Fascia provides support and stability to your body, yet it also needs to be supple enough to allow for unrestricted motion. Think of fascia as a shock absorber that is necessary to protect your muscles, blood vessels, bones, nerves, and organs, including your brain.
How does the fascial system work?
The fascial system acts much like saran wrap does when it holds a sandwich together. For example, fascia wraps around individual muscle bundles within muscles separating them from neighboring bundles, yet binding them together into a larger muscle unit. It connects to all other connective tissue in the body, including tendons and ligaments. If you have cut up a chicken (or another animal), you have seen fascia. It is that shiny silvery-white coating on the meat (muscles).
Fasciae (plural) are super thin, yet very tough units of collagen-based connective tissue that literally connect the nervous system with the muscular system with the circulatory system! In healthy fascia, the collagen fibers line up parallel to each other and allow for smooth, elastic movement, yet at the same time it can withstand a great amount of tensile force.
This is “healthy” fascia! Every time that your muscle fibers contract, there is a tensile force acting on the muscles and joints. In fact, it is said to have a tensile strength of more than 2000 pounds! Your fascia plays a huge role in protecting those muscles and joints.
Unhealthy fascia becomes bound together and does not allow for smooth movement.
What causes unhealthy fascia?
Life causes unhealthy fascia! Surgeries, injuries, postural deficiencies, poor nutrition, surgery, stress, repetitive motions, illness, etc. all can cause micro tears in fascial fibers (just like micro tears in muscle fibers) and adhesions get laid down between fascial layers. It is these adhesions which act like a sticky glue and restrict movement and elasticity in fascia vs. allowing the muscles fibers, for example, to glide easily with one another.
According to Sue Hintzman, in her book “The MELT Method”, connective tissue also becomes dehydrated from all of these same stressors. Fascia makes up the fluid environment around each and every cell in your body, according to Sue. “The connective tissue fluid permits the transportation of oxygen, nutrients, and waste from cell to cell. It is also the environment in which most of your sensory nerves live and work”. Fascinating, isn’t it?
The MELT Method
Normally very elastic and flexible, fascia that is restricted can cause all kinds of problems. According to Sue, the dehydration of your connective tissue often becomes systemic throughout the entire body with a variety of results, including sleep issues, concentration problems, digestive issues, increased fat storage, bone and muscle loss, and even sugar cravings.
If you think of your fascial system as a framework that allows for smooth, fluid movement, yet supports the entire body, it is really a very powerful system.
How do I “unstick” my fascia?
Since your fascia is so all-encompassing, it is likely that your fascial system is restricted and “stuck” in places. The main methods of treating the fascial system are through myofascial release. Myofascial release methods, such as Sue Hintzman’s MELT method, other foam roller techniques, and massage therapy are all effective. How do you know if you need to do one of these? If your body feels stiff, achy, tight, in pain, restricted in motion….you need this. Other symptoms might include headaches, sciatica, muscle spasms, tingling and numbness.
What is myofascial release? “Myo” refers to muscle and “fascial” to the connective tissue. It is a manual therapy technique that focuses manual pressure on the areas that feel “stuck” or restricted. By focusing on these areas, sometimes referred to as “trigger points”, circulation is restored and the fascia is loosened and glides smoothly again. A trigger point feels like a big knot in your muscle and often causes radiating pain from that point.
A common place for this is the upper trapezius muscles on the upper back. This is where a lot of us hold our stress. It is also common in people who sit at their computer all day long.
The goal of myofascial release is to eliminate the restrictions on the connective tissue so that it glides smoothly and still remains supple and strong.
Sue Hintzman developed the MELT Method, which uses small balls and soft foam rollers to strategically rehydrate the fascial system in the body as well as restore the balance of the nervous system. Her system is taught in workshops by MELT practitioners and is also described thoroughly in her book, “The MELT Method”. Watch this short video, if you are curious.
In MELT, Sue’s methods rehydrate the connective tissue in simple techniques that you can do yourself at home with a foam roller and a small soft ball.
Personal trainers and coaches often times have their clients roll on a foam roller at the beginning and/or end of a workout. By rolling on the roller, applying pressure to the calves, for example, they are basically softening the connective tissue and muscles so that the muscles and tendons can be supple and subsequently strengthen properly during a workout. Some of the techniques are to roll out the entire length of the muscle versus focus on a specific trigger point.
A foam roller ought to be a common household fixture these days. They come in different sizes, colors, and densities. There are many uses for foam rollers besides myofascial release. They are also used for stretching on and some great core workouts.
Black High Density Foam Rollers – Ex…
Trigger Point Performance The Grid R…
Black High Density Foam Rollers – Ex…
Finally, massage therapy that focuses on the connective tissue versus simple relaxation, is hugely beneficial. If you can afford regular connective tissue therapy, that is fantastic, but if you cannot, then at least invest in a foam roller and/or the MELT Method.
The Bottom Line
Your body relies on your fascial system, an intricate web of connective tissue, for support, proper movement and posture, and balance between your central nervous system and muscular system. Take care of your connective tissue! Keep it hydrated by drinking plenty of water and performing these easy techniques such as MELT or foam rolling, or getting regular massage.
Take inventory of your body right now. Do you feel stuck in your movement, have a sore neck or back, feel stiff? Perhaps you have been ignoring the obvious…..the fascial system.
Did you know the importance of fascia? Have you ever felt stiff or sore? What have you done to deal with that? Please if you find this post useful, share it in FB, G+, Twitter, Pin it, with your friends.
By Sue Bream yoursimplehealthylife.com
Meme´s photo copyright: yannikap / 123RF Stock Photo (Meme was made by yoursimplehealthylife.com)