Recently I’ve been challenged to see myself in a new light; to recognize a pervasive pattern of mine that at one time in my life kept me feeling safe, but is no longer necessary and in fact had became downright destructive to my relationship. I was creating a self-fulfilling prophecy (getting exactly what I didn’t want by letting my fears control my actions).
Gaining this new insight into my own behavior has helped me see, with even more clarity, how we often act on survival instincts and do things that may at first glance seem healthy or even ethically or objectively “right,” but are in fact keeping us stuck in unhealthy nervous system patterns.
This is just as true for the relationships we have with other human beings as it is for us and our bodies, and fascia (which feels everything, records everything, connects everything and in a lot of ways manages our abilities based on our emotions, beliefs, nervous system patterns, past injury patterns and current strengths and weaknesses).
Why do you eat what you eat?
If you’re reading this then I’m assuming you’re concerned (or interested in learning) about what types of foods you “should” be eating for optimal health (including fascial health). If so, then my very first question is “why?”
Your why is far more important than what you’re eating.
Why do you want to know?
Is your curiosity coming from a place of self love and wanting to honor your body?
Is your concern born of fear? Maybe you’re afraid of getting “fat” or getting cancer, or maybe you’re afraid of the pleasure you get eating that coffee ice cream (mmmmm) or that burger and fries; or maybe you don’t want to end up like a parent, friend or other loved one who has diabetes or heart disease or is always getting injured.
While our fears are totally valid and I believe they need to be heard and honored, acting from a place of fear will likely only produce a self-fulfilling prophecy – giving us exactly what we don’t want.
So what should we be doing instead?
First of all – I believe fear starts to fade in the face of facts, or looking at a situation with as much honest objectivity as possible. Simply acknowledging what is, without making it (or ourselves) right or wrong, goes a long way towards calming the nervous system (at least it does mine – you may be different).
When it comes to nutrition or diet and fascia, the facts may surprise you.
Does diet affect fascia?
I have clients who are totally dedicated to “healthy” eating (organic, paleo, gluten free, anti-inflammatory, probiotic etc), and I have clients who binge after jiu-jitsu tournaments on burgers, fries, candy and beer; and everything in-between (people who don’t watch their diet at all, and those who brew their own kombucha and make their own sprouts).
After all these years, there are definitely some patterns that have arisen around diet and how healthy (or not) a client’s fascia is:
Typically, the ones who obsess about eating healthy are also obsessing (and stressing) about other areas of their life as well; including how much or in what ways they exercise, whether or not they’re doing all the “right” things by their body; and it is these people who have the most consistently tight fascia that doesn’t want to let go; they get injured more frequently than my other clients and consequently they want to know what else they can “do” to prevent pain, injury, unhealthy fascia etc.
Meanwhile, the clients I have that either a) don’t stress at all about what they eat (and they probably eat “unhealthy” to varying degrees) or b) do the best they can and let go of any particular outcome, have the healthiest fascia, get injured the least and seem pretty content with their bodies and lives.
If you do – first, you have to understand what it is and what’s causing it.
This issue is one of the most debilitating and least understood “injuries” a human being can experience.
I put “injuries” in quotations because (and this is why this issue seems to confound western medical science), there’s often nothing structurally wrong (visible to imaging machines or other diagnostic methods) to point to as the cause of pain.
There are no broken bones, nearby joints probably looks ok, and usually there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with the soft tissue either (other than inflammation), from a western medical standpoint. There might be a heel spur, or minor tearing of the plantar fascia itself – but this is often looked at in a vacuum as the cause and site of pain when it’s actually a symptom of something else.
Without knowing the cause of something it’s almost impossible to know the solution.
Any attempts to eliminate pain without first knowing the cause is like throwing darts at an unknown target in the dark! The chances of hitting the correct target are next to nil.
If you’re ready to say goodbye to plantar fasciitis and hello to happy feet, click here. If you want to understand it more first, keep reading.
What IS plantar fasciitis?
Traditionally, plantar fasciitis is described as “heel pain,” but people are often diagnosed (or self diagnose) with plantar fasciitis whether they have pain in the heel UNDER the calcanues (heel bone) on the bottom of the foot, on the inside or outside of the heel NOT on the bottom of the foot (so, below the inside or outside ankle), whether the pain is in the arches and sometimes PF can be classified as pain under the ball of the foot.
While these details may not matter for a diagnosis (and I am NOT in the business of diagnosing anyone), they sure as heck matter to figure out the solution. We’ll be talking more about the various kinds of PF pain in Part 2 of this 5-part series.
In the simplest terms, plantar fasciitis is “inflammation of the plantar fascia.”
Hmmmm…this doesn’t tell us much, does it?
While it doesn’t tell us much…it’s a start. The problem with most ‘diagnostics’ is, they stop here. But not us. We’re going to take this to its end point – or, root cause. We’re going to ask why like an annoying little kid who will not settle for anything less than the truth, until we get to the bottom of this! (Pun intended?! :P)
So, your foot hurts. And there’s inflammation present…
Why is the plantar fascia inflamed?
Ahhhh…by asking this question, now we can get somewhere!
The plantar fascia is inflamed because something (or several somethings) are irritating it. In order to understand plantar fasciitis, we have to understand at least a little about fascia. After all, it’s even in the name of this debilitating issue!
If you want a more comprehensive crash course on fascia, click here.
What is fascia?
Fascia, or connective tissue, coats every nerve ending and then wraps the whole nerve. It wraps every fibril of muscle tissue, every fiber of muscle, every muscle bundle and then every muscle group is wrapped in large tough sheets of the stuff, which come together and turn into tendons and ligaments, also fascia – just a denser version – which connects to our bones. Every bone is coated in a layer of fascia, as are all of our organs.
We have MORE of this fascia stuff than anything else in the body! And this fascial system is meant to be elastic, flexible and able to move with us.
All fascia has within it something called ground substance and the extracellular matrix (ECM), and it is this ground substance that gives fascia its spring because it contains a gel-like substance that keeps the fascia hydrated and our cells nourished.
The ECM is responsible for distributing force and tension throughout the fascial system so we don’t damage ourselves from one hit (it’s our SHOCK ABSORBER!)
BUT – and we’re about to get into what the heck this has to do with plantar fasciitis here in a second – with overuse, under use, age and other factors like trauma and injuries, the fascial system starts to get dehydrated and then brittle. It LOSES ITS SPRING. It also sticks to itself in knots or adhesions, pulling muscle fibers with it and pulling on or irritating attchements.
It is this combo of dehydrated and knotted up restricted fascia that creates pain and inflammation in the plantar fascia.
This is the topic of a future episode. For now, we’re sticking to the anatomical or physiological causes of PF pain.
Most of the time, plantar fasciitis pain is stemming from tightness and restriction in your calves and hamstrings. Sometimes it can come from fascial restrictions higher up the posterior chain or in the upper body like your traps, but those cases are rare in my experience and often indiciate a deeper underlying issue.
The most common pattern that falls into this category is a hip or pelvic instability problem. Going after the glute in this case though wouldn’t be the correct solution, because the glute isn’t the problem either, it’s another symptom of dysfunction! (Part 5 of this series is all about this hip instability issue, and I’ll break it down for you so no need to understand it right now!)
Bottom line is…your plantar fascia starts to get irritated and angry. WHY?
Something (or several things) UPSTREAM are starting PULL on the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia.
At the same time, if your entire lower leg compartment has fascia that is dehydrated and brittle, you’ve lost the ability to absorb and distribute force and tension or in other words you’ve lost your SHOCK ABSORPTION! And…
With EVERY step you take walking around, and especially running, there’s nowhere to distribute the impact – so it’s felt –
And now we have a scenario where all those tiny bones, tendons, ligaments and joints in your foot are bearing the weight and impact of your body and activities, when that job is SUPPOSED to be distributed throughout your entire lower body.
This is one reason why it can start to feel like you’re walking around on a bruise. In many ways this may be quite accurate, because the calcaneus bone and all the small tendons, ligaments and joints within your foot start to feel the brunt of impact from every step and over time may very well start to bruise.
Your body may give you a pain signal here, or it might not happen until the fascia in your foot ALSO loses its spring and if the plantar fascia becomes dehydrated, brittle AND overstretched it is now in danger of tearing. This is one reason people get heel spurs – the body is trying to throw something down to make up for the loss in plantar fascia spring/length/durability.
OR, you may get the pain signal simply due to fascial restrictions in the calves and hamstrings pulling on the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia.
At some point the body, which is extremely intelligent and doesn’t do ANYTHING without reason, isolates that area for healing via INFLAMMATION.
Guess what inflammation does? It puffs up an area and mimics that squishy gel like make up of ground substance!
The body is likely trying to rehydrate that area with fresh plasma and prevent you from using it because that could cause further damage.
Little do you know, because no one ever told you this, but YOU CAN REHYDRATE YOUR FASCIA and give your foot exactly what it needs to stop getting your attention with a horrible and debilitating pain signal.
Most of the time plantar fasciitis is dead simple.
Like – there’s a tack in your forehead? Let’s pull it out! BAM! Done. That simple.
Notice I didn’t say easy, I said simple – the process of getting out of pain involves effort, curiosity and patience, but if it took you years to get here and it only takes a week or two to get out of pain, I’d say that’s pretty great success!
Sometimes however, it can be more complicated. In Part II we’ll be going over the different variations of plantar fasciitis, and why this matters for getting out of pain.
If you’re suffering with plantar fasciitis and want to get out of pain for good, check out our brand new course by clicking the picture link below.
Break Up With Your PF™ - Say Goodbye to Plantar Fasciitis For Good!
So you’ve heard a bit about fascia by now..but do you really know what it is and how it functions in your body?
Fascia (otherwise known as connective tissue) has become quite the buzzword. Which is awesome!
When I started working with fascia in 2008 very few of my new clients knew what it was. Now fascia is a huge topic getting a lot of attention and all of my clients have at least heard of it. Many of the articles I read are spot on. And, a lot of them are – in my opinion – missing what I consider to be the most important details about this critical tissue.
If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about, this post is for you!
What is fascia?
In its simplest definition, fascia is a collagen-like substance that separates and connects almost everything in the human body.
Most people are familiar with the kind of fascia found in a steak or chicken breast, because this is similar to the fascia that wraps our muscles – and this is still what most people think of when they hear the word fascia.
But what most people do NOT know is just how much fascia we have, how critical it is for our entire well being and that it’s found in the tiniest of places down to the cellular level.
We have more fascia than anything else, certainly more than muscles and bones!
Fascia wraps every single nerve ending and nerve, every fibril of muscle tissue as well as the fiber (which is made up of multiple fibrils); it wraps every muscle bundle and muscle group and then turns into tendon and ligament (also fascia), which connects to our bones, also wrapped in fascia. It wraps our organs too.
When we observe fascia at the microscopic level and THEN zoom out, things get really interesting. This is about to get sciency, so hang with me.
Why is fascia so critical?
I think we can all agree that nerves – and the nervous system – are critical for us to function optimally every moment we’re alive, right?
Every nerve in the body is a cordlike structure containing bundles of axons. Within a nerve each axon is surrounded by a layer of connective tissue (fascia) called the endoneurium. The axons are bundled together into groups called fascicles, and each fascicle is wrapped in a layer of connective tissue called the perineurium. Then, the entire nerve is wrapped in a layer of connective tissue called the epineurium.
Fascia wraps each part of a nerve and every nerve in its entirety, and we have a hundred billion of them!
The implications of this fact alone are enormous, and largely unstudied or talked about.
The nervous system is the master regulator of everything that happens to and within us in our lifetimes. Every thought we think produces a feeling, and every single feeling is FELT in the body as sensation, via the nervous system.
I’m convinced the fascia feels everything that our nerves do – perhaps on an even more intense or widespread level.
Take fear for example: whenever we feel fear we tend to experience it as anxiety or adrenaline, tension or stress. When we feel joy it’s often described as light, expansive, buoyant. Our feelings and actions every day direct the hormone cocktail released by the brain to regulate whatever state(s) we’re in.
Literally everything that happens to us in life – good and bad – is felt and recorded within the fascial structure or system.
I also have it on good authority (from an orthopedic surgeon) that fascia bleeds a LOT more than muscle when cut into. Fascia contains more of our blood supply than anything else. This fact alone also gives fascia an incredibly important role – by being the main source of fresh blood within the body.
Healthy fascia gives us “spring” (aka, it’s our shock absorption!)
All connective tissue has within it something called ground substance, one of the most important elements in the human body.
Ground substance is an amorphous gel like substance that surrounds every cell; it contains the nutrients that FEED every cell in our body, AND it takes the waste excreted by every cell and ushers it out of our body.
So basically – fascia is our nutrient AND waste distributor!
What if I told you that you have as your birthright the ability as a mover and athlete to feel weightless, springy, even buoyant? What if I also told you that the same way you access this birthright allows you to need less or no warm-up time before activities, helps you recover faster and rarely get sore? And, what if I told you that this same system, when optimized, could dramatically increase your efficiency and power potential as an athlete (meaning, if you’re a competitive athlete you may just decrease times and increase speed/agility/ability)?
All of the above is absolutely available to you.
Healthy fascia grants us this birthright.
If you want to access all of the above, listen up:
We have 10 times as many proprioceptors in our fascia than we do muscle fiber.
Proprioception is the brain’s ability to detect our physical body in space, and then conduct our movements within that space.
If you’re an athlete it’s critical to know your way around whatever space you perform in right? If you’re a gymnast that means you need to know your way around the balance beam, uneven bars or how to throw yourself across the floor. If you’re a trail runner you need to have keen awareness of your terrain, ideally without that awareness interrupting your ability to run quickly. If you’re an MMA fighter you need to not only be able to control your body in physical space, but be able to predict and control someone else’s too!
All of these things require healthy proprioception.
Have you ever tried to perform a movement only to feel like you have a “dumb” arm or leg? Maybe it’s easier on one side than the other. This has a lot do with proprioception!
Let’s get nerdy for a moment:
Proprioceptors are highly specialized sensory receptors on nerve endings found in muscles, tendons and joints. They’re responsible for communicating information about motion and position between our brain and body to make us aware of our own body position and movement in space. Proprioceptors detect subtle changes in movement, position, tension and force within the body.
I’ll say it again because it’s so crazy important:
We have 10 times as many proprioceptors in our fascia than we do muscle fiber!
I’m not going to get super sciency on you, because this whole process is quite complicated when we start talking nerves, brain, muscle spindles, golgi tendons etc. The important thing is, because of the distribution of proprioceptors in our fascial system, then…
On a very physical/visceral level, our fascial system is an organ of perception!
Fascia is the main system by which we perceive ourselves – body and psyche – in the physical world.
If you have fascia that is dehydrated, brittle and/or stuck to itself in giant adhesions that aren’t allowing muscle fibers to glide quickly and efficiently or nerves to communicate effectively, then your proprioception is going to SUCK.
Think of the fascia like a superhighway for our nerves to travel between the body and brain. If that superhighway crumbles in places or gets squished to only one lane, then those nerves are going to have a much harder time traveling and communicating freely. And our sensory receptors – proprioceptors – won’t be able to communicate efficiently.
Most of us walk around every day not realizing how GOOD we can feel! We enter adulthood and get used to feeling a little creaky, achy, heavy…and since no one told us we could feel any different, that becomes our normal; slowly getting worse and worse as we age.
Well I’m here to tell you that’s NOT how we have to feel!
I do NOT believe we have to age like this. I believe, based on experience, that we can feel light, springy, bouyant and powerful as movers for as long as we want – if we take care of our fascia.
I was certainly one of those people that always felt heavy and achy, like I was carrying around a bunch of led weights…until I stumbled onto this amazing birthright we’ve been granted as human beings.
I accidentally optimized my body for peak performance as an athlete:
Would you feel concerned if your teenage daughter, or any young woman you know, started showing up with bruises covering her body?
What if she told you she was doing this to herself to get rid of her cellulite by breaking up her fascia?
I would sit that girl down immediately and have a heart to heart about body acceptance and self love! I’d share my own struggles and triumphs with self loathing and love, and I’d share my wisdom as a fascia expert.
It may not be my 13 year old niece showing up like this (yet), but my instincts are the same.
There is a hot new product on the market right now, and…
I have to speak out.
It’s gaining rapid popularity because it’s supposed to eliminate cellulite, which the maker claims doesn’t even exist and is nothing more than tight or adhesed fascia.
A lot of you have written me privately to ask my opinion, so I knew I had to look into it. I spent a lot of time doing so and I’ve been feeling angry, sad and concerned.
I feel protective of the human body, the female psyche, and fascia – and I want to take a stand for self love.
What I saw and read researching this product was concerning to me for reasons both professional (as a fascia and pain relief expert) and personal (as a woman who once had severe body image issues).
This is NOT a product review. I haven’t used it and have no intention of doing so. I’m not in any way suggesting you shouldn’t purchase something if it speaks to you. I always advocate doing your own research, thinking for yourself and doing what feels right for YOU and your body.
I am a fascia expert and I want to speak out!
I’ve been working with people in pain using compression and active based fascial release since 2008 (click here if you want to know what I do in my private practice).
I’ve worked on people ages 5 to 80; curvy people, thin people, active, inactive, happy, depressed, self-loving and self-loathing, male, female; my clients range from amateur to professional athletes, everyday desk jockies to orthopedic surgeons…and through all this work, and my own journey with healing from debilitating knee pain, I have developed a profound respect and appreciation for the human body, and fascia in particular.
As a fascia expert I feel it’s my duty to speak up and offer an alternative opinion about fascia and cellulite.
And as a woman I feel it’s my duty to speak up about body acceptance and self love.
I’m not naming this product on purpose. If you’ve seen the ads then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Do you love or loathe your body?
By the time I turned 13 I hated my body.
I was 5’3″, I had big muscles, I had belly fat and a big butt and I knew I would never look like I was “supposed” to look – tall, skinny, toned and devoid of fat (what all the magazines and media kept telling me I should look like).
I spent years being internally abusive to myself because I was ashamed of my body and spent a lot of energy every day wishing I looked different than I did.
Can you relate?
This photo of me was taken at the beginning of my worst years of body shame (I weigh the same now as I did then). I may have had a smile on my face but there was so much self loathing going on inside, all day every day. When I think about it now I feel so sad.
I want something better for young women!
How might the world be different if we ushered girls (and boys!) through those already challenging enough teenage years by helping them – as a CULTURE – learn to LOVE their bodies, appreciate them and find a million and ten ways to have FUN and ENJOY life…instead of becoming obsessed with diets and weight loss programs and comparing ourselves to photo-shopped celebrities and models?
It took me until my 30’s to learn to LOVE my body, exactly as it is.
Right now I can tell you I adore my body. I’m so grateful for it. I love how strong I am. I love my curves. I love my butt (and so does my man!) I love my soft belly and my dimpled thighs. I feel at home in this body now. I have a reverent appreciation for every aspect of this human form I get to call home – especially my fascia, knowing the part it plays in my overall health and ability to climb mountains and run pain free while feeling light and springy.
And I gotta tell you – I have ZERO interest in this product, even though it’s meant for fascia and I’m ALL about fascia – because I LOVE my body. I have no desire to change my cellulite and bruise myself in the process of trying.
Women – our bodies are MIRACULOUS!
I haven’t had children yet; but I’m alive because of a woman’s body. My mother’s body.
Evolution gave us women a precious gift, a biological blessing because we bring children into this world: we are given extra stores of FAT so just in case of famine we have fuel stores to be able to feed babies without anyone starving!
Shouldn’t we feel grateful for this evolutionary adaptation?! It’s really quite amazing when you think about it. In years and cultures past it was the curvy women who were revered. Today, we despise this biological intelligence and shame ourselves for it. And I think that is a shame.
As adult women we teach young girls how to treat their bodies by how we treat ours – and right now, almost everywhere I look we’re still teaching young girls to hate their curves and their fat. (Though I do think it’s changing and there ARE people out there creating movements for the change I want to see, like Amy Schumer,Girls Gone Strong and my amazing friend Jade Beall.
Can we please start worshiping HEALTHY and SELF LOVING, no matter what kind of packaging those come in?
I believe we can be healthy whether we’re thin/curvy/tall/short/have cellulite/don’t have it…
I want to see us adult women teaching young girls how to LOVE their bodies.
We do this by loving OUR bodies – EXACTLY AS THEY ARE.
We do this by choosing to do things FOR ourselves and our bodies out of self love rather than TO ourselves out of self loathing.
Have you ever wondered why massage therapy doesn’t “release” fascia? I mean…those deep tissue massages hurt! They must be doing something, right?
I want to let you in on a little secret that will help you understand fascia and how to create changes within that soft tissue system that last.
First…let’s dive into a mini crash course on fascia, just in case you’re still unsure exactly what this stuff is.
What is fascia?
Fascia is a collagen-like substance that permeates the entire human body. Every nerve ending is coated in a piece of fascia, as is every muscle fibril and fiber, every muscle bundle and group, and all of this turns into tendon and ligament, which attach to our joints. Even our bones and organs are wrapped in fascia! We have more of this substance in our body than anything else.
While the picture to the right is a great example of how it wraps the muscle fibers, what that image doesn’t show is all the billions of nerves it wraps that travel within the soft tissue system, which means this stuff isn’t linear – it’s a vast and criss-crossing matrix.
Fascia is supposed to be elastic, flexible, STRONG and resilient. Since it wraps literally everything in the body that supports LIFE, I have come to believe it is meant to be almost bulletproof; like the Kevlar that protects our nerves, muscle fibers, bones and organs. (It’s much, much more than this, but this’ll do for today’s crash course).
If fascia were easily change-able we’d be in BIG trouble! Every time we bump into anything we’d damage ourselves. Heck, even sitting down would cause a re-molding of the fascia in our hips and butts if fascia were that quick to change.
Thus, it is my conclusion that fascia will not change easily due to ANY outside force attempting to change it (if it did, it would betray one of its primary roles in our evolution!)
This includes most methods of massage therapy as well as all those fancy new gadgets and gizmos one the market right now that claim to melt or release your fascia if you smash and blast it hard enough.
To truly change the fascial system, we have to ask the fascia to change itself.
When is “inflexibility” a fascial restriction or mobility issue, and when is it true inflexibility?
That’s the topic of Part 3, the last in this series.
Fascial restriction can APPEAR to impact flexibility, and this is a really important distinction to understand because if we try to target what seems inflexible rather than going after the cause of immobility, we could injure ourselves or make things a lot worse.
I will not be covering every possible example of this or we’d be here all day, but I do want to give you the ones I see the most in my private practice.
Got tight hamstrings? Are you SURE?
The most common example of this is when the hamstrings appear tight or inflexible when what is really going on is a low back pain pattern (even if you don’t have low back pain).
If you’re in a fascial restriction pattern that is endangering your spine, your brain will step in to PROTECT you by limiting your range of motion.
In the case of low back pain patterns it is my opinion that the brain recruits the GLUTES and hamstrings to tighten up neurologically to keep you from injuring your spine.
The real CAUSE of distress in the low back is going to be somewhere in the quads and quad hip flexors, the IT Bands or adductors.
Most often it is actually the glutes that are the “tightest” (neurologically speaking, NOT from overuse) and if the glutes are in lock down there’s no way you’re going to be able to reach down and touch your toes. (Your body is PROTECTING you). But the problem is NOT hamstring inflexibility. I see a LOT of people attempting to stretch their hamstrings in an attempt to relieve low back pain and posterior chain tightness and I always cringe!
And…some people just have inflexible hamstrings, plain and simple.
The key to mastering your mobility is to learn how to know the difference.
This is Part II in a three part series. Click here for Part I.
Know YOUR goals:
If you’re trying to increase flexibility then I highly recommend you first get crystal clear on WHY you want this.
If you’re in pain and you think increasing your flexibility will get you OUT of pain, I’m here to tell you that the OPPOSITE is a far more likely and a safer approach: get yourself OUT of pain and you will probably (and quite quickly) recover the flexibility you lost when your nervous system detected danger and went about protecting you from further injury by restricting your mobility.
If you’re TRULY inflexible and you are NOT in pain, then by all means work on increasing flexibility – safely, in ways that don’t stress your tissues or put you in danger of injury (NOT static stretching).
If you’re not in pain and you’re a dancer, gymnast, runner, yogi etc…then you will be forced to do some static stretching, and I recommend you go about this in such a way that you don’t injure your soft tissue or joints.
If you are in pain AND you want to increase flexibility, then I highly recommend getting yourself out of pain FIRST. You’ll have a better baseline of what your actual flexibility level is like, and you won’t be running the risk of injury or increased pain by endangering your body with stretching that could cause more harm than good.
Know you’re why and you’ll begin forming an alliance with your body that will allow you to reach your goals safely, and far faster.
When to use fascial release:
If you’re in pain – anything from plantar fasciitis (all the itises) to knee pain, hip pain, back pain, shoulder issues, carpal tunnel pain, repetitive motion injuries, “pulled” or sprained muscles or ligaments etc
If you have restricted range of motion in one or more joints (hips, shoulders, knees, ankles, wrists) and you’re otherwise “flexible” enough to perform everyday tasks without issue (it’s likely a fascial restriction issue but this COULD be a true need for more flexibility – part 3 in this series is all about the overlap and how to know the differences)
If you want more SPRING in your system (and we should ALL want more spring!)
If you’re an athlete looking for an “edge” (optimize your fascia and you gain up to 10x better proprioception, not to mention you’ll be far less injury prone and you’ll recover faster)
If you want to feel lighter, more spacious and give your muscle fibers the freedom to move fluidly, no matter your age, activity level and even if you’re not in pain
When to increase flexibility:
You’re NOT in pain
You do a sport that requires more flexibility than the average person needs, such as gymnastics, yoga, dancing, ballet, CrossFit etc
You’ve ruled out fascial restriction issues and pain patterns that lead to lack of mobility as a reason for your inflexibility and you want to increase your natural bendyness
“Will I be able to do the splits after you work on me?”
I’ve been asked this quite a few times when new clients walk into my office. My rise to fame would be meteoric if I could perform such a feat! The answer is NO, it doesn’t work that way.
Just because you are so flexible you can wrap yourself into a pretzel does NOT mean your fascia is healthy. Conversely, just because your fascia is healthy (maybe you’ve become a fascial release ninja?!) does NOT necessarily mean you will achieve an increase in flexibility. Though it might…
There is definitely some overlap and if you’re going to win the game of mastering your mobility, then it’s critical to understand the distinctions.
I’m going to do my best to break this down and make the info WORK for you and your goals.
This is PART ONE of a THREE PART series.
What does it mean to be flexible?
We all need to be flexible to a certain degree to perform everyday tasks: bending over to pick children or groceries up; being able to sit, walk and move with ease.
Take flexibility a step further and you might think of the people next to you in yoga who can go all the way into pigeon pose without screaming (definitely not me), or sit comfortably in a deep squat with perfect form and no knee pain (me!)
Take it to an even greater extreme and we’re talking about those people are so bendy it doesn’t even seem “right.” These are usually gymnasts, dancers, performers or dedicated yogis who have taken their practice to a totally different level: the human pretzel! (Yikes).
What does it mean to have healthy fascia?
Healthy fascia is SPACIOUS and fluid, well lubricated and springy, strong AND elastic (SUPPLE). Spacious is the KEY word.
When your fascia is in an optimal state it won’t hurt AT ALL when weight or compression is applied. That means you could have a sumo wrestler standing with his full weight on your IT Band and it wouldn’t hurt a bit! True story. (Actually I haven’t tested that one yet, but I should! Ha. That picture to the right is me devilishly excited to work on my apprentice’s IT Band, AND it demonstrates my hyper-mobile elbow and shoulder joints).
If your entire fascial system is healthy, it will act as one unit like a highly adaptive SPRING (click here for a specific post on this), allowing us to sprint, jump and fall with minimal impact on our bones.
We have as our birthright the ability to play and move as we want because our fascial system is designed to absorb impact AND allow us to spring out of jumps and steps with fluid elasticity.
Most of us, however, have unhealthy fascia to varying degrees and don’t even know how GOOD we can feel because fascia is only JUST beginning to make a name for itself within the fitness, medical and alternative wellness worlds. Getting our fascia healthy should NOT be limited (in my opinion) just to those of us in pain! Kind of like eating well and being active, the healthier our fascia the better we will feel in our bodies on a daily basis and PREVENT all kinds of soft tissue and joint pain as we age.
Distinctions between Flexibility, Hyper-mobility and Inflexibility:
I have a question for you: what’s your personality type?
Are you a Type A person who is always on the move, always busy, alert, hardwired to check a hundred things off your to do list every day and almost incapable of chilling out? Or are you more in the camp of prioritizing slowness and relaxation into your days, preferring to let most things go unchecked off your to do list if it means staying calm? Or do you (like me) fall somewhere in between?
If you’ve gotten to know your body and its fascial patterns and textures, then maybe you’ll instantly become intrigued or laugh out loud when I tell you that all of the above personality traits are probably written all over your fascia.
How personality affects fascia:
If you are someone who thrives off of high pressure situations and is always “high strung,” then I can pretty much guarantee your fascial system reflects this.
Every client I’ve worked with who has this personality type has similar fascia: it’s STRINGY! “Wiry” people tend to have VERY wiry fascia. Not only is it stringy and wiry, but it usually feels dehydrated and unwilling to chill out. It is NOT supple and rarely feels soft even after years of working with me, and (in my opinion and experience working with clients like this over long periods of time) these people are typically far more prone to injuries involving tendon or ligament tearing/rupture and stretch reflex injuries like “pulled” hamstrings or strained forearm extensors (to name just two examples). This is because the fascial system is BRITTLE instead of hydrated and elastic.
In addition, any serious pain that does occur due to fascial or muscle imbalances appears to be far more difficult to permanently reverse than in someone who has a different personality (and thus body) type, because the fascia never reaches an ideal state of suppleness.
The clients I have who fit this description often work with me weekly for years (possibly for life), because we need to constantly keep that fascial system as healthy as possible when all it wants to do is recoil into its dehydrated stringy state.