Fascia (pronounced fah-sha) is a vital, but poorly understood, component within our body.
Your fascia is a continuous piece of connective tissue that forms around all of your internal body parts and fuses them together. It is made of dense, thick, and strong fibers that function as secondary nervous, sensory, and support systems to enable movement. Healthy fascia is flexible and easily glides across muscles, organs, nerves, and other structures within the body.
Unfortunately, fascia can be negatively affected by injury, overuse, poor habits, inflammation, nutrition, pain, and stress. Some experts believe that tightness, inflammation, or injury to the fascia plays a large role in chronic pain.
Interestingly, fascia also acts as a messenger system between body parts, especially when it comes to movement. Because of this, fascia can be the culprit behind certain types of pain patterns that refer pain elsewhere in the body. One example of referred pain is a phenomenon known as “tension headaches” that can occur when tension, tightness, and poor postural habits in the upper shoulders, jaw, and neck refer sensations of pain to the head.
Fascia can affect your health in many ways, so it is crucial that you learn how to take care of it. Continue reading to learn our five recommendations on how to take care of your fascia for pain-free movement.
The consistency of fascia has a gel-like quality and, like most bodily systems, relies upon water to maintain its flexible characteristics. Many experts recommend a daily water intake that is equal to half of your body weight in ounces.
2. Stress management
While not fully understood, there is a wide belief that some individuals have the tendency to physically manifest components of their stress, anxiety, and emotions. If you have ever experienced nausea or that “butterfly” feeling when you are anxious, nervous, or upset, then this may apply to you.
Part of this theory lies in the understanding of the nervous system and how it perceives stress. Any type of stimulus that threatens your calm, resting state (also known as homeostasis) triggers a response in the nervous system that is programmed to “turn on” essential bodily functions that help you to avoid danger. This rapid response is referred to as a “fight or flight” mechanism and is part of the sympathetic nervous system. Chronic stressors that continuously activate the sympathetic nervous system will trigger a cascade of events that will ultimately affect your digestion, cardiovascular system, and emotional state of being.
It’s important to remember that fascia is the connection between all body parts; therefore, any change to your resting state can theoretically affect multiple areas within your body. Stress management techniques are an important component in mastering the mind-and-body connection in order to minimize the “fight or flight” mechanism.
Interested in learning how to lower stress? Check out The Best Kinds of Exercise for Lowering Stress - Stress-Relieving Workouts.
The theory behind the benefits of stretching is simple - it allows you to maintain flexibility and elasticity of the fascia.
Immobility can affect the length of your muscles and fascia, which is commonly referred to as adaptive shortening/lengthening. Over time, adaptive shortening and lengthening can lead to the formation of fascial adhesions that will impair movement patterns and cause pain. Avoid this by performing a daily stretching routine for 5-10 minutes each morning. At a minimum, practicing a few vinyasas and sun salutations can help achieve this goal (or we have dozens of stretching routines you could incorporate).
4. Foam rolling
Experts are still learning about the mechanics of foam rolling and its exact relationship to body function, muscle performance, and pain. One thing is certain - foam rolling can help pinpoint local areas of adhesion and restriction in your fascia.
A caveat to foam rolling is the amount of discomfort and pain that you may encounter. While foam rolling over any area of soft tissue restriction is not necessarily enjoyable, it should never bring tears of pain. Roll over the area for 30-60 seconds before continuing to another region of the body. Over time, repeated efforts will lessen your feelings of discomfort and improve the health of the fascia.
5. Recovery from intense workouts
Recovery is necessary in order for your muscles to replenish nutrients, avoid injury or overuse, and grow. Inadequate amounts of rest can lead to weakened or overly-fatigued muscles, thereby transmitting excessive force onto the fascia and other structures that were not meant to carry weight. Consequently, this results in compensatory movement that can cause discomfort, pain, or injury.
Physical activity guidelines recommend 48 hours of rest between workouts that address the same muscle groups. For those engaging in moderate to intense cardio sessions, it is recommended that you rest after every 3-5 days.
Interested in learning more ways to take care of your fascia? Try this 30-minute foam rolling workout for the lower body. It is perfect for active rest days, post-workout leg day, or as a standalone low-intensity stretching program. Let us know how you did!
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Written for Fitness Blender by Kayla Covert, PT, DPT
Board-Certified Neurological Clinical Specialist