What is Fascia
We are well aware of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, and organs, but what provides support, division, and functional unity for these structures is a type of tissue known as fascia. Fascia is a connective tissue composed mostly of water, proteins and carbohydrates that envelops every muscle, nerve, blood vessels, and organ in our body. It weaves throughout our muscles from head to toe in a web-like pattern keeping them bundled together and organized in various sheaths and enabling them to smoothly glide past one another during contraction. You can think of fascia as saran wrap around every structure in the body. We all know how annoying saran wrap can be when it binds to itself, twisting and clinging as we spend minutes trying to pull it apart. Fascia is similar in the way that it can stick to itself or to muscle tissue. When this happens it can restrict our movements. Even more frustrating is that when fascia becomes bound to surrounding structures it can cause compression in our muscles, nerves, blood vessels, or bones, which can then lead to pain.
Why is Fascia Important?
Not only does fascia support important bodily structures, but it also connects series of movements into fluid movement patterns we perform on a daily basis. In order to reach for an object above your head or bend down to tie your shoes, your fascia has to be free from restrictions and flexible enough to move with your muscles as they expand and contract. While muscle tissue is more elastic and behaves similar to a rubber band, fascia is more plastic. Because of this it takes several minutes for fascia to take a new shape and hold. However, once your fascia has taken a new shape it will not quickly return to its previous shape. A common example of this is what happens to all of us when we sit. After sitting for an extended period of time, the fascia located down your back into your hamstrings, calves, and feet will re-shape itself into a shortened position, causing tightness from you back all the way down to your feet. As you transition from sitting to standing, you may notice that it is difficult to spring up from your chair as you once did when you were 6-years old. Believe it or not this is not due to old age, but it is related to the health and integrity of your fascia. As kids we freely explored the world around us by running, climbing, jumping, and playing on the ground for hours. As we have grown up and as technology has advanced, we have transitioned form exploring the world with our bodies to exploring the world through a computer screen in one position.
Fascia is also one of the bodies largest sensory organs in that it is highly innervated with sensory nerve endings. This is why tightness or a kink in your fascia can mimic nerve pain, such as numbness, tingling, or sharp pain.
Keep Your Fascia Healthy
Here are a few tips to help keep your fascia healthy so you can live pain free!
Drink Plenty of Water
Fascia is composed of about 70 percent of water. It is therefore very important to stay hydrated in order to keep your fascia lubricated and mobile. Think of the difference between a piece of beef jerky and a filet mignon. The beef jerky represents your tissue when it is dehydrated, very tough immobile. The filet represents your tissue when your body is properly hydrated, flexible, soft, and spongy. The recommend daily water intake for men is 13 cups (3 liters) and for women 9 cups (2.2 liters).
Foam rolling is a great way to keep you loose and speed up recovery after your workouts. When foam rolling, be gentle and move slowly. When you find a tender spot, slowly roll over it for three to five minutes. If you feel any sharp shooting pain, pulsing, or throbbing you are most likely on a nerve or blood vessel. Just move the foam roller slightly to the left or right and continue.
Stretching your fascia on a daily basis is a great way to help you reduce pain and stay mobile. Similar to foam rolling, you want to be gentle when stretching. Before you start, make sure to warm your body up for five to ten minutes by doing general movements, such as walking or jogging. Stretching can be very intense when you first start out, so start slowly and with multiple short bouts. For example, start by holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and then recovering for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat this pattern three to five times. Slowly start increasing the amount of time you hold each stretch until you can maintain the position for three to five minutes. With every stretch, make sure you only go to your edge and do not push your body too far. You will be able to move deeper into a stretch as your muscles and fascia become more limber over time.
Move More Sit Less
Movement is one of the best ways to prevent tightness and chronic pain. It only takes about 20 minutes of sitting before degenerative changes in the spine begin to take place. Combat this by getting up and moving more often. This can be as simple as standing up for a couple of minutes to stretch, talking a quick walk around the office, or jogging in place. The point is to just move. Our bodies were designed for movement. If they were designed to sit then our feet would be located on our butts, but that’s not the case.
Get Regular Treatment
If you are experiencing chronic pain that is not responding to any of the above, then seek treatment from an individual that specializes in soft tissue therapy. A combination of frequent movement, regular treatment, and a healthy lifestyle can help keep your fascia young and flexible. Remember, you’re only as old as your fascia!
Chew, Ming PT, The Permanent Pain Cure.
Lucas, Julia, Understanding Your Fascia. http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-treatment/understanding-your-fascia