At some point or another, we’ve all done some stretching. In the gym before P.E. class in grade school, as part of an exercise class or DVD, or even just getting up after sitting at a desk for a long time, we’ve seen and done various techniques to open and elongate and soften our muscles.
But have you ever wondered how effective some of those stretches have been? Many of us stretch to prevent injury, to help with recovery, or to reduce pain. Traditional stretching, which is what most of us have experienced, moves a muscle to its end range, holds it there briefly (usually from ten to twenty seconds), and then releases the stretch. While this can be helpful, it misses out on a large component of our body tissue.
The key is in the structure of the fascia, the clingy spiderweb of tissue that wraps over and around and through every muscle, bone, and organ in our body, connecting and separating from top to toe. Fascia is made up of two parts: collagen (structural) and elastin (stretchy). This enables fascial tissue to lengthen and elongate as well as maintain its shape. When we have restrictions and limitations, the collagen component solidifies, ‘gluing’ our tissues together. Traditional stretching, with its brief lengthening at end range, only works on the elastin. Just like a rubber band, though, the tissue will recoil right back to whatever length it had been, without lasting change.
At Natural Balance Therapy, we teach our clients fascial stretching, which is very different in its approach. Fascial stretching enables us to lengthen and elongate the collagenous component of the tissue in addition to the elastin. This makes the stretches more effective, and the results will last longer.
In order to affect the collagen, fascial stretching has several differences from traditional stretching.
The first and most important is the element of time. In traditional stretching, you hold the stretch for ten to twenty, maybe thirty seconds. In fascial stretching, any technique will be held for at least two minutes, and up to five or ten minutes. I like to say softening the fascia is like cooking a tough cut of meat – you can’t just throw it on the grill for a few minutes, but it’s fabulous after cooking for hours in a slow cooker. Fascial stretching is giving your tissue the ‘low and slow’ treatment.
The second difference is actually the ‘low’ part of the ‘low and slow’ idea: unlike traditional stretching, fascial stretching doesn’t push the tissue into end range. Instead, we lengthen until we just begin to feel something – a sense of stretch, a sense of pull – and wait there, holding the stretch gently until the tissue begins to melt, soften, and elongate.
Another difference is that fascial stretching is not a ‘no pain, no gain’ kind of a treatment. While there may be initial tenderness, it should be what you might call a ‘good hurt’, where you can feel things changing and easing as the tissue softens and lengthens.
By treating our bodies gently, we can use fascial stretching to make lasting change in our bodies. This different approach can be an effective tool to help you heal, reduce pain, and prevent injury.
For more information, visit www.naturalbalancetherapy.com