The latest buzzword in health, wellness, sports and exercise comes in the form of the fascia. It is the new focus point in fitness and the fact that it covers so much of our body makes it surprising that this is a new concept. The Fascia Research Society states, “Fascia is the most pervasive, but perhaps least understood network of the human body. No longer considered the ‘scraps’ of cadaver dissections, fascia has now attracted the attention of scientists and clinicians alike.”
Until the recent exposure of the fascia we understood our bodies to be comprised of skin, bone, muscles, organs and fluids, however there is a drastically vital part of us missing in this list; the stuff that holds all of this together and keeps it all in place; presenting…The Fascia; the potential answer to many questions regarding our movement, stability, structure, pain and healing.
So what is our fascia and why is it so important? The meaning of the word itself is ‘a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilises, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs’.
The fascia is the network of connective tissue throughout our entire body, it is the framework that envelops and helps to support and protect our body as a unit. It allows the muscles to move freely alongside other structures and reduces friction. It can be found immediately beneath the skin, around muscles, groups of muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels, organs and cells.
Fascia is everywhere.
“The fascia has many sensors for movement, position, tension, pressure and pain and is therefore the largest sensory organ we have, even larger than our skin”. says Susanne Linecker, occupational therapist in neurological and orthopaedic rehabilitation. Our fascia plays a huge role within the body; it shapes us, allows our movement, gives the body a method of communication within itself, and supports the vital parts of us to keep us in tact. To keep the fascia healthy means that we can improve the overall performance of our body. As well as this we can reduce pain and scarring and cellulite as it breaks down the scar tissue.
The complexity of the fascia plus the fact that it comes in one piece, means that if we feel pain in a part of our body this may be due to restricted fascia in another part of the body. So if we experience pain in our shoulder, for example, this could be due to an injury or trauma in our hip. The fascia in one area has been traumatised and therefore has had to tighten and then hardens which in turn pulls on the fascia as a whole and can put strain in other areas. As a result, it can be very difficult to determine the source of a problem but it certainly opens up a lot more possibilities when it comes to resolving physical issues. To help understand the concept try this demonstration outlined by Dr. Thomas Findley:
Sit in your chair with your knees bent and flex your ankle up and down. Now take that leg and with the knee straight, put it on the table in front of you and do the same thing. The foot moves less. Now bend your trunk forward. Even less motion. Next, drop your head. Now you can really feel tightness in your calf. This demonstrates just one simple fascial connection, the back-line, but the fascial connections throughout the body are far, far more intricate.
“As soon as there is dysfunction or pain in one area, the body adapts and compensates to keep the body upright and work without causing pain. As it does this the fascia will shorten or tighten in areas because the muscles cannot hold the extra tension alone. Posture changes to accommodate this.” say the Wellness Advisory Services.
Living a healthy life will promote a healthy fascia; regular exercise, hydration, sleep, avoidance of stress, good diet. An unhealthy fascia will show symptoms such as bad posture, a lack of body symmetry, poor mobility and flexibility, weakness, cellulite.
If we treat the body as a whole, rather than focusing on individual parts we will be able to work on any issues more effectively. There is now a yoga craze focussed on the fascia – appropriately named Fascia Yoga – whereby the whole body is stretched and pressure points are massaged using balls or foam rollers in order to release any tension.
Myofascial release, the technique used to release tension and return the fascia to its original fluidity, is the most popular and documented form of fascia training, often practiced using a foam roller, tennis ball or rubber balls whereby pressure is placed on the connective tissue and massaged. This releases fluids within the tissue to improve the flow within the system. Slowly rolling over each point will relieve stiffness and scar-like tissue. To keep your fascia fluid a full body stretch will always help, as well as regular full-body massages and proper all over warm ups before strenuous exercise.
The fascia may not be the answer to all underlying physical problems, yet it opens up a whole world of possibility and potential understanding of many previously unexplainable aches and pains. Something definitely worth looking into and, more importantly, maintaining a healthy one!
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