What is fascia?

Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. It is made of closely packed bundles of collagen, and because of its wavy pattern, it can resist a great amount of unidirectional tension. Tendons and ligaments are also made of collagen. Ligaments connect bone to bone, tendons muscle to bone, and fascia surround muscle and other structures. The fascia’s main function is to reduce friction of those structures.

A common example of understanding fascia is to grab the collar of your shirt. Pull up and notice how it’s not just the collar that moves, it’s also the whole shirt. This is how fascia works; it moves with the body. Over time, however, it gets tight and not so flexible. Things such as stress, injury, lack of activity, poor posture, poor flexibility, and repeated movements all contribute to the tightening of fascia.

To stretch or release fascia, there are two approaches: Direct and Indirect Myofascial release. Direct release concentrates on more pressure forcing the fascia to release or “straighten out”. Examples include foam roller exercises, massage, and Rolfing. On the other hand, the indirect release focuses more on stretching with gentle pressure. This allows for the fascia to “unwind” itself.

There are also a few other things you can do to take care of your fascia.

  • Range of motion exercises – take a few minutes every morning to go through the full range of motion of all major joints. Stretching the fascia daily will help keep it loose and flexible.
  • Drink water – The more water in your system, the more elasticity your fascia will have.
  • Relax! – Try a yoga class or take a bath in the evening. When we are stressed, our physical bodies feel it too. It’s so important that we take the time to take care of ourselves.
  • Stretch muscles – When muscles tighten, so does the fascia around them.
  • Stretch fascia – It is recommended to hold gentle stretches 3-5 minutes to stretch fascia. Also try combining this with a few foam roller exercises!

References

Glossary of Osteopathic Terminology, 2009. American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

Lucas, Julia, 2011. Understanding Your Fascia, Running Times. Retrieved from: http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-treatment/understanding-your-fascia?page=single.

Picture courtesy of Institute of Motion.

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