Lumbar Fascia – what does it do and where can it cause problems

Ben, one of our great sports and deep tissue therapists as well as our acupuncturist,  discusses the importance of your lumbar fascia and writes:

“Muscles do not only run from origin of one bone to insertion on another.  All muscles function in chains, or slings, connecting to each other to form more powerful movers. In fact, some muscles attach more to the next muscle in the chain than they do to the bone that they cross!

The Thoraco-Lumbar Fascia

There is probably one sling that is more famous than any other, not that its more important, but that its so large and visible in dissection.  The Thoraco-Lumbar Fascia cross our entire lower back region, and is a key component in connecting the opposite shoulder to hip.  The largest two muscles are the Glute Max and the Latisimus Dorsi, and we use this sling constanly.  Slings are designed to distribute load through the system and the lumbar thoracic fascia serve 2 key purposes:

Form Closure: The shape, structure and congruency of the sacroiliac bones and associated sacral ligaments provide the passive stability;legs

Force Closure: External forces exerted by muscle systems, through their attachment into connective tissue (ligaments and fascia), to compress and stabilize the sacroiliac joints and hence the pelvic girdle.  Adequate force closure is vital to allow for movement of the sacrum during activities such as, walking, stair use and bending.

Weight Lifting

A good example of the lumbar fascia distributing load is found in weight lifters. Stress involved during weight-lifting has produced values of 1000kg and above (Matthiasch 1956, Morris 1973).  Such a force is more than the disk could bear, it would defiantly prolapse, which is not good.  Measuring intradiskal pressure, Nachemson (1959) found that the pressure during weight-lifting from a sitting position was 275% of that when standing upright.  The reason, according to Gracovetsky (1988), lies in the role of the lumbodorsal fascia, into which the erector spinae, the glutei, and the ischiocrural muscles fan out.  The tension from the ischiocrural muscles enables the spinal column to ‘hook in’ to this fascia, as it were, so that the lever effect is eliminated.  This mechanism is further supported by the abdominal muscles, which also fan out into this fascia and in addition draw the thorax toward the pelvis and maintain intraabdominal pressure. The effect is that the correct movement pattern assists this ‘unreeling’ mechanism and avoids the lever effect.

While some cases of lower back pain are definitely caused by deformations of spinal discs, several large magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies clearly revealed that for the majority of lower back pain cases the origin may be elsewhere in the body, as the discal alterations are often purely incidental.  Based on this background, a new hypothetical explanation model for lower back pain was proposed by Panjabi (2006) and subsequently elaborated on by others (Langevin & Sherman 2007; Schleip et al. 2007). According to these authors, microinjuries in lumbar connective tissues may lead to nociceptive signalling and further downstream effects associated with lower back pain.  The new findings from the Heidelberg group showed the nociceptive potential of the lumbar fascia; in patients with nonspecific lower back pain their fascial tissue maybe a more important pain source than the lower back muscles or other soft tissues. The findings have potentially huge implications for the diagnosis and treatment of lower back pain. As this is a newly emerging field, their research will definitely trigger further research investigations into this important field within modern health care.”

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