The Secret To Stretching that Improves Your Health
Chances are, when you hear the word fascia, you think of the ailment that causes sharp pain in the bottom of your foot and heel: plantar fasciitis. But fascia is the connective tissue that runs through the whole body, linking the base of your skull to the tips of your toes. And it plays a role in every movement you make, from walking to throwing a football.
Fascia, pronounced fay-shee-uh, was once something that the medical community struggled to define and largely ignored, but now we know that fascia is crucial in facilitating healthy movement. Its job is to transfer energy from one part of the body to another.
How To Take Care of Your Fascia
If you are feeling tight and stiff, you need to give your fascia attention when stretching, just as you do your muscles. By taking good care of your fascia, you will gain a variety of health benefits, including:
- You will feel better overall
- Your sleep will be higher quality
- Your body will have an easier time staying in alignment
- You will gain improved vascular function
Stretching helps in other ways, too. Nerves and blood vessels travel together. Constriction around the nerves can occur, which affects the fascia, which can raise your blood pressure and your heart rate. Stretching gives your blood vessels room to work. The more relaxed they are, the less likely they are to chronically send a message of inflammation.
Stretching Your Fascia
Before a workout, you do not need to hold deep stretches for long periods of time. Instead, try dynamic stretching, which is stretching while gently moving. An example of a good dynamic warm-up stretch is walking lunges.
After your workout, move slowly. Exaggerate the motions of your stretches to gain the full benefit. This is when you will want to incorporate tools to help you stretch, including:
- Foam rollers
- Mobility spheres
- Massage roller sticks
- Lacrosse balls
Get Proper Rest and Sleep
Getting the right amount of rest is another good way to take care of your fascia. The healthier and more relaxed your fascia is, the better you will be able to rest.
This is because nerve endings pierce through the fascia. If your fascia is super tight, it will send messages of pain and heighten your awareness, nudging your system closer to a stress response, such as fight or flight. The more you stretch, keeping your fascia relaxed, the more you build what is called parasympathetic tone, which tells your body to relax.
Exercises for the Plantar Fascia in the Foot
Your plantar fascia is a band of tissue connecting the heel bone to the base of the toes. Many people suffer from plantar fasciitis, which causes sharp pain. Core exercises for the foot can help prevent this condition. The goal is to strengthen the arch of the foot.
- One exercise is similar to the plank pose in yoga. You want to contract the muscles of the foot, bringing the ball of the foot to the heel.
- Toe yoga. Stand, and lift each individual toe, spreading it apart from the others.
- Practice picking up a small object with your toes, such as a marble.
- Practice picking up a towel with your toes.
- Curl your toes.
- For plantar fascia, stretch the Achilles tendon and calf. Remember that fascia wraps up and around the calf. Plantar fasciitis is associated with tight calves.
- You can also purchase special stretchers, like night splints, to help do this work while you sleep.
Exercises for the IT band
The iliotibial tract, aka the IT band, extends from the hip to just below the outside of the knee. The more that you work your IT band, the stronger your pelvic stability muscles will be.
- Stand on one leg and lift the other leg to the side. Move the leg from 9 o'clock, back to 6 o'clock, then to noon then across to 3 o’clock.
- Hip flexor stretch. Start by kneeling on the floor. Bring your right leg in front of you while keeping your right thigh parallel to the floor, with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle and your foot flat on the floor. Keep your left knee on the floor, while making sure that your shin is pointing straight back (not toward the left or right). Place your hands on your hips, contract your glutes, and feel your pelvis tuck under you. With your back straight, shift your weight forward until you feel a stretch through the front of the left thigh and groin. For an even deeper stretch, reach your left arm up overhead and slightly toward the right. Be sure to stretch both sides of your body.
- Clamshell movements, where you lie on your side and have both knees bent. Then raise the top leg while keeping it bent.
You can do fascia stretching exercises at home. You can also see a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist, who will create an exercise program targeted to your specific needs.
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