I have suffered from horrible posture for as long as I can remember. I shot up in height really early and was very often the tallest in my class, which led to insecurities, making me hunch to appear the same height as my peers. Years of self-shrinking, working in front of a computer and breastfeeding has transformed my bad posture into a soon-to-be hump on my back. Not to mention that I still carry my three year old constantly, and always on the same side. Saying my back needs some help is an understatement. Lucky for me, I don’t suffer much pain in my back, but lately I have started to feel some tingling sensation in that area. Trying to keep up in the wellness world, I came across myofascial release – stretching your fascia.
What is Fascia Stretching?
Fascia is the thin layer of connective tissue joining all other tissues. It wraps itself around muscles, joints, bones, tendons, ligaments and organs, creating a structural continuity that gives form and function to every tissue and organ. Because of its ubiquitous distribution in the body system, it’s able to wrap, interpenetrate, support and form the bloodstream, bone tissue, meningeal tissue, organs and skeletal muscles.
The function of fascia is basically to enable normal movement of the body. The presence of fascial tissue and its inseparable interconnection allows the sliding of the muscular structure, the sliding of nerves and vessels between contractile fields and joints, and the ability of all organs to slide and move with each other based on their position of the body. Along with the function of movement, fascia also influences emotions: a dysfunction of the fascial system perpetuated in everyday movements can cause an emotional alteration.
The fascia has been discarded by classical anatomists as “packing material” for many centuries, but western science has recently realized that it is way more important. In 2007, the first international Fascia Research Congress was held at Harvard Medical School, bringing new awareness to the importance of the fascial webbing system. It’s a great connector and the one tissue that touches every other piece of us, so we must give our fascia some TLC.
What kind of problems arise if the fascia is disrupted?
Poor posture, poor flexibility and repetitive movements pull on our fascia and train it to remain in those less-than-optimal positions. Adhesions, as well as scarred tissue, form within blocked fascial tissue and can leave you feelings heavy, uncomfortable and run down. When fascia bonds together it can create knots, pain, tension and thickness, making it harder for us to use our body’s full range of motion.
While we’re not using the full range of motion, the body tends to restrict itself and shorten. Chronic fatigue will then result and fascia can become fibrotic – or, tissues do not move properly, making body movement more difficult. Since the movements are uncoordinated, the central nervous system will see this as fatigue (i.e. fibromyalgia). Without proper flow of the fascial continuum, it causes an inflammatory environment, acute or chronic. The proteins produced (cytokines) can stimulate the activation of osteoclasts – cells that break down bone – and bone resorption, which in time can lead to osteoporosis.
How can we work the fascia?
Fascia is incredibly malleable, so it can harden and thicken when not used correctly: for instance, when you have a stiff shoulder, it may not be damage to the muscle but hardening or thickening of the fascia around the shoulder muscles and joint. It is also self-healing, so continuous stretching can help to heal your fascia. Having an efficient metabolism, improving posture and reducing the pain can be supported by getting your body aligned. Toxins also tend to get trapped in the fascia when your body is out of alignment.
Seeing a therapist or licensed clinician would be the safest way to understand how to align your body. But If you don’t have the time or resources to find yourself getting aligned, rolling with a foam roller is a great at-home tool. Rolling with a foam roller improves circulation throughout your entire body, which then supports oxygenating the blood, boosting lymphatic drainage and flushing toxins from the body.
At the stretch studio I went to, they used Fascial Stretch Therapy, which is a system of manual, assisted stretch techniques that includes comprehensive joint, fascial and muscular stretching. It differs from traditional stretching in that it engages the whole myofascial system by targeting not only muscles, but also joints, ligaments, tendons and bones close to the muscle. The goal is to eliminate pain, improve mobility and optimize athletic performance.
The Graston technique was also introduced in our session. I have to admit that the tools seem as if they’ll seriously hurt you, but these instruments enable the treatment of scar tissue and fascial restrictions that allows for faster rehabilitation and higher success in restoring range of motion and eliminating pain. This technique has been shown to increase active lumbar flexion, extension, lateral bending and hip flexion because it helped to prevent muscle atrophy and restore muscle balance.
Another technique utilized during my session was cupping. In my wellness journey, I have always steered clear of cupping, but with no real reason apart from my own fear of it being painful. Reluctantly, I accepted the suggestion of cupping in efforts to relieve any back pain I have. Cupping therapy applies suction and negative pressure to decrease myofascial restrictions, loosen muscles and above all, encourage blood flow and relax the nervous system. It can also be used to decrease anxiety, fatigue, migraines and even, of late, cellulite.
I’ve started my journey of stretching myself out and straightening my posture. If you’re having constant back pain, suffering from bad posture or feeling unaligned, look into stretching your fascia. Whether at home or with a professional, it may be the game-changer in leading a lower-stressed life.
Image by Subin Yang
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