Do you feel tense? Maybe you feel tight across the upper back between the shoulder blades, or perhaps it’s more of a stiff lower back, hips and legs.
Tight muscles create numerous problems throughout the body from aches and pain to reduced oxygen and blood flow to the tight area.
Soft tissue is an area I have been studying for a very long time. Not all of you will be aware but the very first qualification I ever got was sports massage and I subsequently studied lots of myofascial release techniques.
That was over 15 years ago. Since then, I have worked with sports teams and normal people with tight muscles, and had two pieces of research published in scientific journals, involving sports massage.
I can happily say – I love soft tissue work!
Today I will share some of my experience and offer you my top solutions to help you reduce the amount of tension you may have in your body, we will discuss something called FASCIA. I have even done a short video which shows you exactly how to get the most from this strategy with the least effort.
My opinion – after working with soft tissue all these years is there is ONE big trend and commonality amongst the people who come to see me to get their deep tissue massage, who are not involved with sport…
THEY ALL WORK AT A DESK FOR LONG PERIODS
I call these people “desk jockeys” as they are in a jockey like position when staring at the screen to do their work.
The trouble with being a desk jockey is…the amount of time you spend seated
Modern humans apparently evolved from chimps and over time learned to stand up straight and walk. The next big change in our evolution (if you ask me) was when we started to sit down for over 80-90% of our time!
It’s happened in the last couple of generations with the popularity of computers, TV and the internet.
Think of it like this, you get up in the morning and drive to work, then you sit down at your desk all day, get back in the car, get home and you guessed it – sit down some more to watch TV or use the computer.
If you counted how many hours you are awake and how many hours you spend seated, you may find the figure well over 90%.
From a soft tissue point of view, being in the seated position does lots of negative things to your posture and the bio mechanics of your body.
Firstly when you sit down your abdominal muscles switch off and secondly as your chin drops, your shoulders round forward, leaving you sat in a “C” shaped position, as oppose to nice and upright.
In addition to this the nature of the work on a computer is repetitive and promotes the same muscles(the tiny ones) to do lots of work and the bigger muscles switch off, and do no work.
Without getting into it too much, this little scenario causes the buttocks (hip flexors) and the shoulders (rotator cuff and chest) areas of the body to tighten up and become stiff, more specifically your muscles and fascial tissue tighten up.
Causing big problems such as:
- Muscle Pain
- Muscle and Joint Stiffness
- Loss of movement
- Tension Headaches
- Poor circulation
- Lower back pain
- Neck and shoulder pain
Your poorly functioning fascial tissue may be severely holding you back in life!
What is Fascia?
Fascia (or Myofascia) is a structure of connective tissue that surrounds most of the important parts of our body. It covers muscles, blood vessels and nerves. It’s strong, slippery and wet. Fascia helps to bind some structures together whilst also allowing other structures to slide smoothly over each other.
There are several different types of fascia; superficial fascia which lies closer to the surface, deep fascia and visceral fascia. Fascia are flexible structures which are able to resist great unidirectional tension forces until the wavy pattern of fibres has been straightened out by the pulling forces.
Fascia is similar to ligaments and tendons due to the fact they are all made of collagen. It protects every single muscle in your body so you can see how important it is.
For clarity, the term myofascial refers collectively to the fascia tissue and the muscle. Together, the muscle and fascia form the myofascial system. When I say fascia I will mean myofascial system.
Poor Fascia Limits Normal Function!
If your fascial tissue is tight it can really negatively affect your body and the way it functions. Your flexibility and even your ability to move freely will suffer and simple tasks will seem difficult. You will feel week, stiff, in pain and your range of motion will be severely limited. You will feel old before your time.
Many Office Workers Have Stiff Bodies
The sad fact is that so many of the British population suffer from poorly functioning fascial tissue due to their seated lifestyle. There are so many jobs out there which literally mean you sit down for 40 hours+ a week, this is no good what so ever for your bodies.
These restrictions of the fascia caused by lack of movement cause the body to be pulled out of alignment which leads to bad posture.
This means a biomechanically inefficient body which uses loads of energy for just the simplest of tasks.
This means that these people will have limited energy for other activities which means when they get home after sitting down for 8 hours they will only have the energy to sit down again! A very vicious cycle which can be hard to get out of.
For those people who do manage to drag themselves to the gym can experience constant pain because their body isn’t able to function well enough to exercise at a high intensity. So exercising could actually make it worse on some occasions.
A study by Schleip (2007) found that pain felt in specific areas of the body can often be related back to having adhesions in the fascial tissue.
Knots, Adhesion’s & Trigger Points
Adhesions can also be often referred to as knots and knots can also be referred to as “trigger points”. Trigger points can be active or inactive, like volcanoes, active ones cause more trouble. Don’t worry about these different terms for now.
Knots are basically areas of the body which get regular stress or micro trauma (for example using a mouse all day every day for years). Micro trauma causes small amounts of scar tissue to be created and over time it causes adhesions or knots to form on or between the muscle fibers.
(*imagination time*) When I explain this to clients I usually do it like this.
Think of fascia like this….Imagine a towel, spread out flat, then imagine pinching the middle of the towel with your thumb and forefinger and twisting it. It would create a twist in the middle of the towel and ridges and diagonal lines which radiate outwards. That is what your fascia is like with a knot or trigger point in it. The towel is the fascia and the twist is the knot.
Now stay with me here…
If you were to use the same analogy with the twisted towel. Then SMR or sports massage would “rub” or take the twist out of the towel and make it nice and flat, smooth and even again. SMR is like ironing out the creases in your body. Do you get what I mean? I hope so 😉
Some forward thinking employers have a massage therapist coming around the office, loosening off people shoulders. I know Virgin Media do this at their Swansea call centre, well done to them. I also think Admiral may do something similar but not 100% sure. Let me know if your employer does this? Its tax deductible for the company too, or so I am told.
Solutions to Poorly Functioning Fascial Tissue
A very effective way of healing and improving the function of your fascial tissue is through something called Self Myofascial Release, also known as SMR.
Self Myofascial Release is the process of massaging yourself. There are several SMR techniques that you can use to great effect including foam rolling, acupressure balls, medicine ball work, yoga and self massage.
How Does SMR Work?
The SMR tools I use the most is a foam roller and acupressure balls. I either integrate it into the start or end of my training sessions or I will do it on a rest day.
I find this is great on a rest day as you feel like you’ve done something but still get a good rest from exercise.
Foam rollers come in different types, sizes and densities.
Buy a starter foam roller from Argos to get you going for about £8, they are a bit soft for me but and once you become more proficient (and want a deeper effect) you can get a more dense one. Get the longer ones rather than the shorter ones to start.
I did this video for you here to see how to use the foam roller and acupressure balls, its only 3.29sec long:
Performing this on a rest day is also great for your recovery and will get your body and mind ready for your next exercise session. In the last couple of years a foam roller has become an essential part of my training armoury with my clients.
The foam roller effectively does the work that a massage therapist does. A foam roller (pictured) is a cylindrical (can also get 1/2 rollers) exercise tool which is easy to carry around and use.
I have found that acupressure balls are effective too. They are little balls that are pretty cheap to buy (can get for £5-10).
Rolling these on your hands, feet and other problem areas of the body helps to increase circulation, flexibility, lymph drainage and helping to relieve muscle stiffness and fatigue. (Try 66fit.com)
In order for your muscles to work at peak efficiency then your fascial tissue needs to be functioning correctly. SMR techniques help to smooth out all of the dysfunctions in your fascial tissue which dramatically improves muscle performance.
Meltzer (2010) found that SMR reduced post exercise muscle soreness.
How Should It Feel?
In the video I mention the fact that you are trying to feel a little bit of pain and discomfort when doing SMR – to release tight stressed out muscles.
Find the spot where the knot or trigger point is and stay on that area and work very little circles or back and forth motion, right on the sore spot. Sometimes you may feel referred pain (pain in an area you’re not working), for example when working the hip flexor you may get referred pain down the leg when you hit a certain spot, this may be an “active” trigger point, it’s a good idea to give it some attention to try to “deactivate” it.
If you don’t improve the performance of your fascial tissue then you will be seriously held back.
It’ll be like walking around all day with a heavy rucksack on, every single task you do will be more difficult than it should be, eventually leading to pain in the entire body.
This will give a lot of people the excuse to do less and live an inactive lifestyle which is no good for your health.
Neglecting SMR will mean that you aren’t able to function as well as you could.
Can’t be arsed to do it yourself? Just get a sports massage, they will do it all for you. Get a well qualified sports massage therapist with experience in trigger point massage and myofascial release, to ensure a decent quality or see my team of masseurs here and we will be able to help you.
Benefits of SMR
One benefit of SMR is you don’t need to pay for a sports massage session so often! (I’m putting myself out of business here!)
Using SMR techniques with a foam roller and acupressure balls can do a lot of the work that would be done in a sports massage session. You could book in for a sports massage session every now and then when you need a bit more intricate, deep work.
So £10-20 is a good investment in a foam roller and a set of acupressure balls.
Another major benefit of SMR is you can do it in the comfort of your own home. It can be incredibly relaxing to have a hot bath, dim the lights, put on some relaxing music and spend 20-30 minutes of SMR (stretching, yoga, deep breathing and foam rolling is what I do).
You will feel great after it. I’ve found since doing this that my concentration as well as my energy levels have improved so much.
It has training benefits as well. SMR techniques can help to heal old injuries, strengthen your body to resist potential new injuries and improve your body’s ability to run, jump, lift, throw, pretty much everything!
SMR will help to fix all of your current fascial tissue problems, heal the old adhesion (knots) and problem areas, correct muscle imbalances, improve joint range of motion and help to create an environment in which your body can operate at its best.
It will allow you to train to your full potential and recover quicker.
I’ve suffered with injuries, aches and pains in the past and since I’ve been doing this all of the little niggles have gone away and I’ve been given a new lease of life with my training, it’s seriously great and I have recommended it to all of my clients and now you too as well can benefit.
My strength has improved, flexibility has massively increased and I’ve noticed that yard of pace I thought I’d lost has come back!
Like I’ve said, as well as physical benefits it has mental benefits too. It helps to energise my mind as well as my body. My concentration levels have improved which has helped to improve my business and I’m able to think much clearer and think of great new business ideas and use my time much better.
Who else is SMR good for?
The people who would benefit from SMR the most are:
Desk jockeys (people who sit behind a computer all day e.g. office workers) – Chest, shoulders, neck and back problems are often associated with office workers. SMR will be extremely effective at loosening these tight muscles and improving posture.
Runners and endurance athletes – SMR is good for runners to keep their structural integrity intact. SMR will help to reduce any inflammation caused by the constant wear and tear associated with running. Spending 5-10 minutes before and after a run is good.
Sports people/athletes – SMR is beneficial for sports people and athletes for similar reasons mentioned for runners and endurance athletes. Sports people put their body through a lot so SMR will be great for recovery and to allow the body to cope with all of the work. I mentioned earlier that properly functioning fascia results in the person being able to run faster, lift more, throw harder and jump higher, these are essential in all sports.
These discoveries and research in the field of fascia are relatively new. It is only in the past 6-7 years have people began taking note of how poor functioning fascia can negatively affect people’s lives. It is likely that the majority of people who suffer from pain in their bodies are suffering from poor fascial tissue functioning, but because not many people know about it then it is blamed on other things.
So please take on board what I have said today and utilise the solutions I have suggested, especially if you fall into the category of office workers or someone who trains lots. It will make a huge difference to how your body functions and it will literally feel like a whole weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
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Thanks for reading,
Schleip R et al. Ligament subfailure injuries lead to muscle control dysfunction” (M. Panjabi). European Spine Journal 2007; 16: 1733-1735)
Meltzer et al. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies. Volume 14, Number 2, p162-71. Apr 2010.