FASCIA - WHAT IS IT?
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
HOW DOES IT RELATE TO PILATES?
WHY DOES FASCIA MATTER?
Have you ever had a client with hamstrings that you stretch in every way possible but are still tight? Or someone with unexplained back pain that x-rays or scans don't vali- date? How about a client with poor balance and little body awareness? Or a person with poor posture that Pilates doesn’t seem to correct? IT COULD BE THE FASCIA…
WHAT IS FASCIA?
Fascia is the stuff that holds us all together. It is connective tissue, the soft skeleton of the body. Fascia is both a tissue and a communication system, a continuous structure which links and supports the whole body. The fascia surrounds and penetrates every muscle, covers every organ and envelopes every nerve. The fascia stores and moves water and carries voltage, acting like an electrical wiring system. Fascia keeps every- thing separate yet interconnected at the same time.
Think of a mandarin. If you peal the skin away you still have a mandarin, not mandarin juice. If you break the mandarin in half, or if you break away one segment, you still have mandarin. Even if you break open a segment of mandarin you have juice bubbles, not juice. The fascia is the webbing that holds it together.
It is the same in the body - the fascia surrounds skin, muscle, joints, ligaments, organs, blood vessels and nerves. Otherwise our innards would just be a squishy mess, and our muscles and bones would rub and irritate each other.
Because every part of the connective tissue is connected to everything else, the tightness may be in the ankle, but the pain may be felt in the neck. Pain in the hip can travel down the leg into the knee, or up into the shoulder.
THE FOUR FUNCTIONS OF FASCIA
Fascia has four main functions, stretch, spring, revive and feel. Fascia shapes the body, allowing muscles to both contract and stretch, like when you throw a ball.
The fascia makes the body resilient, keeping muscles and joint springy for quick reflexes, so when you trip, you don’t fall. Fascia helps to hydrate the tissue it surrounds, storing and moving fat and water. Hydrated fascia is like the difference between a wet or a dry sponge.
Fascia also sends messages to and from the brain, providing proprioception of the body and environment. If you step on a tack your fascia tells your brain to get your foot up quick. The message moves through the fascia much faster than through the nerves.
The fascia is like a superhighway to the brain, while the nerves are like the back roads, travelling through muscles to send their messages. WHY IS FASCIA IMPORTANT?
Fascia is continuous - a restriction in one area can affect any other area in the body. Every cell in the body is always responding to the tension in the fascia.
Fascia is stubborn - no amount of muscle stretching will make a lasting difference unless the fascia is also stretched. Hamstrings may have to be stretched longer than a few breath cycles to also stretch the fascia.
Fascia is elusive - pain is hard to diagnose as fascia does not show up on X-rays, Ultra- sound or MRI scans. If the doctor says your back pain is all in your mind, it could be in the fascia. THE STRUCTURE OF FASCIA
Fascia is made from connective tissue, containing closely packed bundles of collagen fibers, oriented in a wavy pattern, parallel to the direction of pull.
There are three main types of fascia:
ANATOMY TRAINS AND FASCIAL LINES
- Superficial Fascia, which is mostly associated with the skin.
- Deep Fascia, associated with the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels.
- Visceral Fascia, associated with the internal organs.
Anatomy Trains are traceable meridians of fascia which follow the lines of the body’s connective tissue. Movement, stability, tension, resilience, postural compensations and trauma are all passed through the whole body along these fascial lines. Anatomy Trains form a systematic view of the fascia, allowing easier assessments of restrictions and imbalances.
There are seven fascial lines.
- Superficial front line - bends the body forward and keeps if from falling back
- Superficial back line - bends the body backward and keeps if from falling forward
- Deep front line - supports the skeleton and organs
- Lateral lines - bend the body sideways
- Spiral line - rotates the whole body
- Arm Lines - connect arms to body
- Functional Lines - give power and support to arms
- The fascia makes up about 20% of the weight of the body and regenerates every 6-7 months.
- Fascia is organised according to the forces placed on the body. Heavier loads stimulate fascia more than rhythmic movements.
- Nerve impulses travel at about 1.5m per second. The fascia transmits electrical impulses through the body at 1500m per second
- Fascia contains 6-10 times more sensory nerves than muscle.
- Fascia is part of the tensegrity system which makes up the whole body
A tensegrity model consists of firm and elastic elements. The elastic elements are under constant tension, and the sturdy elements are connected only by the elastic elements to each other. All elastic elements are connected, and create a tensional network through the whole system. Fascial researchers assume that a human body contains similarities with such a system. The bones are the firm elements and connective tissue the elastic elements. WHAT CAUSES UNHEALTHY FASCIA?
Unhealthy fascia is caused by the same things that cause us to be unhealthy in other ways, like a sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, stress, and overusing or improperly using your muscles. Dehydration, unhealthy eating and poor sleep quality also contribute to unhealthy fascia. HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR FASCIA IS UNHEALTHY?
You know your fascia is unhealthy if your body is always stiff and store, and you lack strength and flexibility. Another clue is when you have an injury that just won’t heal.
If you have hunched posture, are short of breath, have cramps, headaches or general feelings of discomfort, that could be caused by the fascia. And lack of symmetry in the body is usually a result of tight or weak fascia. SOME BENEFITS OF HEALTHY FASCIA
Healthy fascia allows your muscles to work harder and more efficiently for better movement and coordination. You will notice increased flexibility, improved symmetry and alignment and better body awareness. If your fascia is healthy your balance, posture and breathing will also improve. And you will have increased blood flow for quicker recovery, and elimination of toxins for long term protection against injury, illness and pain.
KEYS TO KEEPING YOUR FASCIA FIT
To train the fascia you have to stop thinking about individual muscles, and concentrate more on fascial lines. Use whole body movement and vary the forces and direction of load. You can add a leg stretch to Side Lying Rotation (Book Openings) to get whole body movement. When doing Leg and Footwork add internal rotation and external rotation variations to vary the force and direction of load.
Many of the exercises we do in Pilates are already designed to stretch and strengthen the fascia. Monkey stretch on the Cadillac is a great example of “neural flossing”, stretching the nerves that run through the fascia.
Train in intervals to allow the fascia to rehydrate. When doing work on the Jump board, break it up with a round of arms or legs in straps. Do rhythmic movement to allow tissues and joints to synchronize and use the environment to create elastic rebound.
Only move to your own threshold, starting with small ROM.
Stretch daily to elongate fascia and release tension in the muscles. Do Pilates or Yoga to work on strength and mobility, cardio to increase blood supply, Resistance exercises for strength, and plyometric exercises for resilience.
Use heat to increase circulation and cold to reduce inflammation of the fascia. Eat a healthy diet full of real foods and stay hydrated. Get professional help to avoid chronic pain. Release fascial restrictions, using a foam roller, spiky balls or other hands on forms of myofascial release.
WHAT IS MYOFASCIAL RELEASE?
Myofascial release is a technique to revive the fascia, release restrictions and provide proprioceptive awareness through self-massage or hands on therapies. Mechanical pressure and shear motion applied to the connective tissue leads to a liquid exchange in the fascia, transporting waste and lymph away, filling the tissue with fresh water from the plasma. The exchange stimulates metabolism and improves fluid supply to the fascia and associated organs, invigorating and regenerating the fascia
HOW PILATES AND FASCIAL FITNESS FIT TOGETHER
Fascial exercise resets the body and breaks old patterns while Pilates helps the body to maintain the new settings. Fascial release hydrates the connective tissue, and Pilates keeps the tissues hydrated. Fascial exercises release restrictions, while Pilates keeps fascia resilient. Fascial fitness increases proprioception, and Pilates adds to that aware- ness. By keeping the fascia in mind, you can make every Pilates workout a fascia work- out as well.