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FASCIA HEALTH

energy

Heal Yourself Topics

The 1-2-3 Method
3 Phases of Healing
Water for Health
Moist Heat Therapy
Lymph System Health
Inflammation
Fascia Health


More to come!


To give anything but your best is to sacrifice the gift
Steve Prefontaine

FASCIA HEALTH TIPS

STRETCH YOUR MUSCLES When your muscles are chronically tight the surrounding Fascia tightens along with them. Over time the Fascia becomes rigid, compressing the muscles and the nerves. You must stretch and vary your stretching exercises.


STRETCH YOUR FASCIA
Once your Fascia has tightened up, it doesn't want to let go. Because the Fascia can withstand up to 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, you're not going to force your way through, so stretch gently.

Fascia also works in slower cycles than muscles do, both contracting and stretching more slowly. To stretch the fascia, hold gentle stretches for three to five minutes, relaxing into a hold.


RELAX
If you spend all day tense and tight at a desk, ice baths may not be the best thing for you. Fifteen to 20 minutes in a warm Epsom salt bath can coax tight Fascia to loosen up, releasing your muscles from their stranglehold.

Make sure to follow it up with 10 minutes of light activity to keep blood from pooling in your muscles.


USE A FOAM ROLLER
Like stretching, using a foam roller on your Fascia is different than on your muscles.

Be gentle and slow in your movements, and when you find an area of tension hold sustained pressure for three to five minutes. You may practice self-massage with the same rules.

 

RESPECT YOUR BODY
If you're attempting to run through an injury, or returning from one with a limp, beware: Your Fascia will respond to your new mechanics and, eventually, even after your injury is gone, you may maintain that same movement pattern. That's a recipe for an injury cycle. It's better to take some extra time than to set yourself up for long-term trouble.


SEE A FASCIAL SPECIALIST
If you have a nagging injury, or just don't feel right lately, see if your area has a Fascial or myofascial therapy specialist.

There are different philosophies and methods, ranging from Rolfing, which is very aggressive, to fascial unwinding, which is very gentle. Some methods are similar to massage, while others concentrate on long assisted stretches.

Talk to a therapist to see what you need and want. Some osteopaths, chiropractors, physical therapists and massage therapists are beginning to embrace fascial therapies, so ask around.


SEE A MOVEMENT EDUCATION THERAPIST The Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method are the two best known of this sort of therapy, long embraced by dancers and gymnasts. They use verbal cues, light touch and simple exercises to lessen unconscious destructive movement patterns that may be irritating your Fascia.

 

HEALTH KITS:
Support Healing

We created our Health Kits specifically to support all
3 Phases of Healing.

Each kit includes an oral and topical remedy — Tincture, Magnesium Spray, Quick Relief Spray, and our Acute & Chronic Injury Salve.

Order a 1oz or 2oz size kit and save 5-10% on product & shipping at our STORE.

Cool!

Often described as "the secret organ", our Fascia is the major player in every movement we make and every injury we have ever had. Fascia health is critical to injury recovery and maintaining fitness. We often describe the body as a miraculous machine. Unfortunately, modern medicine has broken this machine down into so many parts that sight is often lost as to its wholeness as a dynamic moving organism. This is never so true as when talking about the Fascia — that system that affects, and is affected, by our every movement and injury.

Herbal Remedies Help Your Fascia

flowerIf you have experienced any form of MUSCULAR or SKELETAL INJURY or other health condition, it is critical to have an understanding about how your Fascia System is affected and how you can help to restore and maintain its health while your body parts are healing.

Herbal remedies are very supportive of Fascia health. A deep penetrating topical salve (like our Cortesia Acute & Chronic Injury Salve or our Cortesia Healing Salve), and/or a mineral spray (like our Magnesium Sprays) is massaged into the dermal layers, moving down to the superficial and deep fascias near muscles and nerves.

The herbs in both a topical and oral remedy help to:

  • stimulate moisture in tissues and buffering membranes
  • relieve pain (via the component, allantoin)
  • stimulate collagen response
  • generally “read” and help adjust tensions within connective tissues, among other responses.

The Cinderella of Soft Tissue

In 2007 the first international Fascia Research Congress, held at Harvard Medical School, recognized the need to better understand the critical role of our Fascial System. Since then Fascia has been repeatedly referred to as the "Cinderella Story" of the anatomy world, speaking both to its intrigue and the geekiness of those who study it.

In short, Fascia has been described as a 3-dimensional web-like body stocking that surrounds every structure of the body (including nerves and blood vessels) — a seamless tissue that wraps us like Saran wrap about 2mm beneath the skin (detailed description below).

We have all seen the familiar illustration hanging in a doctor’s waiting room of the wide-eyed, red-muscled human body — it only looks like this when you scrape away the tough, stringy and gooey Fascia. Anatomists scrape away the Fascia to get at the “important” stuff: muscles, organs, arteries, nerves, etc.

Anatomy textbooks give minimal mention to Fascia, still displaying the musculoskeletal system as separate “parts” with its own attachment points and actions, as when describing muscles. When you see pictures in an anatomy textbook with well-defined body parts, what is missing is the depiction of the Fascia that encases each of those parts into a moving whole.

 

Fascia: One Whole Muscle?

It is a fallacy to think we can isolate one part of our body without sending a ripple throughout the rest of our musculoskeletal system. In truth, we might think of our body as “one whole muscle” that reverberates to life’s activities, and the Fascia is the nerve-sensitive body-stocking and conduit that surrounds both the parts and the whole.

From the superficial Fascia (“body stocking”), the Fascia dives deep and forms the pods (called fascicles) that actually create your musculature like a honeycomb from the inside out. This deep Fascia also connects muscle to bone (tendons are considered a part of the fascial system), and bone to bone (ligaments are also considered a part of the fascial system), slings your organ structures, cushions your vertebrae (yep, your discs are considered a part of this system, too), and wraps your bones.


Movement, harmonious activity, unimpeded flow of bodily fluids, unimpaired nerve transmission, and the free range of motion of muscles and joints are all connected to health and life. When movement ceases, life ceases.
Finando & Finando


 

WHAT IS FASCIA?

fasciaFascia is a tough connective tissue which spreads throughout the body in a three dimensional web from head to toe without interruption. Leonardo DeVinci famously depicted this fibrous "bodysuit", as seen in his illustration to the right. It affects and is affected by every body move or injury. Consisting of collagen, elastic and a ‘snot-like’ ground substance that is 70% water, Fascia comes in a spectrum of densities that range from resembling candy floss to thick fibrous Fascia like the IT band, or the plantar fascia running the length of the bottom of the foot. The Fascia System includes:

  • Tendons & Ligaments
  • Periosteum (surrounds bones)
  • Epimysium (surrounds entire muscles)
  • Perimysium (surrounds groups of muscles fibers into bundles or fascicles)
  • Endomysium (surrounds individual muscle fibres)
  • Joint capsules and membranes that surround organs, nerves, spinal cord and the brain all fall within the fascial system

fascia2Trauma, posture or inflammation can create a binding down of fascia resulting in excessive pressure on nerves, muscles, blood vessels, bones and organs. Many of the standard tests such as x-rays, myelograms, CAT scans, electromyography, etc. do not show the Fascial restrictions. It is thought that an extremely high percentage of people suffering with pain or lack of motion may be having Fascial problems, but most go undiagnosed.


Key to Biomechanical Regulation

Because it covers our body parts, both individually and as a whole, it may be thought of as a vibratory maze that allows nerve travel from one place in the body to any other without ever leaving the Fascia — in fact, there are 10 times more sensory nerve endings in your Fascia than in your muscles.

One way to think of the Fascia is like that of a stretchy tin foil. When we are first born, our internal Fascia is smooth. But life’s bumps and grinds start wrinkling and deforming us here and there. When we handle aluminum foil, we cannot prevent its wrinkling nor can we smooth it out like new. This is characteristic of our Fascia System as well — a restriction, injury, impact, strain, overuse, aging, etc. in one part of the Fascial System will affect every other part to a greater or lesser extent.

fascia suitWhen we twist a piece of fabric (like in batik or tie dying), we can see how the twist lines extend out in all directions, away from the knotted restriction itself. These line extensions are like pain that begins in one spot of our body fabric and reverberates/extends to another location. This is often called referred pain. All of this is caused by the nerve-sensitive Fascia responding to the stimulus and transmitting forces throughout the body as a whole in adjustment.

In yet another example, imagine being grabbed and lifted up by the collar of your shirt or blouse. Immediately, you will feel a tug from the sleeves at your wrist, a twisting up of the fabric around your armpits and chest, and a pulling of the shirttails out of your pants or skirt. The simple force of grabbing the collar affected much more of the garment all the way to the shirttails. In a similar manner, again, our Fascia transmits forces from one location in the body to another, treating a simple stimulus as a whole.

fascia3

GOOD FASCIA HEALTH NEEDS MOVEMENT

When injured, it is vital to keep moving to the best of our capability so that the Fascia does not remodel and reshape inappropriately. The Fascia will adapt to even our worst body behaviors, especially sitting for periods of time where it will begin shaping the body into, well, a sitting position!

Remember: When there is a fascial injury, there is a fascial dysfunction. A physiological alteration in any part of the body will affect, as a result, everything that is covered by the connective sheet: the symptom will arise in the area concerned with the alteration or, in contrast, in a distal area, when this is not capable of adapting to the new stressor.

 

WHY IS FASCIA IMPORTANT?


As the fabric that holds us together, and as a form of biomechanical regulation, the Fascia helps to transmit forces throughout the body as a whole. The word that describes this dynamic process is Tensegrity (or biotensegrity). Tensegrity comes from the phrase “tension integrity.” It explains how lightweight materials can be used to create great stability when tightly integrated. This explains the Fascia perfectly! The Fascia is a fibrous web that keeps our body’s separate parts from plopping out or banging around in there. It allows our body parts to glide on the interior as we move on the exterior. Its tension keeps our skeleton upright and together, otherwise we fall down.

fascia4In Nature, Tensegrity is seen beneath the soil in a forest as the mycorrhizal fungi that form a vast interwoven fibrous web that binds the forest vegetation together. When trees are clear cut and vegetation removed, this web is destroyed, and in many locations it is difficult to recreate the damaged soil’s integrity. Oftentimes, any standing and remaining vegetation dies or is stunted.

Think of our bones as like the trees in a forest. We err in believing that our bones hold us up — after all they are hard and tough. But try to stand a bunch of bones on top of each other, like sticking tall trees in the ground, and they will simply fall down. What is missing? — Tensegrity.

Think of Tensegrity as a tent. The fabric is the Fascia, the poles are our bones, and the guy ropes are our connective tissue (including ligaments and tendons). If the guy ropes (connective tissue) aren’t creating the right amount of tension, the poles (bones) and in fact the entire tent falls down. Tension is therefore spread throughout the system via the tent-fabric (our Fascia).

However, if too much tension is exerted the structure (tent, in our example above) will break at its weakest point. In our body, sometimes it is a bone or muscle, but most often the connective tissues are the ones most injured or affected. In non-specific low back pain, for example, one theory is that there is not necessarily a problem with the structures that make up the back, it’s just that that is the weakest point and that’s why the pain is felt there.

To be clearer, there are 10 times more sensory nerve endings in your Fascia than in your muscles. It serves like a body-gyroscope playing a huge role in our proprioception — how we know where we are and how our body is positioned without looking. (Some experts believe the Fascia may be equal or superior to the retina as the body’s richest human sensory organ). It makes sense, then, that pain and discomfort signals given to us by our muscles or joints are really signals emanating from our Fascia System, that includes connective tissues. In other words, most soft tissue injuries are in fact connective tissues injuries and not muscular injuries.

 

The Adaptable Fascia — for Better or Worse

We often view our body’s muscles (around 600 of them!) as trainable body components that can change and grow. We talk about exercising, stretching, enhancing, enlarging, and maintaining muscle fitness. However, we forget that none of this is possible without that elastic sock, Fascia, to keep the proper biotension, and to transfer nerve signals.

Fascia creates a sheath around each muscle; because it's stiffer, it resists over-stretching and acts like an anatomical emergency break. It also connects your organs to your ribs to your muscles and all your bones to each other. It structures your insides in a feat of engineering, balancing stressors and counter-stressors to create a mobile, flexible and resilient body unit. Fascia generally keeps you from being a big, bone-filled blob.

Fascia isn’t just an elastic wrap, however.

The fact is, Fascia responds to mechanical forces — postural holding patterns, emotional holding patterns and injury. As our richest sense organ, Fascia can contract and feel and impact the way we move — it possesses the ability to contract independently of the muscles it surrounds, and it responds to stress without our conscious command.

fascia1In its optimally hydrated healthy state, Fascia has the ability to move and slide without restrictions. Because it is strong, slippery and wet — wrapping around each of our individual parts, keeping them separate — it allows our body parts to slide easily with movement. In its healthy state it is smooth and supple and slides easily, allowing us to move and stretch to our full length in any direction, always returning back to its normal state.

Unfortunately, it's very unlikely that our Fascia maintains its optimal flexibility, shape or texture. In it’s unhappy state restrictions in the movement of the Fascia can lead to pain and loss of range of movement. Lack of activity will cement the once-supple fibers into place. Chronic stress causes the fibers to thicken in an attempt to protect the underlying muscle. Poor posture and lack of flexibility and repetitive movements pull the fascia into ingrained patterns. Adhesions form within the stuck and damaged fibers like snags in a sweater, and once they've formed they're hard to get rid of.

The body is very adaptable. One way our body adapts is to lay down more Fascia. Sit awhile in a slouched position with your head forward staring at a computer — your body will assist your activity by laying down more Fascia to support this position. In another example, deciding to not move your hand and wrist at all during recovery because of strain and overuse (as in Mommy’s Thumb) actually allows the body to lay down more Fascia in that area, and this can create stiffness, not the needed flexibility and relief from pain.

In a final example, modern imaging technology has shown that there is a thickening of the Thoracolumbar Fascia (the Fascia of the lower back) in people who have non-specific low back pain, and this thickening may possibly be a casual factor in their pain.

The Domino Effect of an Injury

domino effectWe all have experienced the domino effect of an injury.
First, you injure your neck in a minor whiplash some years ago when younger. You shake it off, and its better over time. However, you notice a nagging shoulder pain with all the typing and sitting you’re doing at work. Sometimes you have a pinching pain when you lift your arm. Years go by and the shoulder discomfort now extends down to the lower back with accompanying spasms and headaches. You might call all this an occupational hazard or simply “aging,” but the truth may be more simple than that!

whiplashWhat you are experiencing is actually the long, slow drain of an unaddressed compensatory pattern on your body. In compensation, your Fascial System has been affected and becomes stiff.
The best way to avoid the domino effect (compensatory pattern) is to keep your Fascia healthy, moving and hydrated. A well-hydrated and supple Fascia is crucial to maintaining your body’s natural settings for alignment and function. Maintaining those natural settings will keep small problems from snowballing into larger ones. It will keep injuries from becoming chronic issues that flare in and out of life. And, it will keep you mobile and functional longer through life.

 

HOW TO LOVE YOUR FASCIA

We must integrate an attentive approach to our Fascia Health with our overall fitness and health recovery plan. The consequences, as described above, can prevent us from moving comfortably. Remember these 3 characteristics of NOT LOVING your Fascia:

  • More Fascia = more stiffness
  • More Siffness = less movement
  • Less Movement = more Fascia

The remedy? — MOVE!

 

MOVE FREQUENTLY

In our sedentary lifestyle, we run the risk of inhibited range of motion. It is paramount, therefore, to create a lifestyle that prioritizes movement. Just simply move your body as much as possible, even if it is simple walking or arm rotations. Why? Sticky adhesions form between fascial surfaces that aren't regularly moved, and over time these adhesions get strong enough to inhibit range of motion. Take a few minutes first thing in the morning to roll around in bed and really stretch out, head to toe, just like a cat after a nap.

runningSPRINGINESS

When your tissue retains (or regains) its natural spring, the rebound effect of the Fascia allows you to use less muscle power, and therefore fatigue less rapidly. Want to jump higher, run faster, throw farther, walk faster? You’ll need to pay attention to nourishing the elastic quality of your Fascia. (We discuss the nourishing quality of water below.)

For example, when you exercise with healthy fascia, like running or walking, the force you transmit into the ground gets returned to you through the whole tensional network of the Fascia. It’s like you have a little built-in trampoline action going on. So once you’ve done the work to rehydrate your tissue, you’ll want to embrace movements with spring in them, like walking, running, jumping rope, box jumps, kettlebells, yoga, martial arts, dancing, and bouncing on a mini-trampoline. You will also want to vary your movements and tempo.

 

MOVE WITH VARIATION

Humans are gifted with many forms of movement: standing upright, walking, running, hopping, skipping, climbing, hanging from things, carrying stuff, crawling — you get the idea! Consider, however, that most people’s major body movements are fairly limited to a 2x4-foot virtual space in front of us where we move our arms and hands (visualize sitting at a desk, eating, driving, sitting on a bus, shopping, watching TV, etc.). Varied movement, therefore, is a godsend to our Fascia. It is okay to play with movement and have fun, even touching your inner playful child.

movingWhy should you vary your movement?
Moving constantly in the same ways and in the same planes puts you at risk for joint erosion (i.e. arthritic symptoms), but you are also dehydrating the Fascia in a particular pattern, thus setting yourself up for dry, brittle tissue that injuries love so much (like pulled tendons, ligaments or muscles). Movement helps hydrate tissue, but that movement must be varied! This means variation not just of the movements themselves, but also variation of tempo.

Fascial stretching
Essentially we’re talking about yoga. Gliding slowly into a stretch, holding the position for up to a few minutes and gliding slowly out is Fascial stretching. To stretch the fascia, hold gentle stretches for three to five minutes, relaxing into a hold.

Rest is important, too
Along with varied movement, must be rest to also rehydrate body tissues. Both work together in rhythm to keep your Fascia moist and fluid. When you do heavy exercise you are driving the water out of the tissue in the same way that if you step on a wet beach you push the water out of the sand, and when you pick up your foot the water seeps back into that sand. You’re doing the same thing with tissues, when you’re really working out you are driving the water out of the tissue while you are working. The rhythm of your fitness regimen or movement activity should include some rest. When you take the strain off of the tissues, like a sponge they will suck up that water and be ready for more exercise.

 

water drinkDRINK WATER!!

Juicy fascia is happy fascia. Our mobility, integrity, and resilience are determined in large part by how well-hydrated our Fascia is. Our Fascia is sponge-like, and if not hydrated enough it will dry out and become stiff and brittle, susceptible to easy breakage and tissue injury. Once we understand that we’re like that on the inside, keeping our Fascia hydrated takes on more importance.
 
In fact, what we call “stretching a muscle” is actually the fibers of the connective tissue (collagen) gliding along one another on the mucous-like protein called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs, for short). GAGs, depending on their chemistry, can glue layers together when water is absent, or allow them to skate and slide on one another when hydrated. This is one of the reasons most injuries are Fascial. If we get “dried out” we are more brittle and are at much greater risk for erosion, a tear, or a rupture.

water valueStaying hydrated via drinking water continues to be important, but if you have dehydrated Fascia it’s likely that you have these little kinks in your “hoses” (microvacuoles). Consequently, all that water you drink may not be able to actually reach the dehydrated tissue, instead getting urinated away, never having reached the crispy tissue.

To be able to get the fluid to all of your important nooks and crannies you need to first get better irrigated (via the microvacuoles). This may mean seeking the help of a qualified body worker who specializes in any form of myofascial work to untangle those gluey bits in your soft tissue. Consider Rolfing or other forms of Structural Integration.

 

GET A MASSAGE (Myofascial Release)

Myofascial release deals with the fascia, or connective tissue, of the body. We have learned that the Fascia is interconnected to every other part of the body, and actually helps to support the body's very structure, including the musculoskeletal system. When injury, inflammation, or physical or emotional trauma occurs, the Fascia can become tight and cause pain and/or restricted range of motion.

massageMyofascial release -- as its name suggests -- aims to release the Fascia and return it to a state of normalcy by applying gentle pressure to the restricted areas. MFR can help with a number of conditions, including chronic pain, headaches, and stress-related illnesses.

Manual therapy helps to release restrictions in fascia — sort of like trying to smoothe out used tin foil. Such massage recognizes that the mechano-receptors found in the Fascia are closely linked to the autonomic nervous system, leading to changes in fascial tonus and ground substance viscosity. If Fascial restrictions can lead to pain and dysfunction, then the release of these restrictions should lead to a return to function.

It is important to know the qualifications of your body worker to focus on fascial massage. Some places in the body can support deep tissue massage without further damaging the Fascia or nearby Lymphs (just a silly millimeter away!) — the backside and legs. The upper chest, breast and neck areas cannot support deep massage without possible painful intrusion on the Fascia and plentiful Lymph nodes in those areas.

References:
1. Thomas W. Findley, MD, PhD, International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, (2011).
2. J.C. Guimberteau, “The Sliding Mechanics of the Subcutaneous Structures in Man Illustration of a Functional Unit: The Microvacuoles,” Studies of the Académie Nationale de Chuirurgie (2005).
3. J.C. Guimberteau,  Studies of the Académie Nationale de Chuirurgie (2005).
4. Robert Schleip et al., Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body (Elsevier, 2012), 77.

 

 

   
     

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