Find Your Fountain of Youth

Picture in you mind the amount of time spent “bouncing” from childhood to adulthood to seniorhood. As children, we bounce all the time – walking, running, jumping, falling down the stairs. Young bodies are elastic, resilient and relatively resistant to overuse injuries. Why do we lose that playful quality? And what the heck is it in the first place?

It’s your fascia. Think of fascia as a three – dimensional web weaving in and around all tissues and organs of the body – it imparts the shape you show to the world. It’s the soft tissue structures of the body (ligaments, tendons, myofascia, menisci, joint capsule structures, aponeurosis) that store and release elastic energy capable of force transmission and force absorption.

Myofascia is fascia that flows in and around muscles. Each muscle spindle has its’ own fascial sheath. These combine with more fascial sheaths at varying intervals to produce myofascia that flows through and around muscles. These sheaths in turn transition to tendons which in turn attach to bone through a further transition to periosteum – the outer most (fascial) covering of the bone. Fascia is continuous – we think of it as more discreet only because that is how anatomy has defined it.

Your fascia works hard to keep you moving fluidly with little conscious thought. Although rare, genetic defects in fascia result in severe mobility impairments with movement possible only with extreme effort and concentration. Fascia provides four important functions for movement. Understanding the role of these factors in the aging process helps to understand why we lose the spring in our step – and what we can do to get it back.

Functioning as a GPS for the brain, fascia is responsible for knowing where our body parts are located in space at any given time. Termed proprioception, you are an elite athlete with a lot of it, and a “klutzy kathy” with a little of it. Like neuromuscular control, proprioception can be improved through mind-body modalities that encourage mindful movement.

In addition to a rich network of mechanoreceptors detecting spatial relationships, fascia is rich in detectors sensitive to chemicals released with stress and strong emotional reactions. Some say the fascial system is responsible for great feats of strength (like lifting a car off a person) in response to extreme emotional distress. Certainly fascia has the ability to contract independent of muscular energy imparting its’ own ability to transmit force.

The soft tissue structures making up joint capsules have very little blood supply. Nutrients and lubrication is provided through the extracellular matrix of the fascia. When muscles contract and joints move, fascia is stimulated to produce synovial fluid. Compression and movement squeeze fluids containing waste materials out of fascia and allow fresh water and nutrients to be absorbed.

In summary, fascia functions in four important areas:

  1. Provides support to the body,
  2. Responsible for proprioception,
  3. Hydrates and nourishes, and
  4. Transmits force.

So what can we do to keep our fascia healthy and happy? Use a holistic approach with a combination of movement and manual therapies. Like many of the tissues in the body, fascia is constantly turning over or remodeling through specialized cells called fibroblasts. The process is slow – over weeks to months, sometimes years – but effects are long lasting for the same reason.

Of movement modalities, Pilates may be the most accessible of therapies for most individuals – modifications can be made for almost any limitation. Two to three sessions per week are required preferably with a knowledgeable Instructor.

As we said earlier, myofascia is the fascial system associated with the musculoskeletal anatomy. Moving between and around the muscles and bones, fascia constantly remodels based on postural stress and is often the first to be taxed in over-use injuries. Myofascia is organized in meridians that dictate the directional transmission of force and impart elasticity or “bounce” to the body.

To hit the myofascial meridians, training should include whole body exercises in all planes of movement. Strengthening and lengthening along meridian lines organizes the cellular make up of the fascia to improve elasticity. It is helpful to understand meridian anatomy to program efficiently but when in doubt – flex, extend, side bend and rotate.

Muscle and myofascia produce force in part through rotational movement. Adding slight variations to a movement such as laterally rotating and medially rotating works fascia through all meridial lines. Vary the tempo of the stretch – some slow and some with more rhythmic bouncing motions. Yes we have come full circle – bouncing stretches are back for restoring elasticity.

Pilates jump board with light spring is an excellent way to train elasticity back into the body. The jump needs to be full range of motion with the lightest of landings and a slight pause at the bottom to load the fascia for the counter movement of the jump. Initiate the jump from the core with sequential stiffening of tissues from core to toes as the legs are straightened at the peak of the jump. Vary the tempo – quick jumps or slow jumps – and vary the hip position for multidirectional movements – lateral rotation or medial rotation. More balance challenged positions such as jumping on all fours in tabletop improve proprioception and kinesthetic acuity.

The field of fascial training is new and evolving rapidly. Robert Schleip, Thomas Myers and Elizabeth Larkam, among others, have defined the basic principals of fascial training. The information in this blog is largely taken from their works.

 

 

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