What is Fascia?
Imagine one connected, continuous sheet of plastic wrap surrounding and giving form and containment to every part of your body…muscles, organs, nerves, veins. And, imagine that this plastic wrap can fluctuate between a liquid state and varying degrees of solidity. Kind of weird, huh? Well, this is a pretty good description of fascia —the soft connective tissue that holds us together.
Fascia is a tissue that surrounds every muscle in our body. Not only does it give form to the muscles, but when it is in its ideal state, it is essentially liquid and allows the muscles to glide over each other and function as they were intended. When this natural gliding happens, there is no muscular pain or restriction of mobility; basically, your body feels good.
However, when you experience stiffness in the body: aches and pains, or general discomfort, almost certainly the fascia in your body has become restricted. This restriction occurs due to repetitive motions (like typing on the computer all day), inactivity (like sitting at a computer all day), and also through traumas to the body through an accident or a surgery.
The Magic of Fascia
This connective tissue has this amazing quality of solidifying in order to actually save energy in our bodies. When we do something repeatedly, even sitting, the fascia essentially forms a mold of that position, so we don’t have to use as much muscle energy to keep us upright. The down side of this, in the case of sitting all day, is when we stand up we have to use a lot of muscle energy to reposition all the solidified fascia. It is during these times that we notice pain in our backs and tension in our shoulders.
Another amazing quality of fascia: it will solidify around injuries and traumas that have occurred to the body. This function provides support for that specific area of the bodyso that it can heal. This is a wonderful attribute. However, when the body has healed itself, the solidified connective tissue remains.
So why is it a problem to have solidified fascia?
As I mentioned earlier, one of the problems is that there is restriction in the movement in the body. This restriction can create aches and pains throughout the body. However, there is another issue that takes place. Remember the description of this connective tissue in the first paragraph? Everything in the body is connected. If there is one area of the body that has solidified fascia, then that will be influencing the rest of the body, subtly and not so subtly pulling on that continuous tissue that surrounds our anatomy. This influence, when left unaddressed, creates in the body, what massage therapists simply call, a pattern. There is a pattern of tension. So, what starts as something small can develop into something quite complexed.
Not to Fear!
Introducing movement is what gets the fascia back to its liquid state. And it is movement that is an essential component in keeping things open in the body. Daily stretching, exercising, and dancing are great ways to get the body moving and softening the fascia. To have a morning routine or daily practice of movement will greatly benefit your body’s sense of well being because you will be liquifying the fascia and allowing your body to function as intended.
If the issue has gone on for too long and there is chronic restriction in the body, be it because of inactivity, extended repetitive motions, or a trauma, it requires manual therapy, like massage to actually liquify the fascia again. A skilled practitioner can easily identify where the fascial “restrictions” are, knows the appropriate techniques to soften the tissue, and can recognize clearly when the restriction is released.
To maintain both health and a good feeling in your body, stretching, dancing, and exercise are key. To correct chronic issues, massage is essential. If you have chronic pain in your body, begin with movement. And, this movement also prepares you for receiving massage because it opens up the tissue in your body. If you are in pain, or just feel restricted in your body, there is no need for it. Your fascia and be brought back into an ideal state with just a little work.
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