Have you ever had pain or discomfort you couldn’t identify, or lingering tightness and tension that you just couldn’t shake? Have you ever wondered why techniques like foam rolling can “hurt so good,” or why a massage can trigger an intense emotional reaction? The answer lies in understanding fascia – the thin sheath of fibrous connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, artery, and organ in the body.
Fascia (which means “band” in Latin) is one continuous fibrous tissue structure that runs from head to toe. Made mostly of collagen, healthy fascia is both flexible and tough. It supports and surrounds not only the musculoskeletal system, but all internal organs as well, including the heart, lungs, brain, and spinal cord.
Some experts compare fascia to the yarn that makes up a sweater or describe it as the white fibrous layer beneath an orange peel. But these analogies are limited since they don’t quite capture the role that fascia plays in the support and function of a healthy body.
Fascia helps the body maintain structural integrity. It is a shock absorber for bodily impact and is responsible for laying down new scar tissue when the body is injured or infected. It provides the pathway for cells to communicate and separates the muscles so they can work independently of each other. After an injury, fascia aids in creating an environment for tissue repair.
The interconnected nature of fascia helps explain how secondary aches and pains may arise after you’ve been hurt: If your fascia needs to accommodate pain or injury in one area, it can stiffen up as a protective mechanism, causing a chain reaction into other areas. Or, if an injury prolongs, despite your proactive efforts, you are very likely not taking enough time to tending to your fascia.
The good news? Fascia has amazing self-healing properties. The tightness, aches, and pains that are hallmarks of damaged fascia are also highly reversible. So, how might we as wellness-seekers heal these connections and tend to our fascia? Below are a few useful and “fascia-nating” suggestions.
How to Take Care of Your Fascia
1.) Practice Letting Go of Emotional “Issues in the Tissues”
Emotional strain and stress can build up in the physical body, including the connective tissue. As a result, fascia can become thick, tight, and irritated.
A good book on this subject is The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality, by R. Louis Shultz and Rosemary Feitis. As the authors describe,
“Emotions travel through the fascial web... Fascia may become stiffer and less compliant when a client is depressed, anxious and fearful.”
It is then no secret that we can promote fascial release by releasing our emotional burdens.
Call to Action: Cultivate a Stress Management Practice
Practice techniques that bring your mind and body into balance, and over time, you may experience less physical tension. Fostering a stress management strategy that works for you promotes the health of your connective tissue and your health overall. Skyterra’s recommendations:
- Meditation and/or breathwork. Even just five minutes a day is enough to feel a difference.
- Get a daily dose of nature. Nature is linked to mental and emotional wellbeing. Aim to spend at least ten minutes outdoors per day.
- Get plenty of sleep. A lack of sleep compounds the effects of stress. Get 7-9 consecutive hours per night.
2) Hydration & Therapy
Foam Rolling – An example of myofascial work you can do at home
Think of fascia as a sponge. When it’s well hydrated, you can twist it, wring it, ball it up – it’s difficult to break, and it will return to its original shape. When it’s dried out, it becomes brittle, inflexible, and more easily damaged.
You already know that staying hydrated is essential for overall health, and its effect on fascia is just another reason why. Hydrated fascia can skate and slide, but when it’s dry, the connective tissue can glue together, becoming stuck, brittle, and hard.
If your fascia is already in a dry, rigid state, you’ll need more than hydration alone to restore it and minimize the risk of future injury. In addition to plenty of water, you’ll need to engage in myofascial work – that is, mobility and soft tissue work performed specifically to loosen up connective tissue.
Call to Action: Water & Myofascial Therapy
- How much to drink? Half your body weight in ounces. Divide your body weight (in pounds) by two. That’s the minimum number of ounces of water you should drink daily. For example, a 200-lb person should drink at least 100 ounces of water per day.
- Myofascial work. We recommend ten minutes daily. This could mean self-message routines with yoga tune-up balls, foam rollers, or similar apparatuses, or you could opt for professional treatments from a yoga therapist, massage or bodywork therapist.
3.) Stretch & Relax
The type of myofascial techniques described above use targeted external pressure to loosen tight areas. But it’s also important to also work on loosening the body from within, which helps train your fascia to relax more naturally.
Remember, fascia is a resilient structure. Once it tightens up, it does not want to let go! Research states that fascia can withstand 2,000 lbs of pressure per square inch. Therefore, it is important to stretch slowly, gently, and with purpose.
Have you ever noticed yourself gripping or holding onto tension when stretching? That’s exactly the feeling you want to avoid. Instead, take your time and honor the breath. The longer you hold, and the more you relax, the more you can soften and deepen into that particular stretch. This “slow stretch” paradigm is a boost to your fascia, flexibility, and overall stress response.
Call to Action: Restorative or Yin Yoga Practice
Take up a restorative or yin yoga practice to ensure gentle stretches with longer holds. Skyterra recommends incorporating therapeutic yoga and/or restorative yoga into your active lifestyle regimen at least 1-2 times per week.