Many of us have a very mechanical view of our bodies. However, by viewing the muscles and bones as the body’s structural support system, we confuse muscular strength with structural stability.
Fascia. Our structural stability is in fact provided by a 3D matrix known as fascia. Fascia is connective tissue which surrounds every structure in your body, including bones, organs, muscles and nerves and it makes up the fluid environment around every cell. Indeed, every cell in your body relies on this fluid environment to function properly. Fascia acts as an adaptable, supportive scaffolding for all of our parts, connecting and protecting all of the the muscles, bones, nerves and organs so your body can move easily without damage.
Everything is connected to everything else. When a muscle contracts, the contractions generate a pull through the fascial matrix, affecting all other parts of your body. For example, when the forearm muscles experience constant strain from an activity like gripping a hold, fascia transmits that strain up into the armpits, shoulders and neck.
Fluidity allows the muscles, nerves and blood vessels to slide and glide through, next to, and across one another. Because of this, it is essential that fascia be properly hydrated. When it dries out or becomes even a little less fluid, it tends to create a drag on the structures it supports. Sliding and gliding of nerves and blood vessels becomes limited and muscles become tethered to one another which makes it harder for each of them to contract fully. When dehydrated fascia starts putting stress on the muscles, joints and nerves, pain acts as a signal.
Fascia has the ability to be restored to the loose, slippery and supportive tissue it is meant to be through myofascial release. This can be manual stretching done in a therapeutic setting by a trained therapist, appropriate stretching that you can do on your own or, most effectively, a combination of both.
Structure governs function. Our shoulders are the most flexible joint in the body, but also the most unstable. This means that shoulder problems are frequently caused either from trauma or repetitive activities (jobs, sports, swinging about on rocks etc).
The cause of shoulder pain in many cases is commonly known as impingement and usually involves a muscle called the supraspinatus. This is one of four muscles collectively known as the rotator cuff (RC), which both stabilise and facilitate movement of the shoulder. The bony bit on the tip of your shoulder is actually the top of a bony bridge which connects your shoulder joint to the rest of your skeleton. The tendon of the supraspinatus muscle runs under this bridge. If you injure one of the RC muscles it can disrupt their control of the shoulder joint.
There are many things that can cause impingement, from a stiff upper back to tightness in any of the RC muscles that attach to your shoulder blade. Finding the problem and treating it is important. If you don’t, you could end up with further problems. Treatment will often involve manual therapy, stretches and exercises to re educate the RC and regain normal control of the joint.
If you hurt your shoulder it is important to rest until the pain subsides. If you continue using your shoulder whilst it is painful then your brain will step in to protect the joint, motor control will change as other muscles are recruited to “take the strain” and this will only lead to further problems down the line. Continue for long enough and by virtue of reinforcement your brain will only remember the abnormal motor pattern…and the problem esculates…
Avoidance is better than treatment. One of the best things you can do is to keep your upper back and shoulders free of tightness. Look after yourself, get a massage every few weeks, stretch regularly, and, if you can, do some yoga. Slow sustained stretching is the foundation of myofascial release. Remember, stretches should be slow and sustained, you don’t want to end up with a different injury because you have over stretched!
Natasha Alan-Williams – Freedom Within