Fascia has been researched extensively recently, and has been more of a clinical tool then one for the strength athlete to utilize. But with some basic knowledge the strength athlete can understand the power of fascia and help with injury prevention and improve ones performance.
Brief history - Fascia has been a recognized structure in the human body for hundreds of years. Initially it was thought of as a web like material that wrapped our organs and muscular systems but had no use in our bodies. Anatomists would dissect the fascia and remove it to get better access to the muscles, organs, ligaments and bones. Only recently, anatomists have begun to recognize the quality of fascia and its integrity and purpose in the human body. A paradigm shift has occurred and extensive research has been employed to better understand the use of fascia.
What does fascia look like? Fascia looks like a concentrated spider web that envelopes muscles and organs. It is white in color and spreads out in multiple web like formations. There is no specific alignment of the tissue as it spreads out in all directions. Depending on the area of the body, fascia can change in its thickness. For example, the plantar fascia in your foot and the thoracolumbar fascia of your low back are areas of thickened fascia where pain are commonly seen.
Fascia also plays a role in proprioception. As it twists and stretches, the central nervous system receives input from the fascia on the stresses and positions our bodies are going through. This aids the central nervous system in counter movements and reactions based on the tension in our fascia.
Fascia and the nervous system work one together. Recently through several dissections, anatomists have discovered that fascia contains several nerves which blend in and out of various muscles. this helps carry signals to the muscles and allows them to know when to contract and relax. As well, fascia will create a network of neural systems that allow for greater muscular recruitment and contractions that increase your power output. In return your fascia is able to receive external forces and absorb them through the system of fascia.
How do I treat Fascia? As a chiropractor I treat fascia based off of the assessment that I have with my patient. In most cases the examination entails the entire body trying to find the reasons for the dysfunction and the pain. The assessment entails a functional, neural, orthopedic and muscle testing protocol that varies on specific movement patterns and injuries. Once I rule out any serious injury I can begin treatment.
- Spinal Manipulation Therapy - This is the bread and butter of my profession. Quoted from Chad Robertson in an interview on Poliquin; "One of the things an adjustment does and it’s the only form of treatment that can do this – is to activate the gamma and alpha motor neutron loop. A chiropractic manipulation will activate the alpha-gamma motor loop, which will make the spindle more sensitive to stretching. This process will inevitably change the tonus state of the muscle."
- Soft Tissue Therapy - This can be done with your hands (ART, Rolfing...), an instrument (Graston, Guasha...) has many benefits, such as breaking down adhesions and improving the fascial glide over the muscles.
- Movement based exercises that focus on full range of motion (mobility), and stability exercises that work on control. These benefit the fascia by either lengthening the tissue and re programming the proper movement patterns or creating a stabilization to prevent hyper mobility and injury.
Now that we have some of the basics out of the way, how does fascia and strength work together. A basic way of understanding fascia is movement. In a squat, deadlift, clean and jerk or other movement our body needs to be able to transfer energy from the ground up. This is called a ground reaction force. This ground reaction force allows for energy to be transmitted throughout the body to complete a movement. The energy which is usually applied in a direction is often transmitted through a system of connective tissue (fascia, muscle, bone, nervous system) to the object that is being moved. If there are any issues along the path of the connective tissue you may notice a change in the performance output or notice a kink or pinch (pain) in the tissue. This is fixable and if caught early enough can be reversed fairly quickly, however if left for long periods of time can turn into a chronic situation that needs multiple treatments to reverse. The end result may be a completed 500 lb squat or a simple walk in the park, depending on how well the network of your tissue is working. With that being said, proper training, nutrition and health care, can help you reach your ultimate goals in a safe manner.
Stay Strong - BCP