Fascia is often referred to as the glue that holds us together, but few of us know what it is and why it matters. This article discusses the ways in which we can stretch our fascia to loosen tight muscles (believe it or not, tight hamstrings can actually be caused by a forward head lean) for both sports performance as well as a high quality of daily life.
If you’ve tried to stretch and found your hamstrings tight, or tried to throw a ball and noticed a stiff shoulder, you’ve likely noticed that your movement is inhibited. It’s not always the muscles, and probably not the bones, but often the fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that joins muscle to bone, bone to bone, and even protects the vertebrae.
Confused? I was, too. Katie Bowman, a biomechanist and self-proclaimed full-time mover, defines fascia as “a dense, fibrous connective tissue that permits the body and forms a continuous, three-dimensional matrix that functions as a whole-body support system,” in her book Move Your DNA. Put simply, fascia can be understood as a sort of webbing that wraps throughout your body. When it’s tight in one spot, it can pull in another.
What happens if my fascia is stuck?
Stuck fascia is more commonly referred to as an adhesion. Among many of its incredible abilities, fascia stores memory in the form of deformed fascia.
An adhesion can happen for a number of reasons: tight muscles cause the surrounding fascia to be dry and to thus stick too tightly to the muscles, fascia becomes attached to a prior injury that has resulted in scar tissue, fascia becomes dehydrated and dry, or there is simply not enough movement happening.
The easiest way to discern if this is you is to move. Are you having a hard time stretching? Does your shoulder sound like it’s crunching cereal? Are you having difficulty figuring out exactly what’s going on with your neck, or wondering why you’ve ended up with plantar fasciitis? It might be your fascia.
How do I release my fascia?
Releasing tight fascia can take some time, so it’s always better to act preventatively. That said, there are a few tricks you can employ to make the process easier. Foam rolling has become popular as a release method, but since our fascia is meant to hold our organs in place, it’s hard to release it with just some light stretching. Tack and stretch is often emphasized as a better option, with the goal of applying pressure for several seconds and then stretching (if you’re unsure of what this looks like, check out this video.)
Another option includes using a band to floss the fascia. This is most readily done with a voodoo band, which is made exactly for this, but a few other strong, long bands can get the job done, too. Here, you’ll want to wrap the area that is tight or stiff, then perform a few full range of motion movements (for example, if your knees are feeling tight, it can be useful to wrap your knees and move through a few easy squats. For a better understanding, this video is helpful.)
How can I keep my fascia supple in daily life?
There are numerous ways to keep your fascia supple. In fact, most of the methods are included in a healthy lifestyle. These include:
- Daily movement. This is everything from walking to doing the laundry to walking the dogs to carrying groceries.
- Yoga. Especially gently heated yoga where the muscles are slowly warmed up.
- Foam rolling. I may be contradicting myself here, but foam rolling can be useful for everyday maintenance. It won’t take care of the deeper issues, but I’d suggest holding tighter spots in place and rolling before and even after workouts.
- Hydration. Staying hydrated is vital. In most cases, this means drinking at least 8 cups of water every day.
- De-stress. A stressed body is a tense body. Incorporating relaxation techniques, meditation, and even music can help keep your body, and your mind, calm.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, including plenty of sustainable cold-water fish, deeply hued fruits and vegetables, and supplements as needed.
- Rest. Rest is often overrated in our go-go-go world, but giving your body the rest it needs can be incredibly beneficial to your fascia. Aim to sleep 7-9 hours a night and upon waking, indulge in a good stretch session. Not sure where to start? Take a few cues from a stretch master, your dog or cat.
Have you ever worked on your fascia? Have you noticed a difference in your movement after releasing tight, or “stuck,” spots? Let us know in the comments below!