Fascia plays a key role in health, athletics and pain management . Keep yours flexible and properly aligned.
One of the latest buzzwords in the fitness industry is “fascia,” but do you really know what it is? While it’s a new concept to many, this internal spider’s web has been studied for years and is finally coming to light. Here’s a primer on how fascia impacts your athletic performance, day-to-day living, and effects pain management and injury prevention:
Picture yourself prepping a raw chicken breast for dinner. (Don’t get grossed out, I promise this is going somewhere!) Think about the thin, filmy layer that separates sections of the meat— that’s fascial tissue.
Fascia covers and interpenetrates every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. This intricate system exists from head to toe as one contiguous structure. Like yarn in a sweater, one thread weaves throughout the whole structure.
How fascia functions
Fascia is what keeps muscles bundled together into groups and what keeps organs organized and in their place. Your organs don’t just sit in your abdominal cavity behind the ribs; they need to have a “home” to stay in place. For example, the liver sits in a hammock of fascia that travels behind the diaphragm to the Round Ligament (the dense collection of fascia looped around the end of the liver). This liver fascia integrates with that of the heart.
In a healthy state, the fascia is a watery and sticky carbohydrate mixture similar to egg white. Fascia is constantly moving water up and down its lat- tice-shaped filaments. As water shunts through the lattice from one area to another, it leaves behind an area with less water. The fascia in this area is then able to absorb more external pressure. This is how fascial stretch and fascial manual therapy works. When you get accustomed to the water shift in the fascia you can actually feel it as an intense burn, as the therapist feels for the water’s ebb and flow.
Why fascia matters
Here’s your factoid for the day: Fascial restrictions can exert up to 2,000 lbs of pressure per square inch. Trauma, regular physical demands, rigid posture caused by emotion, dehydration and inflammation will all cause fascia to lose its pliability.
Why is this bad? Tight, restricted fascia leads to pain, chronic athletic injury, organ discomfort, headaches and a restricted range of motion. Fascial restrictions pull bones out of alignment and stimulate muscles in abnormal patterns. Restricted fascia, tightened around nerves, leads to chronic pain.
Properly aligned fascia helps to create the body’s natural structure. When
out of alignment, every centimetre of structural compensation has an effect on athletic potential. Fascial tension is a determining factor in our ability to withstand stress and perform daily activities.
Healthy fascia helps the high jumper jump higher and cleaner, cushions the runner’s foot, and helps the gymnast with speed, take-offs and landings.
Fascial stretch therapy vs. soft-tissue massage therapy
Chances are you’re familiar with the concept of going for a massage treat- ment. Massage therapy and fascial stretch therapy can be easily confused with one another, but they are vastly different. Unlike massage therapy, which focuses on the outcome of a specific muscle or tendon, fascial treat- ments focus on the dynamics of the body as a whole.
Traditional massage is a passive treatment where the patient relaxes while the treatment professional manipulates the tissue. Fascial stretch treatment keeps the patient active, moving the body as directed to engage the ner- vous system in order to find a new pattern and permanently release built-up tension. The benefits of a fascial stretch treatment can be felt immediately upon getting up from the table.
Fascial stretching opens the spaces between muscle groups and septums (dividing walls) between muscle bundles and neighbouring structures. This allows the muscle groups, tendons, ligaments and bones to slide efficiently and improves nerve supply to the muscles. Shock absorption becomes easier and muscles’ potential energy increases with healthy fascial tension.
How to make fascia healthy
Here’s a test: Press your thumb into your forearm. If the thumb print hes- itates before filling in, your fascia is telling you that it’s thirsty and needs water. Drink clean, filtered water and clear teas throughout the day to rehydrate and optimize the potential energy your fascia is holding.
Does your sock band stay imprinted around your calves for longer than 20 seconds? Bottoms up. Your fascia needs a drink of water. If your skin is thin and brittle, your fascia is screaming for attention. Another sign that your fascia needs hydration is if you feel discomfort executing full ranges of movement.
Ultimately, a clean, fluid-filled diet will yield healthy fascia. This provides better oxygen delivery to muscles, improves waste removal of lactic acid away from muscles and decreases joint inflammation. Your fitness will improve dramatically. Fascia is not a new discovery but we are now talking about it more and understanding it a whole lot better. What will you do to enhance the quality of your fascial body system?
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Author: Melissa Putt is a Soma therapist and myofascial expert. She specializes in posture, alignment, and pain management and is currently studying osteopathy. She is also a nutritionist, an author, and the owner of Healthy Habits Nutrition and Fitness Consulting Inc. in Toronto, Canada.