Whether you are in the gym training, seeing your Massage Therapist, seeing your Physiotherapist or “Googling” your symptoms, talk about the fascia seems to be popping up everywhere. That’s right I said “fascia” not “facial”. Although, a facial would be much simpler to explain than what we are about to get into with the fascia. Why has the fascia become such a hot topic in more recent years? What exactly is it and why should it matter to you? Let me begin to explain the fascia and why you should care.
Let’s dive in. Fascia is the body’s connective tissue. It links one system to the next. Think of it as a 3 dimensional web (like spider webs or a cocoon) of connective tissue that weaves its way beneath the skin, wrapping and enclosing muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and internal organs. Picture this web starting at your toes, wrapping around muscles, blood vessels, nerves and bones in the foot. It then continues to do the same throughout the entire leg, hip and up along a path all the way to the top of your head. This connective tissue is so wide spread that for a long time it was ignored. It was too intricate and covered all of the body’s structures and so it was pushed aside in order to examine the more well-known body structures.
Still can’t picture what the fascia is? Check out this video to see it for yourself.
Now that you have an idea of what fascia is, you can see that it is one link between many of the body’s systems. For now, we will focus on the myofascial connection, (myo = muscle, so the muscle and fascia). It’s time to experiment. Try this. Stand up, fold forward and try reach for your toes. I said “try”…don’t go and pull a hammy! What do you feel? Can feel tension all over the back side of your body? Maybe tension all the way from your toes into the base of your neck, up into your head. What creates some of this tension? Well, you guessed it, the fascia. You’ve just felt how one part of the body is connected to the next. Should we consider these connections when training? Could a deadlift or squat be causing your neck pain? If you look at the fascial connections, it very well could be. Often we think only about the muscles when exercising, but you now know the connection between fascia and muscle and what we do with our muscles can have a direct impact on our fascia. We also know our fascia runs deep around blood vessels, bone and organs so our approach to exercise could be impacting our deeper systems. For example, if we are only doing compressive exercises, such as lifting weights, we may be creating too much tension in our fascia which could be restricting mobility of our tissues and blood flow to our muscles and organs (remember the fascia surrounds blood vessels as well). This is not to say that lifting weights is a bad thing. Don’t get that idea :) We strongly believe in getting stronger. BUT…… you also need to work on lengthening and decompressing tissue before, after and even during training (think yoga, flowing mobility, stretching, etc.). This can help combat some of those fascial restriction we create. If we start taking our fascia into consideration when exercising, it allows us to train smarter and use this dynamic tensioning system to our advantage.
Remember this, if we strip away all of the muscles and fascia, our bones would collapse leaving us with pieces, not a system as a whole. We need to train and treat our bodies as a whole system and not piece by piece. Let’s connect the dots by following the fascia.
Food for thought: If the fascia covers more surface area than any other system in the human body, have we been missing a key link into making our bodies healthier, stronger, more mobile, and more powerful? Check back for future editions where we will continue to dive into this hot topic.
By Stacey Carswell, PTA, Fascial Stretch Therapist
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