Little-Known Factors in Chronic Pain
IS YOUR FASCIA GLUED DOWN?
The Structural influence includes the function, tone and balance of our muscles, nerves, organs, bones, joints and the connective tissue that holds it all together. Ligaments, tendons, fascia and discs are all types of connective tissue. Without it, our body would collapse into a blob of tissue with bones sticking out. Gross, huh?
All our tissues are enveloped and held together by the transparent connective tissue called fascia. If you’ve ever prepared a chicken for cooking, you’ve probably seen this thin, transparent tissue enveloping each group of muscle.
If you haven’t seen fascia, you could envision it as a complex sheet of plastic food wrap that enfolds and connects every tissue in our bodies. Through the fascia, everything in our bodies is interconnected and interrelated.
Scar Tissue Super-Glue
Most injuries, especially those from auto accidents, result in scar tissue formation in affected areas. This is part of the normal healing process. But there’s often a side effect from scar tissue. Since its purpose is to glue torn things back together, it commonly binds tissues that weren’t meant to be attached to each other.
This can happen any time there’s inflammation, which affects all the tissues surrounding an injury. Infections in the chest, abdomen or pelvis, and conditions such as endometriosis commonly leave behind significant scar tissue. Physical injuries and surgery are also frequent causes. Whenever scar tissue glues things together that are supposed to be freely movable, there’s likely to be trouble!
Try this Self-Demonstration!
This will give you a “first-hand” experience of the problem:
- Look at the palm side of your hand (with fingers together) and notice where the tips of your fingers are in relationship to each other. The middle one’s the longest, right?
- Now, keeping your fingers straight, bend them as a unit where they join your hand to make a 90 degree angle with your palm. Compare your finger tips again – looks different, doesn’t it?
- Now bend them back and forth and notice how they slide alongside each other, especially the middle, ring and pinkie fingers. Your tissues must be able to glide freely like this in order to function normally.
- Here’s the clincher. Grasp your four fingers with your other hand, squeezing them together with a pound or two of pressure. Now, gently using your finger muscles, (not your grasping hand), try to bend them like you did before. Be gentle – if you use too much force, you’ll miss the subtlety. Do you feel the resistance?
- Alternate squeezing and releasing your fingers to appreciate the difference it makes. Without the ability to slide freely past each other, it’s much harder to bend or straighten your fingers!
This is what happens in your body when scar tissue binds up the fascia between two organs, around an injured joint, or within a muscle. In the case of your hand, there is not only a problem locally, but eventually there would be problems in your forearm, when those muscles eventually become strained from trying to move your stuck fingers.
The resulting strain in your forearm could then cause a shoulder problem, and so on, like a domino effect that began with a little scar tissue between adjacent tissues. At some point, pain and inflammation usually develop.
Like a piece of clothing that’s way too tight, scar tissue and restricted fascia impair the normal movement of muscles, nerves, organs, bones and joints. These restrictions can interfere with circulating blood, lymph and energy flow, and cause local irritation or pain (Trigger Points). The restrictions also create a pull on the fascia, causing more stress and inflammation in local tissues and often transmit the tension to other areas, causing mischief there as well. In other words, scar tissue can put you in a world of hurt!
“Nature abhors a vacuum, but fears immobility even more. Motion is a sign of life itself . . . Everything in the universe is in motion, whether of large or small amplitude, of high or low velocity.”
Visceral Manipulation, Jean-Pierre Barral, D.O.
Imagine the fascia connecting your shoulder to your lower back. Now imagine something in your lower back gently pulling on the fascia that wraps around your shoulder, and that this continues for a long time. As your neck and shoulder area try to adapt to this constant pull, they become strained and begin to hurt. All the while, there may be no pain in your lower back at all!
This phenomenon illustrates the benefit of an evaluation by a skilled CranioSacral or Visceral therapist. When their sensitive hands are placed on a painful area, they can often feel the fascial pull from a distant location where the dysfunction probably began. See CranioSacral Therapy and Visceral Mobilization for more information on this approach.
While this can take some time to develop, pain and dysfunction eventually result. CranioSacral Therapy and Visceral Mobilization are indispensable in finding and treating restrictions like this.
A Case Study
I worked with a woman who was injured in an auto accident. She experienced an intense flare up of the fibromyalgia she had suffered from after another accident about 5 years earlier, even though the recent accident was much less severe. She came in with pain, numbness and weakness in multiple areas of her body. In addition to the usual spinal and muscular restrictions,
I found significant restrictions in the fascia around her lungs, heart, liver, stomach, intestines and the nerves into her left arm. Gentle work with these restrictions over the next few months greatly relieved the oppressive pain she experienced in her neck, shoulder, arm, mid and lower back, and pelvis. Her muscle strength also returned to normal. In many ways, she was better than she was before the second accident.
While I used several other modes of treatment, the visceral work clearly made the biggest difference. I know this because I often perform before and after tests to gauge the benefit of a particular therapy.
The shock wave from an impact or whiplash injury travels through your body via the bones, muscles, fascia and especially the solid or fluid filled organs. Yes, the internal organs! I had been a chiropractor for nearly 18 years before I learned about the role of the visceral organs in whiplash injuries.
I hadn’t heard of this concept anywhere in my Chiropractic training, not even in seminars on auto injuries and whiplash, until I took some courses developed by French osteopath, Jean Pierre Barral. See Visceral Mobilization for more information.
Another thing that can have a profound affect on the free movement of joints is lymph flow. I often see considerable, and at times miraculous improvement in joint movement after 20 minutes of Lymph Drainage Therapy. Please see All About Pain – Part 4 for more information.
Other Structural Approaches
This is just a snippet from the chat we could have about physical or structural factors that contribute to acute or chronic pain. I cut it short so I wouldn’t keep you here all day – addressing only the less known approaches. You can read about three more with these links:
- Chiropractic Motion Testing & Adjusting (for the spine and other joints)
- Somatic Technique (for tight muscles)
- Active Release Technique (for scar tissue & adhesions)
LET’S NOT FORGET THE OBVIOUS!
Before we leave the topic of structure, there’s an experiment I’d like you to try. It’s important that you don’t know what we’re up to until after the first part (so don’t peek!).
I’m assuming you’re seated for this part. Don’t change your position until we’re done with this section.
- Without changing anything, become aware of your posture. Without moving, just feel your body and its position. Is your body relaxed or does it have areas of tension? Where does it draw your attention?
- Now, still without changing anything, notice your breathing – just feel it. Are you breathing into your belly, chest, or both? Have you been taking moderately deep breaths, or shallow ones?
- Still without changing your posture, take as deep a breath as you can in that position, and notice what that feels like. Is it free, full and easy, or are you running into a “wall?” If so, where do you feel the resistance?
Good! Now comes the fun part (you’ll get to move for this one)!
- Imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head, gently lifting upwards. Allow your head to follow its gentle pull, and notice how your neck and back begin to straighten out as your torso lengthens upward.
- See if you can do this without efforting. If you find yourself forcing it, just relax a little to feel the balance between the pull of gravity and this gentle upward lifting.
- You may sense a place in your body that has this natural impulse to rise gently upward, and will aid the lifting movement. If so, remember that place when you find yourself slumping back down. Lifting a little from your sternum (breastbone) is usually helpful for this.
- Now, invite a fresh breath into your belly, and when your belly is full, allow it to spill over into your chest, which continues to expand until you’re full.
- Now let it go, letting your shoulders drop, while maintaining your gentle upward lift.
How does that feel? Cool, huh? Go ahead, enjoy a few more breaths. This is happy hour, and they’re on the house!
You can experiment with going back and forth between your “usual” posture and breathing pattern and this new one, comparing the differences. You might also notice a subtle shift in your mood as you change between the two.
Your posture and breathing have a powerful affect on your mood in the moment, and your level of health & vitality over the long term.
“Breathing may be the master function of the body, affecting all others. Restrictions in breathing can be the result of past traumas, both physical and emotional. Most of us have never received instruction about breathing and how to take advantage of it as a harmonizer of the body.”
Andrew Weil, M.D., Spontaneous Healing
If you aren’t already doing so, please give this fundamental part of your life some well-deserved attention. Here’s a short tutorial on healthy breathing: Breathing 101. If you adopt this practice, you will almost certainly find yourself feeling more calm, relaxed and energized than before. Best of all, it’s free!