“What is fascia?” you may ask; fascia is connective tissue that runs through our entire body. From head to toe, fascia penetrates all bones, muscles, nerves, arteries, and veins, and supports all internal organs as well as individual muscle groups. A great analogy from Ashley Black, a known fasciology expert, relates fascia to an orange: the outer layer of our skin is like the orange peel, and the white, fibrous layer immediately beneath the peel, is our fascia. “We all have a layer of fascia directly beneath the skin that completely envelops the body, giving another protective barrier between the skin and the deeper soft tissue.”
What is Fascia & What is its Role?
Our fascia plays a very important role in our bodies. From supporting our musculoskeletal system to facilitating the flow of our circulatory system, fascia is a continuous structure that connects all parts of the bodies.
Fascia helps our muscles glide smoothly because our blood, nerves, and muscles are contained within and penetrated by fascia. Additionally, veins and arteries run through the fascia, delivering nutrients throughout our body.
It is important that we keep our fascia healthy so it can remain in its normal, curvy pattern; fascial distortions, inflammation, or trauma to our fascia can cause limited blood flow, flexibility, and issues with range of motion. According to Yoga Journal, poor posture, stress, injury, and dehydration can cause “velcro-like adhesions to form within the fascia, sticking muscles together and restricting their ability to perform their individual functions.” Pain, tightness, and discomfort are often signs of distorted fascia.
Many people have fascial issues because fascia is involved in any movement our body makes. Small imbalances in the body create microtraumas in fascial lines. These microtraumas lead to fibrosis, or small amounts of scar tissue formed within the fascia. Over time, these fascial adhesions between the tissues lead to fascial distortions and tightness.
How to Keep Your Fascia Healthy
Keeping your fascia healthy is important to living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Here are four key ways to keep your fascia healthy and functioning properly:
- Good nutrition: Providing your body the right type of fuel to thrive is important not just for your fascial health, but also for your overall health. Focus on a diet that is rich in whole, natural foods, and avoid processed foods with added sugar.
- Hydration: Fascia needs to move and glide but if your fascia is dried out due to poor hydration, it will not function properly. Drink plenty of water and be sure to eat a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Good posture: Whether you are sitting or standing, maintaining good posture will benefit your fascial health. Have you ever come home from a long day of sitting at your desk to find that your shoulders ache? While stress is a likely culprit, bad posture, leading to fascial distortion ,can also cause pain and inflammation.
- Stretching and exercise: Regular physical activity will help keep the blood flowing and reduce tension in the fascia. Specifically, myofascial release, or simply, fascial release is a way to improve circulation and relax fascial tissue.
As stated by John F. Barnes, PT, “Myofascial release is a safe and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion.”
Fascial release techniques include applying gentle and sustained pressure to points of discomfort, pain, or restriction; light stretching may also be involved in fascial release therapy. If done by a therapist, massage and twisting strokes will be used to apply tension to the soft tissue. These kneading-style strokes are used to stretch, loosen, and soften the fascial tissues. Unlike other forms of massage, fascial massages will focus on areas of tension for two to five minutes at a time in order to have the most effective impact on releasing the area. Self-myofascial release is often done with foam rollers, stretching exercises, and even yoga.
Foam rolling is a very popular form of self-myofascial release. The rollers are usually cylindrical in shape and very in length. Using foam rollers for self massage is a great way to release tension in and breakup tightness around your fascia. Other tools for self-myofascial release include tennis or massage balls. You will often hear advocates of foam/ball rolling say, “it hurts so good!”
According to the American Council on Exercise, popular yoga poses for fascial release and stretching include:
- Downward Dog – the superficial back line (SBL) keeps the body erect when standing and facilitations extension of the hips and spine to flex the knee and ankle. Downward dog helps to lengthen this line.
- Camel Pose – the superficial front line (SFL) runs from the top of the skull to the feet, including both sides of the body. Camel pose works to strengthen and lengthen the SFL.
- Extended Side Angle Pose – the lateral line (LL) travels up each side of the body starting at the foot, moving up the lateral leg and trunk and ending at the skull. The extended side angle pose deeply lengthens and stretches the side of the body.
- Seated Gate Pose – the superficial arm front line (SFAL) starts at the pectoralis major and runs up through the biceps groove and the latissimus dorsi. The seated gate pose provides a deep stretch to this line of fascia.
- Single-leg Revolved Belly Pose – the complex spiral line (SL) connects many parts of the body including the trunk, hips, legs, and spine. The single-leg revolved belly pose provides a deep spinal twist while lengthening the leg.
Our fascia provides a connectivity mechanism for our entire body to function as one unit. Now that we’ve answered “What is fascia?” you can continue your fascial conditioning and stretching practice with coach Dylan Werner on Alo Moves. Check out Elasticity: Fascial Conditioning and Plasticity: Fascial Stretching.