Myofascial Restriction Leads to Loss of Mobility
Simply put, mobility is what separates the living from the dead. That’s why cultivating and retaining it should be a primary focus of healthy aging. However, the gradual loss of movement and myofascial restriction are so subtle that we are often taken completely by surprise when one day, basic movements like looking over our shoulder, bending over, unscrewing the lid of a jar, or buttoning up a shirt become hard to do. Further, loss of mobility is often coupled with chronic joint and muscle pain, putting a damper on one’s efforts to stay active. Two key factors that herald this downward spiral are the loss of adaptation and compensation.
Adaptation and Compensation
Adaptation is the term coined by Hans Selye, who explored homeostasis and stress regulation in the 1970s. More recently, this concept has been expanded to include Sterling’s concept of allostasis, which describes the body’s capacity to adjust moment-by-moment to internal and external changes in the body or stressors in the environment. This process may involve phases of tissue breakdown or tissue repair. Over time, the body’s ability to effectively adapt to insults or challenges diminishes, losing its capacity to compensate mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Bodily compensation refers to the ways the body changes its structure and function to accommodate chronic changes linked to inflammatory conditions, injuries, or surgery, in an effort to stabilize and protect important structures like arteries, organs, spine, and brain. These changes are easily seen in myofascial tension or strain patterns which are often multi-layered, reflecting the cumulative nature of compensatory patterns.
How do myofascial tension patterns affect tissue mobility and function over time, impacting one’s health and well-being?
Multi-layered myofascial tension patterns and bodily compensation work hand-in-hand to keep us going after our body has suffered structural changes.
Fascia is the ubiquitous connective tissue matrix that gives our body structures and organs their shape. Myofascial tension patterns develop as ligaments, tendons, and fascial tissues are recruited to act as guy wires (to brace) or struts (to resist compression) to stabilize and support the body.
Patterns may manifest as a torsion or twist, as hips or shoulders attempt to counterbalance each other, one in the anterior plane and the other displaced in the posterior plane. Or, there may be a top/bottom pattern, often seen in whiplash injuries, where the forward displacement of the neck is counterbalanced by tension in the low back. This pattern is also associated with years of computer-related head-forward posture. Adhesions related to scar tissue can also induce abnormal motility patterns in visceral organs, reducing normal patterns of excursion.
Eventually, trigger points form, creating patterns of referred pain, further altering normal neuromuscular function by reducing range of motion. Finally, nerve entrapment contributes to movement-induced chronic pain.
Time, wear and tear, inactivity, and reduced range of motion become the turn of the screw that leads to decompensation, phase four of Selye’s general adaptation syndrome. Decompensation occurs when the body no longer has the resources or raw material (reduced hormones, strength, and function) necessary to sustain compensatory patterns. Joints, discs, and bones begin to breakdown, muscles and visceral organs lose their tone and torpor sets in, accelerating the aging process.
Not a pretty picture, yet it is the common pattern facing us all. Make the choice today to enhance your chances of aging well.
Aging well involves the foods we choose to eat, our activity level, social support, thinking patterns, movement practices that support functional anatomy (Feldenkrais or the Alexander Technique), as well as the support of practitioners who can help us improve and maintain our mobility: acupuncture, myofascial release, frequency specific microcurrent, craniosacral therapy, or rolfing.
What are you doing to age well?