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We’re Just Fascinated: The 411 On Fascia

Say the word “fascia” you may get some blank stares. Is it skin? Or maybe part of your muscle? With all this confusion it’s no wonder this incredible element of the body is robbed of the credit it deserves.

It’s easiest to think of fascia as a glorified body stocking. Technically, it’s a seamless, multidimensional tissue that forms your internal soft-tissue architecture (Why Fascia Matters). Until recently, fascia was viewed as the packing peanuts of your skin. In fact, for years this tissue was discarded in medical lectures or medical school gross anatomy labs. What researchers are now learning is that fascia is a remarkably communicative, sensory and proprioceptive component of the body.  This is because fascia plays a critical role in connecting your primary muscle groups. A discovery of this nature meant that fascia was suddenly viewed as the network that makes our bodies operate as a whole. As a result, we now understand that you cannot have something happen to “one” isolated part of your body. There are no local movements in the body; rather there are regions within the body that impact one another in a globally connective way.

A discovery of this nature meant that fascia was suddenly viewed as the network that makes our bodies operate as a whole.

Let’s go deeper (no pun intended). By definition, tensegrity means that structures are stable and functional, not because of the strength of individual pieces, but instead the way in which the entire structure distributes tension as a whole. Our central nervous system views our body as having one system-wide muscle. Although each movement may feel isolated, muscles do not behave in an independent way. Each movement requires the support of a vast network of supportive tissue and muscle.

Once we understand the role of tensegrity in the body, we can understand the domino effect- otherwise known as a compensatory pattern. Just like it sounds, your body has a habit of compensating to avoid pain which often leads to an injury far away from the pain site. Imagine for a moment, you fell after a high school football game and hurt your neck. Years go by and you can hardly remember that fall. You enter college and you notice a nagging shoulder pain- probably from your long hours at the computer. Later in life you find yourself struggling with low back spasms and planter fasciitis, which you surmise is likely from your half-marathon training. You probably haven’t considered the possibility that these issues may all stem from that fall in high school but understanding our fascia’s role in creating tensegrity really does mean the feet affect the knees, the knees affect the hips, the hips affect the shoulders and back and so on and so on.

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Our culture tends to describe these feelings as “just getting old,” but they are actually the product of a long, slow drain from unaddressed compensatory patterns. It’s time to shift the way we deal with “problems” in our body and look at them in relation to the whole package. Experts are only beginning to understand the value in training to unravel your compensatory patterns to resolve issues. Our fascia is our largest sensory organ with 10x more sensory receptors than muscles. This makes your fascia a system of proprioception, which helps tell your body where it is in space and dictates the quality of your body’s movement.

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Regular “functional” exercise is key to keeping your fascia healthy. Incorporate exercises that relate to your day-to-day routine- lifting, bending, crouching, squatting. These should be familiar to BE clients, as they are key components of our method, and can be related to what is known as functional fitness. Emerging “myofascial release” techniques are great ways to compliment functional exercise for fascia health. Your fascia also needs to stay hydrated. If your connective tissue is dehydrated and lacks conditioning (via exercise), it may be too tightly bound to hydrate limiting the amount of slide and glide in the body’s tissues.  Staying active is essential to keeping your fascia properly hydrated. The most effective form of “fascial fitness” is that which contradicts your typical movements. Think of all those times you went to a barre class and thought “I didn’t even know I had a muscle there”… consider that sensation to be your fascia’s way of thanking you.

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