Ask the Physio … Fascia & Mobility

What Is Fascia?

How Can I Increase My Mobility?

What is fascia?
FILE0075Fascia is connective tissue that supports, links and winds around and through all of our bodily systems. It forms envelopes around everything:  nerves, bones, brain, spinal cord, muscles, organs and cells. We can view it to be almost like a large spider’s web which gives us our shape with our bones, organs and muscles suspended within it.
It has a dual purpose of both stability and movement.  It allows our tissues to slide dynamically and yet holds us firmly together and governs the shape of the body.  It is incredibly strong when required, allowing you to hang off a tree branch with one arm without the arm pulling out of the socket!  In stark contrast, it can also be molded easily like putty to create length and space within the joints, muscles and reduce restriction around the organs.
Our fascial system is the mediator between all systems of the body and provides a large amount of sensory information back to the brain as to how we are moving.  Restrictions in this tissue however can lead to pain and dysfunction and even affect how our organs function.
Why is this relevant?
The body loves movement! The longer we stay in one position the shorter, tighter, more dehydrated and unhealthy our tissues become. In the absence of movement our tissues can become stuck together, literally! Small bonds of areolar tissue (connective tissue) form and bind our tissues together making them stiffer and less elastic. Over time we become stiffer and less flexible.
By following the mobilisers in this article we can break these bonds with the heat generated by our movement.  Movements like this needs to be regular however as we start to bind together again as we remain static, even after a night’s sleep!!

Due to the fact that fascia envelopes our entire body, muscles, organs and bones, limitations in flexibility can be due to this tissue system.
The fascial system connects our muscles together in series, almost like a long line of sausages! Therefore, restrictions in the fascial system at one point in the series can present as tightness and lack of flexibility in a different section of the series altogether. An example of this can be seen if we gently release into the underside of the foot (intrinsic muscles and plantar fascia) and as a result we get more mobility in our hamstrings! The series in this case runs from the toes / underside of foot / calf / hamstrings / deep gluts / para-spinal muscles / over the skull to the eye sockets.  It is this system that we are affecting when we work slowly with the foam roller, especially near the origin and insertion of the muscle.
Just like with bone and muscle, we can make our fascial system more mobile and stronger by using and stressing it appropriately with the right movement exercises and load. It will become stronger and more mobile with use. It can be broken down and weakened however with disuse and a poor diet. (Especially one high in omega 6 fatty acids such as vegetable oil)  More reason again for a proper balanced diet!

The following exercises mobilise the fascial system nicely creating length in the system and also allowing tissue surfaces to glide upon one another, increase circulation and promote waste removal from the tissues promoting tissue health.
The following 3 short video clips outline some basic mobilisers for the calf, hips, inner thighs and thorax.
All of these exercises can be done first thing in the morning, before and after class. They will also help to reduce post exercise muscle soreness after a hard dance session!

Video 1
This exercises works into the calf and foot but also into the front of the hip.
Ensure both feet are facing forward and the back foot doesn’t twist out.
The foot should have a rhythm of gently rolling in and then out to the outer border of the foot whilst keeping the big toe in contact with the floor.

Video 2
This exercise is to open up the inner thigh and front of the hip.
Aim to keep the trunk relatively still throughout this and move from the pelvic region. We want to think of shifting the pelvis to get maximum mobility in the inner thigh and good loading into the outer hip muscles.

Video 3
This mobiliser it great to do in the morning to ‘unstick’ your tissues after sleep and get the trunk moving well again.
Work in a forward direction first before you open backwards.
This exercise can also be done sitting at the work desk but has less impact on the lower limbs and pelvis and more targeted into the thorax. Again be careful when reaching backwards.