In the world of fitness, it’s not uncommon to hear talk of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. But you might be wondering – what is fascia?
It’s interesting that we don’t hear more about fascia given the important role it plays in the body.
As such, it’s something we should be focusing on in all forms of movement especially as we age.
So… What Is Fascia?
Okay. We were getting there.
At one time, folks believed that fascia was connective tissue under the skin that covered organs, bones, and muscles. But it’s so much more than that.
Some tendons, ligaments, and other structures of the body are made up of fascia. And there are those who believe that fascia connects every part of the body. With this understanding, it’s clear that fascia plays a critical role in an active body.
Fascia not only supports tissues and organs, eases muscle tension, and lessens friction, but it also assists your bone tissue, skeletal muscles, and bloodstream.
Healthy connective tissue is slippery and smooth. It expands with you when you move. Unfortunately, over time, fascia can get thicker, drier, and stickier. As it becomes less expansive, it can negatively affect the body’s other functions. And the result is often pain.
Layers of Fascia
Fascia is multi-layered. Each layer has nerves that make your fascia sensitive to feeling. The four layers are as follows:
The superficial layer is directly under your skin. It’s thickest toward the center of the body, then gets thinner as it moves toward the extremities. Superficial fascia can also include muscle fibers tin other parts of the body.
Covering the bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels is the deep fascia. Aponeurotic deep fascia is thicker and separates more easily from muscles. By contrast, epimysial deep fascia has a thinner but tighter connection with the muscles.
The organs that settle into the body’s open spaces (these include the heart, lungs, and stomach) are surrounded by the visceral fascia layer.
All body cavities, such as the pelvis, for example, are lined with parietal fascia.
Between all of the above layers is the substance hyaluronan which helps the layers work effectively with one another. But age, an inactive lifestyle, repetitive motion, injury, or surgery can cause the hyaluronan to dry up. This causes the connective tissue to tighten around muscles and make it harder to move.
Improving Fascial Health
Once fascia gets tight and restrictive, there are ways to return it to a healthier state. Doing simple things like stretching for ten minutes each day and staying hydrated are great places to start. But know that releasing fascia takes continued commitment and effort. And the process can be slow, so you’ll need to practice patience.
Fortunately, there are additional therapeutic approaches that can benefit fascia – as well as other parts of your body.
If you cringe at the thought of foam rolling, you’re not alone. It can be painful. But it’s that “good” sort of pain. And it helps you to pinpoint where the fascia is tight and holding tension in your body.
All you need to do is get onto the roller and as soon as you hit a trigger point, continue to press into and roll on that spot for 30 to 60 seconds until the pain dissipates. This isn’t an instant fix, however. But by continuing to do this over time, connective tissue health will be restored.
Some Heat… and Cold
If you love a good sweat, then you may already be a fan of the sauna. You’ve likely noticed how a good sweat can delay the onset of muscle soreness and improve exercise recovery. But researchers have found that infrared saunas may even get as deep as the neuromuscular system.
Then again, if heat isn’t really your thing, there’s plenty of research that points to the benefits of cold therapy after working out. Using an ice pack wrapped in a thin cloth can reduce inflammation to lessen swelling and pain – all of which are good for fascia.
Practicing yoga is one of the best ways to improve fascial health. Particularly when yoga is done with an emphasis on long stretches with little or no muscular engagement.
When the body is put into a static stretch, the muscles will initially engage to protect the connective tissue. That’s part of their job. But by staying in a stretch for a long time and focusing on releasing muscular engagement, the “stretch” then moves to the fascia.
Again, this isn’t a “one and done” deal. But engaging in even just two or three yoga practices per week can improve fascial health. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of less stress and anxiety!
Is Fascial Pain Troubling You?
Now that you know the answer to the question of what is fascia, you are aware of just how important it is to keep it healthy.
Yoga is one of the most effective ways to keep the connective tissues supple and performing at their optimal health.
Think you don’t have time? Contact us. We can bring yoga right to your place of work – either virtually or in person – so you can make it a part of your regular day. You’ll be glad you did.