Fascia – the fabric that holds our bodies together is finally getting some love. Talk of fascia has been on the rise as of late among both medical practitioners and athletes who are waking up to its potential for overall well-being. Surprisingly, despite its central role in the body as a whole, there is, as yet, no clear fascia definition on which all scientists agree. So what is fascia, actually? Let's find out.
A somewhat simple fascia definition
The fascia is a sheet of connective tissue that encloses and stabilizes the muscles and organs of the body. Its distribution in the body alone is bewildering – it wraps, protects and supports our muscles, bones and the bloodstream while also holding its organs in place. But that's only the beginning of the story.
The fascia contains both nerves and lymph nodes – you can think of it as a communication system within the body that has numerous other functions. It blankets over every organ and muscle and acts as a single, glove-like structure. Because of its vast size, tightness and distortion of the fascia in one area of the body can have a significant impact on other areas. And, there's growing evidence that problems with the fascia may be the culprit behind a range of illnesses.
How fascia research got its groove back
Fascia has operated under the radar of some medical professionals and researchers for decades. Trends like myofascial release have shed light on the importance of this organ, but there's still a lot of mystery surrounding it. Long hours spent hunched over at our desks, together with stress-induced muscular tension, have left the average fascia in a dismal state. And, despite our best efforts, static stretching rarely does much to provide relief.
What is myofascial release?
Myofascial release may sound like a fancy procedure, but it's not as complicated as its name suggests. Essentially, it's a broad term for an array of hands-on or self-administered massage techniques that employ deep-tissue manipulation to relieve bunched-up or tough areas of fascia tissue. Some claim that myofascial release can help return the fascia to its normal fluid and elastic state, while others report that it can help the body let go of tension and aid in relaxation.
Curious about how it feels? You can easily try out myofascial release using lacrosse balls, massage balls and foam rollers of varying size. Using your own body weight to apply gentle, consistent pressure, you can target specific trigger points with your roller or ball. The result? Temporary relief from stiff muscles and tightness that can feel downright amazing.
Muscle fascia training in your workout routine
Muscle fascia training or myofascial release may provide some benefits to the fascia, and in doing so could support the body by facilitating movement and communication in the muscle and nerve systems. Proponents of myofascial release claim that it can provide:
Relief from chronic or consistent pain areas
Increased energy levels
Decreased recovery time
Remember, these are claims, not necessarily facts. Myofascial release is generally a safe practice – like when using foam rollers and lacrosse balls – when practiced responsibly. However, when used in place of critical medical treatments or therapy, it can be dangerous. Always consult with a doctor if you're planning to start any sort of alternative treatment. It's better to stay on the safe side, especially when it comes to something as important as your health.
So, let’s dig into the claims a little further, shall we?
1. Increased motion
Whenever you injure yourself or experience changes in your body, it may affect your body's fascia. A loss of flexibility from scarring or neglect in one part of it may even lead to motion loss or even pain in another. For the body to move its muscles smoothly, the muscle fascia in each area needs to be flexible and strong.
Fans of myofascial release believe that once you begin to break down the scar tissue built up on the fascia, you may allow better communication between the body and brain due to a freer flow of nerve signals that rely on the fascia for transmission. In other words, a healthy fascia could mean increased mobility and smoother movements throughout the body.
2. Chronic pain relief
Conditions like temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), arthritis and fibromyalgia are causes of chronic pain in individuals all over the world. Proponents of muscle fascia release techniques believe that it could be a way to alleviate pain in individuals suffering from these conditions. However, that doesn't mean anyone should ignore their doctor's prescribed course of action – fascia release is still a controversial treatment, so as we said before, always check with a doctor to ensure that the practice helps rather than harms.
3. Increased energy levels
People who've undergone myofascial release or performed it on themselves report feeling an increased level of energy after the procedure. This phenomenon could stem from several causes. Some proponents purport that the fascia plays an important role in detoxifying the body and suggest that muscle fascia release can make this process more efficient. Others suggest that a constricted fascia could contour your musculature and skeletal frame into postures that are not conducive to proper breathing and can, in and of themselves, create pain or a feeling of being rundown.
Whether these claims are backed by science has yet to be proven. Unfortunately, there's been little research done on the subject, making it hard to ascertain if myofascial release causes an increase in energy, and if so, why that’s the case.
4. Decreased recovery time
Some painful post-sport injuries are actually caused by tearing and fraying in the tendons and ligaments, which, like fascia, are compromised primarily of collagen fibers. Since fascia's connective tissue covers the muscles and ligaments, having a healthy and elastic fascia may help reduce post-workout pain and possibly contribute to overall faster recovery.
If you're curious to try it yourself, we recommend getting yourself a foam roller. Many athletes find that foam rolling after an intense workout can help relieve soreness and reduce the time spent in recovery. In one study, participants found that they experienced reduced tenderness after using a foam roller for 20 minutes directly after exercise. Give it a go to see how it affects you!
Fascinated with fascia release?
Aside from myofascial release, there are several other ways you can keep your fascia in a healthy state. One of our favorite ways is by practicing yoga. In particular, we recommend vinyasa yoga that involves continuous flowing movements that engage the entire body, allowing the fascia to twist and stretch in different directions. Make sure to drink plenty of water as you work out, as our bodies function their best while fully hydrated.
Research on the role of fascia in the body is still relatively new, and despite anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of myofascial release, there's still a whole lot to learn. So, feel free to give self-myofascial release a try, but take lofty claims with a grain of salt and always consult with a doctor if you're not sure it's safe for your condition.