Essential guide to fascia

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What is fascia?

Imagine that a spider with supernatural powers lives within you. And imagine that this spider spends its days spinning a single continuous web that cocoons your body under the skin, a web that spreads inward, surrounding and penetrating every muscle, nerve, organ and bone – every structure, cavity and tissue in your body. That’d be some web. Minus the spider, that web – a weave of collagen and elastin fibres that appears as membrane, sheet, cord and gristle – is your fascia.

Where do things go wrong?

Once considered inactive, fascia has recently been nominated for a status upgrade by researchers who now view it as a reactive tissue. They believe fascia contracts and relaxes like muscles, recoils like tendons, provides sensory feedback like nerves and links all 650 muscles into a single working unit. They also blame it for the majority of chronic pain and injury in runners.

Dr Robert Schleip, head of the Fascia Research Project in Ulm University, Germany, says fascia is an instrument for ‘structural compensation’. In other words, fascia is responsible for posture. When we slouch at our desks, we create changes in our posture that can become permanent. In this model, fascia is like a sweater. Tug on one part and the entire garment moves. Tension in one area affects every aspect of posture. Adhesions that build up between fascial surfaces due to injury can create chronic pain that radiates through the body. Seen this way, plantar fasciitis is not an injury of the foot; it could be caused by problems with the hips, back or shoulders. Schleip and others in the field say myofascial release exercises and specific stretches can improve posture, reduce pain and resolve injury.

How do I protect my fascia?

You don’t have to be a true believer like Schleip to recognise the value of stretching, foam rolling and range-of-motion exercises – everything from resistance training to plyometrics and form drills.