Fascia: An Ultimate Guide
If you’re looking for practitioner-assisted stretch therapy near you, you may be wondering what is causing you to feel sore or like you’ve lost your range of motion. The truth is, the source of discomfort will vary depending on your situation.
One common culprit, though, is your fascia. Below we’ll provide a deep explanation of fascia, as well as answer some frequently asked questions about it. We hope this helps you determine the source of your discomfort.
What Is Fascia?
Fascia is a tissue that helps support your internal structure. It’s a system of collagen fibers covering your entire body, including bones, muscles, organs, and blood vessels.
In an ideal world, your fascia is perfectly flexible, able to stretch with your movements.
Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, and oftentimes your fascia will get used to certain movements you’re making. This reduces your range of motion over time, as your body feels stiff and unable to stretch in unfamiliar ways.
Because this tissue is suffused with nerves, your brain receives a signal when the fascia is too tight. This leads to the soreness or tightness that you want to get rid of.
What Are the Three Layers of Fascia?
There are three layers of fascia:
- Superficial fascia – This layer blends with the skin, connecting it to bones, muscles, and deeper fascia.
- Visceral fascia – This layer surrounds the organs, keeping them in place.
- Deep fascia – This layer supports and surrounds the muscles of your body. It is the thickest layer of fascia.
As you can see, the layers are categorized by where they are in the body. All three of them perform similar roles but their density and composition vary depending on what part of the body they’re providing support and connection for.
Where your fascial stiffness is coming from will determine the best course of action for resolving it. Deep fascial discomfort, for instance, requires much more pressure to correct than superficial fascia discomfort.
What Is the Difference Between Fascia and Myofascial?
Myofascia is a subset of the fascial system. Fascia refers to superficial, visceral, and deep fascia. Myofascial, on the other hand, specifically refers to the deep fascia surrounding muscles.
Why Is My Fascia So Tight?
Because of its presence throughout your body, fascia needs to be flexible. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that can cause it to thicken, dry up, or become sticky, which leads to an uncomfortable tightness. In some cases, this discomfort can even reduce your range of motion.
We’ll discuss some of the most common factors below.
Moving Too Little
One of the most common causes of fascia stiffness is not moving your body enough. Having a plan to regularly engage in some sort of physical activity is the first step to resolving this issue, but it isn’t the only one.
You also want to make sure you have plans for moving throughout the day. Even just making a commitment to stand up once an hour can make a difference. We live unnaturally sedentary lives, and anything you can do to counteract that is good for your body.
Some people are reticent to move because of the pain they’re feeling, but if your fascia is stiff, not moving will only worsen the issue.
Moving Too Much
While it’s more common to experience fascia discomfort because you aren’t moving enough, the inverse can also be true. You won’t experience issues if you’re varying movements from each day to the next, but over time, repetitive motions can overextend certain areas while leaving others underused.
This is why it’s important to make sure that you’re varying your exercises from day to day.
Posture and fascia have a symbiotic relationship. On the one hand, good posture is important for ensuring the health of your fascia. If you’re not sitting correctly, the tissue can bunch up and knot itself in unnatural ways.
On the other hand, if your fascia is stiff, it can be uncomfortable to stand and sit up straight. In fact, you can get used to the poor posture, not even realizing that it’s a problem.
Your fascia is composed of a significant amount of water. If you’re not drinking enough, it’s easy for your fascia to dry out, causing that stiffness.
Because fascia can be found throughout your body, any injuries that you suffer can also lead to injuries of your fascia.
You’ll want to speak with a medical professional to determine whether your fascia has been damaged. Medical diagnoses typically take place using touch, but there are occasions when a diagnostic ultrasound may be used.
Your fascia is one of the reasons why it’s so important to take time off after an injury.
Sometimes, athletes don’t want to take a break, or they want to resume physical activity as soon as possible. While it’s good to stay active, your body needs time to fully heal itself.
If it doesn’t get that time, the area could become inflamed again and more likely to experience additional damage. This is particularly important for the fascia, which adjusts to changes in motion.
When engaging in physical activity with an injury, most people use unnatural movements to avoid any motion that cause them pain. While this works in the short-term, it also forces them into habits where they get used to unnatural maneuvers.
The fascia stiffens and gets used to these motions, which means your range of motion is reduced. This commonly leads to repetitive strain injury.
Over time, a strong link has been established between anxiety and fascia stiffness. There are two major reasons for why this is.
The first is that people are more likely to clench their muscles, which leads to the overuse discussed above. The second is that stress releases a hormone known as cortisol, which in turn causes issues with your fascia.
Even something as simple as mindful breathing can help reduce the stress that leads to fascia inflammation.
As you get older, your fascia gets thicker in some areas and thinner in others, but the general trend is that your flexibility lessens over time. Along with the changes occurring in the fascia itself, problems also occur because your body produces less collagen.
This can lead to a cycle, where you move less because your body feels stiff, but your body feels stiff because you move less.
This is why it’s always important to keep your range of motion in mind. While there are situations where you don’t want to move if it hurts – e.g., if you injured a joint – your fascia will feel better if you move it around and prevent it from getting too stiff.
Smoking increases the inflammation in your body, which can cause problems for your fascia. Particularly problematic is the fact that it can diminish your body’s collagen production. This means that your body may be slower to heal if the fascia is ever inflamed.
Diseases and Disorders
There are certain conditions that put you at much greater risk for fascia inflammation. These include fibromyalgia, systemic sclerosis, and polymyalgia.
What Are the Symptoms of Fascia Discomfort?
Because fascia can be found throughout the body, it can sometimes be difficult to determine if your fascia is the source of your problem or if you’re instead having an issue with your muscles or joints.
The simplest rule of thumb is this: if your soreness begins to dissipate when you’re moving, the issue is most likely with your fascia. If movement makes the discomfort worsen, it’s much more likely that you’re dealing with muscle or joint issues.
Problems with your fascia can cause problems in your day-to-day life, especially when you’re trying to sleep.
Which Parts of the Body Are Most Likely to Experience Myofascial Inflammation?
Fascia’s presence throughout the body means that there are numerous areas where it can experience inflammation. One of the most commonly-known inflammation points is the foot. This is called plantar fasciitis.
Your neck, shoulders, and upper back tend to be the most commonly affected. These areas simply experience less movement than your arms or legs, which makes them more likely to feel stiff.
How Does Fascia Discomfort Progress Over Time?
At first, your muscles may just feel a little bit stiff. But over time, they will begin to knot up. These knots are also known as trigger points.
There are several different methods you can use to release tight fascia. When determining the right course of action, it’s useful to understand where you are in the adhesion process.
This helps you determine whether or not you need to loosen the fascia, or whether you need to go deeper in order to address trigger points as well.
How Do You Release Tight Fascia?
To prevent your fascia from stiffening, it’s important to stretch regularly. This encourages blood flow and also improves your range of motion. Different stretches on different days are ideal.
Practitioner-Assisted Stretching for Fascial Release
It’s also advisable to engage in practitioner-assisted stretching. It holds two major advantages that are worth noting when trying to address fascia stiffness.
The first is that practitioners will be able to use their experience and expertise to understand the issue(s) you’re facing. If your fascia is stiff, it can be difficult to notice the ways in which your range of motion has been restricted.
A practitioner can devise a stretching plan suited to your needs. As well, they can make any adjustments as needed to make sure that your stretching plan is always working for you.
The second is that practitioner-assisted stretching allows both the practitioner and their stabilization system to help you during the stretch.
This is ideal because, in situations where fascial stiffness has reduced your range of motion, a practitioner will be able to push you farther than you would be able to go by yourself.
The best part is, you can do this without having to feel too much discomfort. In fact, we have a numerical system designed to ensure that you’re pushing yourself without ever feeling like you’re getting pushed too far.
Exercise helps you maintain your range of motion while promoting blood flow. This is excellent for keeping your fascia flexible and resilient.
When trying to relieve fascia discomfort, we recommend aerobic exercise over anaerobic exercise. This means physical activity like walking or swimming is preferable to something more strenuous, like weightlifting.
Heat is excellent for releasing your fascia. By increasing blood flow, it makes you feel less stiff in the affected area. This is perfect when you’re trying to move the area again.
Heat packs and saunas are both great ways of heating up stiff fascia.
While heat is excellent for relieving sore fascia, cold temperatures can also be useful because it reduces inflammation. Cold therapy and ice packs both work for cooling your fascia.
If you’re having a hard time relieving your sore fascia, it can be a good idea to switch between heat and cold. This allows you to alternate between reducing inflammation and reducing discomfort.
What Does Fascia Release Feel Like?
Fascia release is broken down into three different categories:
- Myofascial structural release
- Myofascial unwinding
- Myofascial rebounding
Myofascial structural release occurs when a therapist applies light pressure to areas of the fascia that are thick or stiff.
Myofascial unwinding is a more all-encompassing form of fascia release. A type of pandiculation, it combines the purposeful relaxation of your myofascial structure with all the instinctual, automatic movements that go along with that stretch.
Some people find it useful to think of yawning, or even yoga, to conceptualize the soothing disentanglement that comes with myofascial unwinding.
Myofascial rebounding uses a rhythmic motion to loosen your fascia even further.
Looking for Stretch Therapy Near You?
At Stretch Zone, we have the skill and experience to provide the best practitioner-assisted stretching that can help improve your range of motion. We now have stretch therapy locations all across the country. If you or a loved one are struggling with range of motion, please don’t hesitate to try stretch therapy for free.