Rachel Richards

licensed massage therapist

east village, nyc

News: August 2012

What's the deal with fascia? ...

Many of you have probably heard of fascia in relation to massage (myofascial release), exercise, or stretching. You might be wondering what it is and why it's so important.

Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, organs. It fills the spaces and gaps in our bodies. Like glue, fascia is what holds everything in our bodies together. If we were to strip away skin, fat, muscle, and every layer down to the skeleton, the skeleton would not hold its shape, but rather fall to the ground in a pile of bones. If we get rid of everything but our fascia, however, the fascia would maintain our human shape.

Fascia consists of fibers suspended in ground substance. When warm, this ground substance is softer and more liquid. When cold, it becomes thicker and more gel-like. If we stay hydrated, the fibers in the ground substance keep an appropriate distance from each other. If we become dehydrated, fibers get closer together and may even adhere, creating pain and tightness in the body. Fascial adhesions are common in computer workers who sit all day, people who do repetitive tasks for a living, who have undergone physical trauma or surgery, who don't exercise and stretch sufficiently, and who don't drink enough fluids. Fascia can be stretched, but it takes more time than stretching a muscle. Think of a plastic bag from the grocery store. It has a certain shape. If you pull two ends of the plastic very lightly in opposite directions, the plastic would stretch slightly and then return to its original state once you let go. If you slowly stretch the plastic beyond its elastic barrier, it begins to deform and become longer. This deformity remains even after you stop stretching the plastic. If you stretch it beyond this point, the plastic will tear.

This is the science behind myofascial release, a technique performed by many massage therapists. When fascia gets clumped together with adhesions or scar tissue, the therapist will apply only enough pressure to bring the targeted fascia to its elastic edge, and simply wait as the fascia becomes warmer and melts into what's called its plastic state. Once the plastic state is achieved, the fascia will stay lengthened even after the massage therapist has released the pressure.

In terms of fitness, emphasis has always been placed on conditioning muscles while the fascial system has been mostly ignored. But having healthy and resilient fascia is essential to good physical fitness. Our muscles contract and stretch during activity, but it is our fascia that exerts the forces that allow our bones to move and joints to shift. Having a strong, balanced fascial system helps to prevent injury, and allows us to recover from injury more quickly. In fact, many injuries are fascial injuries, in which muscles may or may not be involved. Awareness of the importance of our fascial system has grown enormously among the health care community in recent years. Fitness trainers can now become educated in "Fascial Fitness." Check out this short video to get a sense of what Fascial Fitness looks like.

So be aware of your fascial system and treat it right with massage, hydration, exercise, and stretching. After all, it's what's holding you together!

Sleep deficiency has serious health consequences

When I ask my clients how much sleep they get, most of them laugh or say "not enough." If you can relate, you may not understand how crucial it is to get proper sleep. Deep rest restores the body. If you suffer from pain or injury, you're not going to heal very quickly, if at all, if you are depriving yourself of sleep. Optimal healing takes place during sleep, when our bodies are at rest. Only during deep sleep do our bodies produce Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which is essential for tissue growth and repair, and immune system support. When we lack deep rest, our bodies produce chemicals, namely one called substance P, that enhances our perceptions of pain. In other words, sleep deprivation physically hurts. If that's not convincing enough, here is a list of some of the consequences of sleep deficiency listed in Sleep: A Very Short Introduction by Steven W. Lockley & Russell G. Foster (highly recommended reading):

  • Drowsiness, microsleeps, and unintended sleep
  • Changes in mood patterns
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Decreased motor performance
  • Decreased cognitive performance
  • Impairment of memory and concentration
  • Poorer communication and decision-making
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased risk-taking
  • Weight gain
  • Increased risk of metabolic disorders and diabetes
  • Increased risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart attack
  • Increased risk of some cancers
  • Impaired immune response

So start taking sleep seriously and make it a top priority!

What's new with me ...

Jesse and I had a super fun weekend with my niece, Carly, who stayed with us here in the big city. Some highlights were mini golf in Rockefeller park, walking along the highline, going to the Lego store (and buying Legos and building them, of course), and going to the top of the Empire State Building - something Jesse and I had never done! We went late at night to avoid long lines - click here to see how well that worked!

Thanks to everyone for your kind words and support for my new blog. I look forward to sharing with you and hearing your thoughts and questions.

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American Massage Therapy Association

Swedish InstituteCertified Myoskeletal TherapistNational Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork

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