When we talk about our bodies, we have a way of dividing it up into different parts, different tissues and different systems. We tend to forget that our body is in fact in one piece, and that every crease and corner of it is connected.
When it comes to wellness and function, as well as pain and dysfunction, it is important to remember this fact, and it may help you understand the dynamics of your treatment here at Spinal Symmetry.
When something hurts it is very rare that the source of the pain is in the same spot.
We ask ourselves “what is dysfunctional in order to cause strain in the painful spot?”. And what we find is usually a dysfunctional chain, rather than a single dysfunctional joint or muscle.
In the history of studying the human body, we were dividing the body into muscles, bones, organs and so on. This way of thinking has stayed present in the study of anatomy and function for a long time, but in recent years there has been a shift into viewing the body as a whole.
This has been significant when it comes to movement and function as we know, especially here at Spinal Symmetry, how important it is that all these parts that were originally studied separately, work together.
(fascia = the inter webbing and connective tissue we see here between the strands of muscle)
What is Fascia?
There is one type of tissue that was originally ignored, not thought of as important, and not understood in the early ages of studying the human body. It is now so well recognised, that it is starting to be considered as a whole new body system, like your digestive or skeletal system.
This tissue is called fascia, and it is made up of connective tissue.
Fascia is so important because it is a web-like structure present throughout your whole body. It is a global system- found in every system and tissue in your body. In fact, there is not a designated area in the body for the fascia. That is the point of it – it is there to envelop, protect, interconnect, separate and penetrate the other systems and organs in your body.
The most famous part of fascia is the plantar fascia, which is in the sole of the foot, and when irritated it causes a painful condition known as plantar fasciitis.
So what does it look like? Through a microscope, living fascia looks like a random mesh of fibres in a web-like organisation. You have probably seen it yourself, on a cut of meat. It is the thin shiny fibrous substance around a chicken breast, or between the fat and the red meat of a steak.
Why do we have Fascia?
To understand just how global fascia is in your body, let’s use an orange as an example.
Like us humans, an orange consists mostly of water. Yet, it is held together as a round object through multiple layers of bagging. On the outside you have the rind of the orange, holding all the segments together and protecting them from damage or loss of water.
The segments of the orange are themselves held together by a much thinner layer of fascia, which is still quite strong and fibrous, and still visible to the naked eye. If we go even deeper, and look very closely inside the segments of the orange, we can see that even they are divided into tiny little cells, where every drop of juice is protected inside its own bag of fascia.
This layer is so thin that we can’t quite see it, but we can see the cells. That’s three layers of membranes, or fascia that need to be broken in order to get to the juice on the inside of the orange!
It is the same in the human body. A great example that may look similar to an orange in this context, is muscles, which work together to move a joint. Your thigh consist mostly of muscle, as you can see in the illustration of a cross-section below.
There are 11 muscles, in three compartments, encapsulated by the sub-dermal fascia (did we mention that there is a layer of fascia right under your skin?). That is three layers of fascia before we get to a single muscle, and there are more layers when we go deeper from there. Muscles are divided into smaller compartments called fascicles where a collection of muscle fibres sit, and at the smallest level we have the individual little fibres, which are themselves wrapped in fascia.
Fascia is integral in the function of muscles and the connection between muscles in what is known as movement chains.
Using the orange as an example again, this will help you understand how all-encompassing fascia is. If we removed anything but the fascia from an orange, we would still be able to see clearly that it is an orange.
It is the same with the human body. The fascia that wraps around a muscle or an organ protects the structural integrity of it, and it allows gliding and movement of it against surrounding structures, while also connecting them together. Even your skeleton is wrapped in a film of fascia, while the ligaments that hold the skeletal frame together consist of fascia.
This is what we want our patients to re-train and re-tension when we introduce Dynamic Therapy. When you use the dynamic therapy strap at night, you are helping your body reposition the hips by putting tension on the ligaments and fascia. It also increases the neurological stimulus to the hip capsule while it is being held in its correct position. This doesn’t only improve the alignment of your hips, it also helps to align your pelvis and in turn your spine.
This is due to the fact that fascia is like a web that goes throughout the whole body. We are able to change your entire structure with the Dynamic Therapy because once the gravity vectors are corrected in your hip angles the pressure on the fascia changes. When the fascia has to move differently, it sends messages across the whole web to also move differently. This is why the body goes through an unwinding process of changes throughout the whole body once we start to correct the hip imbalance.
How does fascia relate to function, pain and strain?
The most important characteristic of fascia when it comes to movement and function is that it is elastic – it is made to stretch. Whereas musclar tissue is made to contract, which is the complete opposite.
This is why the relationship between fascia and muscle is extra special. The fascia has mechanoreceptors in it, which are nerve endings that register stretch. This creates a reflex between the fascia and the muscle, so if there is excessive stretch, the fascia will send a direct message to the muscle to contract, in order to prevent injury.
The best way to train the fascia is by using it, in other words move it and stretch it!
The sensitivity to stretch of the fascia is also important for movement patterns, such as walking. Muscles have to contract at a very specific time in a very specific sequence when we just want to take a few steps. It is the fascia that facilitates this communication between muscles, and it carries load from one muscle to the next.
These movement chains are important to consider in case of injury or dysfunction. Due to how connected everything is, in particular the muscles and joints that make up a movement chain, an injury will appear in the weakest point of a dysfunctional chain.
And this is key: the weakest point and the point of dysfunction are rarely the same!
That is why we have a holistic approach to pain and dysfunction here at Spinal Symmetry – we want to get to the cause and the core of the problem rather than just treat pain. This is more likely to produce long term results, while only addressing the site of pain will often only produce short term relief.