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Flex Your Fascia!

By:
Jane Eklund

For something that's present pretty much everywhere inside the body, fascia has received remarkably little attention from researchers--until recent years.

Considering that, as Runner's World magazine put it, "Fascia is a major player in every movement you make and every injury you've ever had," it's about time.

What is Fascia?

A network of connective tissue that literally holds the body together, fascia weaves around organs, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, bones, and organs--encasing, connecting, and protecting you and all of your parts. It's made of collagen and is both fibrous and mucous. Picture a spider web, cling wrap, fabric, or film that continuously adjusts as you move.

Why is Fascia So Important?

Consider this: "Injuries to the fascial system cause a significant loss of performance in recreational exercise as well as high-performance sports, and could have a potential role in the development and perpetuation of musculoskeletal disorders, including lower back pain."

That's from a consensus paper on fascial tissue research, developed by experts following a sports medicine conference and published in the August issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The paper calls for continued research into fascia, and it's easy to see why. Damage or tightness in the fascial network can lead to stiffness, poor posture, headaches, and muscle, neck, and back pain. If you sit too long, stand too long, or don't stretch enough, your fascia may tighten up. Intensive physical training can cause fascial tightness, too, as can chronic inflammation and physical trauma like surgery or injury.

How to Keep Fascia Healthy

Healthy fascia is pliable; it stretches and returns easily to its initial shape. You can keep it flexible--or restore its flexibility--by being mindful and following a few guidelines.

  • Gentle Stretching

    Take time every day to really stretch. Try rolling around in bed in the morning and working all your muscles. You can also stretch your fascia by holding gentle stretches for three to five minutes.

  • Stay Hydrated

    Keep your fascial tissue lubricated and working smoothly by drinking plenty of water.

  • Use a Foam Roller or Ball

    Use a soft foam roller or a small ball to gently and slowly work your fascia. In places where you find tension, hold pressure for three to five minutes. To ease discomfort in the plantar fascia (the bottom of the foot), gently roll your foot over a tennis ball.

  • Soak with Epsom Salts

    Loosen up tight fascia in a warm Epsom salt bath. Soak for 15 or 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of light activity.

  • Fascial & Myofascial Therapy

    Consult a specialist. A variety of practitioners offer fascial or myofascial therapy, using techniques that range from massage to Rolfing to stretching and exercise.

Changing Your Way of Thinking, Your Body is NOT a Machine! 

Tom Myers, coauthor of Fascial Release for Structural Balance ($34.95, Lotus Publishing, 2017), notes that bodies are often described in mechanical terms, their parts chugging along like individual components in a well-oiled machine. "The error comes when we start thinking that humans are actually built that way," he says.

A better metaphor for the body than a machine, he says, is a plant. "We are grown from a tiny seed--a single cell, or fertilized ovum, about the size of a pin prick--not glued together in parts." Rather, he says, the parts grew together within the glue, or fascial web.

Once you understand and really feel the body as a whole organism, Myers says, you can move with more integrity--like a plant, not a machine.

Sources

"Fascial tissue research in sports medicine: From molecules to tissue adaptation, injury and diagnostics" by Martina Zugel et al., British Journal of Sports Medicine, 8/14/18 

"Learn about fascia: Fascia and your yoga practice" by Tom Myers, Yoga Journal, 1/18/18 

"Understanding your fascia" by Julia Lucas, Runner's World, 6/10/11

"What is fascia, and is 'myofascial release' the secret to better health?" by Madeleine Howell, The Telegraph, 12/20/17 

"What is muscle fascia?" by Christine Northrup, MD, DrNorthrup.com, 2/22/17