Fascia: how your body is connected to itself

Does this sound familiar: You wake up after a good night’s sleep and as you slowly sit up, your back complains a little, maybe your neck, too. As you slide out of bed, your feet object to the weight of your body and standing up right doesn’t happen until the first cup of coffee is in your hand. This stiffening of the body becomes commonplace as we age and has a lot to do with your connective tissue.

All of the muscles, bones, organs and nerves in our bodies are connected with tissue called fascia. Fascia is a 3D matrix within the body that forms layers and lines of support. Easy, pain-free movement is dependent on healthy fascia. It is woven throughout the body, crisscrossing and connecting parts you may have thought of as separate. For example, there is a line of fascia that runs across the body from one shoulder to the opposite hip. Fascia runs from the bottom of your feet up the back of your body to your head, basically your toes are connected to your ears. So don’t be surprised if you feel pain in one part of the body but the actual issue may lay elsewhere.

Researchers in China have come to believe that the ancient concept of the body’s meridians, the map used for acupuncture, follow these lines of fascia. For decades fascia has been dismissed as irrelevant; in fact, when doing human dissections, fascia was tossed into the bucket without any consideration. However, several researchers have recently looked more closely at how this tissue behaves in our body and it appears that fascia plays a vital role in how well the body moves. For example, damaged fascia in the legs or feet may result in pain in your knees or hips.

Two things make fascia really happy: one is movement and the other is foam rolling. Sitting for long periods of time is one of the worst ways to treat fascia, so sit less and move more. Foam rolling has become common in gyms and yoga studios.

Foam rolling uses your body weight on a soft foam cylinder to gently massage the tissue and allow the fascia to assume its natural shape. There are many videos online showing how to use a foam roller and I’ll be teaching a foam-rolling workshop (contact me for details) for some hands on practice. One thing to keep in mind, foam rolling is very different from stretching. Stretching works on the muscles rather than fascia and stretching is an important post-fitness component. Foam rolling can be done before a workout or after, but when done before stretching, makes stretching easier and less uncomfortable. If you decide to try out foam rolling, be very gentle. It’s not about mashing your fascia, it’s about restoring pain-free movement.

NOTE: Oakhurst resident Virginia Eaton has been a life-long health and fitness advocate, holds a Masters of Kinesiology, is a certified personal trainer, and behavior change specialist.