Wednesday’s blog covered a brief history of how aerobic fitness has dominated public health and general Fitness Guidelines, leading to the question:  Why has our public health information been rather silent regarding human biomechanics and “structural health” maintenance?

The answer seems to be twofold; we still don’t have a complete scientific grasp of human musculoskeletal tissue properties and also because we are in an unprecedented momentum towards motionless lifestyles.  While we have poured millions of research dollars into studying fitness of the cardiovascular system for over three decades, the remaining issue under discussion is how we can also better address the skeletal conditions we are experiencing due to many hours of sedentary, repetitive behaviors.  The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that the greatest growing disease statistic is in musculoskeletal health. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, and the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. Our primary care physicians are becoming more aware that they must tread carefully to rule out serious conditions while not over-prescribing pain medications nor immediately ordering expensive, unnecessary tests with avoidable radiation exposure.   Mechanical back pain conditions are more typically of a “chronic but not serious” nature, yet our existing medical guidelines are feeble.  Our medical system is designed to expertly manage acute injury and infectious disease; not chronic “diseases of affluence” like underuse of our frame as we see with too much sitting.  But, if we wait until we have an actual injury that requires a repair, we can certainly get help.  Why must we wait until we are broken?

It is hard to believe in this day and age – that we have not figured out all parts of the human body yet, but over the past decade there have been mounting scientific discoveries in the field of human tissue health and structural medicine.  Finally!  On a world stage for the first time in 2007, Harvard University united scientists from around the world at the First International Fascia Research Congress to present brand new discoveries from human dissection labs. Many of us have seen Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci’s well-known early illustrations from their studies of human movement, as people have studied human cadavers by dissection since 3rd century B.C.

In 2001, Tom Myers and his book Anatomy Trains made a big splash in the world of biomechanics as he brought 3-Dimensions of anatomy to a whole new level.  Applying limited available dissection science proof with theory, he inferred that “fascial lines” of tension load in the body’s musculoskeletal system as a whole, not joint by joint.   Since then, scientists have discovered more about humans’ soft tissue ability to ‘remodel’ and hold shapes.  Thanks to our amazing connective tissues, over many hours of repeated positioning, we become our most practiced shape. Even for regular exercisers, repeated movement of the same workout positions brings risk of overusing some tissues, underusing others- only secondary to the fact that we execute the moves in already dysfunctional postures and movement patterns we held throughout the day at our jobs.  The dual challenge of movement and anatomy educators today is:  to continue to support public health education with the latest research on musculoskeletal science and also create fitness programs for a population who move fewer and fewer hours per day.  

Yoga Tune Up® (YTU) provides an effective fusion of evidence-based (scientifically supported) techniques including the latest research on human fascia tissues.  Effective self-care tools mobilize areas compressed from lop-sided or sedentary habits while precise movements serve to strengthen and stabilize tissues uniformly around joints.  From a scientific research perspective:

YTU balls are grippy and pliable, with just the right amount of firmness, to grab onto all of your soft tissue layers.

YTU Balls are especially effective to unglue tissues to decrease pain—Research from cadaver dissections show us that connective tissue layers underneath our skin become stuck together and dehydrated where they should be slippery and should move easily past each other. Science suggests that this can happen from an old injury, favoring use of one side, or a lack of fitness/conditioning of that body part; all of which increase joint stress.   We all experience these in our typical postural habits – so it is likely we also look like this underneath our skin!  When Jill Miller added self-massage to her programs to pry apart the stiff tissue layers, some people wanted to compare YTU therapy balls to foam rollers or other common gym tools, but they don’t do the same thing. The textures of YTU therapy balls actually fulfill scientific criteria to provide several unique benefits:

1)     The grippy surface of YTU balls catch on skin and fitted clothing to create that what scientists call ‘shear,’ a mechanical term meaning one layer (skin/soft tissue) is pulled away from underneath layers, to help free the stuck muscle and connective tissue.

2)     The combination of applying compression with the ‘shear’ action into tissues also awakens Ruffini endings (one type of nerve-ending or “mechanoreceptor” in connective tissue) creating overall relaxation in the central nervous system.

3)     YTU balls’ firmness have a gentle “give” in pliability which encourages tension release of tight tissues. Scientific evidence shows that harder tools (like lacrosse balls or some foam rollers) are less tolerable and may cause a stiffening reaction or contraction in the muscle spindles prolonging muscle tension, not resolving it.  Additionally the malleability and size of YTU balls allow access to our body’s smaller nooks and crannies and the ability to move around bony areas without bruising.

4)     YTU balls are effective for eliminating trigger points (chronic ‘knots’) that tie up a subset of fibers within a muscle, often causing local discomfort and referred pain (felt in distant areas) while subtly decreasing overall strength of that muscle. Trigger points impact a muscle’s ability to work properly which adds to deterioration at the joint.  A “mechanical intervention,” meaning some outside force, is needed to resolve these chronic knots.  Use of YTU Therapy Balls sure feels better than needles and are less expensive than a daily massage therapist.

5)     Learning how to use YTU Therapy Balls empowers students in self-care and improves awareness of one’s own body.  Instructions include a simple anatomy “tour” for proper placement of therapy balls while also helping students to locate their “blind spots” and improve the neurological connection to their own anatomy.  Underused or overused tissues tend to have “sensory amnesia” with poorly functioning nerve receptors that normally tell us ‘where we are in space’ (proprioceptors, related to balance and touch).  Decreased proprioception is common in areas of injury, tension and immobility, but YTU Balls are a great way to improve this neurological sense which also improves movement coordination.  Enhanced proprioception is known to decrease pain signals (nociception), even if temporarily. 

83_JM_Fascia_SkeletonYTU methodically uses an anatomical map to evenly stabilize and strengthen the frame – Muscle and fascia research shows our need for consistent movement and mechanical loading (weight bearing use) to maintain tissue health.  This means that congruent or equal loading in is necessary, all directions of movement, to affect every tissue surrounding the joint.  Unfortunately it is our uneven loading of our joints and tissues in modern lifestyles (e.g. in slouchy sitting, especially around shoulder and spine) that has helped to skyrocket our risk of wear and injury.  YTU’s unique therapeutic movements are fun, but also scientifically smart by systematically creating motion in all possible directions around each joint, leaving no tissue untouched.  Such complete use of our joints rarely happens in everyday activity or typical workouts.  To really ensure a healthier frame, YTU adds strengthening techniques at ends of joint movement ranges, with methods borrowed from physical therapy (isometric  contraction in closed-chain movements), adding powerful stabilization training for vital joints.

YTU provides stress reduction and self-empowerment – The central nervous system is calmed through yoga breathing and mindfulness training, coupled with improved ribcage alignment and respiratory diaphragm training.  Researchers have shown that using soft tools (YTU balls) to activate pressure-sensitive nerve endings helps to bring a global relaxation to the whole central nervous system.  Another significant finding from medical researchers is that by handing people effective tools and basic knowledge, they gain a psychological sense of empowerment which has been proven to increase healthy self-care routine compliance.

Poor musculoskeletal habits and poor ergonomics can easily become second nature, causing aggravating episodes of pain that can lead to damage of joint structures, whether you are an exerciser or a couch potato.  Fortunately, the latest research is clearly providing great information we can utilize in our own self-care at home.

Let’s not wait until we need medical attention or delays until public health “Guidelines” for Musculoskeletal Fitness are finally published.  Get rolling now!!!   Become inspired by success stories from real people who practiced self-care with Yoga Tune Up®  in Jill Miller’s new groundbreaking “how-to” book, The Roll Model, available November 4th (pre-order now on


REFERENCES include but not limited to:

  1. Efficacy of multidisciplinary pain treatment centers: a meta-analytic review  (1992). Pain (49; 2, 221–230)
  2. Technique Systems in Chiropractic.  Cooperstein & Gleberzon, Churchill Livingstone Publishing (2004)
  3. Diego, M & Field, T (2009).  Moderate Pressure Massage Elicits a Parasympathetic Nervous System Response.  International Journal of Neuroscience (119; 5, 630-638).
  4. Biomechanics Principles and Applications, Eds Bronzino and Schneck, CRC Press, 2003.
  5. Schleip, R  & Mueller, D (2012) Training principles for fascial connective tissues. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (1, 1-13)
  6. H.M. Langevin et al., (2009). Ultrasound evidence of altered lumbar connective tissue structure in human subjects with chronic low back pain, Musculoskeletal Disorders (10:151)
  7. Metzl, Jordan, MD.  Interview NPR-pilot studies:  Stretching VS Foam Rolling. Sports Medicine, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) NY, NY. (December 13, 2013)
  8. GZ MacDonald, MDH Penney, ME Mullaley, AL Cuconato, CDJ Drake, DG Behm, DC Button (2013). An Acute Bout of Self Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: (27, 3, 812-821).
  9. KC Healey, DL Hatfield, P Blanpied, LR Dorfman, D Riebe (2014). The Effects of Self Myofascial Release with Foam Rolling on Performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (28,1, 61-68).
  10. Medical Massage & Pathophysiology of Connective Tissues, G. Lawton, American Medical Massage Association, 2000.
  11. Moseley, G, Zalucki, N., Wiech, K., (2008). Tactile discrimination, but not tactile stimulation alone reduces chronic limb pain. Pain. (137, 600-608).

Additional Reading:   Thomas Myers, Leonid Blyum, PhD, Jean Claude Guimberteau, MD


Read more about YTU Balls and trigger point therapy.

Get therapy balls for self-massage on the go.

Learn solutions for lower back pain from sitting.

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