The latest buzzword in wellness circles these days is “fascia” (pronounced fash-ya). Bodywork specialists have known about this underappreciated organ for years, but it is only recently with the growing popularity of foam rollers and massage balls, that people seem to be paying attention.
First of all, what is fascia?
To put it simply, it is the entire web of tissue that encases all parts of the body. Think of a sheath wrapping around to bind and support your muscles, bones and other organs. Ideally it is white and slimy, meaning it can slide and glide easily as you go about your everyday life. There are plenty of medical pictures you can find online if you want to see it, but I’ll spare you this time! Trust me on this. Think of the membranes around individual orange slices if you need a visual.
Why do we yoga teachers and massage therapists care about this?
One, it highlights what we have known already for a long time: no part of your body works in isolation. Or as I like to say in class sometimes, your foot is connected to your shoulder! The body is a network, and while there is value in treating some parts individually, we have to remember that what we do one place will affect another place. For example, when treating plantar fasciitis (inflamed tissue in the foot) the smart thing is to also look at stretching and strengthening the calf.
Two, movement keeps our fascia healthy! Fascia will get sticky and stiff when we don’t move enough. You know those knots you feel when you wake up or don’t go to yoga for a long time? That could quite possibly be fascia, so get to your yoga class! This is also a good time to mention that hydration will also play a big part in this. Your body is mostly water and fascia is made of collagen, so keep those cells well fed and lubricated!
Three, when movement isn’t enough or we have overdone some movements, we can turn to tissue manipulation either done with a self massage tool or by a professional massage therapist. Myofascial release is an extremely helpful tool for treating the root cause of an injury instead of masking pain through medication. “It keeps the tissues hydrated, can resolve nerve entrapment, and allows the muscles to glide past each other appropriately in a normal range of motion”, says Evelyn Mizell, Refresh Yoga Center teacher in Alexandria, VA and Yoga Medicine teacher in-training.
I speak from personal experience as I thought at one time I had a serious knee injury, but it turned out to be a fascia related issue in my adductors (inner thigh). Fascia is well innervated and can therefore be a source of pain. I was prescribed an “instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization technique (IASTM). [which] uses specially designed instruments to provide a mobilizing effect to soft tissue (e.g., scar tissue, myofascial adhesion) to decrease pain and improve range of motion and function”.3 It worked, but it was extremely painful. I would not recommend waiting until you get to that point before doing any massage techniques at all. Now when I start to feel any tenderness around my knees, I immediately get out my foam roller and book a massage. Evelyn also recommends MFR for “those practitioners who are recovering from surgery, are rehabbing post-injury, or are experiencing difficulty with range of motion.”
We look forward to learning and sharing more about fascia in class and on our blog. Remember, keep your fascia healthy with yoga and movement, massage, and hydration!
- The Core Connection, Podcast Erica Ziel, “David Lesondak, Fascia: What it is and Why it Matters”, June 26 , 2018.
- The Key Muscles of Yoga: Scientific Keys, Volume I, by Ray Long.
Refresh Yoga Center serves the community of Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia and the surrounding areas of Baily’s Crossroads, Fort Hunt, National Harbor, Arlington, Del Ray, Annandale, Belle Haven and Oxon Hill. Offerings include massage, beginner yoga, stretch classes, restorative, pregnancy yoga, yoga for seniors. We are on the 2nd floor at 110 King Street next to O’Connell’s pub.