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A tarot card depicting the word "fascia" and its significance in fixing ailments.

Fixing Fascia

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Fascia: Why (And How) You Should Take Care Of Yours

Fascia is the web-like layer of connective tissue that divides your muscles and organs from each other. It simultaneously holds some stuff in place, and allows other parts to glide over each other with minimal friction.

At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do.

Like any body part, it can go wrong. More on this later. But first…

A quick note on terms

It may seem like sometimes people say “myofascial” because it sounds fancier, but it does actually have a specific meaning too:

  • Fascia” is what we just described above
  • Myofascial” means “of or relating to muscles and fascia

For example, “myofascial release” means “stopping the fascia from sticking to the muscle where it shouldn’t” and “myofascial pain” means “pain that has to do with the muscles and fascia”. See also:

Myofascial vs Fascia: When To Use Each One? What To Consider

Why fascia is so ignored

For millennia, it was mostly disregarded as a “neither this nor that” tissue that just happens to be in the body. We didn’t pay attention to it, just like we mostly don’t pay attention to the air around us.

But, much like the air around us, we sure pay attention when something goes wrong with it!

However, even in more recent years, we’ve been held back until quite new developments like musculoskeletal ultrasound that could show us problems with the fascia.

What can go wrong

It’s supposed to be strong, thin, supple, and slippery. It holds on in the necessary places like a spiderweb, but for the most part, it is evolved for minimum friction.

Some things can cause it to thicken and become sticky in the wrong places. Things such as:

  • Physical trauma, e.g. an injury or surgery—but we repeat ourselves, because a surgery is an injury! It’s a (usually) necessary injury, but an injury nonetheless.
  • Compensation for pain. If a body part hurts for some reason, and your posture changes to accommodate that, doing so can mess up your fascia, and cause you different problems somewhere else entirely.
    • This is not witchcraft; think of how, when using a corded vacuum cleaner, sometimes the cord can get snagged on something in the next room and we nearly break something because we expected it to just come with us and it didn’t? It’s like that.
  • Repetitive movements (repetitive strain injury is partly a myofascial issue)
  • Not enough movement: when it comes to range of motion, it’s “use it or lose it”.
    • The human body tries its best to be as efficient as possible for us! So eventually it will go “Hey, I notice you never move more than 30º in this direction, so I’m going to stop making fascia that allows you to go past that point, and I’ll just dump the materials here instead”

“I’ll just dump the materials here instead” is also part of the problem—it creates what we colloquially call “knots”, which are not so much part of the muscle as the fascia that covers it. That’s an actual physical sticky lumpy bit.

What to do about it

Firstly, avoid the above things! But, if for whatever reason something has gone wrong and you now have sticky lumpy fascia that doesn’t let you move the way you’d like (if you have any mobility/flexibility issues that aren’t for another known reason, then this is usually it), there are things can be done:

  • Heat—is definitely not a cure-all, but it’s a good first step before doing the other things. A heating pad or a warm bath are great.
  • Massage—ideally, by someone else who knows what they are doing. Self-massage is possible, as is teaching oneself (there are plenty of video tutorials available), but skilled professional therapeutic myofascial release massage is the gold standard.
    • Foam rollers are a great no-skill way to get going with self-massage, whether because that’s what’s available to you, or because you just want something you can do between sessions. Here’s an example of the kind we mean.
  • Acupuncture—triggering localized muscular relaxation, an important part of myofascial release, is something acupuncture is good at.
    • See also: Pinpointing The Usefulness Of Acupuncture ← noteworthily, the strongest criticism of acupuncture for pain relief is that it performs only slightly better than sham acupuncture, but taken in practical terms, all that really means is “sticking little needles in does work, even if not necessarily by the mechanism acupuncturists believe”
  • Calisthenics—Pilates, yoga, and other forms of body movement training can help gradually get one’s fascia to where and how it’s supposed to be.
  • This is that “use it or lose it” bodily efficiency we talked about!

Remember, the body is always rebuilding itself. It never stops, until you die. So on any given day, you get to choose whether it rebuilds itself a little bit worse or a little bit better.

Take care!

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