Your Body’s Fascial System
The bodies soft connective tissue (fascia) is an unspeakably precious gift that you received before your birth. Like most of life’s most basic blessings we tend to take our fascia completely for granted while we are in a state of optimum health. In fact we have taken fascia for granted as a culture for a long time – overlooking it in favour of caring more substantial physical structures like muscles and joints.
Occasionally I find myself able to dial up a full appreciation of how great air is when I am walking or on my bike, mostly though I can only feel that appreciation after I have been temporarily deprived air. In the same vein most of us are blissfully unaware of how fantastic our fascia is until it reminds us with pain. Although for many of us it is an unconscious appreciation – we wish to be out of pain – without realising that what we are really wishing for is healthy connective tissue.
The full role and anatomy of your fascia and connective tissue has yet to be even superficially navigated by modern science.
We know that fascia creates structural and functional synergy between the muscles and bones of the body. We also know that fascia probably plays more of a role in organ health than you might think. A modern understanding of the fascial system has it pegged as an organ system in its own right.
In the same way we have realised that our skin is a giant organ – so too surely is the fascia?
As a collective we have a long history of overlooking some big stuff due to the limitations of our 5 senses. We once thought the universe was full of solid, dense stuff called matter because that’s how it seems to our senses, now we know that ‘stuff’ is 99.9999% space.That’s a pretty big misunderstanding if you think about it. Fascia is not dissimilar, as we have explored the inside of the human body we totally ignored the significance of all the white fibrous stuff in between the organs and muscles, because the big lumps of tissue are the main event.
The ‘realness’ about fascia is that it holds together your organ function, physical comfort, physical freedom and ability to move.
You could read the content of an article like this and think it’s pretty dry and in some ways it is. But you might be overlooking some of the important stuff slightly hidden from sight. The ‘important stuff’ is everything that you associate with a happy, normal, active life.
Getting out of bed and making a cup of coffee, playing a round of golf, playing with a child, going on the holiday of a lifetime, all of it dependents on connective tissue – connective tissue that creates synergy, comfort and ease of movement in our bodies… there’s nothing dry about that!!!
Even though we don’t talk about fascia much, many of us know only too well the names of many fascial structures in the body. The iliotibial band for example is a famous fascial structure – for all the wrong reasons. A huge number of active people suffer with iliotibial band syndromes.
Caring For Your Fascial System
The best way you can deal to problems with your fascial tissue is preventatively – by exploring and pursuing healthy, varied, natural movement as you live your life. Pursuing healthy normal forms of movement can include a broad range of processes and approaches.
Breathing exercises – when done consistently and correctly stretch and nourish the parts of the fascia that create synergy between your respiratory muscles and organs. Your diaphragm does not only breathe, it massages your digestive organs and supports their ability to secrete. The subtle stressy patterns that so many of us hold in our respiratory muscles can seriously effect the function of our fascia.
Yoga & stretching done in the right ways (like yin yoga), stretches and opens the fascia in ways that promote fascial health and wellbeing. Our lifestyles are the biggest enemy of our precious fascia. The repetitive nature of being hunched over a desk is a classic way to create fascial contractions at the front of the body for example. The way we hold stress in our bodies dictates fascial dysfunction and pain in a big way also. Yoga is a superb way to open up some of these contractions that we develop over time.
Correcting posture is one of the greatest gifts you could give back to your amazing fascia. If you can picture the way a classic office worker with poor posture changes shape over time you can picture what happens to their fascia. If you sit a certain way – for a X no. of decades – your body adapts to that position and a major part of how it does so is through fascial contractions.
If we sit hunched for long enough we change shape – because the dimensions of our fascia alter, and both our insides and our golf game suffer. By working quietly on postural correction over time we can prevent the unwanted facial contractures that get us all hunched up.
Treatments are totally unavoidable for many fascia related issues. This really for when preventative measures fail – as they often do in urban dwelling humans. Plantar fasciitis is a classic example of a condition where the body’s fascia has got itself into such a pickle that pretty much only treatment will resolve it.
Using fascial release techniques executed by a practitioner who knows what they are doing releases deep scar-like adhesions from deep within the plantar fascia. In addition to plantar fasciitis stubborn cases of knee pain, hip pain and back pain and even headaches may require hands on fascial release work. Many people find very rapid pain relief and improvements in joint function are possible once their fascia has been released.. even after long periods of pain and stiffness.
In many ways concrete is to the fascia, joints and soft tissues of your lower limb what sugar is to your teeth. Concrete and paving stones are weird unnatural man made stuff that the body struggles to cope with long term. The constant stress of these hard flat surfaces on our feet, spine and legs is a major cause of unwanted changes in our fascia as the body tightens up defensively against the onslaught (I am not exaggerating honest… just look at the stats for knee back and hip arthritis in our society).
The legacy of all this strain on the joints and fascia often comes in the form of back pain, hip pain, IT band pain, knee pain, knee injuries, shin splints, ankle pain, ankle sprains, foot pain, plantar fasciitis and osteoarthritis. One majorly important and seriously easy way to reduce strain in our fascia is to wear insoles or custom orthotics in our shoes. Custom orthotics are a very straight forward way of supporting the lower limbs and providing some protection from concrete.
Strength Training is essential for the fascia and its ability to stay healthy. Chances are you already understand that muscle tissue has a range of needs when it comes to it staying in good condition. Muscles need rest, they need to exert themselves in different ways and they need to stretch out too. All of this wisdom also applies to fascial tissue!!
Going back to the earlier part of this post, it is very tempting to think that when we do gym type resistance training that we are just working muscle.. because they occupy so much volume and space. The truth is that when we do resistance training like lifting weights and performing body weight exercises we support, nourish, enhance and ultimately protect our tendons and fascia every bit as much as we do the muscle tissue itself.
The lack of maintenance type love we tend to not give to our bodies connective tissues is more of a question of education and conditioning more than it is anything else. The reason you most likely get up every single morning and brush your teeth without even thinking about it is that you have been brain washed to do so. From this perspective the reciprocal reason that you probably don’t do the same for your fascia by stretching every morning is that you havn’t been similarly educated as to it’s importance (salute to those of you who do – keep it up and I will strive to do the same ).
The price we pay for failing to gently and persistently tend to the wellbeing of our soft tissues is paid in pain – plantar fasciitis, foot pain, ankle sprains, ankle pain, shin splints, knee pain, knee bursitis, IT band syndromes, hip pain, hip bursitis, migraine headaches and lower back pain.
My recommendation for you is the same as the coaching I frequently offer myself .. don’t wait for stiffness, pain and discomfort to take hold of your tissues .. fight to preserve and maintain every single day !!!!!