Fascia: The Mystery “Muscle” That May Be Causing Body-Wide Pain
Soreness and stiffness are often blamed on muscle tightness, strains or pulls. Or perhaps even bone, ligament or joint problems. Such symptoms may in fact be due to problems with these body parts. But it is also entirely possible that one mysterious group of connective tissue fibers is responsible for the body-wide pain you’re experiencing.
What Is Your Fascia?
You may have heard of fascia as it relates to plantar fasciitis. This condition is the result of inflammation in the fascia of the foot. It causes intense pain in the heal. But fascia plays a much larger role in the body.
The tightly packed bundles of dense regular connective tissues create a sheet of tissue beneath your skin that covers the entirety of your body. These are the type of connective tissue that bundle in a parallel fashion. This tissue is comprised of densely packed protein fibers. These fibers wind their way throughout your body. They bind to muscles, bones and organs. They give them structural support in the process. Fascia is packed with sensory neurons. It has approximately six times greater than in most other body tissue. Therefore, it is particularly sensitive. The sensory neurons in your fascia play a large role in communication among muscle systems. They help them function properly.
How Does Your Fascia Affect Your Health?
The density of sensory neurons in fascia are key for muscle function. They also play an important role in muscle communication. They represent the primary method through which your fascia can negatively impact your health. If your fascia becomes tight, sticky or stiff, it may result in general aches and pains throughout the body. This can irritate muscles, joints and other body tissues and connections. On the other hand, maintaining a flexible, stretchy fascia helps the body to move and bend more easily. It allows muscles to slide and react more smoothly and effectively. It also helps to keep pain and stiffness at bay.
Can I Do Anything to Help?
Now you know what condition your fascia should be in for proper function. So how can you help get it there? For starters, think about how most of us generally feel in the morning. We feel stiff, sore or cramped as we get out of bed and start to move around. This feeling isn’t uncommon. Just as animals do, especially cats, stretching in the morning helps to relieve that tension and break up muscle “fuzz”. This example is a microcosm of the causes of, and remedies for, fascia tightness. Generally speaking, inactivity, repetitive motions and sitting for long periods of time may all contribute to unhealthy fascia. A lack of stretching and injuries may also add to it. However, the good news is that you can greatly improve the health of your fascia. Doing a few basic exercises and activities can enhance the heath of your fascia.
Ways to Improve the Health of Your Fascia
The most basic way to make your fascia healthier is to stretch. It’s never a bad idea to stretch out in the morning or before bed. Always stretch before or after a workout, and after sitting for an extended period of time. Doing so can help your fascia perform more effectively. Foam rollers are an great way to stretch out fascia. They can target particularly sore or tight areas. Stretching your appendages and joints to utilize their full range of motion helps as well.
Beyond stretching, there are still a number of other ways to improve your fascia’s health and performance. Massages to release fascia are helpful. Tennis balls make great options for a self-massage to target fascia, since they grip the skin and help loosen layers of fascia. Light exercises in which the body covers a wide range of motion are great options too. Such exercises include walking and swimming. Hydration is important for fascia health as well. It helps to keep tissues loose and lubricated. So be sure to drink plenty of water and fluids. Lastly, if you think you need a little extra help, massage therapists may be able to loosen hard-to-tackle areas. They also may have more advice about regular maintenance and stretches.
One thing is for sure, fascia health and its role in how we feel every day has been vastly underestimated. Here are some stretching routines that may be worth bookmarking. Try to do a few every day to ensure the health and flexibility of your fascia.
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Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.