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Pilates & Fascial Fitness

What is Fascia? It is certainly a buzz word these days. Definitely complex and a bit hard to explain.


I like this analogy, in so many words, from an article I recently read on WebMD.


Simply put fascia is a layer of connective tissue below the skin. The medical world has expanded the definition to include tissue that surrounds all of the cells, nerves, joints, tendons and ligaments in your body. The body fascia is multi-layered and it plays an important and active role in the support and movement of the body. It supports the tissues of the body and the organs, lessens friction, eases muscle tension and tightens up reflexively when needed.


Here are my best efforts at explaining fascia's complexities and role in how the body moves. Plus, how pilates can assist in keeping it healthy.


In healthy mode the fascia is slippery and smooth allowing it to stretch with you as you move. In unhealthy form it may become stickier, drier and tighter which will cause problems that can cause you pain.


Fascia surrounds every part of your body. It provides shape and support and holds the muscles together which allows them to contract and stretch. Fascia is made to stretch when you move but when it gets stressed, it tightens up. Your fascia can become unhealthy or tight due to poor posture, poor gait, lack of movement, repetitive movement, and surgery or injury that causes damage to one part of the body.


Generally fascia pain will feel better with movement whereas muscle or joint pain will worsen as you keep moving. Fascia pain can be hard to diagnose because there are no lab or imaging tests to identify it.


There are many common conditions that affect the fascia:


Myofascial pain syndrome

Plantar fasciitis

Frozen shoulder

Dupuytren's contracture

*These are all more likely to be caused by stickiness, dryness or tightness of the fascia.


Hernia's (Inguinal, Femoral and Umbilical)

Marfan syndrome

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

*These are more likely to be caused by fascia that is too loose or not supportive.


It is important to note, when you have a fascia injury give it sufficient time to heal. Start with small gentle movements and work your way up to more.


*Most of all make sure to get an opinion from someone you trust in the bodywork or medical field.


Now to the BEST part, where Pilates relates to fascial fitness.


When Joseph Pilates first invented Pilates he combined elements of breath, focus, correct alignment, flow and control from the core.


Sometimes even just focusing on breath can help to release fascial tension in the neck and shoulders. When you focus on where the inhalation of your breath goes you may be able to push through some of the stickiness of the fascia in that area.


When performing Pilates exercises it is important to maintain good form or correct alignment. Moving through various ranges of motion in the right way forces you to engage your core and feel the work more than you would with poor positioning. The importance of this is immeasurable and helps you to avoid injury or poor movement patterns which can cause the fascia to become sticky and tight.


As you progress along your pilates journey the idea is to flow efficiently through all ranges of motion, getting a full body workout, balancing out the muscles in your body and correcting posture. Many of the exercises add a bounce and all focus on concentric work and eccentric control. This creates awareness of your body and how it moves. Adding flow of movement keeps the fascia slippery and smooth. Not only during the workout but long after.


If you are able to learn how to use your core muscles to control your moves you will find that you can perform bigger and more difficult moves. Moves that combine different ranges of motion or adding movement of arms or legs to a stable plank position. Even bigger are things such as jumping, climbing, swinging or bouncing performed either on pilates equipment or somewhere else. All of these moves are activities that will help to keep your fascia healthy.


Regularly practicing pilates under the supervision of a certified instructor will help you to rewire the coordination of ineffective movement patterns, re-educating the body and eventually leading to reduction in pain and generally healthier fascia and a happier you!

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