"Blades of Glory," 4 Ways the Tools Can Work & Common Concerns Addressed
Updated: Mar 30, 2021
The application of tools to the human body is not a new practice. However, there are multiple explanations for the reasons behind applying tools and how the techniques may actually work. This article will offer a perspective mostly based off of the framework in the "FMT Blades" Basic & Advanced courses by Functional Movement Technologies.
With skilled application of tools similar to the RockBlade Mallet (pictured above), 4 main affects can be achieved: Decreased Pain, Activation, Relaxation and Improved Fascial Gliding. Most tools are designed with different edges to meet the contours of the body and reach different tissue-depths. The tools are most often used in a stroking manner over the skin with varying speed, pressure, depth and direction depending on the goal of treatment. It is important to acknowledge that the tools and the following techniques should be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan and not in isolation.
4 Ways the Tools Can Work:
Decrease Pain: When an area of the body is painful, the tools can be applied very lightly to the skin and help reduce pain. For example, a rock climber who has neck pain related to climbing and belaying their partner may benefit from lightly applying the tool to the painful region (similar to rubbing a stubbed toe). Essentially, the nervous system is being provided with positive input that can tell the brain to "turn down the volume" and decrease the climber's neck pain.
Activation: Sometimes there are parts of the body that are underactive and can affect human movement negatively. The tools can also be used to give the brain and nervous system a "stronger connection" to the area, so that the person is able to use it and improve their movement. An example may be a rock climber with a poorly performing rotator cuff that makes it difficult for them to reach over their head completely. The tools may be used to bring better awareness to the rotator cuff muscles so the climber may use them to gain more shoulder range of motion for their sport.
Relaxation: On the flipside of the same coin, some parts of the body are overactive and this can also affect our movement. To continue with the rock climber example, perhaps their upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles are overactive and also making it difficult to reach overhead. Within the same session but with different techniques, the tools can be used to "calm down" the overactive upper trapezius and levator scapulae while "activating" the rotator cuff musculature and thus helping them climb better.
Fascial Gliding: The first three mechanisms in which the tools work are primarily based off of techniques used to communicate with specific components of the nervous system to get the desired effect. This last technique is theoretically more "mechanical" in nature. Another part of movement dysfunction may be related to a lack of "fascial gliding." Essentially there are numerous layers of fascia (connective tissue) that are separated by fluid. In some areas of the body and some people, the fluid between these layers can become stickier (more viscous) and less mobile which can affect our movement. Perhaps our rock climber has poor fascial gliding on the back of the thighs (hamstrings) which is making it difficult to reach a foothold on a climbing route. Once again, within the same session and with a different technique, the tools can be utilized to improve the climber's movement.
Common Questions and Concerns:
I see similar tools online and available for purchase, can I use them on myself? There are many affordable tools available for purchase made from a variety of materials. People do not HAVE to be treated by a trained practitioner, although they may achieve better results with self-treatment if they are educated by a practitioner. There are some sensitive areas of the body (like the throat) that are best avoided with tools made of metal or stone. Generally speaking, most areas of the body are safe to receive light to moderate amounts of pressure and stroking with the tools in healthy individuals. People who take blood thinners, have blood clotting disorders, have fragile skin and other health conditions should consult a medical professional about tools prior to use or use a different treatment method.
Do these techniques hurt? Although some of the techniques involve deeper pressure and can be more uncomfortable, the treatment should always be tolerable. Communication between the patient/client and physiotherapist is key!
Will I have markings on my skin after treatment? Although markings on the skin are intentional in some philosophies and applications of tools, the framework utilized in this article operate on the principle "less is more." The 4 mechanisms described above can be achieved without leaving extensive markings on the skin.
Is lotion or any other type of emollient used during treatment? The tools can be used with and/or without lotions, emollients and other topicals depending on the goal of the treatment.