Better Fascia, Better Brain
Over the past several years, the fitness industry has been learning more about fascia and connective tissue in addition to muscle anatomy to gain a better understanding of how the body works as a unit. It’s no longer appropriate to think that muscles act in isolation. If one muscle is not functioning as it should, chances are it’s affecting other muscles and joints elsewhere in the body.
Muscles are not always to blame when you’re feeling stiff. Fascia plays a role in how you feel and the quality of movement. There are more pain receptors in your connective tissue than in your muscles.
So, by now you’re probably asking, what is fascia? It’s a scientific term for the connective tissue that wraps around muscles, organs, nerves and holds everything in place. Fascia acts as a shock absorber. When you land from a jump, your fascia transmits the force of impact throughout the body so your feet and ankles don’t explode.
I took this picture of connective tissue on a chicken breast a few years ago.
I realize it’s kind of gross to look at, but it’s better than a drawing. The pink chicken breast is muscle. The thin, opaque film attached to the breast is connective tissue. Something has to hold the muscles to the bones and that’s part of connective tissue’s job.
We have fascia running throughout our bodies forming a matrix, holding everything together, and providing stabilization.
Imagine a spider web with all the web lines in their perfect spacing and alignment. Each individual strand contributes to holding the web together. It’s the same idea with the human fascial system.
The primary component of connective tissue is collagen. Problems can arise when those collagen strands stick to each other. Once the web strands stick to each other, the web doesn’t function as it should. The tissue doesn’t hydrate as well and the communication from the body to the brain slows down. When your brain function slows, you can experience fatigue and cloudy-headedness.
Here’s a quick test you can do to see how well your connective tissue is talking to your brain:
(Please forgive the extra audio contributed by my daughter who was crawling around off camera!)
Accumulated repetitive stress lives in your connective tissue. This is what causes our connective tissue to stick. Mental stressors like a job and financial difficulty and health stressors like injury, poor posture, and chronic disease all build up inside your body and can lead to muscle imbalances and pain. Remember how I mentioned above that pain originates in your connective tissue?
So, how do you relieve your body of stress and restore proper function?
Move more. And not necessarily the typical structured exercise that you would think.
Simply sitting less will help to hydrate your connective tissues. Sitting places a compressive force on the spine. If you compress a wet sponge, you squeeze the water out and begin the drying process. The same thing happens to our cells — squeeze the water out and they dry up and die. So, get up and move around often throughout the day and while watching TV.
Making sure you’re drinking enough water will also aid your body in functioning properly. The old recommendation of 64oz per day does not account for various body weights. The new recommendation of drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water per day is more accurate.
Lastly, you need to unstick your connective tissue. Massage is one way. Accupuncture is another. And lastly, self-myofascial release is an excellent way to unglue your tissue at home. By using a foam roller or tennis ball, you can get into your tissue and release it.