Lately, we've been training a few new instructors at the studio and have been sitting down to talk about Fascia as it relates to exercise and foam rolling. I am always tempted to brush through the subject as if it's not really something the average person needs to know. My insecurities often blatantly tell me that whomever I'm talking about this with is bored by it and so I should get to the fun stuff already. I forget that at this day in age, an era in time where Western medicine has failed us in preventative health, where the more doctors learn about the soft tissue system, the less they realize they know, where we understand more and more that we need to take charge of what we can heal by ourselves, that this subject actually is the fun stuff. So please; read, comment and question away.
What is this fascia we speak of?
Fascia is a network of thin connective-tissue webbing, mostly made of collagen, elastin and water, which surrounds all muscles fibers, stabilizes all joints, creates supportive sacs for organ tissue to sit in, and encases all our cells, nerves, blood vessels and lymph (in other words, vital fluids and functions run through the fascia). It’s a network that is completely continuous throughout the body—it has no end, no beginning. Some may argue that we only have one continuous muscle that is split into sacs and sections because of how the fascia runs through us.
Thomas Myers (the Fascia guru) provides a simple visual of the fascia by comparing the human body's fascial system to that of an orange: "Our bodies are made up of approximately 60%-65% water. The reason that water isn’t standing in a puddle at our feet is because the fascial system compartmentalizes that water into cells, then into sacs, then into tissues such as muscle, organ, arterial etc." The way the fascial system looks can best be compared to an orange in that way. The orange's internal flesh separates its juice into tiny little sacs, then into sections, then into the shape of the orange itself. The fascia is basically an organizational support system for all our fluids and tissue.
How does fascia relate to our tension?
Because our cells and nervous system are tied up in the fascia, it's an extremely sensitive system in where it reacts to any new activity or attitude you give it. Repetitive strain is an example of fascia that has stiffened along lines of heavy use. Being sore after a really challenging or new activity is a situation where fascia has been asked to change the state it's used to being in and gets achy from moving in new ways. The posture associated with depression, is the fascia that has shaped its way into deflation. Your fascia changes when your activities change in order to better adapt to your lifestyle and the most interesting thing about that, is that it recognizes certain postures as your normal and builds neuropathways to encourage it to keep going in that direction, much like your brain will do the same, making depression and behavioral disorders worse if gone untreated. When you’ve been adopting poor postural or repetitive habits, your fascia identifies whatever it is you’ve been doing as its new “normal.” If you acquire any new injuries that result in the disruption of muscle and fascial tissue, your fascia will also adapt to this as its new “normal” unless quick and proper rehabilitation takes place. These postural, repetitive, or injury-based scenarios often result in what we know as Trigger Points.
What are Trigger Points (also known as "knots")?
Our dear client Alana Miller was experiencing pain in the top of her foot last week. With some guidance, she discovered that if she put the foam roller higher up into her Tibialis muscle (on the shin) it would simulate her foot pain and start alleviating it if she held it there and worked through it.
Janet G. Travell, MD, a pioneer woman in the development of myofascial pain treatment, was President John F. Kennedy's personal White House physician. She relieved his severe and chronic back pain. Dr. Travell's research demonstrated that a trigger point in a muscle has a specific pattern of referred pain. That is, a myofascial (myofascial is the term for the muscles and fascia working in the same function) trigger point will produce pain symptoms in another part of the body. Hence having foot pain that isn't exactly coming from the foot at all. All the trigger point therapy we use today is based on the treatment protocols of Dr. Travell, who actually made a map during her studies of every possible trigger point in the body. This map is common knowledge in the bodywork community and most therapists still refer to it on a regular basis.
We now know that trigger points are almost exclusive to the fascia and have almost nothing to do with the muscles. They're little areas in the connective tissue that for whatever reason bind up and create a knot-like nodule. This bound-up tissue tends to pull the tissue around it into dysfunction, creating a pulling sensation and possible pain in an entire area.
When we go over trigger points with our foam rollers, sensations can be felt not only in the area of the point, but of the surrounding tissues, indicating that if the point is released, the surrounding tissues can then also release and ease will be brought back into the area.
Sooo....how do these Trigger P's occur?
Lots of ways. Some examples:
- Workstation Ergonomics
- Overuse of Structure
- Underuse of Structure
- Repetitive Movements (i.e., sports, work, gait, driving, etc)
- Vitamin Deficiency
- Sleeping Habits
- Old Injuries
- Other Conditions (i.e. Diabetes, Celiac’s, Parkinson’s, etc)
- Water Deficiency—this can be a cause but also is linked to all other causes of TPs through lack of water distribution to problem areas.
There are 2 types of Trigger Points
Latent TPs cause restriction and weakness in certain areas but can go unnoticed until palpated. They are generally chronic, yet can be released.
Active TPs are irritating even at rest. They are generally more acute, and should be released so that they don’t turn into Latent TPs and later change your posture or restrict your activity.
And, how do we release them?
Bodywork and exercise, baby! Can you start to see what the importance of fluid fascia is? The reason we do this kind of self-myofascial work with our foam rollers in Roll and take our bodies to their biggest range of movement in Barre is to work out trigger points that hinder our movement. By working properly, we can reduce and even eliminate tension in our tissues and live more pain free. We go deeper, so that we can feel better. Join us.