What is Fascia?
Fascia is a connective tissue that weaves itself throughout the entire body like a fine fabric. Its seamless arrangement is amazing at providing continuity and preserving the unique architecture of the human body. However, its interconnected nature also illustrates why a disruption to its integrity can lead to pain and dysfunction down its entire length as well to neighbouring tissues.
Fascia primarily exists to maintain anatomical structure and organization. It serves as an anchor and offers support to soft tissues such as skin, muscle, and viscera. It’s made up mostly of collagen, a protein that gives fascia its strength and its ability to resist tensile forces, and to a lesser degree of elastin, a protein that gives an elastic quality that allows fascia to stretch and recoil, so that movement can occur. Fascia is also home to a variety of receptors, which include pain receptors (nociceptors) and other sensory receptors responsible for touch, temperature, pressure, and proprioception.
Taut fascia can affect our ability to move freely. Have you ever squeezed yourself into a pair of jeans that were just a little too tight? You may have been reluctant to bend over or move in the same way you would if you were wearing well-fitted yoga pants. This is a perfect analogy for how fascia affects the body’s mobility when it has become restricted. Thank goodness, tight jeans come off, but fascia needs to be unwound, unglued, and stretched to liberate its movement.
Fascia can also cause the body pain when it becomes damaged, or inflamed as a result of trauma locally and to the structures it supports. For instance, when the body sustains an injury such as an ankle sprain, the torn ligaments are the primary source of pain. However, they are not the only tissue affected. Because of fascia’s continuous character, fascial trauma must be assessed and treated as part of recovery. Since proprioceptive exercise is a vital component of injury rehabilitation, fascial massage and/or other therapeutic fascial treatment is highly recommended for comprehensive healing.
Foam rollers are also a great tool to liberate fascia. Foam rollers have been used by competitive athletes for a number of years since their arrival on the therapeutic exercise market in 2005. The benefits of foam rolling have since become better known by non-athletes and are now commonly incorporated into self care and remedial exercise regimes to free up fascia, break down adhesions, and increase circulation to aching muscles.Foam rollers can be used in numerous ways, and your RMT may have suggestions beyond the obvious; some fascial release practitioners have also adapted work with soft balls and slow movement to pin and stretch fascia.
Yin Yoga practice, a style that emphasizes slow, maintained stretch, can also be helpful, as it targets the connective tissues and joints of the body with dynamic poses that are sustained for a longer duration than yang style (more quickly moving) yoga. This leads to elongation of the fascia and allows for the body to achieve a more open posture, as joints become less restricted, allowing our bones to line up properly.
This pose encourages lengthening of the fascia throughout the hips and thighs, and allows for opening of the rib cage, chest and shoulders – an ideal stretch for anyone suffering from the aches and pains of a desk job.
Massage therapy is also an effective fascial treatment. Your RMT will asses how your fascia is restricting your movement, affecting your posture, or causing you discomfort, and seek to provide relief, mobility and optimal tissue health with hands-on techniques.
Fascial techniques are applied without the use of oil or lotion. This is because fascia responds to shearing forces – forces that stretch and separate the fascia from the tissues it is restricting. Fascia can be mobilized in multiple directions to increase its extensibility. Fibrous adhesions developing within fascia as a result of an injury can be treated more specifically with frictioning techniques, which work to break down and realign the collagen fibers to promote optimal healing.
Since fascia is a sensitive tissue, manipulation can be uncomfortable. Your RMT is aware of this and will communicate and work within your tolerance, ensuring your comfort is considered above all. If you are interested in fascial treatment in any of its forms, ask your RMT what is available at Body Poets.