Fascial distortion model

How I Got Hooked on Fascial Distortion Model

By Mara Abbott
Olympian and CTS Contributing Editor


I almost never got bodywork as a professional cyclist. Part of that decision was probably financial, but a part of it also came from a sense of pride that I didn’t need the help, that I could keep any impending physical ailments in check with my devoted yoga practice. For the most part, this worked. Yet as I left the bike behind and began experimenting with running and weight-lifting, I finally had to admit I might need a bit of help to keep everything functioning smoothly.

A Need For Help

The turning point came as I tried to figure out a bizarre and mysterious injury in which a single run left me with quads that burned for two weeks without abating. Ultimately, the culprit turned out to be a compressed obterator nerve. As I searched for the answer I worked with both a physical therapist, whose poorly disguised confusion/surprise at my limited range of hip flexor movement meant leaving each appointment more terrified than when I entered, and a massage therapist whose skilled work nonetheless left me less-than-relaxed after he spontaneously started talking politics midway through our session.

Finally, one day at my local gym I ran into Tracy Byarlay, an in-house bodyworker who specializes in something called the “Fascial Distortion Model”. I explained my situation to him, and he offered to help. I accepted partially because he seemed so confident he could fix me up and partially because I knew my former roommate (also a picky elite athlete and national champion open water swimmer) trusted him, but perhaps primarily because I was scared and desperate.

Fascial What?

I didn’t know much about the work Tracy did. I mostly remembered what it was called because of a longstanding typo on our gym’s website that claimed he specialized in the somewhat less-appealing method of “facial distortion.” I looked into it, and learned that fascial distortion work is based on a model in which most musculoskeletal injuries can be linked to alterations in our bodies’ fascia.

Simply put, fascia is connective tissue, primarily made of collagen, which encases and protects all of our bones, muscles, and nerves. It allows muscles to move without friction and it is the stuff that holds our bodies together. Yet, like our muscles and bones, fascia is a living tissue, and that means it, too, adapts to stresses exerted upon it. After an injury, fascia adjusts rapidly to prevent further injury of impacted muscles, but its form can also be altered by long-standing movement patterns.

FDM (fascial distortion model) corrects a variety of such fascial alterations, which it classifies into groups such as triggerbands, triggerpoints, continuum distortions and folding distortions. Practitioners say it can be used for everything from lower back pain to ankle sprains to tendonitis. It’s supposed to work fast – most people see big results in just a few sessions, though – as Tracy explained to me – things won’t stay fixed if an athlete goes straight back into the same movement patterns that caused the injury in the first place.

“If you are doing things like massage therapy, chiropractic, or physical therapy and the issue is not resolving, it could be a distortion in the fascial tissue,” Tracy explained to me. He used an analogy that compared an injury to running over a nail with your tire – a very relevant image for a cyclist. Even if you remove the nail, he said, “There is still a hole in the tire that needs to be fixed. FDM patches the tire so the other work you do can hold its benefit.”

Did Fascial Distortion Model Work?

Yes, I think so. I got better. It took a bit of time, because even once the compression had been released on my nerve, the nerve itself still had to heal. Tracy actually works a punch/counterpunch protocol with a local physical therapist, Martina Vidali. It’s an excellent model, as Martina helps evaluate imbalances and problem spots, and then Tracy irons them out.

I should probably warn you that FDM hurts. It’s the sort of bodywork that makes me bite my lip, wiggle my toes, and squeak in an attempt to work through the tension. Then again, it’s no less uncomfortable than somehow ending up in a face-down discussion with a massage therapist about the current state of politics in United States. Nonetheless, my FDM practitioner’s intuition in poking the tender spot I’d prefer he overlook and the way I can feel tension dissipate as he holds pressure on each hot spot makes me believe the discomfort is worth it.

Free Cycling Training Assessment Quiz

Take our free 2-minute quiz to discover how effective your training is and get recommendations for how you can improve.

Traditionally, I would have had a healthy dose of skepticism after my treatments – was my recovery really due to Tracy’s work? Would I have gotten better with time anyhow? Was this really just a placebo effect? In this case, however, I had some undeniable evidence to prove that my sessions had been worthwhile.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Cyclists are notoriously attached to data, so shortly after giving up my career-long adoration of my SRM power meter, I picked up a Garmin running watch on a sweet Black Friday deal. As I dove into new kinds of data, one metric had me a bit concerned. The Garmin measured something called “ground contact time balance.” This number basically shows the amount of time you spend with one foot on the ground versus the other – and mine was far from even.

I watched that figure with trepidation for more than a year, understanding cognitively that not all people are entirely symmetrical and that my problem might not be such a problem at all. But here’s the thing – within three weeks of working with FDM, and with no other real changes in training, my numbers started to come out 50-50. I felt more physically balanced too, but the fact I could actually use data to document the change fascinated me (I may have tried to use this anecdote to entertain and impress other endurance athlete data geeks, with mixed results). I was absolutely sold.

Should You Try It?

Like many therapies, from acupuncture to foam rolling, there is no conclusive scientific literature that proves FDM works. One 2014 study out of Germany found dramatic improvement in patients being treated for shin splints, while a 2018 review of literature in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Theories claimed insufficient proof of FDM’s efficacy. Proof or not, my own experiences lead me to strongly recommend this work as an option well worth trying for anyone dealing with musculoskeletal pain.

For myself, I’m hooked. Sure, it’s possible that I, too, have finally fallen victim to a bodywork placebo, but for now I count myself among the FDM believers. After a few months of treatment with Tracy, life got busy and I began to think myself permanently cured. However, after a month-and-a-half of going it alone, I started to feel tightness in my lower back and left glute. Then, slowly but inexorably, my ground contact numbers went back out of balance… and I had to pick up the phone.

Ultimately, our goal is to figure out what movement patterns are causing me to keep going crooked. In the meantime I’m grateful – and I confess, a bit relieved – to finally have an ally I trust to help keep my body healthy. In the long run, taking a step toward learning the lesson that good things can come from asking for help is a big gain in itself.

FREE Mini-Course: Learn How to Maximize Your Limited Training Time

Learn step-by-step how to overcome limited training time and get faster. Walk away with a personalized plan to increase your performance.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Comments 15

  1. Thank you Mara for a great article and I’m glad Tracy was able to help you using the Fascial Distortion Model. He was one of our first certified FDM providers in Boulder, Colorado. The power of FDM is we can train all manual therapists and they all can get the same reproducible outcomes, regardless of licensure. Massage therapists, PT’s, DC’s, MD’s, DO’s, and ATC’s can all use the Fascial Distortion Model to work with their athletes and resolve fascial, muscular, and joint pain with confidence.

    Anyone looking for a FDM provider near them they can visit our website at https://www.fascialdistortion.com.

    If it is alright with you I’d love to post a link to this article on our website to share your story.

  2. First of all, great article! Really happy that you didn’t give up on yourself!

    FDM literally changed the course of my life. In 2014, I became the first person with spastic cerebral palsy quadriplegia to run in the Chicago Marathon. Only a month after the race, I turned over in bed and felt pain in my back and quads. For the next 5 years, I traveled the country looking for a diagnosis as my health continue to decline.
    After 5 years of PT, nerve ablations, epidurals, told I need a spine surgery and to get ready to using a wheelchair, I finally found an answer with FDM. Within 1 treatment of FDM I could walk again. I’m still learning to get up from a chair on my own currently and getting into a car on my own, however it’s only a matter of time before that will happen again. I’m on a mission to get back to my next Marathon and I know FDM will play a big role in that.

    Now it’s my mission to spread the word of FDM because in my opinion should be available in every city. Chronic pain is often not taken serious with few good options for treatment and FDM could help many in this area.

    Thank you so much for writing the article. The more people that know about FDM, the sooner more lives will be positively changed.

    Keep after your goals!

  3. Fascial Distortion/ releasing the whole body!

    Hello great article one of my clients sent this to me as a practitioner of structural integration Rolfing just to give some of your readers a heads up the fascia research Congress has started in 2007 at Havard medical by my mentor and teacher Dr Tom Findley MD PhD Advanced rolfer & Robert Schliep, there’s facts and figures and myself working with him at the Veterans Hospital in East Orange New Jersey we took a 100 Vets from Afghanistan and Iraq their height has changed somewhere between 7/8 inches taller and some were 2 inches taller in a 10 session process, that’s actually written in an abstract far as deals or concern I actually shadow a maual DO in N J Unfortunately most of those are treat you as a medical doctor and do not work on you manually the sad part of that there is many fascial distortions but sometimes instead of just using a scraping tool considering you have 650 muscles and 206 bones it’s sometimes better to realign the whole body instead of one area of myofascial release , in essence Rolfing structural integration releases the whole body instead of one particular area !!!
    PS,I was actually was selected to come out to Chris Carmichael’s Camp about 15 years ago to work on some of this cyclist just thought I’d pass that along he was great had a wonderful time.
    Peace Out

    Edward Hemberger,
    Structural Integration
    ART Active Release Therapy
    NMT Neuromuscular Therapist
    Cranial Sacral Therapist
    973 462 3112
    Ed_ Hemberger@Verizon. net

  4. Thanks for the article! I successfully went through a shoulder treatment that sounds very similar to FDM, called “scraping” at InMotion in Phoenix. Best to keep your eyes closed because one look at the tools was enough to send shivers up my spine – like watching your doctor prep a shot before getting stuck!

    I was curious what your “ground contact time balance” numbers were prior to treatment? And, do you think running on the slight drainage slope of sidewalks and roads has any effect on the balance numbers?

  5. I was introduced to the fascial distortion model in 2004, by the founder himself, Dr. Steven Typaldos DO. It changed my life.
    As a practicing Osteopathic family physician, I used manual medicine in my practice about 50% of the time. The FDM is so effective, I have devoted the past 14 years of my life to its development. It’s the most powerful tool in my treatment toolbox. The results are immediate, they are measurable, they are obvious and objective. Treatment results are predictable and reproducible. Evidence based? I have treated thousands of patients from infants to centenarians, around the world. Ask them. The evidence speaks for itself in the lives of those who have benefited for the FDM

  6. How is this different from deep tissue massage performed correctly? I’ve gone through the same procedures using PT strengthening exercise with deep tissue massage and it has corrected repetitive movement injuries.

    1. In my experience it is more of a focused trigger point experience. It also focuses on the fascia, rather than on the muscles, and uses a different format of mapping out the problem area. The fact that there are so many different methods is part of what is so fascinating to me!

    2. It is a misunderstanding of the FDM to consider it a collection of manual techniques. The model provides a unique mental framework for diagnosing and treating pain. It is quite different from the standard medical or orthopedic model in that a person’s body language or ‘gestures’ they use to show where or how it hurts is quite predictably paired with a specific type of ‘fascial distortion’ as postulated by Dr. Typaldos. The specific types of distortions can be treated with a variety of manual techniques which are not necessary unique to FDM, Osteopathy, Chiropractic or any other discipline. However, Dr. Typaldos had developed specific techniques to address each type of fascial injury which were and are amazingly effective.

      The distortions for the most part cannot be imaged and have not been proven to exist; however, the model is the most effective I have found to predict whether a specific treatment will meet with success.

      All of us who work in the manual medicine field are working with the same thing, we just think about it differently.

  7. I’ m sold as well, and I am no where near a world class athlete. Over 10 years ago, my husband and I hit a deer on our tandem at about 30mph. Hitting the fresh chip-seal took a hunk of skin off my knee (among other things) which required a sizable fascial/cutaneous flap to repair. In the seasons following, I was thankful there was no structural damage to the joint, but something continued to feel restricted and made pedaling uncomfortable. Massage, stretching, acupuncture didn’t seem to make much difference. I found a physical therapist who had training in myofascial release. It was uncomfortable and required a lot of “homework” including using a snake-bit kit to release the tissue along the scar, but it was well worth it. Check into it before you start to develop other compensatory issues.

  8. Great to hear about problems at the elite level that many of us can relate to. I also am tracking GCT imbalance with my Garmin watch that correspond to my weak side.

    A decades old hamstring strain may be to blame and it’s coming back as I transition back into running for weight loads. I plan to work on strengthening, stretching, and foam rolling. If that doesn’t work I’m getting some professional help!

  9. I’m glad you were helped. Integrating the fascial system in the understanding of how the body works (alongside neurovascular structures and the musculoskeletal system) has been done by osteopaths for more than a century. Do you not see D.O.’s for there types of problems in America?

      1. DO is doctor of osteopathy, traditionally the medical approach focused on manual (hands on therapy) for healing. In the US a lot of these physicians go into other specialties such as anesthesia, pain management, GP practices and other disciplines of medicine that are often more profitable. More and more PT’s are starting to practice manual therapies such as CTS, Strain/Counter Strain, Muscle Energy, Visceral Therapy and many others that work at correcting structural imbalances within the body and restoring over all function and health.

        I enjoyed your article but felt like you discredited the fields of PT and massage therapy and compartmentalized them based on your experiences which sound like you’ve only encountered those two professionals. There are some tremendous PT’s and massage therapists (interchangeable with bodyworker) out there who are very skilled and understander the dynamic role of fascia in musculoskeletal imbalances and the strain it can place on the nervous system and others in the body.

        Best of luck with your recovery. Really enjoy the articles by the CTS coaches, looking forward to more.

        1. Thanks Heidi – my intent wasn’t to discredit massage therapists, but to tell a story about a method that worked for me that I hadn’t heard of before… and to try to introduce others to something a little less mainstream too. I’ve had plenty of great PTs – this was just written about one experience.
          Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *