Have you ever wondered why you can’t touch your toes? Or why your organs don’t knock around inside you when you jump rope? Have you ever wondered how your muscles stay attached to your bones? Or why you have cellulite?
It’s not a mystery anymore.
The answer to these under-the-radar questions about your body is your fascia (pronounced fah-sha). But why haven’t we heard more about it in the same breath we talk about acupuncture, cryotherapy, or keto?
Part of the problem is that even experts have struggled to define fascia, with
And next to muscle and bones, researchers note fascia has received only “minor attention” because it was long thought to be passive tissue.
Fascia takes many forms, from stretchy to stiff. It appears throughout the body, and because it’s so widespread, keeping your fascia healthy is essential.
In short, fascia is connective tissue. It surrounds body parts from organs to muscles to blood vessels. It can also be a tough part of the body on its own, like the thick plantar fascia that stabilizes the arch on the bottom of the foot.
Fascia means “band” or “bundle” in Latin. It’s
Because fascia appears and connects throughout the body, you might think of it like a tablecloth. Tugging one corner can change the position of everything else on the table.
When it’s unhealthy, fascia is sticky, clumpy, tight, and flaky. It forms restrictions, adhesions, and distortions (think: muscle knots).
Some have also claimed that cellulite is a symptom of unhealthy fascia, but the current evidence for targeting fascia to reduce cellulite isn't strong. There are signs fascia could be connected to problems like back pain, but more research is needed.
Treating your fascia can take time, but the relief is instant. That doesn’t mean that your fascia will turn from unhealthy to 100 percent healthy right away.
Fortunately, many of these approaches also yield other benefits beyond the fascia.
1. Stretch for 10 minutes a day
Stretching that elongates your muscles can help you release tension in your muscles, which is one element of fascia, explains Grayson Wickham, physical therapist, DPT, CSCS.
For best results, he recommends holding stretches for 30 seconds to 1 minute, but don’t force yourself into a deepness or position that causes pain.
2. Try a mobility program
Mobility is a fitness modality that, in its most basic terms, is the ability to move well. It’s movement that isn’t inhibited by lack of agility, flexibility, or strength, explains Wickham.
“Mobility work addresses the body’s fascia,” says Wickham.
“Things like foam rolling, myofascial work, and manual therapy will help break down the fascia and therefore help a person move more fluidly. However, you can also work directly on your mobility and reap positive reward for your fascia.”
Wickham’s program, Movement Vault, is one mobility-specific program.
It provides online sequence and routines that specifically set out to improve the bodies mobility. RomWOD and MobilityWOD are two other companies that offer daily videos designed to help you move better.
3. Roll out your tight spots
By now, you’ve likely heard about some of the benefits of foam rolling. Foam rolling is a great way to check in with your body to pinpoint where exactly your fascia is tight and holding tension. Just get onto the roller and let your muscles talk to you, suggests Wickham.
While foam rolling, when you hit a trigger point or tight spot, sit and work on that spot for 30 to 60 seconds as it slowly dissipates. Over time this will help restore the fascia to optimal health.
4. Visit the sauna, especially after the gym
Going to the sauna has always been popular, but thanks to emerging research pointing toward the health benefits, saunas are more accessible and widely used than ever before.
In a study published in the journal SpringerPlus, researchers found that both traditional steam saunas and infrared saunas decreased delayed onset muscle soreness and improved exercise recovery.
The researchers suggest that infrared saunas may penetrate the neuromuscular system to promote recovery.
An early study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics found that sitting in the sauna for 30 minutes increases women’s levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which helps our bodies break down fats and build muscle.
5. Apply cold therapy
Similar to the sauna, many athletes benefit from cold therapy or cryotherapy after working out.
Applying an ice pack wrapped in thin fabric to an area reduces inflammation, resulting in less swelling and pain.
When using this approach at home, avoid applying frozen items straight to the skin, and remember to stop or take a break after about 15 minutes to prevent nerve, tissue, and skin damage.
6. Get your cardio on
The benefits of aerobic exercise are hard to overstate.
Whether you’re walking briskly, swimming, running, or just tidying up or doing yardwork, cardiovascular activity that gets the blood pumping can help to:
- lower your blood pressure
- strengthen your immune system
- reduce chronic pain
It may even help to improve your mood and to get better sleep.
7. Try yoga
Much like cardio, practicing yoga comes with a long list of bodily benefits beyond the fascia. It can improve both your flexibility and balance, as well as strength.
Making time for a few yoga sessions each week may also provide complementary mental benefits like lower stress and anxiety levels. Some
8. Keep you and your fascia hydrated
“A go-to hydration tip is to drink at least half your bodyweight in ounces of water,” says Wickham.
9. Get professional help
If you’re chronically stiff and sore, or you have a muscle injury that just won’t heal, consult a specialist to see what treatment would be right for you. Because fascia is so interconnected, one area can affect other areas.
Fascia work is not something that you do once a month. As Wickham says, “Fascia makes everything continuous, so you also have to treat the body as a whole.”
If you’ve ever had a knot or pain in your shoulder that seemed to travel after you massaged it, that’s likely because of your fascia.
Certain symptoms may be a sign that you should pay more attention to your fascia health.
For every hour that you spend doing impact exercise, spend 30 minutes doing work to improve the health of your fascia.
Gabrielle Kassel is a rugby-playing, mud-running, protein-smoothie-blending, meal-prepping, CrossFitting, New York-based wellness writer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drunk, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal, all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.