DIY tips on how to care for your fascia effectively, the largest sensory organ in the body.
If I described to you a web that encases the body, under the skin, made up of sheets, bags, and chords of predominantly collagen fibres that weave, wend and wrap their way around encasing and permeating every single muscle, bone, nerve, vessel and organ you possess, would you think I was for real? Would you recognise the description as anything within you?
This complex system which serves to keep us together, literally, is better known as the fascia. Our entire shape is actually sculpted and maintained by the fascia. And it is one of the lesser known, lesser studied, less understood parts of the human body.
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.”
It is so vast, so intricate and labyrinthian in its structure that it can be overwhelming to approach. The thing is, we need to take care of it in order to allow it to do its plethora of jobs effectively. So how do we do this?
First of all let’s take a look at what the fascia actually does and then we can figure out just how we can be good caretakers.
The fascia provides our body with a protective layer of tissue which surrounds each of our organs, as well as this it is connected to our muscles allowing them to move effectively and basically keep everything we consist of in its rightful place. It is a multitude of bands of connective tissue fused together to keep us fused together. It is everywhere within us.
“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.
Its purpose is complex but it is there to maintain a balance of tension and elasticity to allow us to be mobile in our muscle movement yet maintaining our structure. Predominantly made up of collagen, as are our bones, makes the fascia strong yet malleable. If we experience restriction in the fascia we may encounter pain and injury as we would with a restricted muscle. If our muscle is damaged we tend to over compensate using other muscles, when those muscles can’t take the responsibility and pressure alone the fascia tightens and hardens to support those muscles and you can see how the damage manifests and has a knock on effect. We must release this tension, soften the hardened tissue and restore its natural elasticity. Otherwise we need to simply maintain its natural balance for our body to perform optimally.
So how do we look after this incredible, tangled web of necessity? There are many ways to keep the fascia fluid and supple such as fascia yoga, miofascial release, etc but the following guidelines are some ideas recommended by professional practitioners from the health and wellness, sports, physiotherapy, and other medical backgrounds that can be practiced at home in order to maintain a healthy fascia.
1 – STRETCH
All practitioners worth their salt will encourage anyone to have a good, daily stretch. Whether this is practiced in the form of yoga, pilates, or your own version it is imperative to fascia health.
2 – DIET
Eat well. Focus on a primarily plant-based diet with as much variation as possible involved. Include plenty of greens, pulses, legumes, fibre and whole grains. Minimise meat intake as well as any processed foods. Focus on a varied whole, natural, real food diet.
3 – HYDRATE
Keep up those eight glasses a day minimum and add some on if you’re exercising heavily.
4 – SLEEP
Another essential eight to remember. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per day (night) encourages a healthy body, mind and therefore fascia.
5 – MASSAGE
Involving a practitioner may be more beneficial here but there are massages you can carry out on yourself to help promote a healthy fascia. Rolling each part of the body over a ball or roller in various directions can improve fluidity and blood flow as well as loosen us up. Vary the direction of the roller as well as the size and rigidity for best results.
6 – STRESS
As with anything health related, stress is an issue. The less the better for every aspect of life and this includes the maintenance of a healthy fascia. When we are uptight mentally, we tighten up physically and this can be derogatory to our posture, muscles and overall body condition. Find ways to reduce stress as much as possible, if this is unavoidable then look for ways which help you to unwind and de-stress each day to loosen you up and relax you. This really should not be alcohol-related as the stress relief from drinking only serves to add more afterwards.
7 – SUPPLEMENT
If you feel that your nutrition could do with a boost or want to support the production of collagen in your body, which in turn supports the fascia strength, there are some excellent quality supplements on the market. Speak to your medical practitioner before making any drastic changes to your diet.
As well as this, we need to pay good attention to our physical situation – recognising when something is off is half the problem. We often carry on our lives with injuries or discomfort in the hope that they will rectify themselves. This is so often not the case and we cause far more damage than is necessary. A healthy focus on a healthy fascia can very much help to locate problems and open up possibilities as to what the underlying issues may be.
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