What the Fascia?
Fascia is fascinating. Fascia is all around us (literally). But what really is fascia? Fascia is a thin sheath of connective tissue which encompasses and connects the whole body in an endless web. It is the interlinking system which provides not only support but also communication between systems in our bodies. Without fascia, our bodies would be a pile of goo.
“Fascia surrounds individual muscle groups, muscle bundles within individual muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. It is the tissue where the musculoskeletal, nervous, and circulatory systems all converge!” Think of it as a 3-D spider web which encompasses and innervates all parts of our body underneath the skin. You may also think of fascia to be synonymous to a sweater. Fascia is the yarn which interlaces and keeps the sweater together as a whole.
Fascia is immensely complex. It allows and facilitates transportation of signals across the body via “mechanical pushing and pulling along fascial grains and ground substance.” (Thomas W. Myers. Anatomy Trains). In a normal state, our fascia is somewhat relaxed and wavy. They are flexible, yet strong and durable. However, when fascia is overly stressed or strained, it becomes stiffened and can form adhesions or “scar tissue.”
As with our sweater analogy, a snag in one area of the sweater can cause pulling in another area, even causing pain contralaterally to the area of pull. These snags or pulls in the fascia can cause imbalances in our body. Things such as poor posture, improper biomechanics, or overly repetitive movements can cause further strain to fascia and inherently the muscles/nerves/organs they encompass or innervate. A stiffened or scarred tissue already sounds uncomfortable, and it sure is! Limited range of motion often also accompanies this pain.
So what does this all mean? Our body acts as one big unit! Areas of pain must be considered through a larger frame. It may not be just a specific muscle group. The pain may come from a combination of stressed areas within the muscle and ambiguous fascia alike! But how do you address the fascia? Fascia responds well to pulling or lengthening. Just normal static and dynamic stretching does wonders, and honestly, it just feels great. Other techniques such as myofascial release can help with the breakdown of scar tissue in the fascia. Both are equally important but care must be consistent and comprehensive!
Some self-applied techniques which provide me relief include self-myofascial release and static stretching. I implement the use of a lacrosse ball to a trigger-point area of pain which helps break down any scar tissue in the fascia and helps release a tightened muscle. Static stretching post self-myofascial release helps lengthen the muscle and fascia. Fascia can be visualized as having a plastic-like structure. Time spent lengthening or resetting it will have lasting effects if done consistently! Symmetry and being pain-free is the goal.
Timothy Garcia is an ACSM-certified personal trainer who works under Elite Strength and Conditioning as well as Tampa Bay Holistic Wellness. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science from the University of South Florida. He works alongside Gaze Hot Yoga teaching a group class called Fascial Dynamics which focuses on mobility and being pain-free. He is currently also studying corrective exercise, focusing on a holistic view of health and wellness.