The Neglected Fascial System|
by Frankie L. Burget, OTR, RMT, CNDT
Director of Windsong Therapy and Wellness
Most people assume that a bone, a muscle, a joint, or an organ creates the pain they are feeling. They go to a doctor who may diagnose migraines, digestive problems, TMJ, tennis elbow, heel spurs, carpal tunnel, or a host of other ailments. The doctor will prescribe drugs, surgery or splints that do little to relieve the pain and usually do not address the source of the pain. Many people, including medical professionals, do not even consider that the pain may be caused by a problem in the fascial system.
Many medical people think of fascia as "the white stuff that covers the muscles". Since most doctors learn anatomy by dissecting dead bodies, they have no real understanding of fascia and its purpose. When the body is dead, the magic of fascia is gone; it no longer appears as the multidimensional miracle that keeps the body in an upright functioning condition. When death occurs, there is no longer any need for the tension in the fascia to keep the body upright and the bones and organs in specific positions in relation to the moving body. Only with life can fascia be appreciated for what it really is.
Fascia is a body system in itself. It is a web of tiny fluid filled microtubules that exist in a multidimensional structure surrounding every cell in our body. Fascia is what composes over 80% of what we consider muscle tissue. It is such a strong fiber it may exert a pressure of 2000 lbs per square inch when it becomes tight or bound. The techniques required to treat this tissue must be much different from those that treat other systems and areas of the body.
Fascial pain is one of the most undiagnosed problems among people today. Traditionally, problems which we now recognize as fascial related have been treated as musculoskeletal problems. Therefore traditional therapies, such as stretching, only treat the muscle tissue and do not address the fascia.
Typically, people treating "fascial problems" in the old style of therapy merely exert more pressure and rub it "harder". Today, we realize that fascial restrictions need special methods. The make-up of fascial tissue will not respond to harder rubbing. It actually will resist harder techniques, as well as attempts at force. Traditional methods such as massage, exercise, physical therapy or drugs do not take into account the nature of fascia and do not work on fascial problems.
Myofascial problems may be a contributing factor in numerous conditions from spinal pain, low back pain, and neck pain to digestive problems, headaches, and TMJ. Sports injuries are common causes of myofascial problems. Tennis elbow, sprained ankles, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, shoulder pain, carpal tunnel, or golfer's back pain are often due to fascial binding that occurs after trauma.
Many rotator cuff injuries are secondary to fascial problems. Shoulder problems may be due to the blade not gliding or a restriction in the ribs that prevent the arm from going up and extending the way it should. If this is not recognized as a problem, the person may try to force the arm, thereby injuring or tearing the rotator cuff.
Here are some common problems we see in our practice on a daily basis:
Golfers often try to overcome their restrictions by using their hips to force the swing through. This may cause disc problems. The problem began when the fascial restrictions would not allow the back and torso to move properly. If the restrictions are relieved, the body is then free to make the movement the person has asked.
Swimmers often get shoulder and neck problems due to fascial restrictions. Runners may get plantar fasciitis, medial and lateral compartment pain, shin splints, heel spurs, and are at risk for stress fractures of the distal tibia, and hip pain due to restrictions.
Carpal tunnel and hand pain are common in computer users, knitters, and others who use their hands in a repetitive motion. Carpal tunnel is one of the most misdiagnosed physical problems. Many people are labeled as having a carpal tunnel problem, when it may actually be the hand or carpal bone, the elbow or shoulder that is causing the problem. It is due to the way in which fascia works that causes the pain to be felt in the hand.
Imbalances in the pelvis cause a problem for many an athlete or weekend athlete. When the body does not have a good base, injuries are more likely to occur. The injury may be so minor that the athlete may put it down to "just a pulled muscle". However, the real injury was done to the fascia.
Because fascia is such a strong tissue, the pulling and binding on the more delicate body parts can cause torsions, malalignments, and thus create fascial restrictions that impede flexibility, mobility, and strength. Fascial tightening at the base of the occiput can cause problems in the endocrine system. The pituitary gland, the thyroid, the parathyroid may not work properly because the tightening is restricting blood and lymphatic fluid flow and causing slower nerve conduction.
Chronic sinus infections and allergies may be due to restrictions not allowing the sinus to drain properly. The same can be said for chronic ear infections. When passages are very small, any fascial restriction may cause a kink such as you might see in a garden hose, which restricts the drainage and allows bacteria to grow.
A skilled therapist with the proper training and experience will address the fascia as a complete system in the body. They will use specific methods and a hands-on therapy approach that allows the fascia to release without force. Given the appropriate methods, the fascia will gently unwind at its own rate with facilitation from the therapist, thus freeing the body to become balanced, and free from restrictions. When restrictions are removed, the body will seek its own balance, allowing the person to become more mobile and pain free. Some restrictions may be relieved in a matter of seconds, whereas other more serious injuries may take several visits before relief is obtained.
People need to become more aware of the fascial system and take the time to consider the relationship between fascia and their pain. Checking with a specialist who understands this system is always a good idea and may provide relief from the pain and restrictions that are reducing a person's quality of life.
Frankie Burget has been a Licensed Therapist in the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex for 18 years. She is director of Windsong Therapy and Wellness in Bedford, Texas. Visit her website at www.windsongtherapy.com.