What Is Fascia Inflammation?
Your muscles, bones, blood vessels, organs, and nerves are all sheathed with thin layers of connective tissue which has a lubricating fluid between each of the paper-thin, fibrous sheets.
The fluid, called “hyaluronan”, allows the sheets to easily glide over one another when you move and stretch. When you have a problem with your fascia, it can thicken and “bunch up” in spots, and the fluid no longer lubricates the sheets of fibrous tissue as it should, and inflammation begins to take hold in problem areas.
Instead of gliding with movement, the tissues become sticky, and they catch onto each other with movement, causing pain and sometimes swelling.
What Causes Fascia Pain?
There are many reasons that the fascia and surrounding tissues become damaged, causing stiffness and pain. One big reason is a sedentary lifestyle.
We’re mostly all capable of becoming “couch potatoes” at certain times in life, and not only the cardio-respiratory system suffers from a low-energy life. Lack of movement from day to day can make the fascia bunch up and become “sticky”.
In very extreme cases, the muscles can atrophy, or become small with disuse, and the connective tissues can shorten and become stiff when joints are not adequately exercised. When this happens, the joints can actually become frozen in a position, where all movement becomes painful. This is especially a problem with people who are affected by a spinal cord injury, or any similar problem that leaves them paralyzed or unable to move without help or physical therapy.
The joints of the arms and legs become contracted, or drawn up into a permanent state of being bent. Eventually, it becomes impossible to straighten out the affected limbs, and attempting to move, even with help, is painful.
Sometimes fascia pain can be caused by a specific lack of movement and has nothing to do with being lazy or skipping the gym. You might have heard of “plantar fascia pain”. That is a painful condition of the foot, caused by the foot chronically slipping into a position of the toes pointing down while we sleep. It is an unconscious action, but unfortunately, it can lead to crippling pain.
Over time, the connective tissue of the plantar aspect of the foot (the sole of the foot, along the arch) shortens from being in that position for several hours during sleep. When people with this shortening try to stand and walk after waking up, the fascia is sticky and bunched up, and thus it causes great discomfort with any use of the foot or feet.
The opposite side of that coin is the repetitive overuse of certain muscles or joints, which can also damage fascia and cause inflammation and pain. Depending on the lifestyle of the person, it can be either acute (short term), or chronic (long term) in nature.
Athletes often suffer from fascia pain when they overuse certain muscle groups. One easy example of this is what people call “Tennis Elbow”. When tennis players over-use their dominant arm to play tennis, without proper rest and stretching before exercise, they often develop fascia pain of the elbow joint, commonly called “Tennis Elbow”.
Sometimes people will get similar pain like “Tennis Elbow” when they play golf, which might be confusing to the layman, but only indicates that those same tissues surrounding the elbow have been over-used while practicing golf, thus causing painful inflammation in the form of fascia pain.
One final cause of fascia pain is caused by surgical injury. Pain and inflammation, in that case, is suffered in the area that a surgery has been performed–such as after surgery on a joint. The fascia might need a specific care plan to heal after surgery. If you think you are having fascia pain after recently having surgery, you should contact your doctor immediately.
How Do I Know If My Pain Is From Fascia Pain?
Lots of the causes of pain listed above could come from different places, like injured muscles or joints. Often an injury can cause pain or stiffness from multiple issues.
In general, muscle or joint injuries will feel worse the more you try to move the injury. If the problem is caused by fascia problems, injuries tend to feel better with stretching and movement and usually also respond well to the application of heat, which can help restore the injured tissue’s elasticity.
Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage
What Is Myofascial Release?
Massage therapists, physical therapists, and other medical practitioners offer Myofascial Relief treatments. This focuses on physically releasing the bunched up, sticky, and damaged fibers of fascia that is often the source of discomfort.
Finding and mechanically releasing this pinched area of fascia and surrounding tissues can provide pain relief in places that might travel far away from the actual injury (For instance, when the lower back is injured, damaged tissues often cause pain that travels all the way down the legs and to the feet).
Basics of Deep Tissue Massage
It takes a lot of skill and medical training to be a practitioner of myofascial release.
Some basic principles of deep tissue massage include stroking the skin and underlying tissues, feeling around to locate areas of pinched fascia. By focusing deep tissue massage and therapeutic heat on these tightly bunched, spasmed tissues, pain relief can be achieved for both short and long term periods of time.
The use of massage and heat is recommended for pain caused by fascia pain. There are many kinds of massage available out there, such as hot rock massage, Swedish massage, and reiki, but when you are dealing with fascia pain, the most benefit will probably come from deep tissue massage. With any kind of health problem, it is always imperative to be seen by your physician before starting any new treatment, and make sure that s/he recommends deep tissue massage for your particular injury or problem.
If you are massaging yourself, a friend, or a loved one who has issues consistent with fascia pain, it could be helpful to gently massage the body with your hands first, looking and feeling carefully for areas in the muscle that feel stiff or tightened. Oftentimes, people will describe an area of fascia/muscle pain as feeling like a “knot” in the muscle.
A stiff mass that feels hard to the light touch can sometimes be palpable with fascia or muscle pain. It might be tender when pressed on. Normal muscle and fascia should feel pliable and elastic and have some give if you push. Areas of bunched up muscle tissues and fascia are stiffer, almost like there is a hard rubber ball underneath the skin.
Using heat application and a massage gun, you can begin massaging, percussing, and stretching rigid, tightened areas. You might have to work on these “trigger points” repeatedly in a single session to start to release possible adhesions in the fascia and to ideally provide some relief.
Providing deep tissue massage and therapeutic heat to these areas regularly should hopefully provide relief from minor strains and injuries. Increased blood flow to injured tissues promotes healing, reducing swelling and inflammation.
If applying therapeutic heat and massage to the body causes increased pain or any other problems, you should stop immediately. No home therapy regimen should ever be done without the full blessing of your doctor.
Massage Guns and Muscle Pain
Massage guns provide a specific type of massage therapy: percussive or vibration therapy. Rapid bursts of pressure are applied to the affected tissues, which causes a rippling effect as the massage head oscillates back and forth.
Traditionally, masseurs and masseuses have used a series of light strikes (‘karate chops’) from the hands to replicate this effect.
Cost Effective Treatment
While it would be nice to have a private masseur to provide percussive therapy to problem areas several times a week, it isn’t possible for most to afford a professional massage more than occasionally.
The average cost of a one-hour massage in the United States ranges from $90 – $110. This price varies greatly if travel time is factored into the cost, as well as any add-on items like hot stones or aromatherapy. While a solidly made, highly rated massage gun might seem like a splurge, it pales in comparison to the cost of professional physical therapy or multiple professional massage sessions per week.
If you are very active, a massage gun is also very effective to provide a warm-up prior to strenuous exercise. It is a great way to prevent injury by loosening up tight muscles prior to the gym or a hike. Old injuries may also benefit from treatment, as percussive therapy has been known to help loosen and heal old scar tissue and the adhesions caused by it.
Massage guns are quickly becoming a necessary piece of equipment for gym rats far and wide.
A Massage Gun Might Be the Answer for Fascia Pain
In the challenging economy of the modern world, it might seem extravagant to invest in a massage gun. With popular models running between $300 – $600, some might feel like they should “tough out” minor injuries with OTC pain meds and heat packs alone.
As more athletes and active people incorporate massage guns into their daily life, the devices are becoming highly popular, and for good reason. With the ability to both treat and prevent injury, improve flexibility and blood flow, and most of all with their ability to bring necessary pain relief, massage guns are a bargain to many people who have suffered through a painful case of fascia pain.