Home - Fixing Backs, Pain, Stress and Tightness with Structural Integration
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Accumulated Shortness Intro    
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FIXING ACCUMULATED SHORTNESS -PART 3 - what creates shortness

by Lou Gross, School Certified Master Postural Integrator,
27 years successful experience
For more information & free consultations, call 321-726-9083


           This fact about how a better functioning structure improves metabolism is not very well known.  I have been to many fine alternative health professionals during the past 30 years.  They know that softer and more pliable muscles are better than harder ones.  But many of them don't know that the systemic form of the fascial system influences how the muscles will be, health wise, all over the body.  And they don't know that fascia can be manipulated, to get longer.  Structural Integration Bodyworkers are these specialists who can both remove chronic tightness all over the body to begin with, and also create an ongoing muscle tone that continues to be less tight day after day.

            Standard massage therapy that people learn in schools does not teach this systemic re-lengthening either.  My massage therapist friends say they got a few hours of orientation about this, and about other additional methods.  And many of them have learned additional techniques in depth.  But the methods that thousands and thousands of massage therapists are originally trained and certified in, are not designed to re-lengthen large amounts of soft connective tissue in a systemically oriented, inter-connected way.

            Thatís because massage is designed to do something else.  It primarily addresses this structural-metabolic relationship from the "other" direction, by improving the metabolic condition.  It pushes waste products out of the fluid and back into the bloodstream so that the muscle can relax.  This is a healthy thing to have done regularly.  As I said just above, the removal of waste products in the interstitial fluid often removes the pain created from intense physical exercise, or just a lot of daily work. And when the interstitial areas and blood vessels are "cleared," new blood can flow in with its nutrients, and the tissues can heal from injury.

            (The Structural Integration treatment to spread and lengthen the fascia will also create some of the benefits of a deep, very thorough massage.  It removes built up waste products in the tissues, including areas deep down where regular massage rarely reaches.  And the spreading manipulations open bigger, cleaner channels.  So the next time we get a massage, it will do a lot more.)


            Medical doctors seem to relate to soft connective tissue as a metabolic medium and as wrappings, too.  Orthopedic surgeons not only do surgery through the muscles but often have massage therapists on their staff.

But what both the surgeon and most massage practitioners miss about the soft connective tissue is the shape part.  They know that a massage makes people feel better, even somewhat looser, and performance is increased.  But their approach does not fix the chronic pain for good in many cases. Theyíre predominantly looking at loosening from the point of view of the nerve signals and muscle fibers.  But increased relaxation and fluid flow through the muscle does not change the shape of the soft connective tissue very much at all.  So many problems due to shortness donít go away.

Thatís why it takes a special treatment.  For almost 40 years, people in the Structural Integration field have seen that the improvement in the connective tissue shape by the systemic manipulations, adds a tremendous increase in length.  And that greatly increases levels of performance that last for many weeks, months and even years.  The shortness in most peopleís bodies has built up for decades.  Once itís removed in hours, itíll then usually take months and years to get that bad again.  And because the system is organized better, it wonít tighten up as much, anywhere near as quickly.  Plus, deep massage and stretching can now re-lengthen it quite a lot.


            Without changing the systemic shape of a person's body, many pains and tightnesses that were relieved with the massage reappear a few hours to a couple of days after.  This is not the fault of the massage practitioner.  Massage does indeed improve people's performance by creating some amount of systemic relaxation in the whole muscle system. The nerve signals that were telling them to contract are turned off and it gets the wastes out of the body.

But that relaxation is often short lived because the even greater shortness of the fascial system pulls muscles all over the body tight again.  Even vertebrae and other bones get pulled out of alignment.  So we have many of the same problems that were there before the massage.  Conditions such as bulging disks, pinched nerves and carpal tunnel syndrome are just symptoms of a shape that has a lot of shortness in it.  We even say the body structure is anatomically "disorganized."  (Yes, ďpoor baby,Ē as they say.)

(Most massage therapists like to learn new skills.  One of my career goals is to train many massage therapists how to do the systemic lengthening, so they can incorporate at least some of it in their treatments.  If youíre a massage therapist, or train or employ massage therapists, and youíre interested in adding this technique, Iíd be more than happy to set something up with you.)


            Now, the sixty-four dollar question.  How does the soft connective tissue system get bunched up?  As I described, the two kinds of material in the muscle are the muscle fibers and, in between all of them, the soft, fluidy, fibrous fascia.  The fascia is a putty-like gelatinous substance.

When we put a lot of muscular movement into running, skating, jumping, weight training, gardening, fixing cars, building houses and the like, our muscle fibers contract with a lot of force.  The intense muscle effort of leg motion, hand gripping and even pounding of the legs pushes the collagen and elastin fibers closer and closer together.  Both the fluidy fascia in between the muscle fiber rods and the wrappings around lots of the fibers all get short each time we do the intense muscle action.  So, obviously, the fascia keeps getting pushed into a shorter and shorter shape.

Besides this shortness in our shapes, the fascial ďbunch-upĒ in and around every muscle limits the musclesí abilities as well.  The muscle fibers that are surrounded by these now shortened cornhusks are unable to re-lengthen because the husks arenít as big anymore.  So, each of the muscles has to stay partially contracted, even if the nerve signals to the muscle fibers have been turned off and we mentally want to relax.  Besides feeling tight, we also canít do as much because thereís less muscle operation available.  In some people, it gets to be a lot less muscle operation.

            Tense emotional feelings over time will also bunch the fibers into a shorter form.  And when we fall, the outside force pushes our shape into some compressed, twisted and tilted position, which stays that way even after the pain of the bruise goes away.  Even repetitive activity bunches up the fascia.  Holding schoolbooks in one arm, a baby in the other, leaning over a desk for hours each week, and so forth, will do it.

            Fascial bunch-up, and relengthening, is ďpassive.Ē  It doesnít change shape with nerve activity the way muscle fibers do.  So we canít wish it longer nor do emotional release work on it, because here, too, it doesnít have the connections to our brains the way the neuro-muscular fiber system does. And the energy healing techniques of everybody I know, arenít powerful enough to push the collagen fibers into another position.  Muscle forces and blows to the body make it shorter, twisted, tilted, and compressed.  The proper spreading or stretching techniques, which are also muscle forces, can make it longer and less compressed again.

Therefore, the dynamic muscle fiber action thatís connected to our nerves has no choice but to operate in the shorter, and somewhat twisted and compressed connective tissue form.  While our nerves and muscles can still move us around, often quite a bit if youíre a strong athlete, the body shape they are moving around in isn't as long, nor as aligned as it's supposed to be.  And, as I say, thatís why our performance decreases and people get pain even though the medical doctor or chiropractor explains that the neuro-muscular activity is working fine.  That part is.


            The length of the soft connective tissue is the determining factor in how the body is shaped!  In fact, we call the fascia the "Organ of Structure."  The muscle fibers move us around from activity to activity all the time.  But itís the length and shape of the putty like fascial element, that actually holds the bones and muscles into their ďat restĒ shape.

This is why many chiropractic treatments do not correct ongoing back problems.  The chiropractor pushes the bones back to where they should be.  But when the person gets up and moves around for a day or two, the short fascia in the legs, pelvis and abdomen secretly pulls those bones and vertebrae back to the body shape that was there before the adjustment.  And this shortness in the legs, abdomen and pelvis almost never hurts.  So you often wonít know itís part of the problem unless some Structural Integrator shows you what the shortness is doing.

            Chiropractic manipulations make me feel great.  But they won't stay unless my whole body fascial network is long enough.  All my muscles have to be the right length to balance the length of my bones and the curvature of my spine.  My muscle fibers are indeed the right length; my genes have seen to that.  But my activities over the years have bunched up my fluidy fascia, and that makes the muscle partly folded up, like a half-opened spyglass.  Only when I get the right manipulations and do adequate stretching to pull the fascia back to its full length, do I get this balance.  And when that happens, the chiropractor gets all my vertebrae to go in, without pain, and they stay much longer, (until my neuro-muscular activities pull them out temporarily).

            So please note that if you have a shortened and misaligned body structure, the positions of your bones and joints are improper for who you are biologically designed to be, whether you're a fit athlete with back problems or a couch potato with chronic shoulder tension.  And these misaligned bone positions can cause pinched nerves, bulging disks, bone spurs, and repetitively tight muscles.


            A lot of people try acupuncture to fix tightness because acupuncturists advertise that they can do it.  Now, I also love to get acupuncture.  Acupuncture is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a system many hundreds of years old.  Flowing up and down our bodies are many energy flows that relate to the functioning of our internal organs.  When we're ill, these flows are not operating properly and the TCM doctor can prescribe herbs and place tiny needles at particular junctions in these flows that will work to correct the body's imbalance and weakness.

            When a TCM doctor tries to correct structural tightness, she or he will put needles into the bellies of muscles and into their tendons.  This will help release the physical tightness caused by nerve and muscular activity, and it will also release tension in the muscles along an organ energy flow.  That is, when the organs are stressed, the energy flow that goes through the flesh of the body's arms, legs, head and torso, is either weak or excessive.  And that will definitely make some muscles tight and some weak.  It can also cause pain in particular spots, right on certain acupuncture points.

            But acupuncture does not spread fascia.  So any muscular or energy release will allow the muscle fibers to release only as far as the bunched-up fascia sacks will allow.  This is why many people who have tried acupuncture for chronic pains have not gotten a fix.  After the fascial envelopes have been lengthened, then acupuncture to correct internal organ problems can also make further improvements to the person's structural muscles.


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