Let's get right to it. Whether a pain symptom...
- Becomes a daily, common occurrence like low back pain or joint stiffness
- You have an unwanted symptom that seems to come and go at least 6 times a year, and lasts for more than 8 days at a consistent level
Life is stressful...
...on so many levels. From emotional to environmental stressors, our body endures and manages all the things we throw at it day-to-day. Repetition and stress from daily living causes issues in your body, and this missing link is the cause of most common pain symptoms.
Even if you take a proactive approach to maintaining your youthful appearance - you buy good skin care products, use SPF, exercise, and eat right… regardless of all you do, none of these things were directly intended to keep your body pain-free. In fact, lots of people who eat right and exercise still find themselves in pain frequently in any given year. Managing pain is exhausting and can make you feel older than your years. The theory that it’s better to look good than to feel good doesn’t work because when you feel like crap you tend to look worn out.
The sad and unfortunate truth of chronic pain:
100 million Americans suffer with chronic pain and those that do, tend to do one of 3 things:
- Ignore it and figure it will go away on its own.
- Take a pain pill to desensitize our sensation of it.
- Go see a doctor who may prescribe pain meds, anti-inflammatories, and perhaps schedule more invasive tests
While number 3 on my list might sound harsh, a doctor is kind of like a car salesman. They need to have clients and sell you on their surgeries. They don’t call it a “practice” for nothing.
Sometimes a pain symptom is a sign of more serious issues, diseases, and disorders. So, if you do have chronic pain, checking in with your doctor to rule out a bigger issue is always a good idea. However, if the doctor can’t find anything wrong or starts saying things like, “Well, we could try this medication” or “Let’s send you for more tests! I can’t find anything so it must be in your head” you may want to consider a new route to taking care of yourself. Pharmaceuticals and exploratory surgeries are a slippery slope and can even cause more unwanted symptoms.
In my years of public speaking on chronic pain I often hear things like, “I thought everyone felt aches and pain like I do.” Or “Isn’t feeling stiff after sitting or waking up in the middle of the night to pee normal?” My answer… “No, it’s not normal. It’s just average. And I think life is too short to walk around being average.”
Feeling stiff, achy, or exhausted daily are signs of a common issue that is not remedied by medicine, good diet, exercise, or surgery. When aches, pain, and a feeling of exhaustion become chronic I always say,
“You have an issue in your connective tissue – it’s not just in your mind.”
Although 100% of the time science has determined that our perception of pain is caused by the brain, there is frequently an issue in the body that is causing the brain to create the pain response. If you feel the same chronic pain or are getting used to the same joints feeling stiff or achy, it’s time to consider caring for your body beyond just cleaning up your diet and exercising more.
If your muscles feel stiff, joints feel unstable, or you are constantly trying to find a comfortable posture or position to manage the dull ache in your neck or low back whether you are sleeping or engaging in daily life tasks, knowing how to restore the efficiency and performance of your connective tissue (known as fascia) is just as important as eating a healthy diet, drinking water, and getting a restful night’s sleep. Restoring the stability of your fascial system can aid in the absorption, transportation, and elimination of nutrients and waste your digestive system manages and can also help you sleep better.
Why look to Connective Tissue (Fascia)?
See, what most people don’t know is that there is a system of the body that keeps us balanced and stable without us having to think about it. However, this tissue naturally loses its fluid profusion- much like a sponge becomes dehydrated when you leave it on the counter overnight- just because of our daily repetitive movements (think of how much you sit). If we never actively partake in restoring its fluid state, the dehydration accumulates day in and day out, causing fascia to lose its supple, pliable, supportive quality we rely upon to move well. I call this stiff, inflexible state “stuck stress.” Even if you don’t have pain, I’ll guarantee you have felt the pre-pain symptoms of stuck stress.
Here are a few familiar signs that your fascia is dehydrated
...even though you don’t know that’s what’s causing the feelings you sense:
- Your joints feel stiff when you first stand up but when you walk around it goes away.
- Your back and feet feel stiff when you first get out of bed in the morning.
- You frequently experience muscle cramps or spasms, even when you are sleeping or not moving.
Over the past 15 years, more and more research has been done to understand better the vital supportive tissue known as fascia. As a founding member of the Fascial Research Society, I’ve helped the general public understand this science, and I’ve shared ways to keep this tissue in top condition. The good news is you can restore this tissue on your own, and it takes as little as 10 minutes a day to do it!
Fascia, or connective tissue, is very responsive to two things in particular, tension and compression. When we sit for long periods of time, we cause a lot of tension and compression demand on this tissue. If you pull or compress parts of your body for long periods of time (this occurs to athletes, too, who train with repetitive movements – not just to the desk jockey working in a habitual, seated posture), it causes lines of strain and dehydration in the tissue. Over time, this dehydration becomes a body-wide issue with negative outcomes beyond common aches and pains. It stresses out your nervous system, weakens muscle contractility, exhausts your movement efficiency, and slowly gives you more noticeable symptoms like weight gain, bloating, and digestive issues.
More great news: The very thing that causes fascial dehydration - tension, and compression - can stimulate the connective tissue cells in a positive way – if you know how.
Traditional yoga, stretching, and foam rolling can offer some indirect responsiveness of this tissue; however, most of these techniques are too invasive for a person with pain. If you hold stretches for too long, move too fast, or iron yourself like a shirt with a hard roller or balls and inflict pain to yourself while you do it… it’s a sign it’s not helping.
Why would you cause more pain to get out of pain?
If connective tissue is dehydrated, you need a slower, gentler, more specific tension and compression approach to return the tissue to its ideal hydrated state. Doing those types of techniques can offer some benefits. However, If your tissue isn’t ready for those things, you can enhance neurological compensatory or protection states causing more issues and instability.
Even if you don’t have the right tools to do the best job for connective tissue rehydration, using some simple techniques from the MELT Method can help you juice back up this tissue and make immediate changes. If you don’t believe me, try this MELT Sequence and see if it changes your assessment of stress accumulation.
- Assess Yourself for Stuck Stress: Lie on your back with your palms faced up. Place one finger in your belly button as a reference point. Without touching your low back or moving, notice the shape and size of your low back curve. If the curve of your back feels like it goes well beyond your belly button (ideally it’s a small distinctive space from the belly button down to the top of the pelvis rather than up to your shoulder blades) that’s one sign of stuck stress that causes unwanted tension or compression along your spine.
You can also turn your head right and left and notice if you have stiffness or pain in your neck space as you turn your head - another sign of stuck stress along the spine.
- Roll up a yoga mat or bath towel and place it under your pelvis as shown.
- The Tuck and Tilt Challenge: start by trying to isolate a tiny movement in your pelvis by tucking and tilting your pelvis back and forth over the mat or towel. Keep your feet light and your ribs stable as you try this move. Do you find it difficult to only move your pelvis in this position?
- Bent Knee Press: Allow one knee to move towards your chest as shown. Focus on keeping your pelvis in the tucked position and use your leg to support this position. Think of reaching your opposite knee away from your tucked pelvis and take 3 focused breaths. Repeat on the other side.
- Reassess Yourself: Lie on your back again and assess the curve of your low back and your ability to turn your head from side to side. If you feel a change immediately, you are already supporting the integrity of your connective tissue system. Even a subtle change along the spine can aid your nervous system’s control and your sense of mobility.
You can also follow along to this video about the rebalance sequence:
If you don’t notice an immediate change, don’t worry. When fascia has been in a state of imbalance and stiffness for a long period of time, sensing no change is a sign your tissue needs more help to adapt as quickly as it could. You can get more help by going to www.meltmethod.com or by visiting our Youtube channel with some great free videos. You can also find more tips and tools to learn how to restore the fluid state of your connective tissue by doing a minimum of 10 minute self-care treatments daily with our streaming video service MELT on Demand. You can even find an instructor who can guide you and create a customized self-care plan that’s specific to your needs and goals. We’re here to help you.