Whenever I’m giving a massage I get the question, “How come if I hurt myself in one spot, it begins to hurt in another spot?” Or, in a related question, “How come if I hurt here you’re massaging over there?” In response, I will always tell people “Everything is connected and when muscles get tight they invariably pull on other muscles that are connected.” This is a short explanation of a much larger concept that forms the whole theory of, not only massage, but stretching, physical therapy and even basic reflexes such as the knee jerk response, or walking.
When describing our body we always talk of separate muscles, connective tissues, tendons and ligaments, but in reality all of these tissues can be seen as not separate tissues, but one myofascial system. This system is comprised of muscles which are surrounded, and connected to fascia, which then form the tendons, which then flow into the periosteum (the covering around the bone) from which arise the ligaments, joining to the subsequent periosteum, to the next tendon and so on and so forth. The connective tissue surrounding the muscles and bones is like a continuous sheet of saran wrap throughout the body wrapping all these structures. Just like a plastic pouch where the two sheets of plastic are sealed together at either end, so to does the fascial system surround the muscles and bones then fold and join together in various specific places. In fact these folds and areas of joining tend to run vertically throughout your body from the toes to the head, and from the fingers to the head. Around these folds and places of attachments it is much easier for the muscles and surrounding tissues to become knotted and therefore not move easily. Normally, the fascia and all the muscles have a certain amount of lubrication around them, but when they become stuck and knotted, circulation in the area decreases and the amount of lubrication decreases making the area even more stuck and painful.
These knots are areas where circulation has decreased and toxins have accumulated in the muscles and surrounding tissues. These toxins, such as lactic acid, and various proteins cause the muscle to contract and the tissues to become stuck together. The problem is then aggravated when the nerves running through the myofascial system begin to sned incorrect signals. Normally, nerves continuously send signals to the brain about how tight the muscles are and where the position of these tissues are in space. However, when the tissues become stuck, and the muscles contract for a long period of time the nerves begin to send false signals to the brain. The nerves adapt to the pathological length and tension so the brain begins to think the muscles and tissues are at the correct length and tension when in reality they are too tight and not moving correctly.
All the techniques we have in massage are used to affect this whole myofascial system. Massage, frees up the areas where tissues are stuck, circulates out the toxins accumulating in the area and resets the nerves so the brain can signal the muscle to relax and allow the tissues to move freely again. Where these techniques are applied are usually along the folded and attached areas within the myofascial system where one area of stuck tissue has pulled on another, and another and therefore restricted the whole system. So, next time you pull a muscle or have a painful “knot” in your body and that whole side of your body begins to hurt understand that everything is truly connected. Then, in order to work out the problem use massage, stretching and physical therapy to affect every link in the myofascial chain that is painful.