What Is Fascia And Why Is Everyone Talking About It?
Fascia: It’s a word being whispered by doctors, trainers, and masseuses alike. “Fascial yoga” and “fascial massage” have even been popping up in studios and spas. And caring for it will have you feeling, moving, performing, and looking as though you cheated ageing.
But what exactly is fascia, and how much attention does this underrated system of your body deserve?
Seriously, though, what is fascia?
Imagine an orange: If the peel is like our skin, the white stuff beneath it—you know, the thready film that surrounds each wedge and also holds the wedges together as one sphere—is like our fascia. It’s made up of gelatin-esque glycoproteins (which hold water like a sponge), collagen fibres (our strongest protein), and various other cells (such as fat cells).
And similar to the citrus fruit pith, its main job is to keep your internal bits—muscles, joints, tendons, bones, all of it—in place. Layers of this amazing tissue run through your entire body, from your face to your toes.
How does fascia affect the rest of my body?
“Fascia is one of the most important and pervasive systems, because it connects every system together,” says Dr. Rebecca Pratt, a professor of anatomy at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. First and foremost, healthy fascia is crucial to comfy daily movement and exercise performance. (Ever been so tight from sitting or from killer workouts that your stairs felt like Everest? That’s your angry fascia talking.) It’s also key to injury recovery because it weaves between vessels and supports blood flow.
And, as one of the body’s most integrated systems, your connective tissue can be the cause of—or solution to—everyday bummers that sap your energy, mobility, and athletic ability. Luckily, there are some things you can do to keep your fascia healthy, and fight everyday issues. It’s simple, actually. No shiny costume—that anyone can see, anyway—required.
Calling all desk jobbers: A throbbing noggin is often related to cranky fascia in your neck. Here’s why: When your head and shoulders shift forward instead of staying aligned with your spine, the muscles (and the fascia around them) at the base of your head tighten, while the ones that control your shoulders grow weak. The combo in this sensitive area leads to tension headaches.
Prevent it: Do three sets of 12 seated rows with weights three times a week to open your chest and strengthen scapular muscles. Alignment is everything!
2. Limited Movement
After surgery or a severe injury, your body forms collagen-based scar tissue that can replace healthy fascia. Why that’s a problem: Normal tissue fibres have a parallel orientation that makes them flexible. But scar tissue develops in a crisscross, haphazard way, which limits your muscles’ ability to lengthen and contract. And as it thickens, it can leave hard-to-loosen adhesions in the fascia that further curb your range of motion.
Prevent it: Once the damaged area has healed, begin gentle massage techniques, like gliding the skin forward and back, then side to side, for several minutes a few times a day. If you’re nervous about messing with your wound, visit a physical therapist, who can teach you easy methods
3. Sticky Joints
Creaky knee at the gym? Inflexible ankle in yoga? Tightness in your muscles and surrounding fascia can cause your joints to stiffen. When that happens, your body begins to move in ways that can create long-term issues. A prime example: Tight calves reduce your toes’ ability to flex toward your shin, changing your gait.
Prevent it: Foam-roll or stretch any tense area right after each workout, as your muscles respond best when warm. Try three 30-second standing calf stretches (legs straight, heels down) daily—it’s a pesky area.
4. Back Pain
Where your thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) spine meet can be its own spider web of chaos, because muscles supporting your top half and your bottom half intersect there. This means restricted fascia anywhere—especially in your hamstrings or quads—can pull on the fascia here, inviting soreness. Ever heard of your psoas? It’s a muscle in your hip flexors (the guys that allow you to lift your knee) that PTs love to talk about, since it’s vital for core strength. When your psoas is tight (again, blame sitting), expect lumbar pain.
Prevent it: Because it’s located so deep in your pelvic region, releasing the psoas is tricky for most people. Stretching your hip flexors can do the trick (try pigeon pose), but also foam-roll your hamstrings at least twice a week to keep your posterior chain in check.
5. Unhappy Feet
Plantar fasciitis, or heel pain due to inflamed fascia in the sole of your foot, strikes 2 million people each year, especially runners. The condition can usually be traced to tightness around the calves, though flat feet (from weak leg muscles) may play a part. While the pain itself can be debilitating, it presents a much bigger problem: Because our bodies are one kinetic chain, problems at the bottom can spark imbalances farther up when other muscles compensate. The result? Limping, less agility, or often, injury.
Prevent it: Roll your feet over a lacrosse ball, for a minute each, ideally every day. Super active? Foam-roll your calves for up to five minutes each—that kinetic chain works in reverse too.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com