How inflammation in fascia contributes to your pain
Pain is a necessary and natural response to something potentially damaging. The problems arise when the pain response gets corrupted and turns into an unwanted chronic situation.
For many of us our pain first happens as a result of an injury, for example a fall or too much computer use. Whatever the cause, the body’s reaction to soft tissue damage is the same. Any injury triggers a natural inflammatory response which is the body’s way of repairing itself.
The inflammatory response is actually a series of responses put into motion by chemicals released from the injury site, like an emergency call out. You notice this as:
- Redness in the injured area, as the small blood vessels expand to allow repair chemicals and white blood cells (the body’s defence force) through into the tissues to start work;
- Swelling, caused by the increased blood and fluid flow in the damaged tissues;
- Heat, due to the increased chemical activity in the area;
- Pain, as the nerve endings in the injured area are squeezed and activated by all of the above.
In the normal course of events, the inflammatory response completes the repair within a matter of days or weeks, depending on the severity of the original injury.
However, for some people their pain can linger long after an injury has apparently been resolved. Medical approaches to defining and treating such chronic pain have varied success. Standard diagnostic tools such as x-rays or scans lack the sensitivity to identify soft tissue problems. Often the tests are focused on where the pain is felt, as opposed to the site of a previous injury that may be the root cause of the current problem.
Recent fascia research
Recent fascia research is beginning to show a direct link between chronic pain and inflammation, specifically of the fascia. This is because the original injury did not heal properly, and the body continues to try to repair it, creating chronic inflammation which leads to chronic pain.
Research studies show that patients with chronic pain following whiplash injuries have higher levels of localised inflammation in the deep muscles and fascia of their neck. Similarly, people with chronic low back pain have been shown to have restrictions in the fascia of their lower back.
Fascial restrictions and the resulting inflammation following injuries such as these can cause increased sensitivity in nerve endings and a lower pain threshold. The outcome is a gradual reduction in movement for fear of further pain, which develops into a decreasing cycle of movement – pain – immobility.
Self-help for restricted fascia
The news that inflammation in restricted fascia can contribute to chronic pain is a significant step forward in understanding what is going on in your body. If there is no conclusive medical diagnosis for a cause of your chronic pain, the answer may well lie in your fascia.
Fortunately there are ways that you can help to release your fascia yourself using simple myofascial stretches and exercises. Done on a regular daily basis, these can help to undo the restrictions that are causing the inflammation and your pain.
Having found a new way forward, the temptation sometimes is to take a gung-ho approach and spend hours a day working on your fascia. Many people who do this, and even those who take a more measured approach, can find that their pain levels change and even increase at first.
Rather than be put off, an understanding of the increased sensitivity in your tissues caused by chronic inflammation can help to explain why this may happen. Little and often is the answer, taking days off where necessary to allow time for your body to readjust to the new normal, and for fascial release and healing to take place.
Visit our Living Pain Free online video programme for further information about self-help myofascial exercises.