The Care and Maintenance of the Fascial Web

Wolfson_blog_imageHannah L. Wolfson, Certified Herbalist

Recent scientific exploration of the human body is revealing that the thin wrappings of our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and organs may be more than just biological cellophane. Known as fascia, this spider web-like connective tissue may actually be involved in the body’s communication systems. Up until now, anatomists believed that there were over 600 muscles in the human body, all of which have their own unique form and function. Indeed, it may be that we have one continuous muscle, perfect and distinct, organized into segments by the fascial web, each segment inclined to a distinct movement pattern.¹

Furthermore, we understand that each individual muscle fiber has its own casing, and that this sheet-like material stretches throughout the body, loosening and tautening, from the scalp down to the baby toe. This fibrous material is sometimes rigid, sometimes tacky and fluid, and almost always innervated.³ This is one reason why the massage therapist’s work on the feet affects the neck, or why pain sometimes radiates in mysterious and frustrating ways. Indeed, the fascia may be one of the tissues that hold somatic memory.²

As incredible as it is, the fascia can create a lot of problems for people. These are not just elite athletes. More often they are those of us who use repetitive movements, or sit too long staring at the computer on a daily basis. This lack of variety in movement creates ischemic or brittle connective tissue that cannot receive fluid and nutrients as well. Usually this means there will be chronic pain and lack of mobility.³ Fortunately, there are many ways to care for our fascia.

1. Move!

Move in ways you never have before, in ways you never thought were possible. Move consistently throughout the day. If you work in an office, set a timer for short walkabouts, squats, pushups, cat-stretches, and deep breathing. If you use repetitive motions (say you’re a long-distance runner), mix it up. This is how your connective tissue gets its nutrition. As a common saying goes, “The best posture is the one that’s always changing.”¹³

2. Hydrate

Often fascial pain and trigger-point irritation are exacerbated by dehydration. Make sure you are getting adequate fluid, and even more importantly, that your cells are holding that fluid. This means that the water should contain electrolytes. If those minerals aren’t enough, consider adding mucilaginous seeds, like Chia or Flax, and make use of moistening herbs in infusions such as Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) root, Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root, and Plantain (Plantago spp.) leaf.

3. Eat nutrient-dense foods

Firstly, connective tissue cannot be made well without adequate protein. To have healthy fascia we need protein (think gelatin), vitamin C and its cofactors (think brightly colored fruits), essential fatty acids (fish oil), and calcium and magnesium. Also make sure to get some sunlight for vitamin D.

4. Consider bodywork

If your fascia is restricted, all the hydration and good nutrition you’re getting will not have easy access to this tissue.²  Myofascial Release, Active Release Technique, Rolfing, and Trigger Point Therapy are all helpful fascia-targeted bodywork techniques.

Sources

  1. Tozzi, Paolo. Does fascia hold memories? Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 20142, Volume 18, Issue 2, 259 – 265.
  2. Myers, Thomas. Fascia and Tensegrity. Anatomy Trains. 2015.
  3. Merrill, Charlie, MSPT. Personal Interview, 9/24/2015
  4. Lowe, Whitney. Orthopedic Assessment in Massage Therapy. Sisters, Or. Daviau Scott, 2006. Print.