Fascia is truly fascinating! It's the mass of connective tissue that surrounds body parts from organs to muscles to blood vessels. We should care about our fascia as it allows for smooth, easy movement. When fascia is healthy it’s flexible, supple, and it glides. If it becomes tight or dehydrated it constricts movement and can cause pain. Often we assume that our pain is caused by an injured muscle but the fascia is often the main cause of pain.
As a massage therapist I am particularly interested in fascia as it is this tissue, rather than the individual muscles that I most often work with in massage. Fascia can be a 'fluid' tissue and this gives me more ability to manipulate and improve the flow.
Let's say your shoulder is hurting when you reach your arm up. What causes this?
Is it the deltoid muscle? the bicep? the latissimus dorsi? Any one of the muscles that come into play when making this action?
It's a trick question really as it could be any or all of these muscles but it is likely to also to be pain from the surrounding fascia. There is really no point in just massaging one particular muscle, even if that muscle is obviously tight and holding adhesions. Yes, that will be causing you problems but it is never the full story.
A painful shoulder can be eased with massage to the immediate area, to the arm, the opposite arm, the upper and lower back, even the glutes and thighs - the root of the pain could even be coming all the way from the feet. The body is a complex mechanism.
A bad sprain in an ankle can eventually present as shoulder or neck pain as the tension flows through the fascia. This flow from cause to effect is through the fascia. Fascia is everywhere, it connects our body to itself.
How to Help Your Fascia
Some of the ways that you can help to keep your fascia healthy are:
Drink plenty of water! (yay, my favourite advice) - fascia is a viscose substance and can get dehydrated if your body overall is dehydrated. Imagine a jelly like substance that dries up, it becomes brittle and stops flowing easily.
Daily Walking. Self explanatory and easy to say but not always easy to do! It doesn't have to be a long walk, if time is tight just walking around the block is ok. The main thing is to get outside and get walking. If it's a 10k hike up a hill or a 10 minute wander to the local shop it still counts. Great for your body and your soul. Your fascia gets a gentle stretch from the movement and is refreshed by the increase in your circulation - win win!
Stretch. Being active will definitely help your overall health and the health of your fascia. There are specific exercises that you can do to improve your fascia. The only course that I have tried and can recommend is this one from Daily Om (this is a paid course). However practising any regular movement would help your fascia. I strongly recommend getting a daily movement practice no matter what. This doesn't have to be anything strenuous - in fact it should be gentle! Experiment with practices like yoga, pilates, Qi Gong or anything that resonates with you and moves and stretches your body. If you're unsure where to start I would recommend trying a short yoga practice like this one:
Some Really Good Resources on Fascia
If you are interested in fascia and would like to know some more the following videos are a really good start.
This is a really good introductory explanation of fascia and tensegrity from Anthony Davis.
Thomas Myers teaches bodyworkers and speaks a lot about fascia. Here he is talking about fascia.
If you would like to see fascia in action here is a fascinating documentary called 'Strolling Under the Skin'.