3 Fascial Keys you can use to support your body.
Our bodies are always there for us. They support us in so many ways that we all take for granted. Every time we have pain or dysfunction, the first thing we do is to point an accusatory finger at the body that has betrayed us. I am here to help you realize that your body hasn't let you down, everything it does, it does for you.
Do you ever think about all that your body does for you? Your heart beats, you digest food and eliminate waste, and every little scratch and bruise is targeted and repaired, all this is done for you. Keep that statement in mind, the body does it for you, it is your trusted friend, your ally in the trenches, and your constant companion.
So what is happening why do so many of us feel that our bodies are letting us down. Let me be completely honest with you. I felt my body was letting me down. I have spent the last twenty-one years trying to discover why my body failed me. It is only recently that I have developed a new relationship with it.
Twenty-one years ago something happened to me. I was climbing a mountain in South Korea, and both my ACL's (Anterior Cruciate Ligament, a small strip of tissue in the knee that helps prevent the Femur from passing over the head of the Tibia), broke. Anyone who has suffered from this dysfunction, knows the pain I was in. The pain was magnified by the fact that I had to walk back down that mountain, with every step the Femur would try to go over the Tibia, and the pain would stop me dead.
The worst part of it all was that, I didn't do anything wrong. I wasn't creating undue stress on my joints. I was just standing at the top of the mountain, enjoying the view. When all of sudden, I heard two loud pops, and then I collapsed to my knees. That was it, that was the moment when my body betrayed me.
This story is not unique, as a Fascial Therapist for the past 15 years, I have heard similar tales to this one over and over again. What is happening? Why are our bodies suddenly rebelling and letting us down so badly?
My own personal journey started with that collapse on the mountain, but continued over the years as an inexorable march towards total body melt down. I was searching for answers. I traveled all over the world to understand what was going wrong.
Every time I thought I was understanding the problem, I would fall apart a little more. I followed traditional methods of trying to address the problem. I worked out diligently, one and a half to two hours a day. I ran to improve my overall health. I dieted to ensure I had proper nutrition.
No matter what I did, I kept falling apart. Now not only were my knees hurting me, but so wasn't my back, and right shoulder. My digestion completely stopped working, I was in so much abdominal pain, that for almost two years I couldn't stand up straight. It didn't matter what I ate, it seemed random when these abdominal attacks would occur. My back pain got so bad that I had to put a solid piece of wood under my mattress to find any comfort. I got bigger and bigger, storing more and more fat despite anything I did.
Me at my biggest, almost 4 years ago. Picture taken
by a client as we were climbing a mountain near Calgary
At the time when this picture above was taken I was working out daily, and watching everything I ate. My gut was still on fire lots of times, but was fifty percent better than it had been five years before.
When I received this picture, I felt so defeated. I had been working so hard for so long, and yet this was me.
I was lucky. Five years before this picture was taken, I had stumbled upon a new body manipulation protocol, while working on a client in my clinic. I started to treat myself, and just like my clients I began to transform.
Today I am a new man, I have no more pain, and it is harder and harder to recognize myself in the mirror. Even with all these physical changes it was only the beginning of the story.
Taken May22, 2021. 52 years old
Every day I transform a little more. I still treat myself, but only once a month, and very minimally at best. I perform a fifteen-to-twenty minute exercise protocol called Intentional Movement daily, and I try to stay pretty active. I no longer spend hours in the gym, or watch every mouthful that I ingest. I feel free, free from all the burden that I carried for the last twenty-one years.
What changed? This is the part where I talk about how I misunderstood my relationship with my body.
The first thing I had to change was my internal dialogue, I had to stop saying "my body did this to me" and replace it with "my body did this for me". That may seem simple, but it was the hardest thing in the world to do. I had to take responsibility for where I was and what I was feeling.
Let's break this down. My first real body collapse was my ACL tears on the top of the mountain. What, could my body possibly have been doing for me at that point? The simple fact is that years and years of abuse of my knees had led to this failure. My body had been holding me together despite the damage I was creating in my knees.
When I was a young man, I got into weight lifting. I was really into it. Lifting heavier and heavier weights all the time. I pushed my body so hard, that sometimes I would leave the gym and almost have to crawl up the stairs. For years I trained daily, pushing my body to greater and greater heights. I really didn't care about form or proper engagement, I only cared about pushing more steel.
Then I started a computer company in Toronto, Canada, and it all stopped. I worked as much as twenty hours a day at times. I never went to the gym anymore, and I did little to take care of my health. All my focus was on building a successful business.
After seven years, I sold the company, and I looked for my next challenge. I also started to focus on my body once again. I started back in the gym and immediately went back to lifting big weights. It wasn't long after this restart that my ACL injury occurred.
Looking back at it now, there must have been signs of the injury that was to come, but I can honestly say, I can't remember any. Still, knowing what I know now, I must have ignored them , the little pains or the discomfort that my body was trying to use to warn me of the impending failure that couldn't be avoided if I didn't change my ways.
So how did I fail to support my body? Squatting, especially weighted squats, can be so detrimental to your knees. I was squatting unaware of the damage I was creating day after day. That was one way, that I was failing my body, but there were more.
Let's break it down. What are knees? The Cambridge dictionary defines the knee as "the middle joint of the leg that allows the leg to bend". So the knee is space between the upper leg bone and the lower leg bones, that allow us to walk, run, jump, etc. This space is maintained by soft tissue materials in and around it.
The knee is surrounded by tendons and ligaments and a joint capsule that help hold it together. Still the most important thing is the space between the bones so that the knee can bend. The soft tissue allows the knee to be flexible, allowing for it to slide and move in response to moving over rough terrain. This ensures that the knee doesn't wear down as quickly through normal wear and tear.
Our bodies are dynamic, designed to withstand lots of punishment, and move in whatever way it needs to in order to support us. That said, there is still a mechanical behavior that is most proper for our joints. I won't get into all of it but vectors of force come into play as does the proper strengthening of the knee joint.
So what strengthens the knee joint? Is it the ligaments? No, it isn't, the muscles that surround the knee joint are what strengthen it. It isn't that they play a direct role on the making of the joint, but there proper engagement ensures that the knee is under the least amount of stress during use. If the muscles are doing there job the knee is held in an optimal open position during flexion (bending the knee) and extension (straightening the knee).
The body has over 600 skeletal muscles. All these muscles work together to move us around and support our frame. If you look at the picture of the extenders you can actually see the space that should be between the upper and lower leg bones. Also if you look at that same picture you can see how the knee would be held in an open position through the action of the Hamstrings and Calves working off each other.
The muscles are a fixed length, they don't get longer or shorter they only change their shape during contraction. In addition they can only contract to half the length of their original size during a contraction. This means that in the case of the knee, the knee is always in the same position in relation to the upper and lower leg bones.
What does this have to do with supporting our knees? What it means is that there is a right and wrong way to use the knee. Our bodies will support whatever we do, until they can't any longer. If we bend at the knee the way we are designed to, the hamstrings contract and pull our butts closer to the ground, the knee stays exactly where it starts and the glutes push out behind us. Even during almost full contraction of the hamstring and calves, the knee is still fixed in position. If we lay our upper legs onto our lower legs the knee moves forward slightly to maintain our balance, but this is no longer a strength position where the knee is supported. It is much easier to let our knees drift over our toes to create stability, but the knee is under more stress in this position, and it is harder for the glutes to work.
You can see in this image that the action of the hamstrings, draw the upper body, attached at the hips, towards the floor. The muscles squeeze together and the bend occurs. These muscles attach onto the lower leg bones and cause us to bend at the knee. The muscles in the front of the leg, hold the knee in place and allow the joint space to remain appropriately open.
If we are not contracting our muscles correctly to create the movement then we are constantly putting our joint under stress. As this stress continues to damage us over time, eventually we start to feel the effects, ligament damage, lack of range of motion, or osteoarthritis.
In order to help us move around our bodies will create new supports to hold us together. These supports help to maintain our joints, allowing them to keep working in the improper movement patterns we create, but they come with their own issue, affecting circulation, range of motion, flexibility and normal muscle function. So even though the body is building these structures for us , it is this support that eventually makes it impossible for our bodies to continue working. To let us know that the body struggling, it will use pain as a communication tool. It is trying to warn us to tell us to change our ways, or before long it will be too late.
What are these structures that the body is building for us? They are fascial supports and once there, they need to be acted upon to change their nature.
Fascial Supports are Golden Handcuffs
Fascial supports are there to protect us. As I showed you earlier, the fact that most of us are not using our muscles properly to support our joints, means that the joints are under a lot of stress, and therefor in danger of breaking down.
Fascia is a total body system. What does this mean it means that it is everywhere in fact if you were to remove everything but your Fascia, your skin, your bones, etc., you would still look like you just a Fascia you. It's main role is communication. It is communicating between all the cells, the tissues of the body, and even the different organ systems. Due to the fact that it is so universal within the body it is always monitoring the current state of it.
If our knee joints are starting to be overwhelmed, Fascia will change it's nature to become more supportive, it will start to thicken and twist to create a structure to brace the knee. This means that even though your movement patterns are creating damage, your body is supporting you in the behavior you want to follow.
This seems like a good thing, and it is, and least in the short term. The more the Fascia changes to support you, the more problems this creates. Thickened Fascia affects circulation to the area, meaning cells are no longer getting the nutrition they need to be healthy. The growing Fascial substructure, begins to strangle the muscles in the area, and they have a harder and harder time of doing their job.
Still the body supports you in this as well. As Fascia thickens in the area and more Fascial cells are recruited to buttress the dysfunctional behavior, the number of pain cells (Nociceptors), in the local Fascia increases. The body is trying to communicate with you, it knows that you need to change, and it is trying to inform you of this fact.
The good news is that the body is dynamic, always willing to change if we give it even the most minor signals. That said keep in mind that it is there doing a job now, we have to break down the tissue present as we rebuild the proper structure of support and movement. In a word, patience, you have to let the body grow to the new reality that you want to create.
The following are three simple Fascial Keys you can start to do today to start this cascade of change.
Three Easy Things You can do to Start to Support Your Body
Your body is working hard to support you. Even if you have created a situation where the body is no longer able to work properly, all you have to do is give it the proper signals and it will start to reverse the process. Here are three easy steps you can start to incorporate into your life to change your body today.
Step 1: Start Listening To Your Body!
Your body is always communicating with you, trying to let you know what is happening, and asking for your help when it needs it. We ignore so many signals from our bodies every day that we miss the opportunity to support it.
The next time you are involved in some sort physical exercise, take a moment to ask yourself if you are pushing beyond your current physical limits. If you are I guarantee the body is letting you know. If we continue to push it the body will hear the statement, "I need to do this", meaning there is some sort of life threatening reason as to why you need to continue, so it will help you continue, despite the damage you might be creating. If instead you stop at your edge, and push it a little bit, the body hears, "I want to do this", now it helps you by growing to allow you to accomplish this next level of exertion. Of course this means that you have to accept your current level of capability as you build towards greater heights.
If you are at work, take a moment to check in with your body, are you sitting up straight, is there any pain or tightness starting to affect you? If you find that you are starting to slouch or are feeling some pain, take a break, move, reset the body. Taking a moment to listen to what your body is saying will help you to prevent long term chronic problems from repetitive actions.
Step 2: Start to Consider What Muscle Are You, or Should You, Be Using Right Now!
As I mentioned earlier there are over 600 Skeletal muscles in the body. In fact if you do even a little bit of research, there are researchers who are claiming more than 700 Skeletal muscles. That is a lot of muscles. Take a moment and think about how many you know, then count them, and realize how many you don't. Why do we have so many muscles?
Muscles are essential for movement and body support. They create the tension and compression the body needs to stay upright, and move around in balance.
Take for instance your elbow what muscles are working on the elbow to move the forearm. Now keep in mind that the joint is only the space between the bones of the arm. It is what allows the joint to move around. It isn't like a joint you see on a machine where the point of rotation is held together with a pin, fixing it in place and limiting its ability to move in any other direction other than the one it was designed for. The elbow is flexible, it allows for movement in many directions. This doesn't mean it bends sideways, it means it can absorb force much better than a machine. It still has a proper movement direction that it is designed to follow, it is just more dynamic than a fixed joint.
The bones gives us structure, and the space between them gives us movement. If we think about lifting our hands up towards our shoulders, can we feel the muscles of the biceps and triceps working to lift our forearm and support our elbow? If you can really accomplish this you will feel multiple muscles working.
Keep trying this and see if you notice if the elbow is fixed place, and the forearm is rotating around it, or is your elbow drifting forward when you lift your forearm? If you do this really properly you will feel different parts of you upper arm contracting as the body passes the ball throughout the movement.
It is your body you decide how it will move.
Step 3: Get to Know Your Body!
Pick up an anatomy book, or go online and start to look at images of just how dynamic your body truly is.
Now keep in mind that our bodies do not look like the anatomical pictures you see. We are not broken down into our individual pieces we are a function of the whole. Still it will help you to start to understand what is happening inside you.
You control your body. If you know what should be happening, you will know if it is. Start talking to your body, tell it to contract, tell it to work the way you want it to.
The Wrap Up
Think about how often you have said, "Its my body", in your life. It is your body, you are responsible for it, and it is here to serve you. If you start to build a better relationship with it, I guarantee you it will be more rewarding than you could have ever imagined.
So, follow these 3 easy steps and your Fascia will become healthier and you will begin to support your body as well as it supports you.
Good luck and stay Fascia healthy.