You’ve definitely heard us talk about it, but what exactly are we referring to? Fascia is commonly known as connective tissue.
Let’s start with the textbook definition: “…the whitish, glossy sac which surrounds each individual muscle in a carcass, the smooth slick covering over raw bones, the membranes that encase the internal organs and lines the body cavities, the tough tendons, ligaments and bursae…”
That might seem like a lot of different things to you.
Well that’s because it is. It comes in many different forms with many different functions. Our fascia gives our body shape. It fills in the gaps between our skin and all the things that you’ve actually heard of like bones, veins and organs. It’s our binding agent. It’s our support system. Remove everything but your fascia and you will still retain the shape of you.
Why does this matter?
When you’re receiving a massage, it’s likely that you only think of your muscles being worked on. You’re aware that you have pain and tension. You’ve got restricted flexibility, but the origin of that pain is probably not something you’re conscious of, unless you have extensive knowledge of the body.
This is why your massage therapist works on your chest muscles when you have tension between your shoulder blades. Or they may work the front of your neck, when you have pain in the back.
Think of the body like an onion. We have to start with the outer layers before we can access the deeper tissue.
The different kinds of tissue require different techniques and manipulation in order to relax. Direct pressure applied to a muscle can release in less than 30 seconds. In contrast, connective tissue can require more time and different techniques to reach the release point.
Lasting relief comes with a comprehensive treatment that includes structural integration. This is focused work on the tough fascia like tendons and ligaments related to holding your body upright. Your body will hold a neutral position longer if the tissue surrounding the muscles are relaxed along with the muscles.
It can be uncomfortable. We mold our bodies like clay into the pattern of movement that we use it for. Massage treatment can be attempting to reverse years of patterned tension.
The good news is that our bodies are constantly evolving. Our function, as Massage Therapists, is to create space for new blood to come into the area we’re working on. We are able to re-train problem areas and release tension, so you can feel good again. It just takes awareness.
Hydration: Water delivers important nutrients to all of our cells, especially muscle cells, postponing muscle fatigue. Stay hydrated before and after your massage to avoid the day after headache.
Contrast therapy: Alternate between heat and ice. Clearly, both ice and heat bring something to the table in terms of pain relief and healing. Sometimes, choosing one over the other simply may not provide enough relief, which is where contrast therapy comes in.
With this gentle method, you can simultaneously reduce inflammation, stimulate circulation, and loosen tight muscles, thereby easing your pain.
Stretching: Think of your body like clay. If you keep it moving it will stay malleable and flexible. Let it sit and it will get dried out and crusty. You don’t have to join a yoga class to get your body moving. Just start noticing where you feel restricted and move the area.
Drop your head to your chest. Bring it back up. Look to the left. Now the right. Simply rolling your head from side to side can be extremely effective. Don’t overthink it.
Take a bath: Add some nice Epsom salt and lavender oil. The heat will release the tension in your fascia creating space for blood flow. Showers can be equally effective.
Breathe: Just take a moment to fill up your lungs a few times. Think of each breath pumping new blood all the way into the tips of your fingers and toes.
The truth is that we all EXPECT our bodies to function properly without needing too much maintenance. But our bodies have needs, even if we’re ignoring them. And, unfortunately, the relationship people have with their body is usually contentious. “Why can’t you be thinner?” “Why can’t you be stronger?” “Why can’t you just STOP hurting?!?”
Let’s try something new. Ask your body WHY you’re experiencing these symptoms or pain. Did you drink enough water? Did you stretch today?
Self care is pretty difficult for everyone. There’s just so many other things that you’d rather be doing! Except, maybe, when your self care is getting a massage.
What will make the most difference, is just taking the time to pay attention. And that’s one of the benefits of massage. We’ll help you find areas of concern in your body, even if you aren’t consciously aware of them. I can’t tell you how many times we hear, “Wow, I didn’t even know I had tension in my <fill in the body part>.”
Here’s a good place to start. Try out this body scan meditation linked below. Your body will thank you.
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Intentional Massage for Mindful People