TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY FASCIA
I have been fascinated by the world of fascia since the first research results were released. Right from the start I realised that we were discovering something about our bodies that was absolutely critical in understanding movement, recovery from surgery, why it was possible for kangaroos to leap and land without shattering their Achilles tendons, how the body could do so many things under so many stresses, the list goes on and on. What I have written here is an effort to share my passion and the topic is so huge that I have barely done justice to it. I hope you will be prompted to do your own research on this amazing thing called “fascia”.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is both a tissue type in the body as well as a system within the body. Classical anatomy is an inventory of bones, muscles, organs, etc separating the parts of the body into related entities, instead of understanding the communication that exists between every cell in the body, because of our fascia.
Our fascial webbing is a loose, jellylike net that begins as a fully connected entity from the top of the body down to our toes and which is with us from the second week of our development, and will be with us until our death.
Fascia is fluid, dynamic, connected, well supplied with nerves. It is collagen based soft tissue encasing muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments bones and joints, nerve fibres. It is a three-dimensional matrix for the human structure, providing support, tension and is highly adaptable. I think of it as a knitted bodysuit that spreads from the skull to the underside of the feet. Fascia has even been called our “soft skeleton” .
There are three layers of fascia, the superficial fascia, being more disorganised, like seaweed floating in water.
If you are interested in the latest research, showing the “Plastination project” in Berlin, where they have only recently been able to show models of fascia, find the free app “Otocast”, key words “fascia Berlin”.
Healthy fascia requires hydration. Fascia should be able to slide within the body. With age we can become more like canvas rather than Gladwrap, so hydration (plus increased mobility/flexibility and regular movement) become essential.
Immobilisation of the body significantly affects the fascia framework. If we are using our body and moving around, fascia should become more supportive and more dense in a functional way. Immobility, bedrest, or sitting in a chair for prolonged periods, especially as we age, increases the viscosity of pressure. It inhibits the shear effect within the tissue and the ability to slide.
Unhealthy fascia, which is sticky, clumpy and tight forms restrictions and adhesions. Myofascial pain syndrome can result and this can manifest widely in the body.
Surgery and/or other damage to fascia will result in healing that will require a new arrangement of the soft tissue to integrate the fascia into a functional matrix again. Every slice made into the fascial network in the body will affect the whole framework. Just as a knitted jersey, if cut with scissors and repaired with inflexible cotton will never be as stretchy and pliable, so will fascia be affected due to the scar tissue repair being far less flexible than the original fascial network.
HEALTHY MANAGEMENT of FASCIA
There are so many ways we can help maximise our fascial health. The following are some suggestions.
- Introducing clinical massage, scar tissue therapy and myofascial release (MFR) work can help maintain our fascial integrity and provide some protection from Repetitive Motion Strain which results from what we are doing day after day. And since fascia is a sensory tissue with many more nerve endings than in the skin, messages are being sent back to the brain from nerves some distance from the part of the body that is actively involved in movement. For instance, if you are using your hands to achieve some task, messages are being relayed back to the brain from nerve endings in your hands, arm, elbow joint, shoulder joint.
- A therapist trained in fascia release has the ability to identify and address where the tissue problem is, the purpose being to benefit the whole body. Therapy does not necessarily make the change immediately but it makes the change possible. To achieve a beneficial effect, the brain and the body need to release the barriers that are affecting total body functionality.
- Become involved in a mobility program, with tailored prescribed exercises or group activities, such as Pilates, Yoga, Stretch classes.
- Develop a stretch program that you can do daily. It can be as little as 10 minutes of effective fascia recruitment.
- Mobilise your fascia by improving your circulation. Fascia loves heat and a sauna may be helpful. Massage will improve both blood circulation as well as lymph flow. Cardiovascular exercise that increases your blood flow rate increases general body fluidity.
- Stay hydrated. The fascia organises the 65% of the body made up of water into cellular levels. Think of the body as being made up of masses of tiny droplets of fluid that need to be organised into an effective framework spreading our fluids throughout the body rather than falling down around our feet. Our fascia is what enables all our water to be spread throughout the body, instead of always pooling at the base of the body. And good hydration ensures easier transfer of fluids.
Understanding the properties of fascia can make us consider our body from a whole new perspective. Instead of focussing on one part of the body as “a problem area” we can experiment with how local changes can produce global results. Our fascia presents as an entire design, one continuous network of tissue, that is adjusting to the mechanical messages coming in from near and far. And that this fascia is plastic and responds to feedback from myofascial massage, stretching, exercise and, importantly, our awareness of what we are doing daily with our bodies.