By Ann Constantino,
Around the exercise and movement world, connective tissue known as fascia was once scraped aside as unimportant by anatomists studying the more self-explanatory tissues such as muscle and bone. These days fascia is being understood as a vital class of tissue affecting many of our systems and overall well-being.
It has long been known that fascia has various structural functions. The superficial layers below the skin enable the skin to slide smoothly over the muscle tissue underneath. The deep layers encase and surround muscle and sections of muscle, bone, and blood vessels, providing a slippery smooth gliding interface between those structures and facilitating movement. The deep visceral layers of fascia protect and encase the organs. Also defined as fascia, the extra-cellular fluid matrix facilitates the exchange of nutrients and waste with our 37 trillion life-essential cells.
Fascia envelops and pervades every structure of the body in an endless web of highly sensitive tissue that is layered in patterns appropriate to the function served by the structure it supports.
Recent research is showing that fascia is part of the nervous system and as such it is being studied as a characteristic of wellness
Recent research is showing that fascia is part of the nervous system and as such it is being studied more and more as a characteristic of wellness. Fascia has up to 6 times the sensory receptors of other structures in the body and can transmit information in an instant throughout the body.
When fascia is damaged or the body is inert for long periods, the fascial layers can bind and distort, causing pain and stiffness. That morning stretch you take is usually enough to enliven and lubricate the fascia that during sleep has become bound. Autopsies of sedentary people reveal stuck layers that have become painful to overcome, sadly often leading to more binding and greater inertia.
It may be that a lot of common back pain is caused by the fascia of the low-back, also known as the aponeurosis, a thick protective wedge of fascia in the low back that functionally serves as support for our upright stance, not unlike the back braces worn by workers who heft heavy loads around all day.
Research into fascia is making new discoveries all the time. After 400 years of the study of anatomy being about dissecting, separating, differentiating and categorizing, fascia scoffs at all this and instead knits the body into a cohesive whole, a “tensegrity” structure held together by this all-pervasive net of tissue that literally holds us together.
In this view, from your hardest structures to your softest structures the human form relies upon integrity through tension riding a constant wave of mutual support and healthy stress. When a part of this system is damaged the whole will suffer in some way, which is why sometimes when you have a pain in your hip, it is related to or even caused by a seemingly unrelated injury in your foot.
Healing modalities such as Rolfing, developed by bio-chemist Ida Rolf in the 1950’s use gentle manipulation of fascia to relieve pain. Bound fascia can result in inflammation as well as pain. Modern research has led to the development of a device that creates pulsing waves of movement in the tissue acting like a reset button to restore freedom of movement.
Move and stretch every day to keep your fascia fit and healthy
How do you keep your fascia fit and healthy? Move and stretch every day. Unless you are dealing with an acute injury that demands stillness (and even that is being debated these days), or you have a severe structural condition that causes pain in movement, move your body every day! Especially after sleeping or sedentary periods, take your joints through thorough ranges of motion: reach, stretch, bend, and extend your limbs and trunk. You’ll likely feel a pleasant loosening, even a fluidity restoring your watery form. Dance, climb a tree, roll around on the floor with fascial masters such as puppies and children. Feel your body as an integrated whole and enjoy your fascia-natin’ rhythm.
Ann Constantino, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.