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.

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.

Do you get hip pain?

I have had several clients recently showing similar patterns of tight muscles and resulting hip pain, which seems to come from a common problem. Take a look at this diagram of our ankle joints….

Do you see how many muscles span across the front of the ankle? Now imagine these muscles in a tight and shortened state, the ankle would not be able to move back and forth very easily. When this happens, we are unable to do big bouncy strides, bouncing off the balls of our feet and leaping forward. Instead, the foot is locked into a more static position and our stride is shortened with a flat pronated foot.

This then sets up a chain of events where the whole leg movement is strained on to the hamstrings, which in turn tighten and can pin the pelvis down, causing hip pain. The flattened (pronated) foot movement also then sets up a chain of events where, in order to stay upright, the knee takes an inward (medial) dive, putting strain on external rotator muscles at the top of the leg, which then also cause hip pain. If the person is a runner, they end up with a running gait a bit like ‘Rachel’ from Friends, if you remember that funny episode.

So the key to avoiding all this is quite simple. The anterior muscles of the ankle joint need to stay flexible and the joint needs to be able to move freely back and forth (flexion and extension). A deep tissue massage focusing on this area, especially if you do regular exercise, will be a great preventative measure to ensure pain free good performance.

 

So to move

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.

 

 

Sore Shoulders, hump back

Many people come to me for treatment with sore shoulders. In the vast majority of cases, it is very obvious from the moment I open the door to them, that they are holding themselves in what is commonly known as a ‘forward head posture’. 

When habitually leaning forward with your chin stuck out, the weight of the head is thrown on to neck muscles which are not designed to take this extra 5 Kg of weight. This leads to pain across the top of the shoulders, tightened chest, and in extreme cases, the appearance of a hump back.

A deep tissue massage will address the resulting trigger points the stressed muscles from this posture creates. To avoid future pain in the shoulders, you must be aware to keep your chin tucked in and the top of your head nice and tall. It is very easy to stick the chin forward when busy looking at a screen, driving, rushing to get somewhere, but if you stop and tuck it in, this will soon become normal posture and you will no longer have the associated shoulder pain.

 

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.

 

Pain Free Travel

Many people have to sit for long periods of time to travel, whether its by car, train or plane. To be aware of your sitting posture can make the world of difference to being pain-free at your destination.

drawingThe crucial point to think about is to be able to sit on TOP of the sitting bones of your pelvis, and not to roll behind them. The vast majority of seats are not designed with this in mind and it is very difficult to sit correctly. A good supply of wedges are essential for a long journey to enable you to sit on top of the sitting bones. If you place your hands underneath your bottom whilst sitting, you can feel the bones with which you need to sit up on. Once sitting correctly, you should not need a back rest, as your spine is designed to be comfortably upright above your pelvis. If you rely on a backrest, then the chances are that you are not sitting correctly to begin with. Your knees need to be slightly below your hip level, and your feet on the ground.

I often take a small hard cushion with me when travelling, and also find a coat is very useful to ball up and stick between my lower back and the seat upright, even if just sitting down at the cinema.

The second point to think about is to keep the chin tucked in, which is especially an issue if you are driving. It is an easy tendency to stick the chin forward, to display a ‘forward head posture’ which in turn compresses the back of the neck. With the chin tucked in, the back of the neck stays nice and long, and this way can avoid associated shoulder pain.

If you already have existing back/neck/shoulder pain, don’t despair!  This can be addressed with some deep tissue massage to set you on your way and with a bit of  postural knowledge, future pain from this can be avoided.