What is Fascia?
Fascia is incredibly useful stuff. It’s the biological material that holds us together. All of the cells in our bodies are bound through a fascial connective tissue network. Basically, our bones float in this fascial network and our muscles provide the locomotion.
Fascia makes up all the collagenous-based soft-tissues in the body. These include tendons, ligaments, the cells that create and maintain our extra-cellular matrix (it holds the ground substance that our cells float in and communicate with), bursae, and the tissues that envelope and permeate the muscles. It’s made up of three basic types of fibers – collagen, elastin, and reticulin. Not only does it make up our structure, but it also has the ability to rearrange itself and change its properties in response to the different demands placed upon it. Pretty fascinating and often misunderstood stuff.
How is Fascia Formed?
Think of a plastic bag. The kind you would use to carry groceries. If you place too many items in the bag, it will stretch and its structure will deform. If it’s stretched too far, it can tear. Stress passing through a material deforms it and stresses the bonds between its molecules. This pressure or stretching creates a slight electrical current through the material. In biological materials, this is known as a piezo electric charge. The charge communicates with the surrounding cells giving them signals to reduce, add, or change the intercellular structures being impacted. This preferential remodeling is how the body responds specifically and uniquely to the demands placed on it.
How is Fascia deformed?
It’s important to understand that poor posture and repetitive movements can create chronic strain and tension on the muscles and the fascial systems. Certain muscles must remain in a contracted state while others must remain in a stretched state. The body treats this as an injury cycle. This tension creates the electrical charge responsible for the formation and laying down of fascial tissue, or adhesions, in an attempt to protect or reinforce the area.
Just like the bag if the stretch is held long enough, the fascial tissue will remain in a deformed state and the natural recoil typically characteristic of the muscles and tissues involved would be reduced. This, in essence, chokes off the muscle to needed blood supply and nourishment. The muscle becomes toxic from a buildup of metabolic byproduct. This leaves it weakened, prone to trigger point pain and with reduced function.
The irony here being that this is the body’s repair process gone wrong. The compromised fascial systems alter the natural length relationships of the muscles that support the joints. This altered muscular length relationship feeds into the bodies global movement systems initiating compensation patterns, muscular distortion syndromes and injury cycles.
Rounded Shoulders and Shoulder Impingement
One of the more common compensation patterns has to do with the shoulders. Recall that a compensation pattern is the body’s attempt to make up for the lack of movement in one area by adding a new movement.
We’ve all seen the hunched over patron behind the laptop at the coffee shop – back rounded, shoulders rolled forward, neck craned out, arms internally rotated. This posture is indicative of the compensation pattern called Rounded Shoulders. This is where the arms become internally rotated and the scapulae protract. This leads to a destabilization of the shoulder joint. Without adequate stability of the scapulae, the path of motion that the upper arm (humerus) travels in becomes compromised. This can cause a pinching of the connective tissues between the arm and the joint.
How Does This Happen?
Often the muscles, which internally rotate or bring the arms to the center of the body, are overworked and become shortened. This could be due to poor posture or overtraining the muscles on the front of the body with pressing or pushing movements. Recall that chronic strain in these muscles leads to the development of fascial lines that cement the rounded shoulder posture into habitual movement. The chest muscles (pectoralis complex – especially the pectoralis minor) are often to blame for this compensation. This leaves the muscles on the back side of the shoulder joint stretched and deactivated. These include the Rhomboids, Lower Trapezius and Serratus Anterior.
The posture associated with Rounded Shoulders reduces the stability and of the shoulder, which can lead to injury or long-term wear-and-tear of the joint. This disruption in mobility and stability involves tissues and structures that when overused can lead to shoulder impingement, injury, and eventually surgery.
Yes, There is a Solution!
- Recognize which muscles are responsible for proper scapular stability and strengthen them (like the serratus anterior, rhomboids, and lower trapezius).
- Increase the mobility of the muscles that contribute to rounded shoulders (such as the pectoralis minor).
- Condition your nervous system with functional movement patterns that coordinate the appropriate muscular firing patterns, including the scapular stabilizers. (You’ll get an example in the video below so read on!)
- Reduce movements that emphasize shoulder pressing or pushing (i.e., push-ups, military presses, bench press).
- Be mindful of your posture and daily activities – sitting for long periods of time leads to a caving in of your midsection. Try not to sit longer than 20 minutes at a time and when you do maintain an upright neutral and erect posture.
How to Assess?
Want to find out if you have rounded shoulders? Here is a quick movement assessment you can complete to determine if you exhibit the signs:
Place your back towards a wall with your heels, butt, and shoulder blades snug against the wall. Your arms should be bent at 90 degrees at shoulder height. Your lower back should be within a finger’s width from the wall. Slowly lift your arms over your head whilst trying to keep the backs of your hands in contact with the wall.
- Are you able to comfortably keep your fingers in contact with the wall the entire time? Do you notice your lower back arching away from the wall?
- Do you notice either of your shoulders shrugging as you lift your arms overhead?
- Do you notice you can’t keep your head on the wall or it tilts back?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you tested positive for this common posture problem and you’ll want to pay attention to what comes next and watch the accompanying video on how to correct it.
Simple Corrective Methods
Correcting Overactive Muscle
Because we move in patterns, our bodies favor the use of certain muscle groups over others. Since we all have a tendency towards having rounded shoulders, this can place the pectoralis minor muscles into an overactive position. You’ll want to lengthen them via self-myofascial release, and then follow the myofascial release with neuromuscular stretching.
Below are the muscles you’ll want to focus on for rounded shoulders this week:
- Pectoralis minor Self-applied pressure using a pincer grip for 30-60 seconds each
- Stretch or lengthen each for 30-60 seconds each
Correcting Underactive Muscles
As mentioned above, pain in the body is commonly caused when how we move forces certain muscles to work overtime, while other muscles become lazy and don’t want to function. You’ll need to wake up these lazy muscles through isolated strength movements.
The serratus anterior, rhomboids, and lower trapezius are the muscles you’ll want to isolate this week:
- Serratus Anterior | Prone band serratus press
- Lower Trapezius and Rhomboids | Side lying lateral delt lift
- Posterior Chain Activation | 1 arm bent over dumbbell row 2 sets on each muscle group10-15 reps using a slow opening of the muscle, isolated hold at the bottom of the movement, followed by a controlled shortening of the muscle.
Now that you know which muscles are typically under active and overactive, let’s put it all together for you. Watch the video for a step-by-step breakdown on how to target each of these areas. Before you get started, make sure you have a lacrosse ball, exercise band, and mid-weight dumbbell handy.
Start off by applying the techniques three times a week and build from there. Every so often, reassess your posture and see how far you’ve progressed. Soon, you’ll start to see noticeable changes in your body position and mobility!