By Martha Quiroga, MHS, PT
I want to write an article about fascia but I am dragging my heals. Why, oh why am I having problems writing? OK, you can laugh when you hear this…. I love fascia! I am passionate about fascia! I have been working with fascia and studying fascia for about 25 of my 31 years as a Physical Therapist. I just don’t love therapy, I am IN LOVE with it! So, why am I having such a difficult time writing about it? Well…. I want you to love and understand fascia because it will help you be a healthier runner with less overuse injuries. There is so much to learn about fascia that there is the chance that I could bore you. There, I said it. Go ahead and laugh. Fascia is a very important part of anyone’s life and it is even more important in a runners life.
“Why?”, you ask. Fascia plays a huge role in any kind of overuse pain that people get anywhere in their body. Most people have heard of plantar fasciitis. Well, that is an inflammation of the fascia on the bottom of your foot. Then there is ITband syndrome - that is fascia. Tennis elbow? Fascia. Golfer’s elbow. fascia. Fascia is everywhere! Where do I begin?
Let me start at the beginning - the chicken. What has fascia got to do with a chicken? Well, since the beginning, I have always learned to compare our fascia to chicken’s fascia since all animals have fascia and we know what chicken looks like. See, if you take a raw piece of chicken and try to pull the skin off of the chicken, the translucent slippery stuff that holds the skin so forcefully on the meat is the fascia. Go ahead. I will wait. Go get some raw chicken. See for yourself.
Fascia in a chicken, a dog or a human is the same and plays the same complex role in our bodies. Actually, fascia has more than one role. The first role of fascia is that it allows one muscle to slide on another or over a ligament or tendon without irritation. That works only if the fascia is functioning properly. That slippery, slimy material that we call fascia covers each muscle fiber in our body. It covers each muscle. At either end of each muscle, all that fascia comes together to form tendons that attach the muscle to the bones.
Why the heck do you need to know this? Well, what do you think would happen to the fascia if it didn’t allow the muscles and other tissues to slide on each other? Ouch! Kind of like an internal chafing all over your body. You would experience it as an aching all over. When there is not enough fluid in the system, like if you don't drink enough fluids or the day after you drank too many alcoholic beverages (the alcohol is very dehydrating) fascia doesn’t have enough liquid to allow it to be slippery and slide. The side effect is “muscle aching” or as I say, “internal fascial chafing”. (Or until your body is rehydrated.)
Make sure that you rehydrate after exercise or during a long run, or after you go drinking at the bar. Drink extra fluids in the winter when the air is dry. The “fascial chafing” can begin quickly so stay on top of it. For good water retention in the body, electrolytes should be included in the fluids when you work out for long periods or are in the heat, especially when you are not accustomed.
This is only one minor problem that can cause fascial pain. When fascia is working properly, we don’t even know it is present in our bodies but it has a way of letting us know when it isn’t working properly. So, be nice to your fascia and it will be nice to you. Drink up, my friend!