Why do we need to understand fascia?
Fascia may be the buzz word in the manual therapy and exercise communities, but it remains a mysterious concept for the mainstream audience. Traditionally, fascia has been viewed as packing material for muscles and other structures in our body. If you ever cut raw meat, you would be familiar with the film that covers and separates individual sections of flesh, making it difficult to cut through. A traditional view of anatomy sees the body as a collection of individual muscles, each with a specific function, each operating according to the mechanics of its shape, attachment and fitness level, etc. It’s a view that focuses on isolated parts rather than on the system as a whole.
The result of this view of human anatomy can be seen in our gyms, which are full of machines dedicated to a single muscle or a group of muscles. On such machines, you work on strengthening that muscle while the rest of the body is sitting mostly idle. This approach can create a set of large muscles and it will make a person ‘look’ strong. What it doesn’t allow for is the development of a functionally strong, well-aligned, well-balanced body. So, what is missing in the traditional approach? It seems like new research on fascia has become a wake-up call and a reminder that the body is a complex and tightly interconnected system. If you are interested in the well-being of a system, you can’t work only on a few parts in isolation, you need to address the whole thing.
What is fascia?
Tom Mayers, the renowned expert in fascia research, defines fascia as follows: “Fascia is the biological fabric that holds us together, the connective tissue network.” It is “a singular system, a continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption.” He continues, “each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia. In turn, tightness and dysfunction in any structure of the body will involve an element of fascia restriction.”
The fascia system is a web that ties everything in our body together. It's an anatomical structure that illustrates the concept of interconnectedness and interdependency within our anatomy. Understanding the basics of how fascia operates and what it needs for optimal functioning is extremely helpful in our effort of maintaining health, well-being, and a youthful appearance.
Quick Facts About Fascia:
- It supports body symmetry and straight posture
- It's smart, being an important sensory organ with more nerve endings than muscle tissue. It makes decisions for you on how to react to stimuli
- Fascia is considered to be a single organ that permeates almost everything in the body
- There are different types of fascia by function and composition
- There are fascia chains within the body
- Emotions and stress can affect fascia
- Lack of movement tightens fascia around the muscle, shortening them, restricting movement, and even changing their shape
How does fascia affect the aesthetics of aging?
I believe that the approach of looking at isolated parts instead of the complete picture is very common. The modern beauty industry makes the same mistake. We have isolated problems, such as skin aging for example, and we have solutions to fit those problems.
If aging skin is dry and inelastic, we give it creams with collagen and oil. Solved! The lack of moisture and elasticity is an effect of something, it's not a root cause of skin aging. So, skin creams on average make things feel better after application, but that’s as far as they go.
The reason we compartmentalize things is that they become easier to handle. But that simplification does us a disservice and prevents us from seeing the whole picture. So, one way in which understanding fascia helps us is by introducing a systems approach to wellness.
Fascia can transmit tension either from muscles or from external forces. For instance, a foot injury can produce pain or mobility issues in the hip area or even in the jaw. A force applied in one area gets transmitted through fascia and can lead to tightening, decreased blood flow, and movement restriction in another.
Rigid fascia affects the appearance by changing the shape of our muscles, shifting soft tissue, and creating trigger points and knots in the face. Fascia rigidity can pull the face downward, create folds, wrinkles, and skin sagging, and more. Fascial adhesions can create “traffic jams” within the soft tissue, restricting the flow of blood and lymph. This can cause puffiness, bags, uneven skin tone, and other issues.
What does this mean? It means that oftentimes, the reason for things like jowls, nasolabial folds, frown lines, under-eye bags, and other aesthetic issues is something seemingly unrelated, like a foot injury or chronically tight shoulders and hips. More often than not, the cumulative cause has to do with the tension and immobility across the entire body.
So, when we talk about doing stretches, massages, or functional movement to achieve an aesthetic result, it shouldn't be surprising to hear. It makes perfect sense once you understand the myofascial connections within the body.
Another important aspect to note is that the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid declines as we age. Both of these substances are necessary for a smooth, glowing appearance. Fascia plays a major role in the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid, which are critical for the health of soft tissue and a youthful appearance.
How to use this knowledge to age gracefully?
Once we understand fascia and how myofascial connections tie things together, we can apply this knowledge to our advantage. Here is what keeps fascia healthy:
You have to be smart and in touch with your body when it comes to exercise. What’s beneficial for one person may not be good for another. That’s where functional movement philosophy comes in. Functional Movement is the alternative to isolated muscle training. Instead of focusing on building perfect hamstrings, we focus on being strong and flexible, so we can pick up our kids or grocery bags.
Functional movement practitioners can help identify existing issues in the biomechanics of the body and help create a program to suit individual needs. But even without a practitioner, we can start assessing our issues ourselves. Are you generally flexible or does it take a lot of work to maintain flexibility? Did you have injuries in the past? What are you good at and what presents a challenge for you?
Manual Rejuvenation practice offers a simple set of daily exercises for mobility, flexibility, and myofascial release. Aside from that here is a list of amazing practices that are also recommended.
- Martial Arts
- Bodyweight exercises
Massage, myofascial release, Rolfing, osteopathic manipulations, and other modalities are fantastic for supporting fascia. Seeing a practitioner regularly is highly beneficial, but many techniques could also be done with your own hands. Manual fascia techniques can increase the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid that are the building blocks of healthy soft tissue.
This may seem unrelated to fascia directly, however, sweating while exercising or using a sauna or ideally both contributes to wellbeing by increasing blood flow, getting rid of toxicity, relaxation, and muscle pain reduction. It is also an amazing immediate aesthetic boost!
Emotional Healing and Stress Management
There is interesting literature available that outlines the relationship between connective tissue and emotions. The negative emotions and stress, it is postulated, can make fascia stiffer and less mobile. The movement modalities that tie to breath, like tai-chi or yoga are very powerful in releasing trapped emotions and calming the nervous system.
While the significance of fascia and ways of treating it are still under debate, I believe knowledge about this concept is powerful. Manual Rejuvenation program utilizes it to create a holistic program of self-care that delivers real long-lasting results.