I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago, and we were exchanging stories about how getting old sucks, and debating whether its actually better than the alternative, when the subject of stretching came up. As a military guy, he’s suffered from recurrent back and shoulder pain for a number of years. Recently, he stumbled on a book about fascia stretching as an alternative to traditional muscle stretches. He swore by the technique, and suggested I give it a try. I’ve got to say, thus far I’m pretty impressed.
Fascia is a tough, connective tissue that surrounds every organ and muscle in the body. In addition to enveloping muscles and organs, fascia also forms a connective web that also binds organs, bones, and muscles together. Composed primarily of water, collagen and elastin, fascia also threads throughout muscle tissue, emerging at the end to form ligaments and tendons. Indeed, the term myofascial acknowledges the importance of the fascia to muscle tissue through its etymology; myo=muscle, and fascia. Yet, when we talk about stretching, its normally in reference to muscle tissue.
The concept of fascia, just like muscle, being susceptible to injury forms the basis for the book, The Permanent Pain Cure. Indeed, the author speculates that fascia is an oft-overlooked cause of chronic pain and discusses how injuries to the fascia may occur, as well as its importance to overall health. In his book, Ming Chew lays out some of the more traditional muscle stretches, as well as modifications which are specifically designed for fascia stretching. He also includes recommendations for strength training, fluid intake, diet, and regular exercise. Each of the recommendations is made with an eye toward pain free living.
The importance of fascia stretching has been a subject of interest to bodybuilders for a number of years. It has been speculated that “tight” fascia may be a factor that limits muscle growth in bodybuilders. Indeed, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tremendous chest development has been partially attributed to fascia stretching. According to some reports, he ended chest workouts with dumbbell flyes, which forced the fascia in the chest to expand, allowing for greater muscle growth.
Not that I’m interested in mimicking that level of muscle growth, but it does demonstrate the importance of an oft-overlooked aspect of overall health.
In addition to providing basic information on fascia stretching, The Permanent Pain Cure also lays out recommended stretching strategies for tackling painful areas. In contrast to most traditional stretches, fascia stretching usually involves holding for a period of at least 60-seconds, in positions that generally require greater strength that many standard muscle stretching poses. This is also mirrored by bodybuilders, who suggest only stretching fascia after muscles are fully engorged with blood or “pumped.”
After trying some of the techniques suggested for fascia stretching, I can definitely see the utility. Some of the poses seem to provide practical benefits for me personally, particularly in the area of hip mobility and lower back stretches, which have been an area of concern for some time now.