Fascia Stretching: See All the Benefits & How to Get Started
Fascia stretching may sound a little scary and maybe even painful. But, it turns out that it’s something you should be doing on the regular. And, good news! It’s not scary or painful and can actually help you feel a whole lot better!
What is Fascia?
Everyone knows what muscles and bones are, but what is fascia? While it’s clear that fascia is an integral part of the body and covers large areas, the term “fascia” actually means “band” or “strip.” Yet, perhaps a more accurate description of fascia would be “sheet.” Think of a layer of saran wrap encasing all your muscles and organs. Wikipedia describes fascia as the following:
“A fascia (/ˈfæʃ(i)ə/; plural fasciae /ˈfæʃii/; adjective fascial; from Latin: “band”) is a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs.”
Fascia is divided into categories by layer, function, or location. Some of the facia are known as superficial fascia (just beneath the skin), deep fascia, and parietal fascia.
The role of fascia is to bond together the organs, muscles, connective tissues, ligaments, and tendons. Comprised of primarily collagen, this flexible tissue creates a band of fibers (also containing nerves) that stretches and moves with the muscles and organs.
What does this mean? This translates to the ability of fascia to be stretched, injured, inflamed, become stiff, and lose flexibility. This means it’s important to include the fascia as part of your stretching program because, as you can imagine, if the fascia surrounding a muscle is injured, painful, or constricted, it will be difficult to fully move and use the muscle. This is where fascia stretching comes into play.
What is Fascia Stretching?
Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST) was an idea originally conceived by Ann Frederick, a flexibility therapist, who trained Olympians in the 1990s. She found that stretching fascia rather than just tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints, garnered huge benefits for her athletes. They were able to dominate in their sports with a significant number of wins over the competition.
Since fascia stretching is deeper and more intense than normal stretching of a muscle, it’s typically achieved with the help of an FST therapist. A therapist will consult with you to determine which areas need attention, address any injuries, and decide on any other customizations you may desire (you can focus on all fascia stretching or you can usually split up your session between fascia stretching and traditional massage).
According to Ann Frederick’s book, Stretch to Win, fascia stretching differs from static stretching (stretching a muscle and holding the stretch) and ballistic stretching (using movement to stretch the muscle further than it would normally stretch) in that it is an “undulating” stretch. It involves teamwork between the therapist and the client as they work together through deep breathing and stretching movements assisted by the practitioner.
Benefits of Fascia Stretching?
While the benefits of stretching alone are vast, stretching the fascia can take these benefits to another level. For example, fascia stretching can:
Reduce back pain—while fascia stretching has the ability to reduce pain throughout the body, where it really shines is when it comes to lower back pain. Because everything in your body is inter-related and connected, an injury or tightness in one area can translate into referred pain, and that pain often ends up manifesting in the lower back region.
Gain strength—stretching the fascia will enable your muscles to perform better. Think of them as being released from the constraint of the fascia in order to move and better execute movement.
Reduce inflammation—according to scientists, stretching and releasing the fascia can help reduce inflammation.
Increase range of motion—when your muscular structure is unencumbered by a tight fascia system, it can develop a greater range of motion. So, if you’re having trouble with tight legs, for example, some good fascia stretching can help to release those muscles and allow for a gradual lengthening to assist in greater mobility.
Flexibility—want greater flexibility? Then try stretching the fascia. Fascia stretching includes the stretching of joints and joint capsules (a deep form of stretching), which can allow for more flexibility in the targeted limb.
Great for everybody—while most professional athletes enjoy regular therapy and massage, your average runner and workout enthusiast can also benefit greatly from fascia stretching.
Relaxation—possibly contrary to what you might think, being stretched by someone else, past limits you could impose upon yourself, allows your muscles to relax more than prior to the stretching. And it’s not just your muscles that benefit from this stretching; the fascia relaxes as does your nervous system.
Better recovery—want to speed up healing? The increased circulation achieved through fascia stretching brings healing blood and nutrients to all areas of the body, allowing for faster recovery.
Better balance and improved posture—when you think about the fact that tight muscles and fascia are probably pulling things out of alignment, it’s easy to see how you can develop chronic injuries and pain if the tightness is not addressed. However, when it is properly addressed, your body can naturally realign, which helps with both balance and posture.