Stretching Your Fascia

Stretching feels good, animals do it all the time. But sometimes it hurts to stretch, sometimes its hard to move out of a particular posture, which can make us think twice about stretching in the first place. So what actually happens when we stretch? What is the science of stretching?

When we stretch, it is not just the muscles we are stretching, but the connective tissue as well. The muscles are surrounded by an envelope of connective tissue, known as the fascia. This fascia runs between muscles, around organs, blood vessels and nerves, in fact is an entire net-like structure of layers, organised into different planes, which makes up our shape. When a muscle moves, the force gets transmitted to the muscle next door to it, via the fascia. Fascia can tighten like the muscles it encompasses, due to general stress and strain from poor posture, being desk-bound or repetitive actions, and sometimes needs some encouragement to loosen up again.  Gentle stretching and some myofascial release techniques can do this.

It has been seen by doctors at Harvard Medical School that when the fascia of a rat is gently stretched, the fascia strands move, and not just at the area being stretched but around the entire body of the rat. This is what happens for us too. They have discovered that stretching decreases any inflammation to the soft tissue. This is very important to us, as our orthodox treatment for pain is often anti inflammatories  or opioids, both of which can have damaging effects on our bodies and be addictive. If there is an alternative option with stretching the fascia, then this could be a better route to take.

So it is well worth taking a few minutes during your day to stop and stretch, it may just be enough to prevent pain and discomfort. If stretching alone does not get you out of the discomfort you feel, then some myofascial massage first should get things moving, and then you can continue with your stretching.


Low Back Pain

I have had several clients in the last couple of weeks who have booked in with severe low back pain, unable to move without a great deal of distress.

In the run up to Christmas, with all the work to be done in time for the holiday, many people are under a great deal of pressure to work long hours to finish in time. Whilst sitting for long periods of time at your desk, your resulting posture (flexing of the hip joint) allows the muscles at the front of your pelvis to tighten and shorten if they are not stretched out at regular intervals.

You can see from the picture that if these muscles lock down tight, once you try and stand up, they will prevent you from being able to straighten your torso properly. Imagine if you try and put up a tent with one of the guy ropes much shorter than the others? It will pull the tent poles completely over to one side. This is a similar concept, with your hip flexor muscles being the shortened guy rope. The new resulting position in turn then upsets the muscles around your glutes and low back, which register the fact you are not properly upright, so fire away trying to pull your torso to a more upright position,  resulting in low back pain and spasms, which can continue on and off until the muscles locked down tight at the front are released.

Some deep tissue massage can easily help to rectify this situation, along with stretches to help pull out the tightened muscles at the front of the pelvis. To prevent this from happening in the first place, it is well worth stopping and stretching for literally just one minute here and there. It will save you days of having to endure low back pain.

Pain Prevention

A good deep tissue massage can address a variety of muscular pain conditions, however, unless the source of the pain problem is identified, the pain will very likely return. Western medicine is often criticised for it’s approach of simply giving out pills to alleviate symptoms without looking for causes. However body work practitioners can sometimes  offer a never ending regime of treatments, without attempting to find the source of the problems in a similar manner. It is surprising how often people who are asked the question of “What do you think causes the problem?” intuitively know the answer but are conditioned into going for help elsewhere.

Some very common examples of everyday issues causing pain can be sleeping positions – too many pillows; sleeping on your front; too hard or too soft a mattress. Everyday habits of computer use and posture; sitting positions; leaning forward to looking at a screen; holding a phone under the chin; sitting down with a wallet in the back pocket.

A few good deep tissue massages can help to get everything moving again in a pain free manner, then people can empower themselves by taking responsibility for their habits and posture, and making improvements to their conditions, and avoid future repeats of returning pain patterns.



Pain and Posture

The spine naturally is made up of  a series of curves, which are essential to us as  shock absorbers.

They transform the spine from a straight, inflexible rod to a spring, which is able to bend and flex in response to the stress caused by the impact of walking, running, and other daily activities. If the spine was completely straight, all of the stress would go straight through the bones, leading to increased wear and tear on the vertebrae and intervertebral discs.

Now have a look at these diagrams of common postural positions people tend to adopt at work:

The figure on the left is sitting straight, all curves in place, and the only issue from this posture over a long period of time would be slightly squashed hamstrings and tightened hip flexor muscles, which with a good stretch, can be alleviated.

The figure in the middle, peering up at possibly a screen, is adopting the ‘forward head posture’, resulting in neck and shoulder pain. Strain all along the spine by leaning forwards on a desk, which over time, can lead to tightened back muscles pulling on the vertebrae, allowing discs to bulge out through the resulting gaps, causing pain and possible nerve problems. The hamstrings are squashed by increased weight thrown onto them from the upper body’s position, hip flexors shortened and resulting in lower back and hip pain.

The third figure on the right hand side is also reducing the curves of the body by the slumped position in the chair, once again putting similar stress on the back muscles and vertebrae. The head is also thrust forward to counter balance the lean of the shoulders against the chair back, causing neck and shoulder pain. Although the body of the hamstrings are not squashed in this position, there is an extreme amount of weight pushing down on the top ends of the hamstrings, when the tendons attach on to the pelvis, which will tighten with this added stress, causing possible lower back pain. Any attempt to use a computer from this position is also likely to cause pain in the arm.

The best pain-free way to sit is on a stool, so you are not tempted to lean up against a chair back, feet flat on the floor, chin tucked in, elbows resting at you sides. As long as you are sitting on top of your sitting bones in this position, you cant go wrong!


Elbow Pain, Knee Pain

I often have clients arriving with pain in their knees or elbows. Whenever you feel pain in these areas, it often is because of soft tissue and muscles pulling tight either above or below the joint, and so yanking on the bone they are attached to, pulling it out of its natural alignment and causing pain as a result. So if you experience pain in these areas, it is worth seeing if the surrounding muscles feel sore when you push in on them. If they do, then you can reassure yourself that it is only a tightness in the soft tissue which is the reason for the pain, and this is easily addressed by a deep tissue massage.

Teeth, Jaw and Face Pain

Trigger points in the masseter muscles of the jaw can cause no end of mischief.

They can be a cause of pain in both upper and lower teeth, as well as a source of tooth hypersensitivity to hot and cold temperatures. They can also cause pain under the eyes, over the eyebrows, often mistaken for sinusitis. They can cause deep inner ear pain and a sense of a low ‘roaring’ sound. The resulting tightness in the jaw’s ability to move properly encourages tightness in the vocal mechanism. Various singers with whom I have treated this muscle have reported to me a better ability to reaching their notes afterwards. Trigger points can be created in this muscle by chewing gum and biting nails.

This muscle is easy to self treat however, good news for all! You just need to put your thumb inside your mouth and squeeze the muscle between your thumb and forefingers. It feels thick and rubbery. Find any sore spot along the muscle, which will be eye-wateringly painful when the muscle contains trigger points. Squeeze as much as you can bear, each day until it no longer hurts. You will feel the results immediately. Alternately you can mention it when booking in for your deep tissue massage treatment and have it treated for you.



A Major Cause of Pain

Trigger points are a major cause of pain within our bodies. Many people grimly live with very real pain which has often been misdiagnosed as something else, or had it categorized as imaginary. The knot-like characteristics of trigger points have been written about for over 150 years, and their ability to displace pain has been known about since 1938.

Trigger points can develop in any of our muscles and if left untreated can last as long as a lifetime. Even after death they can be detected in the muscle until rigor mortis sets in. If sitting in a muscle in a ‘latent’ form, ie, not actively causing any pain, they can accumulate over years and be a major cause of stiffness and joint immobility as we age.  These latent trigger points can easily be activated to cause pain by very little stress, the classic ‘straw which breaks the camel’s back’ scenario, when the smallest of movements has caused you to suddenly have your back seize up for example.

Latent trigger points  are exquisitely painful when pressed on and so easily found if you have a massage treatment. This is why regular treatments really do make an enormous difference to someone’s ability to have a life pain free and with the best of possible mobility.

Neck Pain


Neck pain, headaches or difficulties in turning your head are often just down to muscle tension in the neck. Precise and focused deep tissue massage can be extremely helpful with these problems, however it is also very important to look at what you think may have caused the problem in the first place.Fascia painting

Sleeping habits could be a major factor – do you sleep on your front? A prone sleeping position will be straining those muscles all night long. Your choice of pillows could also be a factor – are you allowing your spine to keep as straight as possible? Everyday habits such as the tilt of car seats, telephone and computer position all create habitual strains on the muscles.  Are you always in a rush to get somewhere? As soon as we rush, our chin posture tends to alter, is thrust into forward head posture, in turn straining the muscles of our neck.

A combination of recognising possible contributing factors, along with some deep tissue massage treatments would go a long way to changing any problem neck pain.

Tensegrity in the Body

Our skeletons are held up by the soft tissue in our bodies, in tension, so as the bones do not actually touch one another. This enables a wide range of free movement between the joints in the body.

This sculpture that I came across whilst attending an Open Day at Canterbury University recently shows this concept really well.

tensegrity-at-canterbury-uni-campusThe poles in the sculpture do not touch (like the bones).They are held taught by the wires (like the soft tissue, ie fascia, tendons, ligaments, muscles). If someone was to tug on one part of the sculpture, the resulting movement of the poles would create an effect further along the sculpture.

This is also what happens within the body. Tight soft tissue at one end will have repercussions further along a line throughout the body, resulting in the bones being pulled out of alignment slightly which in turn can cause pain and restricted movement.

Regular deep tissue massage can prevent this from becoming a problem and enabling you to use your body to its optimum ability.

Muscle Pain which keeps Returning


massage logoMuscle pain is caused by’ trigger points’ within the muscle. These trigger points can be treated by deep tissue massage techniques to eliminate them, but sometimes they just keep coming back!

Pain caused by one-time events can be obvious, and the resulting trigger points do not usually return. A one-time episode of overloading the muscle, an occasional heavy lifting,  ambitious exercise when out of condition, or a sudden enthusiastic burst of different activity can all create mischievous trigger points.

However if muscles are put into a chronic overloading situation, such as in an everyday work situation, or a postural stance which strains the muscle repeatedly, then unless you are able to change the conditions which cause the problem, the trigger points and hence the pain, will keep returning.

A good massage therapist should also be able to advise you on changing any postural problems you may have or work-related changes which may be needed, to try and prevent returning trigger points becoming a problem.