What is Fascia?
Fascia is a network of connective tissue that is found everywhere within our body. It looks like a spiderweb if you ever walked into one by accident, with a springy quality and energy to it. I also like to liken it to an orange, where you are peeling the layer of skin off, opening onto the segments beneath. As you come to each segment you continue to find layers of tissue wrapped around each individual piece within each segment too. So you can visualise it as lots of tiny compartments – everywhere in the body.
It is connected layers which hold everything inside of us together. Fascia is wrapped around our numerous muscles, nerves, bones, ligaments, tendons, organs, blood vessels, quite literally everything inside of us. By its very design it is holding us together. Making sure that everything stays where it is supposed to stay. Everything anatomically within us is designed by its purpose and function.
Which is great if everything is working well. If our fascia is moved every day, well mobilised and hydrated and we move creatively in unique ways often. If we live a stress free life, and our day to day rhythm of living is healthy. Healthy fascia can slide and glide over everything within the body. When our mucles are engaged they are sliding alongside other organs, muscles, nerves and more. If everything is working well our muscles can contract, our circulation is good, fascia is hydrated, we have great range of motion (ROM), physically we feel good, and we have good posture with a balanced front and back body.
This is of course an ideal world scenario.
Life is Not Always Straight Forward
Sadly, many of us are not living in an easy straight forward kind of world every single day! In the last 18 months many of us have spent more time sitting down than often, working from home, unable to do our normal activities in the same way as previous months and years. As a result of less movement and more sitting our posture often suffers. Think about some of the repetitive movements we do when working from a laptop looking down, or at our phones and that is just our neck and upper back. People who find themselves on their mobile phones more will also find repetitive strain injuries around the wrist and thumb such as carpal tunnel syndrome issues.
Our poor bodies starts to believe this is our new way of functioning in day to day life. Our brain believes that this new way of sitting or moving or slouching (let’s be honest!) is our new posture and reinforces this position by not sending information via nerves to the areas that used to move more freely. We lose our existing body maps to certain areas that no longer move as much.
Fascia in these areas start to get dehydrated as movement of any kind hydrates our tissues. This results in our fascia thickening, becoming more congested and the tissues such as muscles which fascia wraps around and within, as well as our organs become essentially trapped or restricted. This then limits the funcionability of these parts of the body both internally and externally.
Imagine these layers of tissue then woven around everything and the chaos this can cause internally! Suddenly we are not able to circulate blood and oxygen as efficiently. We have less space for our lungs to expand to their fullest which then restricts how much prana (life force) we can draw into our systems. We find our front body getting shorter from hours of sitting down, we lengthen the tissues on the back of the body and our posture is out of balance. We have less space in our front body for digestive organs to function to their best, instead they live in congested state as if they were existing within the fight or flight part of our nervous system. Which is of course what our nervous system quickly begins to believe is happening and so it becomes a reality! Which then has further consequences, which is for another article!
Long term we will find ourselves with inflammation in the fascia. Muscles will be unable to work in their normal way or have their fullest range of motion. Other muscles will step in to assist the muscles who can’t fulfill their job requirements, which then creates a risk of over use injury as each muscle has its own job. When we try to run for example from our newly set state of curled spine, shortened front body with dehydrated congested fascia we will find pain or injury.
So many things can start to affect us on a deeper level than simple tight fascia!
What happens when we have these problems?
Think of that orange again with the peel and sections between the sements being the fascia. Every time we move we loosen these tissues creating more space between the segments for movement with ease. For each day that we don’t move, the fascia gets more deydrated and an extra layer of the tissue will add on top of the original layer. Every single day. Until things start to be really restricted and it starts to get really painful.
Some people may find that when it thickens it can become an issue called Myofascia Syndrome, where we have trigger point pain in the body. Not just tightness but pain.
When our fascia is not taken care of this can then increase our sensitivity to pain over time .
Within our fascia network, we have nerves traveling through. If everything is congested, then the nerves can not so easily transmit messages between the brain and the body. If posture resets the brain no longer receives signal that our chest should be broad, so it is not resetting and reinforces our position of poor posture. Then begin pulling on back of body. Signal sent to brain is pain pain pain.
We need then to be able to understand how to keep our fascia healthy so we can move away from pain, from postural imbalances, injuries, overuse and infalammation. So we can live a life with better quality.
What is MyoFascia?
the connective tissue wrapped around the muscle fibers
What is Myofascial Release?
With the use of gentle, sustained hands on pressure, myofascial release work can help reduce pain and restore motion in soft tissue by focusing on the tough connective tissues in our body that wrap around, hold together our body partst, and support our muscles. These tissues are also known as myofascial tissues. Inflammatory response, trauma, stress (and other causes listed further down in the article!) can create restrictions in the soft tissues that can cause pain, muscle tension, and reduced blood flow.
It is important to note that pain isn’t always felt in the area where the trigger point is which is how the problem can be misdiagnosed or untreated for longer periods of time. Imagine if one area of fascia is tight from dehydration, stress, trauma, then that area of fascia is connected to the web that covers the entire body so it will pull on other areas of the body nearby which is often where we will think we feel the pain.
You can think of any kind of myofascial release is a way to smooth out these hard knots of stiffness and pain., ultimately releasing tension stored in the body.
How is MFR Done?
MFR can be done with balls, foam rollers, blocks or through manual work with trained therapists. Put really simply, it is a hands on manual pressure to help to break down tight adhesions and prevent or remove pain.
Within the Yin & MFR classes that I teach, the main areas we work into are around the jaw, temples, base of neck, shoulders, trapezius, rhomboids and lats, lower back (thoracolumar fascia), glutes, quads and feet.
Main areas we go into are around jaw, temples, base of neck, shoulders, between shoulder blades, length of arm, hips, lower back, quads (only way I can release here in running), calves. Feet
The three densest areas of fascia in the body are shown below, so we always make sure to incorporate these areas into our practice:
- Plantar Fascia (sole of feet)
- ITB (outer hip towards the knee)
- Thoracolumbar fascia (lower to mid back)
MFR has become a common treatment amongst athletes and every day people which is very successful at breaking up these trigger points, adhesions and to release tension stored in our body.
What causes tension in fascia?
Myofascial Release (MFR) accesses the superficial layers of fascia. It is designed to be effective at accessing trigger and pain points in the tissues. These trigger points are more likely to show up in our bodies when we are stressed, and perhaps not taking as much care of our health and well being as we could be.
- Postural imbalances
- Sitting down a lot
- Lack of daily movement
- Injury – we tend to make less movements in the injured area due to pain or perhaps fear of pain
We can use MFR to release trigger points, and areas of existing tension in the body. However stress can bring more tension into the body and it can feel a little like a vicious cycle. Stress is inevitable in life to a certain extent but we can manage it through MFR techniques, but also combining this with regulating our nervous system, increasing vagal tone and pranayama and meditation techniques.
Benefits of a Regular MFR Practice
The wonderful thing is that while yes we can use MFR to release tension, we can also use the various techniques ahead of trigger points developing. As more of a preventitive measure. Many people now have a regular practice of self care with various MFR techniques, and yogis and athletes alike are incorporating foam rolling and MFR into their warm up and cool down practices to aid in recovery and prevent injury, and work within their optimal range of motion.
We can Increase our Strength
When we are not carrying tightness in the muscles and our connective tissue is hydrated and able to glide in the normal healthy way, then we will find ourselves with more range of motion. This increased (or new normal) range of motion will allow us to be able to power up and engage our muscles in more effective ways than when restrictions are in place. Allowing us to get the full potential of our movements and activity of choice.
Increased Range of Motion & Flexibility
With reduced tightness comes more room within the muscles to move into their fullest range. This can allow us to feel as though there is more space to move into when we come to the practice for flexibility.
Improve our Posture
When we work into the areas where tension and triggers points live, we find more balance in the tissues between the front and back side of our body. We can then work the muscles on both sides to their optimal strength position, which enables us to find our good posture. The brain then receives the message that “this” is what good posture feels like and we find it easier with time and repetition to change our default to good rather than slouch!
Runners can Improve Their Stride
Healthy fascia means improved performance in our moving activities that include running or sprinting. Fascia has quality of bouncing and power, acting often in its role as shock absorber. Healthy hydrated tension free fascia can then enhance this ability.
Reduce the Pain Factor
Pain can create a protection response from the body. The muscles around that pain point will engage to provide support and protect the surrounding tissues. Over time, this can lead to more restrictions. Especially with chronic pain. When these pain points are managed through MFR, pain is released as blood flows with more ease to the original area of pain.
Helps Us to Relax
MFR is thought to be connected into our nervous system. When our brain receives the signal of releasing tension it moves away from Fight & Flight mode and we shift into the calmer part of our nervous system. That in itself causes alot of nourishment and healing for the internal organs and tissues to relax, rejuvernation and nutrition for them to do their job. As well as the physical and mental benefits of more time spent in Rest & Digest mode.
We Feel Freedom in the Whole Body
When get into our trigger point areas with a ball, you feel like nothing will release…..we work into it and it eventually starts to release, bu not entirely. We need to move away frmo the center and work into areas around the trigger point, which creates ease in the trigger point. As that ease arrives we feel the release of tension in areas further reaching than simply the pain point.
When we are using these techniques regularly then circulation is going to be improved, freeing up space in the blood vessels to transport throughout the whole body. No more pins and needles, cold fingers and toes. As you start to practice more regualrly you begin to tune into what your body needs and move more into those areas to prevent poor circulation becoming an issue.
Reduces the Feeling of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
If working with MFR after exercise then you will reduce the time the inflammation is there, and healing time will be shorted for recovery time of muscles.
Reduced Migraines and Tension Headaches
By targeting your massage into the fascia of the temple area on side of the head, and jawline, we can start to release discomfort in the moment. However with long term consistent practice we can prevent the migraines or at least their intensity.