Nearly 80% of my clients, throughout my career as a massage therapist, come to me with the same area of concern. They usually say, “I’ve got this pain in my neck and upper back, right between my shoulder blades.”, but few of them ask, “what is that and how do I get rid of it?” I could simply give them a massage addressing the area and provide momentary relief, but how much would that really help? I want to make sure each of my clients leaves with the ability and means to eliminate their own muscular tension and melt their own knots. But before anyone can do that effectively, they may want to begin by gaining an understanding of what that knot is made of.
You may be thinking, “the knot is in the muscle, so it’s made of the muscles, isn’t it obvious?” But the answer goes deeper. Contrary to popular belief, the body isn’t only composed of muscles, bones, and organs. The commonly neglected stuff in between these elements is the truer source of tension. Most people have never heard of it, but it’s called “fascia”.
What is Fascia?
Fascia serves as an inter-connective web of tissue that surrounds, connects, and simultaneously separates every tissue in the body. It’s the part of chicken referred to as gristle, that connects the meat to the chicken bone. A fine sheet of this tissue, continues from that connection in both directions. In one direction, it continues to wrap around the bone, and in the other, surrounds the whole muscle belly and every individual one of it’s muscle fibers. Again, it moves on to fill the rest of the internal body like a series of spider webs.
When properly hydrated, it serves as a slippery surface that separates muscle bellies, organs, and bones from each other. If an area remains activated (due mainly to poor posture, sitting frequently, repetitive movement, stress, and improper body mechanics), it can eventually become inefficiently hydrated reverting to it’s sticky, less mobile quality. The deep and superficial layers of muscles surrounded in fascia become stuck together resulting in knots and tension.
Well if that’s the case, then why don’t we all have tension everywhere all the time, especially considering the amount of time we spend sitting in today’s electronic era or sacrificing our bodies to perform at our profession? The reason can be explained by the brain.
How Does the Brain Play a Role in Tension?
Along with a couple of other factors in the tension equation, proprioceptive awareness is a big one. Proprioception means “sense of self.” There are proprioceptors in the brain and throughout the body, congruent with muscle fibers. Together, they create a person’s sense of three-dimensional and internal awareness, giving us muscle memory and sense of movement. Over time, older tension patterns in areas of prolonged tension are usually eventually forgotten along with proprioceptive awareness of that area. The tension we feel today (mostly in the neck, shoulders, and back) is likely the final link in the chain of inter-connective dysfunction.
Why Does this Affect Me?
Sitting over prolonged periods of time results in tightness of the hips. That tightness can translate to tension in the lower back and possibly continue to your upper back and shoulders. Not moving eventually results in stiffness. Your inner monologue may be saying its your back or neck that’s killing you, but it is likely the fascia in your hips and chest that needs loosening.
When looked at as a whole, fascia is sort of like an internal wet-suit connecting and separating your tissues from head to toe. If one area becomes stuck, it can effect surrounding areas over time throughout your body. So that pain in your neck could be the way you slept that night, or it could be stemming from your shoulder, abdomen, hips, legs, feet, anywhere depending on who you are and what your body dictates. This explains how knots can reoccur, even when worked on directly with adequate movement and stretching. It took years for an individual’s fascia to become what it is today, it’s not going to go away by itself or through neurological integration alone. It requires a manual touch to eliminate dense physical adhesions and even possible scar tissue.
How To Find Relief?
Everyone is different. Releasing a knot can happen with just a few deep breaths, or take days, weeks or months, depending on individual tension patterns and other factors. How long it lasts however, will depend on neurological connectedness, and how in command a person is of the tissues surrounding that knot. So, if you want that stiffness in your neck, or annoying knot in your upper back to go away, think about addressing the entire wet-suit of fascia, at least in that general area, rather than just addressing the one nagging spot repeatedly to no avail.
At Fitsom, we combat muscle pain and tightness with Self Myofascial Release techniques. If you want to come see what this looks like to implement into your life, grab a 10 Day Pass to the studio. You’re a few clicks away from a pain free you! Get your free 10 day pass here!