Something dramatic has been happening to our bodies since 23 March. We feel creakier and rounder, our skin gently puckered like the beach at low tide, while our shoulders have become convex slaves to daily Zoom calls. The deterioration has been rapid and shocking, but the good news is, there is a remedy. Its name: fascia.
Fascia is essentially a membrane that covers every muscle, bone, nerve, artery, vein and organ in the body. ‘Think of it like a spider’s web that blankets every part of your insides,’ says massage therapist and myofascial expert Antonia Curling. In other words, fascia is a bit like cling film, holding your entire body together. Which means that when it comes under stress or damage, the knock-on effects can be endless. Fixing it might be the key to fixing the way you move, improving the way you feel and even changing the way you look.
‘Picture your muscles as a bag of oranges; fascia is the net,’ says Niki Bird, one of the only fully qualified fascial stretch therapists in the UK, based out of London’s Workshop Gymnasium. ‘If the net gets twisted, the oranges will be bruised and squashed. Untwisting the bag means they can move better.’
Fascia damage can be caused by injury, overuse, underuse or simply dehydration. This year’s lack of exercise – or, even worse, unsupervised exercise – has left us tight, sore and stiff. While stretching is good for recovery and physio is best for injury, neither works specifically to relieve your fascia. The therapy Bird is trained in sits between the two.
Focusing on the connective tissue around joints, ligaments and muscles, she’ll push and pull limbs in various (sometimes relaxing, sometimes ouch-inducing) directions to ‘release’ it. Results are instant – looser hips, bendier knees – and ongoing, improving movement and posture over time. It’s great for treating a home-desk hunch or long-term injury, but not if you have personal space issues: Bird practically climbs over you to do it.
Myofascial massage is a slightly less intrusive way to fix your fascia. It’s a treatment that targets ‘restriction’ caused by trauma (physical, emotional or habitual) that puts pressure on connective tissue, limiting movement and causing pain. It has similarities to a traditional massage, but don’t expect to doze off... ‘We don’t use oils, allowing tissue to be manipulated without any slipping over the skin,’ Curling says.
And manipulation is the best word to describe it: pinching down the spine (‘direct’ work, to free tightness), followed by kneading skin over hip bones to loosen it, causing a short, sharp burning sensation. It’s not as deep as getting knots out, but it feels just as thorough. There are nice parts, too, the ‘indirect’ bits – of gentle stretching and Curling rocking your body like a child on a swing to realign things. The results are not dissimilar to a deep tissue massage: you’ll leave a bit sore in places, but lighter, a bit looser. A stress-free Mr Soft.
The focus doesn’t even have to be your body, because connective tissue is everywhere, including your face. ‘When it comes to non-invasive aesthetics, it’s one of the most important structures,’ says Dr Galyna Selezneva, a cosmetic doctor with a penchant for the ‘no knife facelift’, of which the fascia is an integral factor. In the case of Selezneva’s lifting and tightening treatments (Thermage, Ultherapy, Ultracel: all needle/knife-free, and only mildly painful), you want to contract tissue, not relax it. ‘It sits on top of the muscle,’ she tells me. ‘If you tighten that, it builds a more robust and taught structure for the skin on top.’
Lastly, a fascia fix can improve one of life’s least-treatable niggles: cellulite. ‘Cellulite’s grade and appearance is often due to connective tissue and fibrous membranes creating a pull on the skin, resulting in that dimpled appearance,’ says Selezneva. ‘So treatments such as Emtone –which targets skin laxity, lymphatic drainage, fat chambers and, critically, the pull of fibrous bands – can reduce the appearance of cellulite.’
Of course massage and skin-smoothing aren’t necessities in life, which is probably why it’s taken so long for us to take notice of our fascia: it could be seen as another thing to unnecessarily worry about. Plus, treating it can be expensive: an hour with Bird or Curling is £120, treatments with Dr Selezneva start from £8OO.
But, with undeniable benefits to the treatments and a dose of realignment and relaxation more important than ever, perhaps giving your fascia a little love won’t hurt. Much...
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