How’s your mobility? It seems to be an accepted idea: as we age, we’re no longer able to move the way we used to. It’s true that some of our mobility and flexibility will decrease as we age, but it’s not true that our quality of life, i.e. our ability to do the things we love, has to suffer. So, what’s the secret to improving your mobility? Fascia.
What is mobility?
What does mobility actually mean? The terms “flexibility” and “mobility” get thrown around a lot these days, so a definition of the two is needed because they aren’t the same thing. Mobility is your body’s ability to actively move through a range of motions for an action, movement or exercise that you perform.
For example, mobility is having the full range to raise your hands to your head comfortably to wash your hair. It’s also being able to put your shoes on and tie the laces or even reaching down to pick up an object from the ground without pain.
Flexibility, on the other hand, is about a muscle or muscles lengthening passively. An example of flexibility is one’s ability to do yoga, although it also helps improve your mobility. However, keep in mind that good flexibility (passive movement of a limb) doesn’t always correlate with good mobility (active movement of a limb). So, if you’re experiencing pain for certain movements, what’s the secret to improving your mobility?
Fascia: The secret to improving your mobility
Fascia has several descriptive terms; envelope, sheath, connective tissue. In Chinese medicine, it’s coined as our visible soul. Dr. David Weinstock calls it “the skeleton of our sensory nerves.” We prefer the term sensory connective tissue or membrane.
In terms of how it functions in our bodies, fascia is the connective sleeve that surrounds individual muscle fibres (endomysium) and small bundles of individual fibres (fascicle) that surround larger bundles of muscle bundles (perimysium). There is also an outer layer that surrounds the muscle giving it its distinct shape and functionality (epimysium) before a thicker version, that we call tendons, that attach muscle to bone. But it doesn’t end there, fascia also becomes the membranous layer (periosteum) that surrounds the bone, and surrounds and holds our organs in place including our heart and brain.
When fascia has an adequate supply of lymph or interstitial fluid it can become very slippery, allowing the muscle fibre to slide over each other as they contract and relax. The sensation from fascia is how we feel when our limbs are increasing the precision of our movement.
Why is fascia important?
When our fascia is functioning properly we move with ease and grace, when it’s not we experience restricted mobility. Additionally, fascia issues can also cause a restriction of lymphatic fluid, which can cause stagnation and reduce our ability to detoxify ourselves. Fascia not functioning properly can also cause pain.
Whilst moving in various ways helps the brain recalibrate what is comfortable and acceptable, such as playtime when you were a kid (e.g. climbing trees, walking, running round, rolling on the ground) it also gives the body direction on which tissues are important and need to be maintained.
Being a sensory organ, fascia also falls under the control of the autonomic nervous system meaning we have limited conscious control of it. If we are placed in an environment of stress, tension, or danger, whether physical or mental, our fascia has the ability to tighten around us like a suit of armour. That’s OK as a short term response. However, if that pressure is sustained it can severely restrict movement and quality of life. Injury and surgery (scars), tattoos’ and piercing which cause a structural change to this tough but sensitive membrane can also cause distortion in the fabric, which may alter how the brain interprets the information.
How can I maintain my fascia?
Maintaining your fascia isn’t difficult, but it should certainly be on your to-do list if you’re looking to improve your mobility and flexibility. So, we’ve listed our top tips below on fascia maintenance:
Drinking water and staying properly hydrated is a great place to start. While this varies from person-to-person, as a general rule:
Women need about 2 litres of water per day (about 8 cups).
Men need about 2.6 litres of water per day (about 10 cups).
The easiest way to monitor your water intake is by assessing your urine (colour, smell and frequency) and poo (consistency and frequency). If your urine is dark amber, then you’ll need to increase your water intake throughout the day. If your poo is dry, small rabbit-like droppings, then you’ll want to increase your water intake. Aim for light yellow, almost clear urine and soft to firm, easy to pass poo.
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a varied, healthy diet composed of whole foods is a great way to help maintain your fascia. The less processed food you eat, the better. An easy way to fit healthy food options into your eating habits is via snacks.
Getting active, especially in various mildly challenging ways (still within your capacity) is also a great way to maintain your fascia. Even playing more is amazing, either team sport, solo or with your kids or grandkids can give unexpected benefits and great lasting memories.
Most of us aren’t breathing effectively. Most of us breathe with our upper chest and shoulders. Breathing from your chest activates the secondary muscles in your neck and collarbone. Thus, consistently breathing from your chest, along with poor posture, can strain on the muscles in your upper body. Instead, we should be breathing using our diaphragm and ribs, allowing our breath to improve our digestion and stabilize our core.
While these tips will help you maintain your fascia, getting a myofascial release and deep tissue massage can also help unstick and rehydrate stiff fascia. The techniques we use help you get your mobility back, reduce pain and increase your quality of life. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of myofascial release massage, book a consultation today.