Fascia and your muscles
I have spent the last year or two learning about a little-known tissue previously unresearched and otherwise very misunderstood. It’s called fascia. The way I describe fascia is is when you have chicken and you pull the chicken skin away from the meat; there’s that white fibery stuff that connects the skin to the meat.
That is fascia. It encapsulates every muscle, wraps every organ, connects your skin to your bones, infiltrates the muscles, infiltrates the bones themselves …. it is everywhere inside your body kind of holding it all together inside. It tends to accumulate more densely on the back and the outsides of the bodies rather than the front side or the inside of the body. It has something like seven times the elastic property of muscles and 16 times the tensile strength of muscles. Up until a few years ago it was the stuff people just cut through to get to the bones, the organs, or the tissue that needed attention inside. No one thought it had much to do with anything. Now that has completely changed.
A year ago I sat through a presentation on what was titled “The Fascial Frontier.” In that workshop my friend and chiropractor Matt Hemsley describes how a German anatomist had discovered what he was calling ‘Fascial Trains’, through the body – seven of them. His name is Thomas Myers and he has written a book called Anatomy Trains.
In this workshop we were invited to just try leaning over and seeing if we felt tightness in the back of our legs…specifically the hamstrings. Matt then offered everyone a golf ball and we were to roll the bottom of our foot on the golf ball for 30 seconds. In a classic before and after test, we were then to lean over and see if we were looser in our hamstrings.
I was looser, how about you?
Matt then said, “is it tight hamstrings or is it a tight posterior fascial line? ” Hmmm.
Fast forward to last December. I found out about another fascia workshop that was scheduled to happen on a Saturday three days beforehand. I could only attend half the workshop because of previous commitments and my daughter’s birthday, but I went anyway. These presenters flew in from Santa Barbara, and described how fascia was in my words kind of a silent strangler inside the body – it’s everywhere.
The problem with fascia
The problem with fascia is that it does not have any direct connection to your brain. Muscles have a direct connection to your brain via the nervous system. The other problem with fascia is that it has 16 times the tensile strength of muscles, but you don’t even know that it’s causing a problem, because it has no connection to your brain. It tends to accumulate densely on the outsides and back sides of the body, not so much on the front sides or the insides of the body.
When it wraps itself in and around the muscle and accumulates densely it tends to start locking down the muscle itself. All you can feel is the restriction it places on the muscle by not allowing the muscle to fully contract or fully lengthen. Not much research has been done on fascia up until a few years ago, because everybody thought it was kind of useless.
Now it turns out it’s of huge importance to the body!
I was lucky enough to attend a PTA Global presentation by Rodney Corn recently. Rodney’s approach to fascia is not so much to go after the muscles themselves, which is a somewhat complicated process that the gentlemen from Santa Barbara are still attempting to help me learn, but instead we go directly after the attachments to the bones. The muscle tugs on the fascia, and if the fascia can’t move then the muscles will keep tugging…unless we break loose the attachment points.
Scrub them, if you will. 😀
With this technique you do not want to “scrub” the joints for more than 15 seconds, and not more than once a day. You’re trying to promote lubrication to the joint itself, but too much friction will cause the joint to be irritated. The other thing that Rodney had us do in between every two attachment point releases was to try an overhead squat. Did the overhead squat feel looser as we loosened up points along the body? Overhead squats are very simple: all you do is hold your hands over your head and break down into a squat.
This is my friend Matt demonstrating an overhead squat with the roller we used in the workshop for “scrubbing”.
It doesn’t take long : that’s the nice part, and be sure and follow that 15 second rule.
Let’s get started!
We will hit a number of attachment points:
- The outside of the ankle just above the ankle bone
- The outside of the knee just below the knee
- The hipbone from the front
- The pubic bone
- The sacrum
- The sternum right across the bra line, and
- The shoulder blade.
Here is my coworker Steven doing the outside of the ankle. You scrub across the ankle, back and forth somewhat vigorously for 15 seconds.
Here he is working on the outside of the knee, side to side.
Here he is scrubbing that pointy part of the front of the hip bone. You simply move to the middle of the hip and scrub the pubic bone from there in that same back and forth motion…careful, gentlemen!
Here Stephen demos the sternum. Gently, but firmly!
Finally, scrub the inside edge of the shoulder blade like a bear scratching on a tree with your arm held out.
Whaddya think? I don’t know about you, but as soon as I released the sternum a huge gush of blood went down the back of my spine and my shoulders opened up immediately. I loved it.’
Rodney explained that the frontal fascial train was pulling us forward and we didn’t even know it.
That’s not to say the sternum is the only place to release- you need to hit the spots on the way up as they all work together.
Let me know how this release technique goes! Be willing to chip away at the tightness you very well might find. It is a process with this magnificent body system of yours!