Connective Tissue as a Culprit to Chronic Low Back Pain

You’re only as old as your back feels. Low back pain is often a reason preventing many people from experiencing the benefits of a simple, regular yoga practice. For anyone living with mild to chronic low back pain, it can be easy to feel disconnected from your body.

Pain and achiness is complex and it says that our nervous system doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the way we hold our posture and move around. By only repeating our habitual movements and not putting our joints through their full range of motion daily, our joints tend to forget how to function in other positions. We need to fill the gap with other movement variety and it doesn’t need to complicated or fancy to be effective.

In an evenly aligned and spacious system within the joints themselves, it is possible to maintain even tension and load across the joints to minimize mechanical damage between two boney structures. But as humans living in modern bodies we have grown into our asymmetries which present as compensations in varied directions under various levels of load depending on what we are doing in the moment. These asymmetries result in uneven tension from the attached tissues which consequently, feel bound up and tight - our muscles and connective tissue, including our fascia.

Fascia, meaning “band” or “bundle” is primarily made of multi-layered collagen fibers, connecting connective tissue surrounding body parts from organs, to muscles, to vessels. Fascia holds your entire body together. While there are a few different types of fascia, when it’s healthy, it’s flexible, supple and it glides smoothly. When it’s unhealthy, fascia is sticky, clumpy and tight, forming adhesions and is even a culprit for muscle knots. More often than not, our tissue tightness is experienced asymmetrically in the body, meaning, primarily on one side more than the other. These one-sided compensations over time minimize our movement options and contribute to us feeling stuck and limited in our bodies, vastly decreasing our tolerance for discomfort and pain.

It is important to understand that spinal health and vitality play into the soft tissue surrounding the spine. There are 75 joints supporting 24 vertebra in our spine that need to be nourished daily through intentional movement around ranges of motion far beyond our habitual patterns. So, it’s easy to figure out that if we aren’t giving our spine some attention, the tissues that support these structures progressively become starved of the nourishment they need to be mobile, loose, fluid and vital. Disfunction occurs as tissues attached to joints become fixed or tight and imbalanced and remain at the forefront of much our daily discomfort and even pain. Studies have shown that connective tissue in in the low back is 25% thicker in patients with low back pain. These same patients also experience 20% decrease in the low back tissues ability to slide and glide smoothly. Possible explanations for this include impaired neuromuscular control and movement patterns, adhesions formed over times due to altered movements patterns and stagnation, especially in the presence of pain and inflammation and the quality of the low back fascia itself, namely the - the Thoracolubar Fascia. Age, physiology and psychological factors such as stress and the beliefs we have in our own abilities to meet challenges are also factors to consider in determining root causes to low back pain.

The Thoracolumbar Fascia or TLF for short, is important for posture, force transition and even breathing as it helps to form abdominal pressure and is a key contributor and encasement for the lumbar vertebrae 1 through 4, the biggest boney structures of the spine. The TLF which in its fullest form, runs in many layers from the sacral area to the cervical spine- from neck to cranium - is involved in many painful disorders of the soft tissues in the low back, including chronic low back pain. This fascial tissue is the most painful soft tissue in the low back whose quality is often described as burning or stinging. In addition to tissue quality, the nerves associated with spinal movement can also be a contributor to low back pain, especially as uneven tension creates neutral joint space between the vertebrae to dissipate.

While the TLF is only one factor of chronic low back pain is the most prominent fascial structure in the entire back and we can effect to the change the quality of these fibrous tissues with regular, simple strengthening and stretching exercises aimed to help restore nourishment and vitality. Simply by targeting this prominent fascial structure, we can gently and progressively introducing mobility into our back, and back into our lives!

Try these simple kneeling movements each morning to begin to effect change in the Thoracolumbar Fascia and move your spine through its fullest ranges of motion.

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