Our Fascia-nating Fascia!

You’ve probably heard the buzz about “fascia” lately, but what is it and why should you be concerned about looking after yours? For too long, the fascia was considered mere “packing material”, something to fill in the gaps in the body, so to speak. Now it holds centre stage at international Conferences and Symposia and is the subject of a proliferating body of research, earning it the title “the Cinderella tissue”. Fascia is the connective tissue throughout your body, and when we say “throughout”, it is absolutely everywhere! Fascia comprises your tendons, ligaments, the wrappings around your bones, organs, nerves and blood vessels, around and throughout your muscles, under your skin….. it has no beginning and it has no end!

The Fascinating Roles of Fascia:

Some more recent discoveries (amongst many) include its crucial roles in organising movement so that it’s flowing and graceful, fine-tuning muscle force, helping to regulate temperature and immune function, protecting delicate structures, and facilitating your awareness of how you’re positioned in space. When you think strength and control, think fascia rather than muscle – fascia is the brains of the operation, where muscle is the brawn in healthy movement!

Fascia has a central role in your perception of pain, and for females in particular, the normal fluctuation of hormone levels can make you more, or less, vulnerable to injury dependent on where you’re up to in your cycle. Fascia also helps in our recovery from injury.

I think you would agree that knowing how to nurture your fascia is of utmost importance to a dancer?

Understanding Fascia's Friends and Foes:

Knowing the “friends” and “foes” of fascia is critical. Hydration, temperature, inflammation, and activity levels all play a role in the health of your fascia. We all know we need to drink plenty of water, because healthy fascia is wet fascia. This increases its sliding capacity, so that as you move through your dance training for example, your fasciae is moving with you.

Temperature is also critical. Fascia is like honey – if you put honey in the fridge, it doesn’t flow, does it? If you then warm that up in a saucepan, its lovely “goo-iness” returns. Interestingly, (and to quote from the fairytales again), fasciae is like Goldilocks in that it loves just the right amount of activity. Too little and it starts to stiffen up, (think sitting in front of the television on a wet Sunday afternoon catching up with all your Netflix favourites). Too much (think doing a particularly strenuous session), and the same thing happens.

Get to know your body, and what helps you to move well all the time. Your emotional state is also a huge influence on your fasciae. Ever noticed that when you’re stressed and uptight you don’t move nearly as well?

The Hypermobility Challenge:

Something most relevant to dancers is the incidence of hypermobility. This is a genetic condition, meaning there’s too much elasticity in your fascia. This is what sets most dancers and performers (gymnasts and Cirque de Soleil artists) apart. Many of you can go through ranges of motion unthinkable to the rest of the population. While this is an advantage in the performance of your craft, care must be taken. Stretching is definitely NOT the answer!

This additional elasticity around joints means you don’t have the same protection for these structures. This can manifest as arthritis in later life, especially if you sustain injuries during your dance career. The best way to protect yourself is to ensure you have adequate strength to compensate for the relative lack of soft tissue control normally afforded by the fascia.

Having reviewed many of the exercises recommended by PBT to warm your tissues through and prepare your body for dance are ideal, working your deep core as well as your more superficial movement-producing muscles, rather than focusing on flexibility which many of you already have in abundance.

But there have also been a lot of claims made about the potential of fascia that are patently untrue. Don’t believe everything you read.

Author: Alison Slater , The Source Physiotherapy, www.thesourcephysio.com.au



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