The Innerworks of the SmartSpine™ System Explained

The SmartSpine™ System as we know it now has evolved.

Its versatile profile has expanded and it is now no longer used exclusively by practitioners of the Pilates and movement therapies. The SmartSpine™ System has now been embraced by the world of manual therapy and fascial work as well.

The growing recognition of and demand for the SmartSpine™ products rests on the realized outcome of the positive and exceeded expectations of its users.

Movement educators, as well as their clients/patients who integrate the SmartSpine™ within their protocol, have noticed significant improvements in mobility, movement coordination, proprioception, and back release.

The SmartSpine™ System results are grounded in scientific studies and recent research in the field of fascia study.

The research explains the effects and benefits of warmth (thermoreception) applied during movement, such as improved movement potential and a noticeable decrease in pain achieved in a shorter period of time as compared to conventional approaches and protocols.

The SmartSpine™ System and the Fascia

Working with the fascial network is a link to success in reaching optimal mobility, decreased pain, improved daily function, higher performance, and greater wellness.

The Anatomy of Fascia and The “Inside Job” of Fitness
What is the fascial network and why is this newly appreciated tissue structure so important? Fascial tissue is connective tissue that exists throughout the entire body and is organized as an uninterrupted, continuous tensional network or web.

This tensional web connects every part of the body, from deep to superficial, and adapts its architectural arrangement, density, and form according function and local tensional demand.

The fascial network is dynamic and alive and intimately involved with various important functions of the body:

Organ of Form
The fascial network is recognized as the organ of form, a support system that meanders in and throughout the smallest areas of the body, including the nervous system.

Tension Transmitter
Within and surrounding the muscular system, the fasciae transmit the contractile and tensional forces to the surrounding fascial sheets, causing a ripple effect to neighboring structures as well as structures elsewhere in the body, and convert this tensile ripple into unifying movement patterns.

Fascia is Alive
The fascial network is in itself a flexible and contractile structure; it is not just a biological packing material!

Fascia is recognized as a hydrodynamic tissue that is largely responsible for hydration and lubrication of the entire tissue matrix, joint complex, and organs.

Organ of Communication
The fascial network also plays an important role as organ of communication. It is densely innervated with many sensory nerve endings mechanoreceptors and nociceptors (pain receptors). With this it is one of our richest sensory organs (Schleip & Jäger, 2003). For the body this is the most important organ for proprioception and for our “sense of embodiment.”

Hydration
Fascia is hydrodynamic, which means that it can absorb and expel liquid as a result of bodily movement. When we move our bodies, it increases the fasciae’s viscoelasticity, allowing them to stretch with and within the muscles. This tension causes the tissues to push out their water content via a sponge-like mechanical “squeeze.”

When the body is subsequently allowed to rest and the muscular/fascial tension is allowed to dissipate, the expelled water is drawn back into the tissue, as well as additional amounts of water, overcompensating and surpassing that which was initially expelled. This process yields an increase in “elastic stiffness” of the fascial tissues, an important contribution to stability in the spinal region as well as other joint structures.

Increased Temperature Also Enhances the Fascia’s Ability to Take Up Water
Increased temperature affects the fascia when it is applied through the SmartSpine™ System during the introduction of movement or manual therapy. The warmth and pressure are, therefore, perceived through the fascial layers.

Anatomy of the Fascia
Fascia consists of layers of mostly parallel collagen fibers, organized in an undulating design (a “youthful wave” known as a “crimp”) of bundles and sheets. The layers are separated by adipocytes (fat cells) to accommodate glide between the layers, of which fibers are oriented in different directions for augmenting tensile strength.

The fascia transmits forces from muscular activity and reduces friction between the moving parts.

Among the several layers of fascia, two specific regions are easy to recognize:

  • The superficial fascia or loose connective tissue: This fascia is mostly subcutaneous and surrounds the organs and neurovascular bundles.
  • The deep fascia: The deep fascia surrounds and runs through the muscles while subdividing the muscles in compartments. This part of the fascia is also referred to as the fascicular fascia. It consists of the epimysium (outer layer), perimysium (middle layer), and endomysium (deep layer).

These layers together form an extensive matrix of tunnels that connect and dissipate forces within muscles and provide intramuscular pathways as well as mechanical support for large and small nerves, blood vessels, and the lymphatic system.

Normal functioning of the musculoskeletal system depends greatly on optimal mobility (glide and flexibility) of this fascial system. Thickened, dehydrated, or “matted” fascial tissue will inhibit the muscular system involved and beyond, resulting in a loss of tensional equilibrium.

FASCIA AND FLEXIBILITY

Fascial tissue has a different kind of elasticity than muscle. Fascial tissue is viscoelastic, a composition of mostly collagen, water, and some elastin. This viscoelasticity lends fascia the properties of a solid (more gel-like) and a more liquid state, which varies depending on its temperature.

When cold, the fascia behaves more like a solid. With an increase in the temperature, the fascia becomes less “viscous” and thus more elastic, behaving more “liquid-like.” Thus, the viscoelastic quality of the fascia is temperature dependent.

Under normal physiological conditions the skeletal muscle and the fascial components work closely together and are interdependent. The energy and heat released through a muscular contraction (movement) maintain the fascial viscoelasticity.

A temperature increase in fascia of up to 40 degrees C leads to reduced stiffness and a more rapid elongation of the fascial tissue due to a higher extensibility of collagen. In other words, there is a heat-induced fascial relaxation.

Opposites Attract!
Muscles use heat to contract as fascia uses the heat released through the contraction to lengthen!

Fascia and its Contractibility
Fascia does contain contractile cells (myofibroblasts). The contractile properties of these myofibroblasts are slow and smooth muscle like.

The contractile properties of fasciae are Ca2+ independent, which yields energy-saving properties, contributing to stability and tensile strength. These contractile properties may also be influenced by Ph imbalances, inflammation after injury, trauma, or hormonal imbalances. With pathology, these contractile properties may become over-stimulated, leading to a rigid collegenous tissue with myofascial imbalance and pain. The resulting now tighter and thicker remodeled fascial tissue inhibits the normal functioning of the skeletal muscles, resulting in more stiffness, decreased range of motion, and possible inflammation.

The Vicious Cycle
As movement would be the antidote to break this vicious cycle, this approach will often lead to more fear avoidance patterns due to discomfort or pain.

As a result, unused skeletal muscle disappears and is replaced by connective tissue, which further limits movement and mobility.

Breaking the Negative Feedback Loop
Applying heat in the therapeutic range, which means up to 40 degrees C, may be one means by which to prevent this negative feedback loop.

The other option is the use of the SmartSpine™ System. The SmartSpine™ System is specifically designed with the option of applying heat during the movement. The intensional length of the SmartSpine™ itself accommodates the entire length of the spine from the occipital base to the coccyx. This full-length design allows for the warmth to penetrate and lengthen (collagen softening) the ligaments of all the targeted vertebrae. This allows the introduction of micro and more macro movement.

Spinal ligaments are believed to extend with temperature. This thermal expansion has been quantified to about 0.5mm per lumbar segment (Hasberry & Pearcy, 1986), leading to segmental decompression, increase in space, and an increase in functional range of motion.

The SmartSpine™ System offers many applications and protocols for integration with manual therapy as well as with fascial release technique. Aside from improved mobility, this integration may greatly improve a client’s/patient’s proprioceptive as well as interoceptive abilities.

Proprioception vs. Interoception
Proprioception
Proprioception is organized through:

  • Thermoreceptors
  • Mechanoreceptors
  • Nociceptors
  • Chemoreceptors

Much of what we emphasize during the work with our clients/patients is the improvement of the proprioceptive awareness. Proprioception provides information about the position and movement of the body in space, while signaling joint positioning, muscle stretch, and tension.

This information is sent via sensory nerves and spinal cord to the brain where it is processed by the somatosensory cortex, located in the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex.

Interoception
According to recent research, interoception offers a much wider range of physiological sensations. Interoception follows a very different afferent pathway and is processed mostly in the insular cortex (insula). The insular cortex is closely related to the thalamic nuclei connected to the amygdala, which processes pain, speech, as well as social emotions.

Some interoceptive sensations involve:

  • Warmth/coolness (temperature)
  • Muscular activity (feeling the movement)
  • Pain, tickle, itch
  • Heartbeat
  • Vasomotor activity (blood flow)
  • Positive Touch (sensual touch)

Awareness of these sensations reflects the development of a deeper or more “refined” feeling to a further, more heightened awareness.

These sensations, processed in the insular cortex, are crucial for integration of all subjective feelings related to the body, especially to its homeostatic conditions, emotional experiences, and conscious awareness of the environment and the self.

The benefits of physical and emotional homeostasis in turn affect the “behavior” and therefore the quality of the fascia.

The concept of “feeling is knowing” lies in drawing attention to detail. It should not be complicated to zone-in to interoceptive sensations, considering that for every one proprioceptive nerve ending in the fascia, seven interoceptive nerve endings (free nerve endings) are present.

With this in mind, the integration of the SmartSpine™ System with movement therapy or fascial work will enhance proprioceptive as well as interoceptive abilities by the design properties of:

  • Warmth application
  • Pressure/weight
  • Texture
  • Fragrance (optional)

As a result, this SmartSpine™ protocol may contribute and offer a more complete Wellness approach.


REFERENCES

Klingler, W. (2012). Temperature effects on fascia. In R. Schleip, T. W. Findley, L. Chaitow, & Peter Huijing (Eds.), Fascia: The tensional network of the human body (pp. 421-424). Edinburgh, Scotland: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.

Hasberry, S., & Pearcy, M. J. (1986). Temperature dependence of the tensile properties of interspinous ligaments in sheep. Journal of Biomedical Engineering, 8, 62-67. doi:10.1016/0141-5425(86)90032-4

Schleip, R., Findley, T. W., Chaitow, L., & Huijin, P. (Eds.) (2012). Fascia: The tensional network of the human body. Edinburgh, Scotland: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.

Schleip, R., & Jäger, H. (2012). Interoception: A new correlate for intricate connections between fascial receptors, emotion and self-recognition. In R. Schleip, T. W. Findley, L. Chaitow, & Peter Huijing (Eds.), Fascia: The tensional network of the human body (pp. 89-94). Edinburgh, Scotland: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.


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