Why Fascia Matters

why-fascia-matters-cover-300A few months ago I put a post up on Breaking Muscle, The Top 5 Ways Fascia Matters to Athletesand I was delighted to hear from so many wonderful teachers, practitioners, and trainers who wanted to use the article with the clients/patients/students. So I decided to edit and very much expand on that article- and to of course address the reality that fascia matters to everyone who is living in a body, not just athletes...-and I created a free resource for people so they could do just that.

Why Fascia Matters is a free ebook which you can download, print out, share, use as a micro textbook in classes, turn into a festive hat, scatter into the wind and pretend you are a hosting a ticker tape parade- whatever floats your boat. You can download it here. 

Here are the chapters so you can get a feel for what is covered. It is intended as a short and informal guide to how fascia impacts our ability to live well in our bodies and how we can best recover from and avoid pain, injury, and erosion. Much of the current research is covered and cited throughout.

Chapters:

1) Meet Fascia: A definition of this tissue system and why it is getting so much attention these days. 2) It’s All Connected: Changing our viewpoint from seeing ourselves as assembled parts to a unified organism. 3) How We Actually Move: Just as there are no local problems, there are also no local movements. 4) A Masterpiece of Tensegrity Architecture: The way the entire structure balances and distributes stresses. 5) The Domino Effect: Understanding the dreaded compensatory pattern. 6) A Fluid Tensegrity System: How fascia is both a support structure and a fluid structure. 7) Its Springiness Wants to Help You Out: How and why to nourish the elastic quality of fascia. 8) Variation Matters: We become the shapes and movements we make most of the time. 9) The Original Information Superhighway: Fascia as our most important perceptual organ 10) Loving Your Fascia: Now that you better understand it, here’s how to best take care of it!

Again, you can grab it for free here. 

You may notice this is also the much anticipated (heh heh, to me anyway) launch of Liberated Body Guides! Hooray! It exists! Stay tuned for upcoming books which will not be in ebook format as Why Fascia Matters is, but will instead be available in print and on Kindle and iBooks. Stay tuned!

A Fascia Primer for Athletes

  Loose Connective Tissue

Since fascia is such a hot topic right now, and, er, I have a site with this tissue system in its title, I wrote a "Fascia 101" of sorts for athletes in my monthly column on Breaking MuscleBut since it is also just plain old a fascia primer for anyone, you might want to check it out. If you're curious about why fascia is getting so much attention these days, and how it relates to living well (pain free!) in your body, you can give it a read. Here is the beginning of the article:

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You may be noticing the word “fascia” (aka connective tissue) is a hot topic right now in all body related fields. But before we get to why fascia matters to athletes, here is a brief primer about why it’s getting so much attention these days.

First, many think of fascia as a glorified body stocking - a seamless piece of tissue that Saran wraps you just underneath the skin. While this is true of the superficial fascia, it’s important to understand it is a richly multi-dimensional tissue that forms your internal soft tissue architecture.

From the superficial (“body stocking”) fascia, it dives deep and forms the pods (called fascicles) that actually create your musculature like a honeycomb from the inside out. Imagine what it looks like when you bite into a wedge of orange and then look at those individually wrapped pods of juice. We’re like that too! Fascia also connects muscle to bone (tendons are considered a part of the fascial system), and bone to bone (ligaments are also considered a part of the fascial system), slings your organ structures, cushions your vertebrae (yep, your discs are considered a part of this system, too), and wraps your bones.

So imagine for a moment you could remove every part of you that is not fascia. You would have a perfect 3D model of exactly what you look like. Not just in recognizable ways like your posture or facial features, but also the position of your liver, and the zig-zig your clavicle takes from that break you had as a kid, and how your colon wraps. To say it’s everywhere is far from over-stating things.

In fact, it turns out fascia’s everywhere-ness is one of the reasons it was overlooked for so long. Until recently it was viewed as the packing peanuts of soft tissue. Therefore, in dissections for study and for research, most of it was cleanly scraped away and thrown in a bucket so the cadavers could be tidily made to resemble the anatomical texts from which people were studying. Poor, misunderstood, and underrated fascia. Sigh.

Fortunately research is catching up to what turns out to be a remarkably communicative sensory and proprioceptive tissue. What fascia researchers are discovering is pretty amazing not just for fascia nerds like me, but for anyone who wants to put their body to good, healthy use. (Like, for example, all of us at Breaking Muscle!) So without further ado, here is some of the newly emerging information about fascia and how you can use it to maximize not just your athletic performance, but also just your plain old ability to feel good in your body.

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And you can read the rest of the juicy (pun intended) information if you head on over to Breaking Muscle!

DIY Friday: Skin Rolling

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*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

I was fortunate enough to spend last weekend in Ojai, California at the Yoga Tune Up® teachers summit where, naturally, we're prone to doing things like taking breaks for skin rolling. This made me realize that this handy, tool-free form of myofascial release had yet to be featured on DIY Fridays!

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So here you have it folks. This is a simple way to manipulate your own tissue in a way that gets the glide back in your fascia. If you're wondering why you would want such a thing- it promotes ease of movement, decreases or resolves pain, improves balance and proprioception (your sense of knowing where you are in space, which determines if you are a graceful or clumsy mover), and decreases risk of injuries, not to mention improves the appearance of "skin stick", which is that youthful elastic quality that makes young people look young while old people get saggy. Yes, you can, to a certain degree, keep the spring and fight the sag by keeping your fascia healthy.

While what you are doing is directly lubricating the superficial fascial layer, because all these layers are tethered into one another, you are actually having an effect into the deep fascia as well. So if you have a problem area, like a shoulder impingement for example, you will benefit from doing skin rolling around that joint and upstream and downstream of it.

Clearly there are certain places that will be easier for you to do skin rolling on yourself. I like it on the arms and shoulders and legs. If you want skin rolling on your back or other hard to reach areas, buddy up and show this video to your partner or friend.

A couple of key points: fascia is very slow to release, so please  move like molasses so as to avoid making someone feel like they're being skinned alive. We do not want this. That brings me to my second point, the tighter, more adhered and more dehydrated the fascia, the more painful this will be. Slow, slow, slow is the only way, and for some people it may be downright intolerable. In which case they should find their way to a good manual therapist rather than just avoiding or ignoring it. Downhill trends go, well, downhill unless reversed. Lastly, try to contact yourself or your skin rolling buddy with as much surface area as possible. Touching with just the tips of your fingers is more painful and less pleasurable than touching with your whole finger pad. Oh, and no oils or lotions, or you won't be able to affect the fascia.

Now watch the video and go for it!

photo by Charles Fred

Sue Hitzmann Interview

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SueHitzmann_IMG_1511 (1)I recently had the great pleasure of having a fascia nerd chat with the founder of the MELT Method, Sue Hitzmann. Sue is incredibly well informed and has created a thoughtful and remarkably useful system out of studying the emerging research on fascia, and her dedication to helping people out of pain. You can read the FFF review of it here.

We got into a lot of fascinating topics including how to slow the aging process, what the root of chronic pain actually is, and how you can't exercise your way to a strong "core". There is so much more! Say glycosaminoglycans 5 times fast! (I bet Sue can... ) Anyway, on the the interview. Also check out the time log below if you're hoping to skim it or just to see some of the many other things we chatted about:

:35 I explain my erroneous view that I thought Sue was “the foam roller lady” and how MELT is in fact a much different thing.

 2:53 Sue talks about the common misconceptions of what fascia is as a system.

3:38 How can a fluid system be a stability system? How does fluid make something stable?

4:58 Sue talks research on fascia and dehydration. Compression (as in sitting for long periods of time) and repetitive motions create strain that makes it harder to keep your body stable and increases stress and strain in the whole system.

 5:41 The dehydration issue is not just about drinking more water. If you’re a frequent urinator, you may have poor cellular absorption.

6:39 Sue talks about the importance of looking at fascia on the micro  level of nutrient absorption, cellular stability, and neurological information going through your body, rather than just the macro level of posture and performance and muscles.

7:22 Q: What’s special about MELT that you can access it on that micro level and not just the macro level?

8:00 You can adapt connective tissue very quickly in a light touch way. Monumental global changes can be made in people’s bodies with that light touch.

9:03 Sue talks about the shift in her own private practice after years of more strong touch practices, as she learned about the properties of the cells of connective tissue.

 10:38 The trouble with actual foam rollers. Why you don’t want to actually “iron yourself like a shirt” and why you can’t “pop a bubble of pain”. When you have connective tissue dehydration it is going to increase the sensitivity of your nerve endings.

12:55 How MELT can help such a broad spectrum of people- from someone who is 90, to someone with chronic pain, to a performance athlete, or children who are managing ADHD, or even stress issues.

13:31 Q: How does the aging process (and cellulite too!) get impacted by MELT?

14:55 The dirty little secret is that 85% of fitness people are in pain.

17:20 We take for granted that we can pull on our skin and it goes back to where it was. What allows that to happen is the deeper layers of connective tissue that provide the support for every aspect of your body, which includes our skin staying taught. It’s the flexible scaffolding, and it is completely continuous. From skin to bones you can follow one piece of collagen and see it pierce through every structure down to the bone.

18:40 Microvacuoles work and adapt to our movements but only when hydrated. So when you sit for long periods of time, you are pooling the connective tissue in a specific way.

20:28 Fibroblasts are reactive cells. When you compress them for short periods of time and then let it go (as with MELT), it fills the system back up and brings fluid back to those microvacuoles. It is a restorative system, and it doesn’t take a lot of compression, time, or effort.

21:39 Connective tissue dehydration is the cause of pain.

23:00 What is the NeuroCore? The word “core” is really trendy and therefore misunderstood these days.

23:36 Instead of just strengthening all your core muscles, you can be supported. What actually keeps you stable is the neuro-fascial system. The connective tissue is the environment that your sensory nerve endings live in, so if the environment is not stable, your nervous system is going to have to work harder and harder to relay this information to the brain to get an adequate response.

25:59 If you ask someone in fitness, “What is the core?” they’re going to define it as a muscle system that stabilizes the spine, but they can’t answer the question, “how does it work” beyond defining the muscularity of it. We’re trying to define a “core” in the musculoskeletal model, but it’s a dual neuro-fascial stabilizing system that works involuntarily, i.e. you can’t strengthen it via exercise.

27:40 Sue describes how she and Gil Hedley of Integral Anatomy dissected a cadaver layer by layer to find the NeuroCore, and demos what they found.

29:55 Sue weighs in on the debate about if the psoas muscle is actually a hip flexor. It’s actually the communicator between your head and feet. It’s where in embryology we see the cells divide to create the compartments of the human body.

30:40 The “core” is not the muscles. That is the least important element of how the system stays responsive, flexible, and adaptable. Many of us we are so dehydrated in the connective tissue that we cannot hold stable. We become less and less efficient. and our bodies can’t compensate anymore, then we get muscle imbalance, joint pain, etc. But these are symptoms of the NeuroCore not functioning.

34:10 How if you do the 10 min rebalance sequence to access the NeuroCore before doing core exercises, you would actually strengthen your body more in a much more efficient way and would get more benefit from any exercise.

36:40 Your brain doesn’t see muscle. As far as your brain is concerned you have one muscle with 700 compartments.

37:45 We take for granted that as long as we’re moving, we’re moving efficiently, but the connective tissue is the stability architecture and your nervous system relies on that architecture to send information through the body.

38:50 Sue’s goal for people is to understand that the autonomic nervous system needs our care, and if you go to the environment that it lives in, the connective tissue, you’ll make a bigger change. And it is so simple to do.

40:31 Sue’s recent MELT tour of middle America. The general population assumes that if you’re having a problem, you go see your doctor and get a pill. But with chronic pain, the medication is not helping them.

42:18 There are 100 million people in chronic pain, so there is some piece of education missing. Our pharmaceutical industry is the leader of how people are taken care of, so Sue’s hope is to expose  the general population to the fact that we’re out here (bodyworkers and this work in general).

45:20 MELT is giving people the tools of tapping into the connective tissue and the nervous system in order to give them a baseline skill set to use at home. Pain does not need to be a day to day event!

DIY Friday: MELT Method

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*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

sue hitzmannI recently had the privilege of interviewing Sue Hitzmann, the creator of The MELT Method®*, and she will kick off our Interviews With Geniuses series next week! Yippee! So before you get to hear from the brilliant, fascia-nating mind (I couldn't resist) of Sue, I wanted to write a review of The MELT Method so that those of you who are not yet familiar can get a sense for what her system is all about. Plus, MELT is literally an entire system around teaching people how to work their own tissue, so it seemed pretty perfect for DIY Friday.

First off, let me just say that it seems like people who are in the fitness world are creating a new "method" with their name attached to it roughly at the rate of one new method per second (which I believe is the same rate as new blogs?), and so I realize that it's easy to dismiss yet another method considering that most of them are built around the founder's ego and more blab about tinier middles and firmer rears. If I haven't made it clear yet, MELT is absolutely no where in the vicinity of this type of method.

Sue has managed to take her expertise as a body worker, fitness educator, and extreme fascia research nerd and smoosh them all together to create a truly holistic hands-free bodywork system, which intelligently affects your fascia, and which you can learn to do on your own. Wowzers. It's kind of a big deal.

When I picked up her book I had her in the interesting, but not exactly mind blowing, category in my brain which was labeled "girl brings foam rollers to the world". Yeah, hmmm, so I'm here to tell you that if Sue occupies a similar category in your brain, please take her and The MELT Method out of there. This is not her deal. At all.

First, while it looks like The MELT Method is employing foam rollers, they are in fact a whole different animal, albeit a similarly shaped one. The foam rollers that Sue has designed for MELT are much softer than a conventional roller. So much softer in fact, that you can bend them in half easily. This is a nod to the vast amount of research she has delved into which tells us that if you use a hard implement too quickly, you are likely to smash and compress fascia, rather than to lengthen or re-hydrate it. The softer surface allows the kind of access and stick that, when paired with the MELT Method sequencing, can restore vitality to our beloved and (ideally) juicy organ of structure, the fascia.

Speaking of sequencing, MELT helps you to self-treat your tissue by using the four R's every time you MELT: Reconnect, Rebalance, Rehydrate, and Release. I'll give you a mini breakdown of each so you can begin to glimpse the yumminess and effectiveness that MELT has in store:

  • Reconnect techniques help you to heighten your awareness, or body sense, so you can better "see" yourself from the inside. This is crucial to a body's healing ability.
  • Rebalance techniques directly addresses your body balance, grounding, and organ support by getting you in touch with your NeuroCore, which I talk with Sue about in detail in our upcoming interview. That whole graceful, move with ease thing is all about activating your NeuroCore.
  • Rehydrate techniques are where you clear out the crunchy bits in your connective tissue, and restore the fluid state of the web. This has a huge impact on effortless alignment, decreasing pain and inflammation, and fluid and nutrient absoprtion at a cellular level.
  • Release techniques decompress your joints to help keep you mobile and pain free.

If you're like me, after reading that list of what MELT accomplishes you are now drooling from the intense yearning your tissue now has to MELT! It's pretty right on. And with only a teeny bit of MELT in your regular routine you have a very powerful preventative (and restorative if you're working through something) self-care tool which is vastly less pricey than hiring a live-in massage therapist to be at your beck and call. MELT is a wonderful tool for dealing with chronic pain, pre-pain conditions like the discomfort you feel at the end of every workday, and is also profoundly impactful as an anti-aging tool. Yes, I mean that in both the "look cuter longer" way as much as I mean it in the "don't get joint replacements" way. Sue and I chat a lot about that in our interview too, so stay tuned.

Lastly, for those of you who are looking for a thoughtfully written primer on fascia, which is research based, and which helps you to wrap your brain around how this tissue system actually impacts you, the MELT book is the best resource that I have found for that thus far. I highly recommend.

Check out our interview coming up on The FFF next week!

*MELT stands for Myofascial Energetic Lengthening Technique

Are You at War With Your Fascia?

3965901338_8b663c765f_b“Stand up straight!”, “Don’t slouch!” Blah, blah, we all had childhoods, and particularly teen years, filled with phrases like these. Sadly, most of us learned how to “have better posture” from vague admonishments like these from our parents. But here’s the thing, if all it took was for us know that we should to stand up straight* or to stop slouching, well then we would all have flawless and effortless posture. Clearly something is off, because judging from what I hear all the time from readers and clients in my private practice (not to mention friends, family, etc) we all universally think our posture sucks and want it to be better. We pull ourselves up, but something pulls us back down again into our familiar slouch. To a certain degree that something is gravity, but more precisely it’s how gravity is interacting with our fascia, aka our connective tissue. If we are aligned well fascially, i.e. we have happy soft tissue and joints, then we are what we call “on our line” in gravity. Which is to say we are supported in gravity rather than dragged down by it because the organ of support and structure in us, our fascia, is doing its fabulous springy upright suspension bridge thing and keeping us aligned and upright.

But for most of us we have a myriad of compensatory patterns in the fascia that get us “off our line” and therefore we feel pulled down in gravity. Let’s visualize the fascia a bit first to get a better handle on this; Imagine that you have a tightly knit sweater lying just under your skin. This is your superficial fascia. From there,  this sweater under the skin dives deep to wrap each and every muscle (and organ), spinning continuously into tendon which attaches muscle to bone, and ligament which attaches bone to bone.  From there, this tight knit sweater dives yet deeper, forming the interior architecture of each muscle in your body. To visualize this interior architecture fascia, I often tell people to take a bite out of an orange slice and then look at it. What you’ll see are tiny pods of juice that are contained by these thin, translucent fibrous walls. Without those walls, it would just be juice with no structure. Our muscles are similar. Without fascia, we’re just juice (we’re somewhere around 78% water, remember?).

Now attach this tight knit sweater in your mind to the nervous system. As in, it’s not an inert sweater, it’s a living sweater. And the nervous system tells it when, where, and how much to knit more based on the sensory input it is receiving from you. So for example if you work at a lab hunching over a microscope, your nervous system detects your constant forward hunch position and says, “Ah! I get it. You want to maintain this hunched, bring the shoulders around the ears and strain the neck forward position more easily. I’m on it! I’ll help you out by knitting the fascia up nice and tidily to hold you there. Aren’t I super helpful!?” The same goes for anything you are, or very importantly aren’t, doing with your body on a regular basis*.  Which, of course, means that when you leave your job at the lab, or more likely leave your desk or couch at home and go to straighten up, you meet with some pretty fierce resistance. This is being at war with your fascia.

Because he’s A) a gifted genius and B) he explains this more elegantly than I do, I give you the famous fuzz speech from Gil Hedley of Integral Anatomy (be aware that if you watch this video you will see some cadavers):

So what’s a knit-up-in-all-the-wrong-places person to do? First, we are you, you are us, we are all dealing with fascial restrictions to one degree or another. So take a breather, this is not dire (yet). Before it turns into unpleasant pain conditions or surgeries however, you have two options which, naturally, work best when combined.

  • First, move regularly in multi-dimensional ways. You’re best off moving in ways our ancestors regularly did , which makes MovNat  and things related to it a good option. But you can also just work on your squat, carry stuff, balance, walk, reach for stuff, and lift yourself up and over things (go climb a tree while you’re at it!). Or just go have some fun. It's also no secret that I love Yoga Tune Up® and Restorative Exercise™ for smart movement. 
  • Second, you can check out some of the manual therapies that free up the fascia. Rolfing® and other forms of Structural Integration are great because they deal with the whole which tends to have more thorough and longer term results (I’m biased), and there’s also myofascial release and ART.

Imagine feeling supported by your body from the inside out, pretty appealing right? I encourage you to check out some of the resources I just mentioned above. It's never too late to wave the white flag and make friends with your fascia.

*Footnote: "Stand up straight" is an unfortunate and vague sentence that typically elicits a movement wherein people flatten out their spines, tug their head up, and shove their shoulders back while flaring their ribs forward. Sadly, this is ripe for creating a host of new compensatory patterns and the chronic pain conditions that come with them, so please avoid making this shape, and just try to forget that anyone ever told you that this weird military meets ballerina posture was good for you. It's not. 

Photo by Marmite Toast

The Fountain of Youth in Your Fascia

2791037745_74d1e51438_bWe've been on a bit of a roll here about how a healthy physical structure can have pretty significant anti-aging and even reverse aging benefits. In my recent post on the top 5 ways to age-proof your body, I talked about the large role that fascia plays in aging. To get into that a bit more I wanted to put up this video of Tom Myers, creator of Anatomy Trains and founder of Kinesis Myofascial Integration because it's a great and succinct bit of info on how we "dry out" as we age, and the profound aging benefits of keeping your fascia hydrated and healthy. Come meet the fountain of youth in your fascia: (The video was made by the good people over at Wellcast Academy.)

Photo by martineno