July 15, 2021 – Have you ever wondered what happens to the body when you stop moving and stretching? We all have heard that your body is your temple and that we “are what we eat.” Science is starting to show us that these sayings are far more true than at first they appeared to be. The complexity of the human body is a remarkable thing and I personally believe it shows us that we have an intelligent Maker, God. As happens with so many things, stop using it, and it will trigger atrophy or calcination. In the human body this is even more so. Unlike for example, riding a bike, easily resumed after years of not riding, the human body is designed to be used continuously. If you are living a sedentary lifestyle, as we in the west increasingly do, especially due to lockdowns, the consequences can be serious.
Welcome to the world of Fascia and connective tissue. Basically, the scaffolding that holds your entire body together. Scientists used to think that fascia, a sticky connective tissue wasn’t that important. They even would cut past it and remove it to get to muscles which they assumed were more important. Then one day, a doctor working at NIH made an incredible discovery while doing acupuncture, she noticed when a needle was stuck into the skin some force appeared to be grabbing hold of it. It was the fascia, and it would wrap itself about the needle and then it would begin to relax and expand the surrounding tissue.
This is what fascia looks like, the white lines that cover your muscles, organs and connective tissue. A cute poem to help you understand the importance of fascia: fascia, surrounding every organ – holding the keys to your system like the fingers on an organ, playing the scale to great heights, kind of like your body, sensitive, skin tight.
Varier writes about the negative side effects to the body when you stop being active:
DIFFICULTY SLEEPING – People that are not active are at greater risk for sleep apnea than people who spend most of their day with some form of light or moderate activity. Sitting still in an office all day with no form of activity can therefore put you in a bad cycle of restless sleep alongside the long hours spent sitting still.
WEIGHT GAIN – Within a week of not hitting the gym, your muscles lose some of their fat burning potential, and your metabolism slows down. This usually happens when you lifestyle changes. Inactive days as a student or office worker can lead to weight gain and a slower metabolism.
MUSCLE SHRINKAGE – Studies show that after a week of not working out, your muscle mass decreases. Your body burns more calories maintaining muscle than it does maintaining fat. This means that the more muscle that you build and maintain, the more calories that your body will naturally burn every day on its own.
DECREASED ENDURANCE – Within two weeks of avoiding the gym, the amount of oxygen your working muscles can use decreases by about 20 percent. Did you know that your working muscles can take oxygen out of the blood three times as well as your resting muscles?
INCREASED STRESS – Exercise releases endorphins, so if you stop working out, you’re more likely to feel stress and have mood swings. Research shows that physically active people report greater feelings of excitement and enthusiasm than less-active people. This means that being active actually helps you handle everyday challenges in a better way. Does that count as a life hack?
INCREASED CRAVINGS – Cravings for ‘comfort foods’ are a result of lack of positive influence on mood, energy, and stamina that you get from exercise. This means that exercising helps you gain control of mindless comfort eating.
LESS GRAY MATTER – Your ability to grow brain cells decreases, while your chances of suffering from depression increases. Scientists have found that being active and leading a healthy lifestyle helps to sharpen the mind in exactly the same way as it increases the fitness levels of the body. Constant, steady gentle movement during your day leads to the growth of new cells in the area of the brain that boosts memory. It is not clear why being active triggers the growth of gray matter (known as neurogenesis) but it may be linked to the increased blood flow or higher levels of hormones that are released when the body is in activity.
Obviously these are bad, but what happens to your fascia is even worse. Scientists now believe stiffened fascia could be responsible for things like chronic pain.
Dr. Jasmine Craner writes about fascia, and how it can be related to chronic pain:
What Is Fascia?
Fascia is a layer of tissue comprised of collagen that sits just underneath the skin, wraps around your muscles and all other internal organs. Essentially, fascia holds the body together and helps the body communicate from head to toe, right to left, front to back, inside and out. Fascia is how your body creates compensation patterns and why organ dysfunction can cause pain to other areas of your body.
Fascia is often overlooked by traditional medicine when addressing what is thought to be muscular or joint pain. Outside the area of immediate pain, fascia is virtually unrecognized by insurance companies, and thus is often not addressed by many insurance based health care practices and providers.
What Does Fascia Do?
Fascia is distinctive from fatty tissue and muscle tissue in texture, function and appearance. You have seen fascia on the outside of chicken breast. You may have noticed that this thin whitish layer on the outside of chicken breast gets thicker at the ends or maybe in a particular line or path along the meat. This is because fascia is very adaptive and changes by increasing or decreasing thickness, tension, and glide to meet the needs of your body.
Think about cotton candy for a minute. If you’ve ever watched it being spun, it is very whispy to begin with, but as the little paper cone gets swiped around the spinner and more cotton candy is gathered on the cone, the more densely the fibers are compiled and the more difficult it is to pull apart. When there isn’t much cotton candy it’s very wispy and easy to wipe away. The same applies to fascia. Your body is constantly laying down fascia in areas of stillness. When you first wake in the morning or after you’ve been sitting for an extended period of time, and you stand up, you feel the need to take a deep breath and do this big reaching amazing stretch. That stretch is basically melting away any fascia that has laid down during that period of stillness. If you do not move an area for a period of time, the little layers of fascia that are being laid down continue to build on one another creating greater tension in the area and in turn often decreasing range of motion in the area.
How Fascia Affects Your Health
When fascia is too tight, muscles and joints are restricted, and such restriction can cause pain not only in the area of restriction but in other areas of the body connected to that fascial chain. Fascia, muscles, and joints must work together to enable proper bodily function. When fascia, muscles, and joints are not adequately working together, pain may develop, which can increase the chances a person will suffer from
Additionally, restricted fascia in one area of the body can cause pain in an entirely different part of the body. The reason for this is because fascia is tissue that surrounds all muscles equally. Restricted fascia in a person’s back and subsequent sciatic pain down the leg is a recognized example of what can happen when fascia and muscles are not working together as they should. Another commonly known example is tight fascia in the neck that causes headaches, which can be chronic for some people.
The more amazing story of fascia is painted with a deeper understanding of how completely different body parts and areas of the body are linked by fascial restrictions. For example, dysfunction in the stomach or gal bladder will often refer shoulder pain. Therefore, you may have pain in your shoulder before you know the organ is in distress. You may find that tension headaches are being caused by adhesions in the fascia in your calves.
Very frequently, unresolved aches and pains have a root in fascial dysfunction in another part of the body, even as far apart as to link plantar fasciitis to migraines.
More To It Than Myofascial Or Trigger Point Release
Myofascial release is a technique intended to stretch out the fascial tissue
underneath the skin, helping the tissue calm down and reduce pressure on muscles. Such release of myofascial tissue is a technique used by many licensed massage therapists.
Myofascial release is great for removing those “wispies” and can even start to break up the more dense layers of fascia, however by itself, a myofascial release will only get you so far. As we mentioned previously, fascial lay down occurs in areas that are not moving well, which further decreases fascial glide, and further restricts range or motion. That means in order to truly restore fascial glide and coordination, adhesions and scar tissue needs to be reduced.
Scar tissue and adhesions are best released with active trigger point release techniques. This means that as the adhesion is being palpated, you should be moving. This both allows the adhesion to release and gives your body feedback about how to reorganize the tissue so that it is stronger and more pliable. Without incorporating movement either during trigger point and fascial release, your body may or may not develop a better movement pattern. When you gain range of motion, you temporarily lose motor control. Training your movement patterns in conjunction with adhesion release and range of motion restoration efficiently and exponentially improves outcomes, pain, and unexpected areas of life.
This type of muscle and fascial work and communication can be facilitated by a health care provider or by using objects, such as a tennis or lacrosse ball to put pressure on the tissue and release the tightness while moving through a range of motion. If the place you are working does not change the discomfort or if the discomfort returns, you likely need to make a change in a different area of the body before the painful point will release.
Added Bonus: Any time fascial release occurs, in addition to reduction in physical pain, you may notice positive effects on overall health. Physical pain can directly affect your mental health. Many people who suffer from chronic pain have difficulty turning their thoughts away from how much pain they are in each day. Alleviating physical pain can eliminate the lingering, and often daily thoughts of pain, improving a person’s mental function and quality of life. – Dr. Jasmine Craner
Dr. Craner is a Doctor of Chiropractic, Member of Functional Neurology Institute, Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach, and a Webster Certified Pregnancy Chiropractor. I understand that some doctors think Chiropractors can be dangerous pseudo-science practitioners, and there is good reason for that. There are people who have been permanently injured by bad chiropractors and that is something that you should take into consideration.
However, I personally suffered from horrible sciatic nerve pain trailing down my left leg after child birth. I would get debilitating shooting pain down my leg causing me to limp and have to lie down. No doctor could help me, they told me to take “aspirin,” which didn’t help and seemed to be treating only the symptom not the root cause anyway. At the time my landlord was a Chiropractor and he told me to come in and get adjusted. After several adjustments my sciatica completely went away. I still haven’t had that pain return and it has been years since I saw a chiropractor, so personally I think there is something to it. Many people have reported the same sort of experience.
Times of India reports about what happens when you stop stretching, focusing specifically on fascia:
What is stretching?
Many of us feel that touching our toes and doing splits elongates our muscles, but that’s not true. Stretching mobilizes and lengthens the connective tissues surrounding your muscles, allowing them and your joints to move freely. All the muscle groups have individual muscle cells and there’s fascia that covers them, then all these muscles together are covered with even more fascia. The fascial covering is a connective tissue that is ubiquitous webbing that’s around everything in the body, including the muscles. When you don’t stretch, fascia molds your muscles like an immovable cast that keeps your muscles from functioning to their full capacity. Stretching makes the fascia more pliable, elastic and free-moving. When you do the same types of movement over and over again without counterbalancing them via stretching – you end up feeling tight. Stretching allows you to transition from a limited range of movement to an uninterrupted one.
A consequence of not stretching
When your joints are not moved in the whole range of motion, you might end up pulling the fascia and hurt your joints. For example, cyclists and runners with tight hip flexors may experience knee injuries. While runners and cyclists who know they are predisposed to having tight hips and stretch them, manage to keep off injuries easily.
This makes all the hamstring, quad, chest stretches so important. Stretching is about moving your body in the most diverse way so that fascia knows how to support each movement. Stretching is like priming your body so that you can move it easily the way you like.
This also hints at another potential problem — injuries that can result from pulling the fascia. This is called “fascial adhesions” and they can be very painful. Dr. Russel Schierling writes about this in his article “What are Fascial Adhesions and why is it so Important to Get Rid of Them?“:
Fascial Adhesions: Deal With Them or They Will Deal With You!
Inflammation presents a conundrum to friction-free fascia. On one hand it’s critical for normal healing processes and should be harnessed. But on the other, if there is too much inflammation, rest assured there will be problems — lots of problems (HERE). Furthermore, it’s critical to realize that the end result of too much inflammation, no matter where said inflammation is (local or systemic), is always the same — fibrosis. And when fibrosis hits the fascia, you have fascial adhesions!
FIBROSIS is just what it sounds like; fibrotic tissue that is otherwise known as SCAR TISSUE (microscopically it tends to look and act more like a HAIRBALL than well-combed hair). Fibrosis leaves people in a quandary — a FULL-BLOWN CONUNDRUM that I have written about repeatedly. Considering that fibrosis is America’s leading cause of death, I sincerely hope folks are getting the message. Enter Dr. Lawrence Wilson.
Dr. Wilson is an MD (BS from MIT) who was a protégé of the brilliant biochemist, Dr. Paul Eck. The focus of their clinical practice was mineral balancing, as well as pioneering the use of hair analysis to diagnose these imbalances. I was turned on to their work two decades ago when I attended a number of Dr. Janet Lang’s ‘Integrated Endocrinology’ seminars. Read these cherry-picked statements from Dr. Wilson’s article titled Adhesions and think of this quote in relationship to facia (fascial adhesions).
‘In the body, an adhesion is an abnormal attachment or stickiness between two or more body tissues. Adhesions are a type of scarring or scar tissue that causes two tissues to stick together in an abnormal way. Adhesions may also be viewed as a kind of substitute physical and chemical structure that can develop in the body.
In other words, adhesions can replace or substitute for other structures such as muscles, tendons, ligments and even bones that have become weakened or are out of place, or are not functioning for some other reason. In this case, the adhesions are compensations and adaptations to some kind of weakness or other problem in the body. Adhesions are always a toxic adaptation or condition.
Adhesions can interfere with the blood supply and the nerve supply to various parts of the body. They also restrict bodily movement and cause poor posture. For these reasons, adhesions often cause disease and shorten a person’s lifespan. In some cases, they become vicious cycles, in which case they are even worse. The most common site of adhesions is in the fascia layers, which are under the skin. However, they can occur at other sites, including the cell membranes, the intercellular substance and matrix, the muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, organs and elsewhere.
In all cases, they involve a hardening, toughening or fibrosis of the body tissues. The main cause of adhesions appear to be inflammation that is not correctly resolved. Unresolved inflammation is often, or perhaps always due to nutritional imbalances, but may also be caused by a trauma such as a surgery, a fall, or something else. Inflammation may also be due to an infection. What is called scarring is nothing more than adhesions in the tissues that are visible, or can be felt or palpated with one’s hand. Unfortunately, most adhesions cannot be felt. They go undetected and are not dealt with by most medical and holistic doctors and practitioners.’
After discussing the ‘conundrum’ I mentioned earlier (he refers to it as a vicious cycle), Wilson goes on to talk about many of the same things I deal with on my site, including the fact that both CHIROPRACTIC ADJUSTMENTS and THERAPY are a waste of time if these adhesions — the scar tissue that occurs mostly in the FASCIA LAYER (thus the name, fascial adhesions) — are not properly dealt with first. Dr. Wilson has his own nutritional protocol for dealing with inflammation that while certainly not the same, shares many of the same traits as PALEO.
And while nutrition is also an integral part of my OVERALL PROTOCOL for helping patients regain their lives as well as SOLVING THEIR OWN BACK OR NECK PAIN, there is another principle I agree with him on as well. ‘Medical drugs often subtly irritate, damage and congeal the tissues. These are among the ‘adverse effects’ of these drugs. In fact, allopathic remedies cause so much adhesion damage that I predict that someday most of them will be outlawed.’ Tough to argue that we don’t take WAY TOO MANY DRUGS!
I an article called Fascia and Inflammation, Kevin M. Cronin, a PT and owner of several Chicago area Physical Therapy clinics, said this of the connection.
‘Nearly all painful conditions are accompanied by inflammation of the fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that is abundant throughout the entire body and covers all nerves, arteries, veins, and internal organs of the body. Fascia is filled with millions of nerve endings and also contains smooth muscle cells, so it can contract if injured or traumatized, and also cause skeletal muscle to tighten. The inflammatory chemicals make those same nerve endings even more sensitive, so that now it takes only takes a very mild strain to cause more inflammation, muscle spasm, and pain.’
So, fascia is everywhere; and when it is attacked by inflammation, it tends to not only create scar tissue, but to become HYPER-SENSITIZED (see link for Dr. Chan Gunn’s amazing work). Although not as hard-line as Wilson, Cronin’s article also warned of the dangers posed by trying to deal with inflammation via drugs (HERE or HERE).
Because fascia is so important to your body’s ability to move and maintain NORMAL POSTURE (something spoken of by both Cronin, Wilson, and the guy we are going to talk about next), it obviously has important biomechanical properties attached to it (no pun intended). Closely related to both engineering and physics, biomechanics is simply the application of mechanical principles to biological systems (tissues, cells, organs, limbs, joints, etc, etc).
Three weeks ago, McGill University engineer, Dr. Mark Driscoll, published a paper called Fascia – The Unsung Hero of Spine Biomechanics, in which he discussed the various roles that fascia plays as a tissue whose unique properties allow it to be used to gain mechanical advantage in a variety of situations (FASCIA & BIOMECHANICS).
‘Over the last decade fascia has gained acknowledgement as a player in biomechanics by way of conveying mechanical forces directly or indirectly. The spine is a biomechanical marvel in regards to its intricate control and performance. However, because of such complexities many things can go wrong, perhaps why the spine is responsible for plaguing so many with pain.
The role of fascia in spinal stability has yet to be fully understood but several novel and valuable discoveries have been made. Clinically, many researchers have shown and alluded to the role of the thoracolumbar fascia (TLF) in spine stability. The TLF is believed to play a role in transferring forces during coordinated activities and, consequently, such important function may be coupled with pathologies and clinical observations of TLF dysfunction. Mechanically, the tension in the TLF is regulated by many muscular attachments spanning the spino-pelvic region and by the intra-abdominal and muscular pressures.
From a rehabilitation or treatment approach, the aforementioned biomechanical role of fascia offers an option upon which to plan and treat musculoskeletal disorders. Once a dysfunction sets it, regardless of its etiology, compensatory patterns may worsen by way of the novel biomechanical notion of physiological stress shielding.’…
This is not so much different than some of what DR. INGBER & LANGEVIN have proposed — that fascial adhesions are a factor in all (or at least many) disease processes. Much of this has to do with the fact that intact and healthy fascia is a full-blown PROPROICEPTIVE POWERHOUSE. Furthermore, even though AT STILL recognized a century ago that CANCER was related to fascia, 90 years ago WARBURG DISCOVERED that cancer was fed by the ‘glycolytic metabolism’ that these authors discussed (the body fermenting sugar).
The associated cancer made the ECM thick or ‘DENSIFIED‘, causing even more inflammation and subsequent mechanosignalling (MECHANOTRANSDUCTION — turning mechanical signals into electrical impulses). The authors went on to say that fascial adhesions and the mess they leave behind can be effectively treated (not always cured, but treated) by adding PROPER NUTRITION to whatever else you happen to be doing as treatment (remember that virtually all disease processes have similar starting points — HERE).
A huge problem, however, is that the medical community pays little more than lip service for using diet to treat much of anything — especially cancer (HERE, HERE, and HERE), let alone fascial adhesions. (MORE ON THE CANCER / FASCIA CONNECTION)
Beyond GIVING HELPFUL INFORMATION to both local and OUT OF STATE / INTERNATIONAL PATIENTS on a day-to-day basis, I created a completely free generic protocol that most of you can use to start taking your life back (HERE). This is important because regardless of how much my treatment helps you with your pain, a failure to deal with the underlying inflammation that is still on the loose will assure you that sooner or later your problem will return — probably with several nasty friends. – Dr. Russel Schierling
Dr. Schierling contends that the modern western pharmaceutical medicine system doesn’t offer much treatment that is helpful and the medications they prescribe and often make things worse. While he notes it is important to treat fascia adhesions, he also notes you must first treat the underlying inflammation or the problem will return, and come back worse.
Robert Schleip, author of Fascial Fitness reports this about the importance of exercising your fascia:
I am fascinated by fascia. Fascia is more commonly known as the soft tissue component of the connective tissues that run through the entire body as a covering and connecting network. It gives form and structure to our bodies. This material and its characteristics are so interesting that I changed my field of business from a therapist to a scientist. I wanted to understand the role that fascia plays in moving our body and its real impact on our body and psyche. Meanwhile, it became obvious to me that the importance of the fascia cannot be overstated and that we would all benefit from becoming more conscious of the influence that the fascia has on everyday life and sport especially.
The full meaning and complexity of this are what I would like to explain in this book. Even though the fascia has been on the sidelines for such a long time, the medical profession, coaches, and physiotherapists probably knew about its existence and function.
Historically, chronic back pain has been treated with common medications and operations. When sportspeople stagnated after long training, physiotherapists tried to alleviate pain and tension by focusing on muscles, nerves, bones, coordination, and strength; the fascia was not seen as an independent contributor. Research has significantly changed this way of thinking during the last few years: fascia has now been acknowledged and understood to be an important factor in musculoskeletal dynamics, rather than being an inert packing organ as previously thought.
Much of the existing knowledge about fascia had to be reviewed, and this even created a paradigm shift. For example, the delayed onset muscle soreness observed after heavy exercise originates less from the muscle tissue itself but comes mainly from the fascial envelope which surrounds the muscle; back pain often does not result from vertebral or intervertebral disc degeneration but from the fascia. Sports injuries are not necessarily muscle injuries but are more likely to be injuries of the fascial components. Nowadays, the fascia is considered to be one of our most important sensory organs. The connective tissue even sends signals to the brain—the heart of our consciousness. Sensors codetermine all body movements in the fascia; if these fail, the human body loses its ability to control its movements. The list of these new realizations is enormous and is updated almost daily with information from all around the world.
New information emerges from medical or biological research, physiotherapists, and other practitioners. I worked as a body and movement therapist before I entered this field of science, so it is essential for me to connect theory and practice.
In 2009, the Fascial Fitness Association had already begun to adapt the many discoveries relating to the fascia into a training program to purposefully strengthen, stimulate, and maintaining the fascia. Today the network of fascia researchers, sports scientists, and movement therapists, who use and develop this specific fascia training, stretches around the entire globe.
There are already hundreds of books and training programs available, all making more or less the same promises: increased energy, improved body strength, greater endurance, a more beautiful body, and better mobility, health, and well-being. If someone says: ‘We already do everything possible,’ I would understand that very well; and if someone says: ‘Why should I change my method of training? I am happy with the way I exercise,’ I would understand that too, as the key thing that athletes above all know are that what counts ultimately is to exercise in the most effective way.
In the case of fascia, a component unknown until now comes into play.
Purposeful fascia training can optimize the potential of training achievements and promote an increase in newly gained efficiency. It also encourages pain-free everyday life, provides relief from stiffness, and most of all, is easy to incorporate into a training program. This means that fascia training does not have to replace your current training programs but should supplement them. Moreover, it enriches them with a certain element that has been missing up until now. For many decades the emphasis in sport science and training teachings has been on strength, endurance, and coordination: the focus has been mainly on muscles, cardiovascular function, and neuronal control, with very little consideration of the fascia.
Many training programs stress that they do train fascia, but this is only partly true—frequently, the programs are not efficient, as fascia needs its own impulses and specific movements. In common, fixed, and stereotypical programs, these particular impulses are usually absent or arise only coincidentally and without coordinated dosage. In comparison, athletes who train for a marathon, of course, also train the muscles; however, their capacity for weight lifting will not be improved as much as in specialized muscle training. Thus specific training is the key to achieving total optimization. Nowadays, we know about the enormous importance of the fascia for the functioning of our muscles and their optimal coordination—but also that the fascia needs a special kind of stimulation. This knowledge affects the training concepts that have undergone several modifications over the years.
After having previously trained individual muscles, we are apparently now paying more attention to muscle groups and functional movements—and today, something new is emerging: training should cover the entire fascial network and its long chains in the body. The condition of the fascia influences healing of injuries as well as recovery after training and competition. It also determines much more—and this is what you will discover in this book.
The addition of fascia training can put a finishing touch to your personal exercise program, which means that you do not need to do additional exercise programs or change your training program at all. The proposed exercises can be easily integrated and will seamlessly provide care and maintenance of the fascia network in your body.
The exercises should stimulate the connective tissue, regenerate it, and keep it vitalized and supple; thus you can train your muscles even more effectively, your movements will be more fluid and elegant, and your stamina will also increase. As fascia training increases the capacity of tendons and ligaments, it: (a) avoids painful friction in hip joints and spinal discs; (b) protects the muscles from injury; and (c) keeps the body in shape because it produces a more youthful and taut stature. These aspects are particularly important in everyday life, and also with increasing age. In addition, fascia training is surprisingly uncomplicated: 10 minutes twice a week is sufficient, special clothing or equipment is not required. The entire program is simple and suitable for daily use and all ages and levels of training.
I hope people are beginning to understand the importance not only of fascia, but of being active daily. Not just exercising, but stretching even for just as little as 5 to 10 minutes a day is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
Here are some important videos on this topic:
This short video will definitely motivate you to get off your rump and start moving!
This documentary gets into the science behind the fascia and how it effects the whole body. It is fascinating and very educational.
Watch the videos, and then get moving!