Fascia is often referred to as connective tissue that surrounds, protects, and supports the muscles in the body. Interestingly, there is no beginning or end to fascia, as it is web-like and extends and intertwines around all areas, including surrounding and protecting organs, in the body. Fascia and skeletal muscles make up the myofascial system that help to keep muscle groups together.
As we age, our fascia is always changing; it's structure depends on the demands we place upon it and can become "bound" and thicken in some areas in response to poor posture, injury and/or inflammation. This "binding" can stress other areas, creating more pain and limited range of motion. Fascial fibers run vertically and horizontally in youth; the aging process causes cross-linking or adhesions, which can cause the fibers to lose their elasticity and create fibers that stick together as opposed to gliding across each other. The good news is, fascia is highly adaptable and can be changed over time with better posture practices, self-myofascial release, adequate hydration, and attention to injury.
Most of us are no stranger to tightness and know the discomfort of foam rolling and/or stretching. Sometimes we become aware of a knot or trigger point in our muscles when pressure is applied during foam rolling which may cause pain to radiate to other areas in the body. Self-myofascial release with a foam roller or lacrosse ball allows one to control the intensity of pressure being applied. It is best for beginners to begin with a less dense foam roller. Once trigger points are released, this allows for improved movement patterns and better function with less pain and enhanced performance.
Have you heard the saying, "no pain, no gain"? While pushing yourself to the next fitness level is ideal, pushing through injury or any questionable twinge or pain, is not smart and can often exacerbate problems. Placing loads on joints, ligaments, and muscles that are restricted in their range of motion may increase risk of a muscle tear. It is important to have body awareness at all times but especially during activity.
Body and postural awareness is good to have because poor body mechanics from daily activities is often is the cause of muscle dysfunction and is repetitively perpetuated without recognition. Body awareness also aids in recognizing the presence of stress in the body. Increasing awareness improves overall mind/body function.
Although it may go against instinct, if you are experiencing tightness and/or are very sore, self-myofascial release may help alleviate experienced discomfort, as well as improve performance levels. With patience and practice, self-myofascial release may help restore normal function to muscle groups that are limited in range of motion.
Additionally, it is important to adequately hydrate during physical activity and in stretching and mobility exercises, as the fascia holds water and dehydration may cause fascia to bind which can cause movement to become stiff and problematic. Regularly incorporating self-myofascial release into daily activities can help encourage fibers to become "unstuck" and glide more easily which promotes healthy tissue.
Although foam rolling is great to perform at any time, it is especially important to do after working out, just before stretching. Performing self-myofascial release prior to stretching helps prepare connective tissue and can encourage greater flexibility of fibers. For best results, incorporate self-myofascial release into daily activity.
Julia Broome is passionate about health, nutrition and exercise. She is most excited about educating women on the short and long term impact of exercise and proper nutrition on pregnant women and their baby.