You are achy, you feel restricted, and you can’t quite get things moving even with a workout. What is it that makes you feel this way? That, my friend, is fascia. It is the most abundant connective tissue in your body, and it is the most important thing in the body, next to blood.
What Is Fascia?
Think of it as the glue that holds us together underneath our skin. Without it, we would be mush (in the literal sense). Fascia connects us from head to toe and is sensitive to every movement in our body. In its basic sense, fascia (fah-sh-ah) is a connective tissue. It surrounds every muscle fiber and every organ in the body holding them in place. Under a microscope, it would look like a tight fiber mesh. It tends to exist in two states, sol state, and gel state.
- Sol state: In which fascia is more elastic and movable and is less restrictive
- Gel state: In which fascia is thick and less movable and tough
The fascial states can be altered due to a property called thixotropism. With the use of massage techniques, such as foam rolling, applied heat or skin rolling, the state can be changed from gel to sol with relative ease (barring any injuries; more on that later). Thixotropism also occurs during exercise as heat is generated throughout the body.
Fascial states are also susceptible to being hydrated or not. Picture, if you will, a block of Jell-O that has just been made. It is shiny and pliable. If that same block is left out in the open air, it starts to get dried out, it shrinks up and starts to harden in spots as the water evaporates. That is, in essence, what happens to fascia when we become dehydrated. It is suggested to consume .5oz per every 1lb of body weight as a general rule of thumb to keep your body hydrated and your fascia in a sol state.
Because fascia is surrounding everything in the body, including nerves, it can compress upon these nerves causing pain. When you have physical pain or are in an uncomfortable position, it is the compression of the fascia on the nerve causing this discomfort. When we become injured and constricted, the fascia will not move as easily (think of the dried Jell-O block). Fluid movement is essential to every day and overall body health. Neglecting that is neglecting you.
Protecting the Fascia
Many of the most ardent exercisers are not using proper body mechanics to get through their workout. You may be fast, strong and at peak cardiovascular condition, but that does not mean that you are truly functioning at peak performance. You must vary your workout routines to incorporate movement. That is the key. Maintaining a varied athletic routine using cross training, movement, strength and stretching are invaluable. Hold your stretches for 2 or so minutes. I know that seems long but stay with me here. Stretching is psychological as well as physical. If you are committed to the elongation of the muscle, using a continuous movement can help with the permanent elongation of the tissue.
What Can You Do Now?
For athletes looking to maximize your performance or for those that just want to feel good, what can you do now?
Don’t just run. Don’t just lift. Don’t just Crossfit. Vary your workout routines to include activities such as dance, yoga, even Zumba. Something that gets you moving on all planes and make sure to stretch after every workout. This does not mean you have to give up your favorite workout routine, just mix it up every now and again. It will make your body so much happier in the long run and reduce fascial pain.