing the MELT method can enhance results…
-And much more…
This podcast is brought to you by:
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Read more https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2016/03/treat-joint-pain-without-visiting-expensive-doctor-therapist/