Our Fascial System’s Health and The Aging Process
Fascia is a fascinating system within our bodies that is garnering more attention and medical awareness on a daily basis. Why is the fascial system so important you may ask? It’s the connective tissue in our bodies, which gives us stability, mobility, and also comes into contact with every other system of our body. As a licensed massage therapist who specializes in JFB Myofascial Release I see people of all ages on a daily basis with numerous types of muscular issues and fascial restrictions. One thing that is always a common denominator among us all is the aging process and the physical changes the body experiences. The health of our fascia plays an important role towards our level of vitality through this experience. Paying attention to the health of our fascial system can help us move through our aging bodily changes with ease and comfort.
So let’s take a look at what the fascial system is comprised of. Fascia consists of three parts, elastin fibers, collagen fibers and ground substance. The elastin fibers give our bodily movement elasticity and stretch while the collagen fibers provide support to our structure. The ground substance is a gelatinous substance used to transport metabolic material through the body, which becomes solidified when a fascial restriction occurs.
Most people assume that it’s our muscles and bones that hold our body upright. When in reality, this is accomplished by the fascial system.
A great analogy that I’ve learned from some of my teachers is comparing the fascial system to the ropes of a tent. The center poles of the tent are our bones, the canvas of the tent is our muscles and the tension of the ropes (our fascial system) is what gives the tent its structure. The fascia is a three dimensional web of tough connective tissue that permeates every corner of our body. This tissue surrounds and infuses every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel and organ, all the way down to the cellular level. Myofascial simply refers to the fascial system and how it relates to skeletal muscle, ‘myo’ meaning muscle and ‘fascial’ connective tissue.
Fascial restrictions are extremely common, and can develop due to trauma, poor posture, inflammatory responses, surgery or stress on the body. These restrictions can limit range of motion significantly, bringing our bodies out of normal alignment and causing pain in various ways. These areas of restriction exert a crushing pressure of up to two thousand pounds per square inch. Basically they can create a great disturbance in our body’s natural harmony! Because the fascia is a continuous structure a restriction in one area can pull on another distant area and create a new fascial restriction.
Currently these restrictions do not show up on medical exams like X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans; therefore they are commonly overlooked as potential causes for pain and dysfunction. Health care professionals presently use visual and palpatory assessments to find and treat these restrictions.
Every person has his or her own individual shape, body mechanics, trauma history, stressors and/or injuries. For this reason, no two fascial restrictions are alike. Applying direct and gentle sustained pressure into these areas will release the solidified ground substance, eliminating pain and restoring motion in the body.
Therapies like Myofascial Release and Myofascial Self Treatment are the most effective forms of bodywork to accomplish this. These therapies are helpful for a variety of conditions including neck and back pain, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, headaches, TMJ dysfunction, neurological conditions and chronic pain syndromes. Myofascial Self Treatment can easily be done at home with the use of soft foam rollers and sports balls using gentle sustained pressure into areas of tightness. After finding an area of tightness one should stay there for a minimum of five to seven minutes while breathing into the restriction. This will help it to soften and release comfortably. Therapeutic pain is okay when self-treating also, as long as your body can relax into the position. Once your body begins to brace, it is no longer therapeutic.
A great book that I recommend to my patients for self-treatment is “Comprehensive Myofascial Self Treatment” by Joyce Karnis Patterson, PT. Making the time to take care of your fascial system is well worth the time and effort.