Chronic Pain, Stress, and Fascia

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I’ve experienced another week of feeling like a normal person … occasional creaks and aches here and there but no constant background chronic pain sensations. I tried to explain this to a friend and the closest I could get was an analogy to weather. You know what it feels like to go out on a cold windy winter day with only a thin shirt on? That raw feeling you can’t get away from? Compare that to going out on that same cold windy winter day but now dressed in a thick down comfortable coat. You just feel safe and cozy no matter what’s going on. That’s the feeling in my sensory nervous system … before raw and now insulated.

In past posts I’ve shared how there’s always this mind-body connection and how experiencing chronic pain also put me in a heightened stress response and how stress increased my pain. Part of the sympathetic nervous system’s function is to increase muscle tension … it’s suppose to so that you can run from or fight danger. But fascia comes into play too.

Fascia is the connective tissue covering muscles and organs, fascia separates body cavities, fascia is the “stuff” of tendons and ligaments, and fascia covers our brain. According to research, fascia is a continuous sheath in the body and is as sensitive to pain as our skin is … it is filled with pain sensing nerves. Fascia, like muscle, also contracts in response to stress danger signals from the brain. But fascia has more collagen than muscles do and thus a fascial contraction creates a type of armor around the body with a strength of up to 2000 pounds per square inch.

Some disorders, such as fibromyalgia, are now being seen as an accidentally switched on sympathetic flight/flight nervous system response that causes an ongoing armoring of the body where the fascia is chronically tight and pressing on the pain nerves. The pain nerves then become more sensitized and less pressure is required to create the pain response. (Here’s an article on that.)

It’s exactly like what I had been feeling … like there was an ongoing low level post traumatic stress disorder going on in my body. It was frustrating when normal little things would trigger what I judged as an inappropriately large pain response. The pain felt unrelenting … and no wonder, it was tied to the stress response in an unending cycle. My pain was mostly on the left side of my body … an entire shortening of the fascia on that side (the fascia can be activated in different areas on different people).

Fascia accrues collagen cross links and a hardening of the colloidal fluid in areas of the body due to bad posture or that have been traumatized or experienced overuse or repetitive strain. These hard spots in the body not only put pressure on pain nerves in the area but also put a tension type of stretch on the entire fascia system. Try to walk fluidly if you are unable to bend one knee and think of how the rest of your body has to compensate so you can move forward.

It can take weeks to free up the fascia from an acute problem and months for chronic issues, only to have another stress or trauma incident happen that creates a set back. Since I never stopped participating in life, I experienced one step forward, two steps back, four steps forward, one step back and so on. My healing journey from chronic pain has not been linear … it has taken years of myofascial release bodywork to reach most of the fascial blocks and achieve the desensitizing of my old raw pain sensitive central nervous system. But I see the light on the horizon, I feel my body calming, I feel insulated again, and the journey has been worth it.

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