Tag Archives: fascia

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia

(This is part 6 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

Most of you have probably never heard of fascia, or if you have, it may be in the context of “blasting” it to treat cellulite. But talking about fascia has become somewhat trendy recently, and not only in the context of looking better in your swimsuit. A Google search returns more than 79 million hits for the term, and there is even a conference that is entirely devoted to fascia research.

What is Fascia?

According to Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, fascia is “a sheet of fibrous tissue that envelops the body beneath the skin; it also encloses muscles and groups of muscles and separates their several layers or groups.” But this definition is incomplete. Fascia can actually be classified into four types, each with different properties, functions and characteristics. The superficial fascia surrounds the body and includes subcutaneous fat; the deep fascia surrounds the musculoskeletal system; the meningeal fascia surrounds the nervous system; the visceral fascia surrounds body cavities and organs. In mainstream medicine, fascia is rarely considered in isolation as the cause of chronic pain disorders. One exception is plantar fasciitis, a painful and relatively common condition in which the fascia that is responsible for maintaining the arch in your foot is inflamed. The inflammation is directly attributed to a stiffening and a decrease in the flexibility of the fascia. Fascia, like most connective tissue in the body, stiffens with age, overuse and injury. The direct role of fascial changes in causing pain and structural changes in conditions such as chronic lower back pain, headaches and cellulite is less clear. Some body work practitioners including massage therapists, osteopaths, Rolfers, craniosacral therapists and physical therapists claim that fascial restrictions (essentially tightening) — caused by injury, inflammation, trauma, disuse, overuse, misuse or abuse — play an important role in contributing to the pain associated with a wide array of conditions including migraines, fibromyalgia, headaches, lower back pain and women’s health issues. Fascia specialists claim that treating these fascial restrictions with a variety of methods, including proprietary bodywork methods and/or specialized tools, is an important aspect of overcoming these chronic and painful conditions. But what does the science say? Is fascia really that important, and if it is, is there anything we can do to “fix” the fascia and get rid of the pain?

Is Fascia Real Science?

Despite the growing interest, the science of fascia, its clinical relevance and how best to treat it (assuming it is clinically relevant) remains controversial, and there is very limited high-quality research to evaluate and support it. There are two major challenges to fascia research and scientific validation. First, there are major issues with the definition of fascia. Many in traditional medicine consider fascia as simply the tough, fibrous connective tissue surrounding muscle tissue and separating soft tissue areas (including fat) throughout the body. But those who focus on treating it have a broader definition that includes a more dynamic component of fascia (not just the less flexible fibrous tissue), called the extracellular matrix, which is made up of fluid, proteins and carbohydrates. Newly discovered features of the fluid filled spaces referred to as interstitium exists within and between all tissues in the body. Many researchers believe that interstitium is a component of fascia, and since it is fluid, it can be manipulated. Though many fascia manipulation advocates claim that lengthening the restricted fascia is the key to successful treatment.

Do Fascia Treatments Work?

Treating fascial restrictions evolved from the work of Ida Rolf, a pioneering female scientist in the 1920s who developed a method of treating fascia called Structural Integration (commonly referred to today as Rolfing.) According to the official Rolfing website, the method works “to release, realign and balance the whole body, thus potentially resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain.” This type of treatment, performed over a number of sessions, improves the movement between layers of fascia surrounding structures including tendons, nerves, muscle and ligaments. The concept of modifying the fluid component of fascia better known as myofascial release is a safe and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion.” The major issue with putting so much emphasis on fascia and how to treat it effectively is that it is highly unlikely that fascia ever works or can be treated in isolation from other tissues. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves play an essential and more clearly established role in many chronic pain conditions. The complex interaction and interconnection of all the tissues involved presents a significant challenge to defining and isolating the relevance of fascia.

The bottom line is if a bodywork practitioner or specialized tool (myoballs, foam rollers, etc.) claim to be treating your fascia to relieve your chronic pain (or help you get rid of cellulite), you may indeed get the hoped-for results, but it’s a lot more complicated than just fixing the fascia.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 7 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit

12 Days of Fitness 2015: Day 11 – Foam Rolling 101

(This is Part 11 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful blurbs and tips to keep your fitness in focus over the holiday season)

foam-rollerFitness fads come and go and I only endorse or use the ones I know are worth their merit. Some are not always obvious or popular in the public eye while others are everywhere you look. Take for example the foam roller; a compressed, often cylindrical piece of foam where people roll themselves on in some bizarre looking horizontal dance. Today, foam rollers can be found almost anywhere from gyms, rehab centers, and homes to specialty stores and big name retailers. Why? Because they work but it takes a better understanding and appreciation of how and what they do that makes them a valuable tool in your arsenal.

It’s All About the Fascia

Fascia is the connective tissue beneath the skin that surrounds the muscles. It is made primarily of densely packed collagen fibers that permeate your muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. There isn’t a place in your body where fascia doesn’t exist. Over time with training and/or physical activity, the muscles become tight and the fascia starts to thicken and shorten to protect the underlying muscle from further damage. Sometimes the fibers and fascia contract so much they form trigger points, which manifest as sore spots needing to be released. The problem is fascia also has the ability to contract independently of the muscles it surrounds and it responds to stress without your conscious command.  That means fascia can impact movements, for better or worse.  When fascia becomes restricted, adhesions form causing soreness, restricted movement, gait change and potential injury.

Enter the Foam Roller

Foam rolling, a type of myofascial release, is the application of pressure to eliminate scar-tissue and soft-tissue adhesion by freeing up your fascia. Once a technique only performed by skilled physical therapists and massage therapists, self-myofascial release through the use of a foam roller can be very beneficial. The good news is fascia and trigger points can be released. Even better, once released, every one of the problems tight fascia and muscles have caused usually clears up. The goal of using the foam roller is to stretch and loosen the fascia so that it and other structures can move more freely resulting in decreased muscle and joint pain, increased circulation and improved mobility, balance and gait for peak mobility and performance. But like anything that is good, too much or improperly utilized methods can be more detrimental than beneficial.

Beware the Foam Roller

Foam rolling can be the savoir for those who are chronically injury-prone, those who train hard, or those chronically stiff from sitting at a desk all day — if used the right way. If not, you risk irritating, and possibly injuring, your body further. Here are some of the most common mistakes when using the foam roller

  • Rolling directly on an injured area. Seems counter-intuitive but as most things in relation to the body, unless it’s blunt trauma, the affected area is generally the symptom, not the cause of the issue. When it comes to foam rolling and myofascial release, constantly working the area of pain could create more inflammation and tension in the area, further tensing the muscles and fascia. What to do instead: Slowly foam roll your way away from the pain center to the connecting muscles. Once you hit the attachment areas, work those thoroughly. Then proceed back to the area of pain and work gently at first. Visualize yourself “melting away” the tightness. Not only will you avoid inciting excess inflammation this way, but you’ll target the real source of your injury.
  • Foam rolling too quickly. Foam rolling initially even if done properly hurts. Period. Human nature is to roll through or endure pain quickly. Unfortunately, foam rolling quickly doesn’t accomplish the objective – releasing fascia and relaxing muscles. What to do instead: You need to be slow and deliberate in your movements. While it may feel better to go fast, releasing fascia takes time. Once you find a sensitive area, slowly work back and forth over the spot. Again, be thoughtful and think of foam rolling like melting through the muscle and fascia.
  • Staying on one spot too long. While this may sound contradictory to the previous statement, it’s not. Staying on one spot for too long might irritate a nerve or damage the tissue, which can cause bruising and further inflammation. What to do instead: Be gentle at first. Start with half your body weight, using your hands or other leg to adjust pressure, and slowly work into full body weight. The maximum amount of time you should spend on any one area is 20 seconds or so. After this, you only risk irritating the spot more than you’re helping it. If you have a really troublesome area you can always come back for another session in the evening when the muscles have had time to relax.
  • Using bad posture and form. Foam rolling is hard work and I almost guarantee you’ll break a sweat. Just as with a strength training exercise, it’s easy to let your form deteriorate, especially if you are tired. What to do instead: Understand your anatomy a little better. Don’t approach foam rolling haphazardly. Stay focused on your form throughout your entire session and if you’re not quite sure how to do it properly, find someone who has the experience to show you.

 

See you tomorrow for Day 12 of the 12 Days of Fitness.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Day 1 – Chew Your Food
Day 2 – Fitness for the Road
Day 3 – The Many Names of Sugar
Day 4 – Side Stitches: Causes and Treatments
Day 5 – The 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Feel Hungry When Trying to Lose Weight
Day 6 – 10 Rules of Fitness
Day 7 – Which Are You – A Chronic Dieter or A Healthy Eater?
Day 8 – What Happens When You Skip Your Workout
Day 9 – The Truth About Lactic Acid
Day 10 – Better Nutrition Starts With a Better Plan