Explaining the importance of the connective tissue of our bodies and how to keep it healthy.
You might have heard me talk about fascia a time or two before. Since Spring has finally arrived and many of us will be getting more active over the coming months, I wanted to talk about fascial health and how to optimize your body’s function. Recently fascia’s popularity is growing thanks to new research highlighting the previously overlooked roll of fascia in the body. It has been discovered that fascia is much more than a liner for muscles, bones, and organs, it is one continuous web throughout the whole body; the “organ system of stability” which give us structure so we’re not just blobs and also propels our movement. As it makes its way head to toe, surface to core, every cell of the body is intertwined and behaviorally linked to the tensional environment of the fascia.
It turns out that fascia also goes through the same trans-formative remodeling that muscles do and that remodeling happens in response to habitual movement with things like exercise, injury, long term mechanical use patterns, gravity, and each body’s own chemistry. Since a healthy body will turn over it’s fascial web every 6 months, this means we can easily gain control over this remodeling through training and treatment.
The primary ways you can train your fascial network to improve it’s strength, elasticity, and proprioception are hydration, whole body stretching, and exercise variety (in movement as well as intensity). I highly recommend this article by Tom Myers, a master of fascial treatment, on achieving fascial fitness that includes specific suggestions for how to run longer with less fatigue and how best to stretch tight areas.
Manual treatment of fascia must be done dry, without oil or lotion. Slow movements allow the therapist to “sink” into the many layers and “rip” fascial adhesions apart. The absence of lubricant also allows for specific trigger point treatment without slipping, and therefore with less pressure, allowing for better results with less discomfort. What you’ll find following a dry treatment is not only tension relief but realignment resulting from a break in the holding pattern of body stress. This break in the pattern gives longer lasting relief following dry treatment than with traditional Swedish massage.
Adults often see issues develop with their fascia, although they may not recognize it. Our fascia has 10 times the amount of sensory nerve endings than muscles do, so much of what you feel in your “muscles” is actually coming from your fascia. Some common fascial issues are plantar fasciaitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and varying IT band problems, all of which can only (and easily) be manually treated dry. Here is another great article, this one from Runners World, on understanding fascia and it’s roll in injury management and prevention that includes tips for healing nagging injuries and maintaining healthy fascia. This information is helpful for anyone experiencing chronic pain or injury, not just runners!
We’re only beginning to understand the impact fascia has on the functionality of our bodies. It’s an exciting time for manual therapists as well as athletes as we learn more about maximizing the potential of the human body through research and practice. For practical use of this new knowledge an old phrase comes to mind: variety is the spice of life!