What is fascial dysfunction?

Fascial protection stays contracted 

Fascia contracts naturally in a reflex response to protect the deeper structures of the body such as nerves, blood vessels and organs from irritation or strain.  Fascia becomes dysfunctional when it continues to chronically contract in a protective response even after the cause of the irritation or strain is gone.  This “reflex dysfunction" causes the associated muscle to also contract constantly, instead of only contracting when called upon by the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).  Due to this constant contraction circulation is impaired and neuroreactive biochemicals or “waste products” soon build up in the tissues and this perpetuates the chronic spasm.   

In other words, the pain from contracted fascia can look like a common case of back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee, etc. pain that does not respond to traditional treatments.  The external muscle tension can be released temporarily by massage, stretching, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, etc., but the muscle tension will return because the deep fascial dysfunction has not resolved. The most important thing to understand about fascial dysfunction is that it is not detected by any diagnostic imaging such as MRI, X-ray or CT scan.  The tissue "looks" normal on these exams because there is no tissue damage - only the function is impaired. 


This type of pain is often diagnosed as myofascial pain (myo = "muscle") and is responsible for a large percentage of chronic pain syndromes.  It can occur in all areas of the body and presents as pain, tightness/tension, or numbness/tingling sensations, often variable in location.  It is generally worse in static positions such as sleeping or standing.  Untreated, these chronically contracted dysfunctions also prevent normal movement of a section of the body’s internal tissues and force the body to move abnormally to compensate.  The resulting abnormal movement pattern continually causes excessive mechanical stress somewhere else in the body due to the abnormal motion.  That “somewhere” is often where things begin to “wear out” (become arthritic, unstable, painful).  In other words, fascial dysfunction often provides the answer to WHY that side of the lower back is chronically painful, WHY that knee has a meniscus tear or is arthritic and not the other knee, etc.  It can also be the answer as to why multiple treatments for a painful back, knee, etc. are ineffective or at best temporarily helpful.  


The dysfunctions are relatively easy to identify since you will have a palpable “tender point” in a specific muscular area that will resolve when the internal dysfunction has released.  The effect is immediate and lasting.  During treatment the goal is to optimally sequence treatment of the identified dysfunctions and provide exercises to allow you to assist in retraining your body to move normally again.  Once the dysfunction(s) are corrected your body’s normal motion and circulation is restored, and stress decreases on the painful tissue so it can finally begin to recover.

For more information visit tuckeypt.com, website of the originator of the fascial Strain-Counterstrain treatment:  Brian Tuckey, PT, OCS, JSCCI.