What Is Fascia and Why Does It Even Matter?
Show it some TLC and it will help you move well for life.
The Fascia Network
Fascia is like a full-body webbing: It keeps everything in place below the skin's surface, wrapping your muscles, bones, organs, nerves, and blood vessels into an interconnected network of collagen and elastic fibers. Every step and squat-and every hour sedentary-affect your fascia, says Arkady Lipnitsky, a chiropractor at ReBalance NYC wellness center. "If your joints feel stiff when you get up after sitting for a long period, you can blame the fascia, which has temporarily lost its elastic properties and fluid resilience," says exercise physiologist Sue Hitzmann, a founding member of the Fascia Research Society and creator of the MELT Method. "Move around, and the feeling goes away. That's one big reason why movement is so essential." (Related: Should You Try An Assisted Stretch Class?)
When Things Get Kinky
Over time (or because of an injury), fascia can tear, become inflamed or shortened, or stick together-you may experience those adhesions as knots. Consider the common case of plantar fasciitis, that underfoot pain you can get when running. The ache is caused when the fascia that runs from your heel bone to the front of your foot along the arch is inflamed from being repeatedly overstretched, says sports medicine physician Jordan Metzl, M.D., in The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies. (The fix: rest from the offending activity and gentle foot flexes.) Meanwhile, major adhesions can restrict movement and even prevent muscles from contracting efficiently, limiting flexibility, mobility, and strength, says Lipnitsky. (Related: The Best Recovery Tools to Help Ease Pain from Plantar Fascitis)
Massaging and relaxing fascia can help prevent issues with it. Such myofascial release-using pressure from hands or tools-and stretching keeps fascia supple, says Ashley Black, who helps clients maintain healthy fascia and created the FasciaBlaster tool. "With tight spots, go easy," she says. "It takes light, brisk scrubbing motions to break them up." Research in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that pre-workout foam rolling and roller massage can also up mobility and reduce post-workout soreness. "Myofascial release increases blood flow to the area, which can alleviate pain and help you recover from a workout faster," says Armin Tehrany, M.D., the founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care. (Related: The Best Workout Recovery Method for Your Schedule)