One in five of people has trouble going up the stairs, getting out of bed or shoulder-checking while driving.
We try therapy, medications, vaccines and even surgery to cope with chronic pain in our knees, backs, necks and head, but some experts say there’s a better way to help you get back to normal.
It’s called the MELT method — a self-treatment system designed to manipulate and rehydrate the body’s connective tissue through using specialized soft-treatment balls and body rollers. These exercises aim to help reduce inflammation, combat chronic pain and restore mobility.
MELT stands for Myofascial Energetic Lengthening Technique, which is a fancy way of saying that it provides therapy for the body’s connective tissue, known as fascia. Fascia is the biological fabric that holds us together. It’s a thin, tough, elastic-type of connective tissue that surrounds muscles and organs in a web throughout your entire body. It wraps around the inside of your body like a wetsuit, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head.
Here’s how it works: soft rollers and balls are used to apply gentle compression to specific points on your body. Through a series of precise movements, MELT works to rebalance nervous-system regulation (fascia is densely populated with nerve endings) and increase the flow of fluid in areas where your connective tissue is dried out or compressed. The movements knead, rub and stretch the tissue in your hands, feet, legs, back and shoulders. The balls are used for your hands and feet while the foam roller is used for all other areas.
"Pain indicates joint instability in a negative, cascading effect over time. With MELT, we push the fluid in your cells around. The fluid is gel-like, kind of like a plasma-screen television," says Annabel Scott, owner and instructor at Pilates Manitoba on Academy Road, which offers MELT method classes. "The reason for its consistency is because the fluid has collagen and elastin in it, the protein building blocks to all tissue in the body."
Scott is a level-6 MELT instructor. In 2013, she was trained and certified in New York by Sue Hitzman, a manual therapist and former group fitness instructor who created the MELT method.
MELT is gaining in popularity with people who are physically active and experience pain while working out to people who have chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia.
So what does it mean to "rehydrate" connective tissue? As we age, our bodies endure wear and tear. The accumulated stress caused by repetitive postures and movements of everyday living can result in dehydration of the connective tissue system. Sitting for long periods, poor posture and even continual motions like running can compress and dry out connective tissue.
“We are human animals in nature and are meant to move fluidly under pressure. But we do not do this anymore. We sit at computers where the diaphragm and pelvic floor can not act reflexively.” — Annabel Scott, owner and instructor at Pilates Manitoba
"We are human animals in nature and are meant to move fluidly under pressure. But we do not do this anymore," Scott says. "We sit at computers where the diaphragm and pelvic floor can not act reflexively."
MELT techniques aim to improve the hydration of the connective tissue by stimulating the cells that are designed to create collagen and elastin, which brings fluid back into those areas. It’s like putting WD-40 on a creaky door hinge, making the tissue more supportive and allowing the body to release long-held tension. And because healthy fascia has a gel-like consistency, it works and feels better when it’s properly hydrated.
We’ve likely all felt cellular dehydration— it’s that stiff feeling you get after sitting for long periods of time or how your joints feel glued together after a long run.
"Habitual posture and movement creates dehydration," says Ruth Baines, an instructor at Pilates Manitoba who is also trained in the MELT method. "MELT pulls fluid out of your internal organs into your fascial system, which is why people end up thirsty after doing it. MELT is reversing that chronic dehydration that we experience, which is why babies are bouncy and older people are stiff."
A 2016 study conducted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology on the effects of the MELT method on lower-back pain found a reduction in chronic lower-back pain, increased flexibility and change in the connective tissue over a four-week period.
At first glance, MELT foam rollers look similar to the regular foam rollers you’d find at your gym. However, the MELT ones are softer and aren’t necessarily used in the same way. The softer surface allows for the kind of access that, when paired with MELT movements and sequencing, can rehydrate and lengthen the fascia.
"For MELT rollers, they studied and patented just the amount of force needed for the average person," Scott says.
MELT is to the neurofascial system (nervous and connective tissue system) what most other forms of exercise are to the musculoskeletal system.
"The way we move is through our fascia, it’s not strictly a muscle-bone lever," Baines says. "When our fascial system is happier, then we actually feel better and we start to rebalance the tensional pull in those tissues. Through this, we eliminate stiffness and pain."
Scott, who opened Pilates Manitoba in 2002, believes MELT complements other healing practices.
"I’ve had my life in Pilates but even Pilates has to evolve," Scott says. "MELT is the neurofascial science behind Pilates and its pressurization of the core. It also really works well mixed in with your yoga and meditation practice."
Scott has taught the MELT method to children, people with Alzheimer’s and dementia and even high-performance athletes, including members of the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. She says MELT was a natural fit for her studio on Academy Road.
"Athletes still accumulate stress in their bodies in a way that compromises the stability of their joints," Scott says. "We know the body has to learn by doing. It has to physically process its pain to move beyond trauma. It can’t just be passively done."
MELT focuses on the mind-body connection and is not meant to take the place of a professional. With any type of therapy or treatment, it’s always best to consult a health professional or doctor beforehand.
It’s hard to find time for ourselves — so much of our days are spent constantly connected and overstimulated. Our bodies need all sorts of different types of care, including self-care. Research has shown that integrating self-care practices into your life can improve your quality of living, productivity and well-being.
"Self-care is the missing piece," Scott says.
"I want to help people help themselves. It’s only through awareness that you can ask the body to heal or fix itself."
Sabrina Carnevale is a freelance writer and communications specialist, and former reporter and broadcaster who is a health enthusiast. She writes a twice-monthly column focusing on wellness and fitness.