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 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 you can do that effectively, you 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 the muscles, isn’t it obvious?”, but the answer has more levels to it than just that. 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 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 and the fascia reverts 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 why, can be explained by the brain.
How Does the Brain Play a Role in Tension?
Along with a couple other factors, there’s another factor in the tension equation – Proprioceptive awareness. Proprioception means “sense of self.” There are proprioceptors in the brain as well as throughout the body congruent with muscle fibers. Together, they create a person’s sense of 3-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 interconnective dysfunction.
Why Does this Effect 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 probably 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 your 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 scar tissue as well.
How Do Find Relief?
Everyone is different. Releasing a knot can happen with just a few deep breaths, or take a while depending on your individual tension patterns among other factors. How long it lasts however, will depend on your neurological connectedness, and how in command you are 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 Studios, we combat muscle pain and tightness with Self Myofascial Release techniques. Check out our videos on how you can roll out your knots and address your internal wet-suit: