We all experience tight muscles, aches, and pain in various parts of our body from time to time. Sometimes the cause of this pain can be relatively straightforward such as muscle soreness after an intense workout or tight hamstrings after running. However, some joint stiffness and ailments tend to be more elusive. Maybe you have developed a stiffness in your neck that causes you discomfort throughout your workday. Or, maybe you have muscle tightness in your upper and lower back and are contemplating a deep-tissue massage. Sometimes, the culprit for these mystery aches and pains could be your fascia.
So, what exactly is fascia (pronounced fash-ya)? Fascia is connective tissue that resembles a spider web and forms a band-like wrap around all of our muscles, joints, nerves, blood vessels, organs, and cells. Think of fascia like a supported knee brace or like Spanx®, it holds us together. Healthy stretched fascia allows the body to have great flexibility and allows the joints to move freely without pain and stiffness. However, when fascia is tight and knotted, it can be extremely sensitive and more susceptible to injury. An example of how extremely sensitive fascia can be is when a runner skips their warm-up and does not stretch their legs. When fascia is not stretched and healthy, this tightness can cause the hamstring or calf muscles to tear, cause soreness, or even cramp.
Muscle tears can form in fascia over time, which can lead to adhesions and bands of stiff, painful tissue that have a knot-like feeling. Adhesions can develop from a sedentary lifestyle, from an injury, from poor sleep habits, or from overexertion from exercise such as running, jogging, or dancing.
Regardless of the cause of your muscle and fascia tightness, there are several steps you can take to restore your fascia to a healthy and flexible state.
Using a foam roller, golf ball, or massage ball can help relieve and loosen your fascia. This process is called self-myofascial release (SMR). Most people have typically relaxed their fascia and tight muscles during a massage. However, now you may see many people at your local gym or physical therapy office using a foam roller or some other SMR tool to help free their fascia. Here are some of the best ways to help relieve tight muscles and allow your fascia to provide you the most flexibility.
Foam Roller – Roll It Out
Think of your tight, sore m
uscles as bread dough. Use a smooth foam roller or a spiked roller like a rolling pin, to help you stretch and smooth out fascia in order to move and feel better. You can roll your body over the foam roller using your arms, legs, and sometimes your abdominal strength to keep you stabilized as you roll out knots and stiffness.
Yin yoga is a slower paced style of yoga. In a yin practice, the body is held in a yoga pose for up to 5 to 8 minutes. These passive holds target the connective tissues and allows the fascia to become more flexible. Usually, Yin postures will target tightness in and around the back, hips, pelvis, and legs.
Stretch Before You Run or Jog
Along with the various health benefits that come from regularly stretching, extending your muscles in different ways can keep your fascia loose and limber and prevent those adhesions from forming, which can cause stiff, painful tissue that have a knot-like feeling. Try Pilates, a weekly yin yoga class, which focuses on stretching the connective tissues, or go for a swim in warm water.
Deep Tissue Massage
Try a 60-minute deep tissue massage or other self-myofascial release tool such as a hand-held massager to loosen your fascia. Stress and anxiety can also cause muscles to repeatedly contract, leaving them stiff and sore. Over time, this continued contraction can lead to your fascia causing persistent muscle pain and stiffness.
When you become dehydrated, your fascia can also become dry, parched, and less likely to allow the joints to move freely without pain and stiffness. To keep your fascia loose and limber, make sure you are properly hydrated before you begin running, jogging or performing any exercise. Staying hydrated is beneficial to kidney function and can help you avoid muscle soreness and cramps.
Remember, your connective tissues needs some care too, so free your fascia with some form of self-myofascial release. You will reap the benefits of having more flexible joints and an increase in your range of motion. Also, when the joints are flexible you are less likely to pull muscles in the body like the hamstrings, calves, and lower back.
Segarra, B., Kristie. (2013). Myofascial Yoga: A Movement and Yoga Therapists Guide to Asana.