The resilience of the human body is truly awe-inspiring. So often, we forget the micro-traumas we suffer through our regular day-to-day life. Perhaps you lifted something with poor body mechanics or stepped in a hole while hiking. Although you may not have felt much change in your body, each motion we make affects us.
Often as I jog the memories of my clients with questions of recent injuries, something will come into their mind: “Oh, I did slip on the ice a week ago.” Or sometimes a client will remember an accident that is much more significant: “I got rear-ended a month ago, but I wasn’t injured.”
The more I work with the human body, the more I realize we simply aren’t machines. We are individuals with our own lifetime of experiences, starting with birth, then childhood tumbles, injuries, car accidents and surgeries. As much as we’d like a clear explanation of our back pain, the reality is there is never a simple answer that takes our whole body into consideration.
There is no denying our bodies have an amazing architectural structure. Our muscles, blood vessels and nerves weave through our body majestically; our bones and organs are suspended within this mass. What all of these structures have in common is they are covered, surrounded by, supported by and interpenetrated by fascia.
Fascia is our connective tissue and runs through and between every single cell of your body. It runs head to toe, without interruption. Haven’t heard of it? Western medicine was built on ideas formed by dissecting our bodies into smaller and smaller parts, missing the connectivity that exists within. In a cadaver, fascia appears solid, very unlike its fluid appearance in a living being.
What scientists are now finding is that fascia plays critical roles within our living bodies. When in the normal healthy state, fascia has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. Problems arise when one experiences physical or emotional trauma, scarring or inflammation, and the tissue loses its pliability.
Fascia is the body’s shock absorber, so when you have a car accident or high-velocity impact, additional connective tissue is generated as a form of compensation during the healing process. As these injuries build up in your body, the tissue starts to solidify and lose its fluid nature. Think of losing range of motion in your shoulder after a fall, or your neck feeling stiff ever since that car accident years ago.
Certain injuries don’t present themselves right away, though we might walk away seemingly unscathed, residual effects may be seen over time. Our bodies might give us the first signal that we need to take time to rest and recover. Often, we ignore those messages until our body is screaming in pain and only then do many of us seek out healing.
Remember that architectural structure I mentioned? The pillars and scaffolding of our bodies are greatly affected by surgeries, even those done by laparoscopy. Surgeries are absolutely an important tool of modern medicine, but the scars they leave behind prevent the flow of energy and nutrition, and restrict your range of motion. Restrictions in your fascia exert a crushing pressure of up to 2,000 pounds per square inch, causing pinched nerves, asthma or chronic migraines.
The next time your head hurts, don’t just focus on your head. Think of that abdominal surgery long ago. As the scar has healed, the tissue may have created a tug that extends all the way up to your head, just as a snag in one part of a sweater pulls on the rest of it. Every part of us is connected; front to back, top to bottom. Fascia restrictions do not show up in standard tests like X-rays and CAT scans, so a high percentage of people who suffer from chronic pain or dysfunction may be misdiagnosed.
So, what can you do to release your fascia restrictions? You can see a myofascial release therapist or attend a myofascial self-treatment class. Or, if nothing else, simply listen to your body. When you are in the middle of stacking wood but your back starts to hurt, give yourself a chance to rest. If you work at a desk, stand up and stretch occasionally. Notice the tension in your body and let it soften. These small changes can make a big difference, and will affect you from head to toe.
Lindsay Courcelle is a massage therapist specializing in myofascial release therapy at Rutland Integrative Health.