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fascia and biomechanics:  making or breaking your chronic pain and chronic illness


Fascia Biomechanics

According to a popular online dictionary, Biomechanics is defined as “the study of the structure and function of the mechanical aspects of biological systems, at any level from whole organisms to organs, cells and cell organelles, using principles of mechanics and physics.”  In other words, everything we do, all movement, all bodily functions, can be broken down to simple mechanical principles of levers, fulcrums, loads, forces, friction, flow, velocity, deceleration, etc, etc, etc.  Regardless of what you are doing, it must be done with good biomechanics or, as you’ll soon see, a price must be paid.  Nowhere is this more blatant than in the field of sports and athletics. 

Whether running, lifting weights, playing tennis, or throwing a baseball, proper biomechanics are paramount.  I recall years ago listening to an interview with the half-crazed, four time Superbowl winning middle linebacker, Bill Romanowski (he’s on everyone’s Top Ten dirtiest players of all time list).  

It seems that after his time with the San Francisco 49ers, Romanowski was worried about not being able to pick up with another team because his time in the 40 had dropped so much.  If I recall the story correctly, Romanowski found a kinesiologist in Denver, who figured out that he had a mechanical problem with his big toe, corrected said problem, allowing Romanowski to go on to not only play, but play at a high level, winning two more SB rings with the Elway-led Denver Broncos. 

Bottom line; when your biomechanics are fouled up, you get the same result(s) you would get when the mechanics of your vehicle are fouled up — things wear out much faster than they otherwise would.  Think about a car with a misaligned front end.   Sure, it will get you to where you want to go. But the steering wheel vibrates and shakes in your hands, and you end up going through tires significantly faster than you otherwise would. 

Today I would like to take just a few minutes to discuss a paper (Fascia – The Unsung Hero of Spinal Biomechanics) that was published just days ago in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies by Dr. Mark Driscoll, a researcher and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Montreal’s McGill University.


Dr. Driscoll started out by discussing the history of biomechanics along with it’s founding father, one Giovanni Borelli, an Italian mathematician, physicist, anatomist, and physiologist of the Renaissance (he wrote his famous treatise on biomechanics in the mid-1600’s).  After talking about the numerous tools and amazing technology that scientists have at their disposal today as compared to Borelli’s day, Driscoll stated, “Fascia and its implication in biomechanics is both victor and victim of the experimental tools and experimental data of today.”  What does he mean by this?

Because there are multiple muscles that accomplish very similar movements, fascia must be removed from the mathematical equations in order to make them “solvable“.   “This often results by tossing fascia aside, so to speak, perhaps analogous to how anatomist did so during dissections. Nevertheless, over the last decade fascia has gained acknowledgement as a player in biomechanics by way of conveying mechanical forces directly or indirectly.”  

The way that fascia transmits forces directly is by moving said forces from one attachment point to the other (remember that fascia has the ability to contract — HERE).  Indirectly, fascia swaddles the muscle, wrapping it tight and essentially ‘directing’ its forces and pressures.  Dr. Driscoll goes on to talk about the way that this affects spinal mechanics.  Here are some cherry-picked highlights of his next paragraph.

“The spine is a biomechanical marvel in regards to its intricate control and performance. However, because of such complexities many things can go wrong, perhaps why the spine is responsible for plaguing so many with pain. The role of fascia in spinal stability has yet to be fully understood but several novel and valuable discoveries have been made. Clinically, many researchers have shown and alluded to the role of the thoracolumbar fascia (TLF) in spine stability.

The TLF is believed to play a role in transferring forces during coordinated activities and, consequently, such important function may be coupled with pathologies and clinical observations of TLF dysfunction. Mechanically, the tension in the TLF is regulated by many muscular attachments spanning the spino-pelvic region and by the intra-abdominal and muscular pressures. These notions further complicate the task of rehabilitation practitioners who attempt to decipher the culprit(s) when TLF related pain or spinal stability issues are present.”

For those of you who follow my site, you’re already up on this (HERE are the side-by-side videos of healthy -vs- unhealthy fascia).  I have given you any number of incredible posts on the thick, tough, diamond-shaped Thoracolumbar Fascia, including HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.   It’s why spinal posture matters (HERE and HERE).  It’s why strength matters as well (HERE), and why coordination and motion are also part of the equation (HERE and HERE). 

It’s also why you cannot ignore your abdominals and core (HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE)  And the cherry on the sundae is that unlike some muscles / tissues that can be exceedingly difficult to access (psoas for instance), the Thoracolumbar area is easy to get to.

Dr. Driscoll goes on to admit that rehabbing a problematic back can be difficult because everyone is so different (I believe this is at least part of what makes some athletes or individuals ‘injury prone,’ while others never seem to miss a lick).  Because of these differences, the fact that spinal biomechanics (especially as related to fascia) are so poorly understood, and because abnormal biomechanics rapidly set up “compensatory” patterns, “where, when, and how to rehabilitate is a difficult task for any, and an even more challenging task is to systematically present a turnkey rehabilitation program to alleviate symptoms such as back pain.”  

He’s right you know.  A “turnkey” or cookie-cutter rehab program is a pipe dream for any number of reasons, one of the biggest being something that he did not mention here — inflammation.

As many before me have said, we are THE PROVERBIAL INFLAMMATION NATION — arguably the most INFLAMED society in history, despite being the most prosperous.   As I have talked about on my site until I am blue in the face, we can do all the mechanical rehab in the world, and unless we are doing the chemical rehab (inflammation is a chemical issue), it will all ultimately be for naught.  Allow me to show you a few of the heavy-hitter inflammatory problems related to the spine and fascia.

  • DIABETES:   I’ve shown you HERE that it’s an inflammatory problem and that it seriously affects connective tissues, fascia included.  BTW, bones are connective tissues also, and are affected by inflammation (HERE).  And unfortunately, the meds used to treat diabetics suck (HERE).
  • OBESITY / OVERWEIGHT:   Yep; it’s inflammatory as well (HERE), and as you might suspect, it is intimately related to fascia.  If you click the link, you’ll see that this relationship is more than just mechanical stress due to excess weight.
  • ARTHRITIS:  Anything with “itis” is a dead give-away as it is the Latin term for inflammation (HERE, HERE and HERE).  Abnormal mechanics cause wear, and the wear causes abnormal mechanics.  Now add in the inflammation that occurs due to perpetuated tissue damage and you have a real problem on your hands — a vicious cycle that few doctors are addressing effectively.  Why not?  Because the brutal truth with this bullet (not to mention all of the previous bullets) your doctor can’t do it for you (HERE) — it’s largely up to you.
  • AUTOIMMUNITY:  Autoimmune diseases are legion, are caused by inflammation, and frequently affect fascia (HERE).
  • CANCER:   Cancer is inflammatory and in many cases affects or is affected by fascia (HERE).
  • DISEASE IN GENERAL:  There are increasing numbers of people far smarter than me saying that the root of all sickness, disease, and pain can be found in fouled up fascia (HERE).

In my free SELF-HELP PROTOCOL, I try to address, at least on some level, the many areas of physiology that will have to be accounted for so that real healing can take place wherever you need it to take place (spine included).  You can meet Dr. Driscoll at the Fifth Fascia Congress, which will be held in Berlin, Germany on November 13-15.  If you are looking for more information on fascia, I have a list of nearly 150 posts on my FASCIA SUPER-POST.

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