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Body Awareness 101

Hone your knowledge and build your toolbox to live in a body that works and performs for you.

Anatomy Fascia Movement Dysfunction

Anatomy Basics

It's Your Body - Let's Understand It

The first step in taking care of your body, so that it functions, performs and feels the way you want, is to understand it.

The human body has 206 bones, more than 300 joints and approximately 650 muscles, all of which are designed to work interdependently in order to function and move efficiently as a whole. If any one thing is not operating properly, the entire body can be affected.

If the skeletal structure is out of alignment, or the soft tissue is unable to obtain a continuous supply of fresh oxygen, blood and fluids, a host of health issues, including pain, can result. The good news is, the body can heal. It can be restored. The body can sustain, adapt, and rebuild. It can also be maintained and conditioned in order to avoid dysfunction that causes pain.

How your body operates, feels and functions is largely up to you. It’s all about what you choose to do with it. And we, at TriggerPoint, are here to help provide the guidance, tools and support you need.

Take a moment to consider your habits, your activity level, the environment you live in, your job, the way you sit, walk and stand, your sleep patterns, your hydration levels. All of these factors contribute to how your body functions day to day. Empower yourself to hone your knowledge and build your toolbox so that you can maintain efficient movement, proper functionality, and live in a body that works and performs for you.

Interconnected System

Our body is composed of a number of different muscles, bones, joints and soft tissue; they all work together as one complex machine.

Structurally, we have very little control over the development of our bones. But the good news is, efficiency of movement is driven by pliable skeletal muscle tissue, which we can affect. We can make dramatic improvements by focusing on this soft tissue and we can ultimately, improve and maintain how the body moves. It’s this pliable skeletal muscle tissue that allows the body to do what it was naturally created to do.


As one part of the body moves it will stretch, pull, and compress other areas. For example, if someone is standing with their feet straight, and then rotated their knees in as far as they could, you would notice that the arch of the foot changes its position along with the ankle and even the hip. Even if you concentrate on trying to keep one area still as other parts move, you cannot.

Six Core Areas

To begin, we've focused on six major areas of the body to gain an understanding of how the body works together and how each muscle group affects the rest of the body as a whole. We call this cause and effect system the kinetic chain.

For good reason, there is a commonality in the muscles that are overused and overworked. Our environments and habits have shaped the way we move. If one area of the body compensates for a weak counterpart it can become tight, causing more disruption. See how the body is an interconnected chain.


  1. Soleus (back of the lower leg)
  2. Quadriceps (front of the upper leg)
  3. Piriformis (hip)
  4. Psoas (abdomen)
  5. Thoracic Spine (upper back)
  6. Pectorals (chest)

Lower Leg - Soleus

The soleus is a large muscle that helps to control the foot. Due to incorrect walking patterns, injury, and even the type of shoe you wear, the foot can become rigid or dysfunctional, causing the soleus to become overactive and limiting the overall motion in the foot. Feet should be able to move freely and feel the ground. This sends the correct message to the brain and the body is able to make the best choice when it comes to movement.

Upper Leg - Quadriceps

The quadriceps are one of the most powerful groups of muscles in the body. So powerful in fact, that they will begin to compensate and make up for a lack of power in other areas of the body. For example, if the calves and the glutes are not able to do their jobs, then the quads will often help, which enforces weak glutes. Additionally, the sedentary position that most people spend excessive time in tends to shorten areas of the quadriceps (the hip flexor portion) which then contributes to the over-activity and dysfunction of this area.

Hip/Glute- Piriformis

The piriformis is a muscle deep in the hip that is often related to a painful condition known as “Sciatica” or “Piriformis Syndrome”. There is significant difference between the two conditions (for more specific information consult your doctor), but the area of the hip is related to both. What is often misunderstood is whether or not the piriformis is short or long (tight or weak). The only way to determine this is by performing an assessment. In most cases the problem is not a short or long issue, it is a “stuck” versus mobile issue. As mentioned previously, sedentary positions, gait patterns, training styles and more can contribute to the inability of the piriformis and other hip muscles to move properly and produce force.

Torso - Psoas

The psoas is considered a “core” muscle because of its location in the abdominal region. The psoas connects the spine to the leg making it primarily a hip flexor. It is very powerful and is the only hip flexor that is active above 90 degrees of hip flexion. The psoas is attached to the diaphragm and areas of the low back that are commonly injured, most notable the L4, L5, and S1 region (lower back). Improper breathing, improper posture, and other problems lower in the kinetic chain will lead to the psoas becoming dysfunctional. This dysfunction can prevent proper stabilization or pull on the spine, ultimately causing more mobility problems up the chain and possibly low back pain.

Upper Body - Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine, or T-spine, is the anatomical name for the mid and upper back, positioned between the lumbar spine, or low back, and the cervical spine, located at the base of the neck to the head. The thoracic spine's main role is to stabilize the upper body and protect our vital organs, but it is also positioned to assist in rotation during movement. As we walk or run, the lumbar spine should be strong and provide support while the thoracic spine is mobile which allows the upper body to twist. If muscles lower on the kinetic chain are not working properly, then the body often “locks up” this mobile section of the back. If the thoracic spine doesn’t move properly, then breathing, shoulder function, and function of the cervical spine and head are disrupted. The general result can be aches or pains in and around the thoracic spine.

Upper Body - Pectorals

The pectoral muscles (pecs) fan from the breast bone (sternum) to the shoulder. The pecs are predominantly used to control the upper arm, but are also important in deep inhalation, lifting the ribcage and allowing the lungs to fill. The pecs can become tight from the strain of rounding forward all day on computers, driving, stress, or improper breathing. Over time, the tight chest muscles may become short and overactive, decreasing shoulder range of motion and causing even more rounding forward. This rounded position pulls on the shoulders and is often felt as “tightness” in the muscles in between the shoulder blades.

A Lesson on Fascia

What Is Fascia And Why Is It Important?

TriggerPoint products focus on soft tissue, which can ultimately be restored via self-myofascial release and facilitate healing in other parts of the body.

Fas•ci•a
Anatomy - Sheet or band of fibrous connective tissue enveloping, separating, or binding together muscles, organs and other soft structures of the body

Fascia is connective tissue fibers - primarily collagen - that form sheaths or bands beneath the skin to attach, stabilize, enclose, and separate muscles and internal organs.

Fasciae are similar to ligaments and tendons as they are largely made up of collagen. They differ in their location and function, though. Ligaments join one bone to another bone, while tendons join muscle to bone and fasciae surrounds muscles and other structures.

Fascia forms a whole-body, continuous three-dimensional matrix of structural support around our organs, muscles, joints, bones and nerve fibers. Fascia is directly related to movement, as it helps to support the muscles by transmitting force throughout the body. The fascial arrangement, similar to a spider web, also allows us to move in multiple directions.

But this connective tissue does much more than simply help transmit forces that drive movement. It also helps the nervous system with quick responses, and is a key component in supporting the body during repetitive tasks. A runner will have dense fascia in the calves to support running, a weightlifter may have dense fascia in the back to support weightlifting, and a sitter will have dehydrated and “sticky” fascia in their glutes to support sitting.

Myofascia

What Is Fascia And Why Is It Important?

By focusing on fascia, we can directly impact the muscles, and - ultimately – our ability to move properly.

Every bone has muscle and fascia that surrounds it, and every joint has a muscle and a tendon that supports it. The fascia specific to our muscles is referred to as myofascia. By focusing on fascia, we can directly impact the muscles and ultimately our ability to move properly.


Myofascia is:

Is highly innervated by nerves and plays a significant role in joint stability and kinesthetic awareness

Moves with the muscle and lacks extensibility, which ensures that muscles remain in proper alignment, and limits undue stress on our joints

Is composed of three sublayers of varying orientation and density of collagen

Is largely composed of water allowing each sublayer to glide over one another

Contains cells that secrete an acidic substance that lubricates the interface between layers

Common Aches & Injuries

Unhealthy fascia leads to aches, pains, and even injury.

In fact, many injuries seen today are caused by either overuse or underuse of the connective tissue system. In most cases this occurs in the tissue that receives less blood flow and is more supportive in nature, which is the fascia. If someone who has been sedentary for some time begins a training program that requires box jumps, it is likely that the connective tissue in the calves are not prepared to slide and support the movement adequately, which could easily lead to injury. A common theme in exercise today is to work out as hard as you can and that everybody can do it. Unfortunately, this is untrue. If the body is not prepared to or used to utilizing each muscle and joint the way it was intended, then something will break down.

What is a “strain”?

A strain is an injury that occurs in the muscles or connective tissues that attach to muscles (tendons). In most cases a strain results from overuse of a particular muscle. In fact, overuse injuries are some of the most common injuries seen today both in athletes and the general population. Overuse injuries occur because that particular area of the body has been overworked, likely due to improper movement somewhere else in the body.

Movement

What Are Biomechanics?

When trying to maintain mobility or avoid injury it is important to be aware of how the body moves.

bi•o•me•chan•ics
the study of the mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms.

The body functions as an interconnected unit. Many bones, joints, muscles and tissues work together just to do a basic squat, or reach to answer the phone, or type on a computer. Each part affects the other parts, and it’s important to recognize that addressing the entire biomechanical chain, rather than just one problem area, is the key. Here are some basics regarding human movement, and the way we address it.

How The Body Communications

The body communicates as a series of parts that work together. To put it simply, the foot tells the knee where to go, which tells the hip what to do, which transmits forces through the spine, and up to the shoulders, neck, and head. Each area contains many muscles that work together to control and affect the surrounding areas. For example, the foot has almost 100 muscles that either connect directly to it or directly influence it in some way. Several of these muscles connect not only to the foot itself, but run all the way up the lower leg and also connect to the knee. If one of these muscles is off, it can affect the foot, the knee, and more. Similarly, if the hip is off, the spine can’t transfer force and the person may be subject to a potential shoulder injury or neck tension.

Movement

Where Do Movement Dysfunctions Come From?

Our body is composed of muscles, bones, joints and soft tissue that all work together as one complex machine.

When muscles and tissues are “stuck” the nervous system does not receive the necessary input to make the best motor control decision. The tricky thing is, you may have no idea that your movement pattern is less than ideal. That is until you have sprained the same ankle time after time. Repetitive ankle sprains are very common due to decreased ankle proprioception. Because the connective tissue is unhealthy the ankle is not able to tell the hip how to best stabilize the leg.

Establishing a regular mobility program based on your individual movement dysfunctions is the best way to address this abnormal break down, and potential injury, associated with movement.

Muscular Imbalances

Muscle imbalances are one of the more common contributors to pain, but are often overlooked. The body is made to be balanced. When someone has proper biomechanics, the muscles on the front of the body balance those in the back, the muscles on the right side balance those on the left, and the muscles on the bottom balance those on the top. If there is not balance in the body, then there is a muscle or muscle group that is doing far more than it was designed to do. When these muscles become overloaded, it could result in the muscular strain (as was addressed earlier) or the muscle can become chronically tense or tight.

Movement

Muscle Imbalance and Misalignment Can Wreak Havoc…


Our bodies were built to move. It's that simple. Unfortunately for many of us, a good portion of our daily lives involve sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer or other sedentary and repetitive postures. This sedentary lifestyle can inflict many health issues.

Chronic Tension- Piriformis

A chronically tense muscle can pull a joint out of proper alignment and result in other tissues becoming compressed. For example, a common problem in the lower body is known as Piriformis Syndrome. This is when a muscle in the hip known as the piriformis becomes tense and compresses the large sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the low back all the way down to the foot and generally the pain is felt in the glutes or upper leg but can sometimes be felt down the back line as far away as the foot. This pain is usually the result of the muscle imbalance in the hips and the piriformis becoming "stuck" to the surrounding muscle. While this is the case for many people it is beneficial to speak with your doctor before simply assuming it is a muscle imbalance issue.

Dysfunction

What Are Trigger Points? And Why Do They Occur?

If one part of your body is not performing at its optimal level, other areas of the body will compensate. Eventually, these other areas can be compromised as well. Over time, this leads to injury.

Muscles that have Myofascial Trigger Points (MTrPs) have been found to decrease range of motion because of pain. The muscle can fatigue more rapidly as well.

But why?

The body will cope with this abnormal level of tension by laying down Myofascial Trigger Points (MTrPs) in the area. A myofascial trigger point was defined by Drs. Travell and Simons as “a hyperirritable spot in skeletal muscle that is associated with a hypersensitive palpable nodule”. It is common for these to form near the neuromuscular junction, where the nerve and muscle meet. In many cases, the surrounding nerves will be affected, and the fascia will thicken, which results in pain and discomfort.

Dysfunction

Where Is the Pain Coming From?

Myofacial Trigger Points Lead To:
Increased stiffness
Decreased range of motion
Local tenderness
Referred pain
Increased sensitivity of the muscle

A 1997 study reported delayed recovery following exercise in 55 patients with MTrPs. In this study, affected muscles showed minimal recovery in seven minutes whereas normal muscles recover 70-90% within one minute.

One characteristic of trigger points is that they have a common referral pain pattern. Referred pain is when you feel pain in one area, but the cause is located somewhere else. For this reason it is important to understand more about how the body works before a treatment plan begins.

Furthermore, MTrPs can have significant influence over movement patterns. When pain is present it is common for the human body to alter motion in an effort to avoid pain and move around the restrictive areas. This can lead to movement compensations and muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances can alter joint range of motion leading to additional myofascial adhesions, restrictive movement, and ultimately, increased risk of injury.

Dysfunction

How The Six Core Areas Breakdown

Previously, we've covered six specific areas of the body to better understand overall movement. Here we will revisit the same six spots in order to discover how dysfunction in one area can impact the rest of the body.

  1. Soleus (back of the lower leg)
  2. Quadriceps (front of the upper leg)
  3. Piriformis (hip)
  4. Psoas (abdomen)
  5. Thoracic Spine (upper back)
  6. Pectorals (chest)

Lower Leg - Soleus

The soleus is one of the most frequently used muscles in the body. It originates just below the knee and inserts itself into the calcaneus via the calcaneal tendon. This muscle is responsible for plantar flexion and acts as an antagonist to the anterior tibias by limiting the amount of dorsiflexion in the foot. As the soleus muscle is overworked, the fascia of the surrounding muscles adhere to this large muscle causing much greater torque on the calcaneus tendon.

Upper Leg - Quadriceps

The quadriceps muscles, which originate in the top of the pelvis, can then cause the pelvis to tilt forward and the buttocks to shift back as they become less pliable. As the pelvis tilts, the upper body shifts forward to counterbalance the weight, often compressing the area surrounding lumbar discs 4 and 5. The more compression there is on the L4-5 area, the more you compromise the neurological feed to the lower extremities. Furthermore, the hamstring muscles and IT band, which counteract the quadriceps muscles, can become stretched beyond their intended functional capacity causing greater inefficiency within the body.

Hip/Glute - Piriformis

The piriformis - a small muscle set deep within the buttocks - also becomes over-strained due to the pelvic tilt. When the piriformis spasms or tightens it can impinge the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs directly through the piriformis muscle, and tension in this area can interrupt the neurological feed to the lower extremities of the body. Problems resulting from rigidity, tightness, or weakness in this area can be debilitating for some individuals, resulting in a wide range of issues. Breaking down adhesions and scar tissue along the piriformis is critical for hip mobility.

Torso - Psoas

The psoas originates in T-12 & L1-5 and inserts at the lesser trochanter of the femur, making it the only muscle to go from the back to the front of the body. When the psoas is challenged, it can contribute to the upper body leaning in front of the pelvis, which worsens the compression on the L4-5 area. The psoas becomes severely strained as the buttocks tilts back and the shoulders and chest adjust forward in an effort to open up the breathing pathways and to maintain weight distribution through the planes of the body. The psoas primary function is a hip flexor and plays a major role in lifting and rotating the upper leg.

Upper Body - Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine is an area that is commonly affected by poor posture, poor breathing technique, and if something down the rest of the chain is out of alignment. For example, if the hips can’t move to their full potential then the thoracic spine is often limited in its ability to rotate correctly and transmit force through the upper body. In addition when the shoulders are rounded forward then this area of the upper back gets “stuck” into an overly flexed posture. This flexed position decreases the ability to perform normal functions, such as reaching over your head, without increased risk of injury. Over time, this type of posture will decrease the body’s ability to breathe normally which will lead to more dysfunction through the body. By performing the thoracic spine release the upper back will be able to return to its natural motion and promote rotation, movement of the upper body, and healthy breathing.

Upper Body - Pectorals

The pectoral muscles are also affected in this process due to the body's natural reaction to rotate the shoulders forward when the torso is positioned slightly in front of the pelvis. This can cause scar tissue build up. By releasing the scar tissue within this region, the shoulders are going to rotate back naturally allowing more oxygen to come into the lungs and allowing the arms to swing freely. This counter action of opening the chest can also allow for better thoracic spine mobility.