16 Apr 2018 Fascia and Proprioception: what are they and what do they mean for those with EDS?
As a sufferer of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome or hypermobility, you may not be familiar with the terms fascia and proprioception. I wasn’t until well into my health journey. But, whilst sounding complicated, these words actually describe things that are very simple, amazing, fascinating, as well as intrinsic to these conditions.
Fascia is a three-dimensional sheet of internal connective tissue in our bodies the covers everything; wrapping around muscles, bones, organs, vessels and the nervous system. It separates different layers of tissue, preventing friction, and has been likened to a cling-film that protects the various elements of your body.
Fascia is connected to the way we live and move in the world. It tenses up when we feel threatened, loosens when we’re happy and at ease, and it’s responsible for sensations like prickling at the back of your neck. It also has an elastic quality, contracting and expanding, and stores and releases the kinetic energy from our body’s movement. Fascia is the biggest sensory organ in the whole body – which is why I believe building sensory awareness in our bodies is crucial to healthy movement. It helps prevent or minimise stress to a local muscle and it protects the integrity of the whole body.
Our fascia plays a fundamental role in proprioception, which is our ability to know where we are in the space around us and sense movement within our joints. Proprioception also allows our body to respond to our environment more quickly than our conscious mind. Those in the hypermobile community may be aware that they lack these full capabilities but may not be entirely sure why. The reason is that fascia has 10 times more proprioceptors than muscle (Myers 2011). This can pose a problem for EDS sufferers as fascia is made up of dense bundles of collagen – and EDS is caused by a collagen defect. So, if our collagen-based fascia isn’t fully functioning as it should, then it appears that our proprioception could be affected too.
Because fascia is everywhere, and because EDS and hypermobility sufferers have genetic collagen problems, it can mean that those with the condition can feel it affects anywhere in the body – from the heart and lungs to digestion, muscles and joints. And because it is everywhere, this is how that myofascial pain we experience seems to spread around the body, often with no particular pattern or reason. It is transmitted through the fascia.
However, there are ways that you can seek to protect and promote your fascia’s health, in turn providing your body with a stronger foundation from which movement can emanate. Below, I have provided some advice on how you can do this. These tips don’t just apply to those with EDS, however, and I’m pleased to see there’s a growing understanding and awareness of the importance of fascia for the overall health of everyone.
My top tips:
Don’t force it
If, as some with hypermobility, I’m forcing or pushing my body whilst exercising or moving, my fascia is going to respond by getting tighter and tenser. This puts me on the path to pain but also increases my chance of subluxing. Listening to your body and adopting a ‘no pain, no strain’ approach is what will allow your fascia to move freely and not tighten.
Relax your mind
Your fascia also responds to your mental as well as physical approach. If we can relax our busy minds and release the fear of movement then the fascia will help allow for that movement. Moving with awareness and care is what will give you greater mental and physical freedom.
Not forcing your body doesn’t mean to stop moving altogether – in fact, this can allow your fascia to harden and get stiff which in turn will create more pain. Instead, focusing on gentle, rolling actions as small and regular movements of the body is what will help keep your fascia elastic. Breathing awareness and proper breathing techniques are key to unlocking this positive type of movement.
In our hectic approach to life, we’re constantly looking for quick fixes and easy solutions but unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. The fitness industry might try to suggest that tension in the fascia is something which can be ‘released’ with the right steps, big stretches or foam rolling, but reducing tightness is a long-term process, not the work of an instant. In order to elongate tissues such as fascia, what is needed is sustained gentle pressure over a long period of time. Gentle exercise is what will hydrate the fascia with movement, increasing its health and, in the long term allowing you to do more.
Here’s to happy, healthy fascia.
Laura O’CallaghanPosted at 21:01h, 17 April
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Jeannie Di BonPosted at 16:41h, 23 April
Are you looking for the book gifts?
Sydney HaskellPosted at 22:07h, 17 April
Eight years ago I was still skiing down mountains and now I have to walk with a rollator around my neighborhood. I am 73 and have hEDS which has affected my proprioception. This has been a slow decline. Your description of the global pain I experience of it spreading throughout the fascia is right. It is always there but can get a lot worse for no reason at all. Every time I try any exercises besides walking a mile a day, I get injured and it can put me back months. My best treatment is from my retired physician husband who is a specialist in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. He keeps me going better than pain medication. Although, I do take three pain pills a day which help with my quality of life.
Jeannie Di BonPosted at 16:34h, 23 April
Glad to hear you have found a treatment plan that is working for you Sydney.
Vicki MechnerPosted at 21:15h, 18 September
The gentle fascial moves of Bowen therapy (a,k.a. Bowen Technique or Bowenwork or Bowtech) often help people with EDS. As a Bowen practitioner, I have been surprised by the extent of improvement in EDS clients with very little hands=on work.
Paula SmithPosted at 09:27h, 12 January
My daughter probably has EDS, probably hypermobile, although Genetics are involved as there is some family history of Aneurysms….anyway, she has a hypersensitive area, clearly defined, across her lumbar region, which corresponds with the facia holding the lumber spine. This area also is in high pain, always (7/10) and this increases with any movement. Could this due to the facia being tight? Physio always focus on making her do things in spite of the pain, so she is on a roller coaster of pain and feels out of control. Her pain ‘takes control’ and ‘tells’ her not to move- which is how she generally spends her days, She cannot walk far- uses a wheelchair and is on Amitriptyline for neurological pain, but her life is dominated by these symptoms. Any advice?
Jeannie Di BonPosted at 18:45h, 22 January
Thank you for getting in touch. Sorry to hear about your daughter’s symptoms. Feel free to email me direct to chat further. Kind regards. Jeannie
T hammondPosted at 14:19h, 07 August
Have you looked at prolotherapy. My children have really been helped by this treatment for EDS spinal pain
Betsy MorganPosted at 21:42h, 14 February
Hi. I’m a retired university professor, who stood on her feet teaching for 40 years. I’m 62. I’ve been diagnosed as hypermobile (9/9 on the Beighton scale). I’ve had chronic pain for the last 7 years. I have had a hip replacement, a knee replacement, I have spondylolysthesis L4/L5, and pelvic girdle pain. I I’ve been doing Pilates for 5 years, had physical therapy, pelvic floor therapy, prolotherapy, any/all kinds of spinal injections and radio frequencies…and I have a spinal cord stimulator. I’ve recently started a myofascial stretching program. I can’t stand the pain—it seems like nothing works. How would your program help me?
Jeannie Di BonPosted at 13:25h, 17 February
Thank you for getting in touch and sorry to hear you have been struggling with pain. It is hard for me to give personal guidance without knowing your medical history and taking time to have a proper consultation. But I can say that The Zebra Club has classes for all levels of ability. It is support from myself too with monthly live meetings for members. The majority of the members join because of their pain and the solutions are helping people move pain-free again. Please feel free to email me if you would like further info.