We know: the bones support the body's structure, the muscles move the bones, the nerves command the muscles to expand & contract; but what holds all of this moving stuff together? If you said the skin, you would only be half-right, so let's go a bit deeper into the body and find what is called the Fascial Network, or just fascia for short. Now I know fascia might sound like your loud girlfriend from high school, but according to Dr. Thomas M. Myers, it's actually an interconnected collagenous network of tissues that encases every organ, bone, muscles or cell in the body. How does this happen you ask? Well, at the beginning of life we grow from an embryo comprised of 4 different types of cells: neural, muscular, epithelial, and connective tissue cells. Connective tissue cells secrete or discharge a number of substrates and string-like fibers (collagen, elastin, & reticulin) that compose the area surrounding all cells in the body. This area is called the extra cellular matrix (ECM), which provides structural (whole body) & biomechanical (physical movement) support to the cells of the body, permitting intercellular communication (talking between cells) and adhesion (linkage/hold between cells). Basically, we are a mass of moving cells given form and function through the bond of our own self-made lemon Jell-O.
If you've ever cooked chicken, then you have seen fascia. It's the thin clear layer over the meat that continues into the white stringy parts connecting meat to bone. Fascia is important because when properly functioning, it acts as an absorbing force via shrinking, stretching, bending, and gliding across other tissue layers facilitating motion, position, and posture. When malfunctioning or injured, our fascia can become inflamed (swell), dry out becoming brittle, or completely freeze and retard all movement in a specific group of muscles or limb of the body. Think of your fascia as a sponge: when it's hydrated or wet, it is extremely pliable but when dehydrated or dry, you can easily tear and even break it. Many physical ailments are a direct result of fascial dysfunction such as: plantar fasciitis (hardening of tissues back of leg/bottom of foot), Tendinitis (swollen tendon), and Rheumatoid arthritis (swelling of joints) to name a few. Since fascia covers everything that we are, we should make sure to keep it functioning at par.
* Stay well hydrated - drinking lots of water is an all-around healthy living habit, but for your fascia it allows the layers of connective tissue to slide over one another via glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) proteins in the fascia. Think of GAGs as mucus secreting proteins that allow the fascia to stretch when hydrated or seize connective tissue layers together when dry. This is the whole sponge theory coming into play, and drinking water keeps the sponge (fascia) happy and ready to move.
* Perform full body stretches - without regular movement, layers of our connective tissue will lose elasticity and began to stick together (fascial adhesion). This causes kinks or tuff spots in the fascial network of the body, hindering fluid movement. Employing slow whole body stretches like a cat upon waking, breaks up those kinks in the network allowing water into all portions of the connective tissue facilitating seamless and pain free movement. Stretching acts to untangle the network and allow for free flow of lubricating water molecules to GAGs in the fascial network.
* Perform more bouncing movements - fast paced rhythmic repetitive or cyclical motions like those involved in walking, running, and bouncing (i.e. jumping rope) increase the elasticity or stretch-ability of our connective tissues. The energy absorption and transfer during these movements stress the muscle tendons and surrounding fascia subsequently increasing the amount of elastic snap back in the connective tissue. Over time this stretchy attribute of the fascia increases and alters the appropriate tissues (those involved in walking/running/bouncing) into rubber band like structures that facilitate more efficient physical movement through decreased muscle activity. The more you bounce the better at bouncing your body gets.
Good treatment of our friends leads to their support of our actions, and the same goes with our physical components. Old girl Fascia can be our bestie, allowing for fluid efficient pain-free movement, or our "frenemy" directly restricting our ability to enjoy what life has to offer. Good treatment of our body will lead to greater support from each part of our bodily systems (connective tissue, musculature, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc.). Greater support from all the mechanisms of the system allows for efficient movement involving the whole body, free of movement compensations, physical restrictions, or pain. These three simple steps (increased hydration, whole body stretching, and cyclic motion activities) can help you establish or regain healthy movement throughout all segments of your body. Ensure your physical activity plan addresses all the parts of the body that make you whole (mental, physical, spiritual), because neglecting one can negatively impact the entire system and how it operates.