Movement is an important tool to maintaining health in the fascial system.
As your body’s fascial system goes through the remodeling process following treatment sessions, gentle movement can be extremely beneficial in further circulating the body’s fluids and keeping the newly acquired channels of communication open.
In the PT clinic, I tend to be deliberately slow about prescribing exercise for those with significant fascial pain and tightness. Early on, the work is more about helping people to feel tension and then soften it. (See previous blog post). As folks become more aware of their body’s communication and patterns of motion, then gentle stretching and mobilization exercises can be very beneficial.
Fascia threads its way through the muscular system, like gristle in a pot roast. Tightness in the muscle is going to squeeze the fascia tighter. If you’ve been experiencing pain for a period of time, the muscular system is going to stay tight to protect and splint you. Over time, this added tension is just adding to your pain. Time to break the cycle.
So where do you begin?
- You begin with gentle stretches that you can hold comfortably for approximately 60-90 seconds. That’s a long time. I’m not asking for you to hold your maximum stretch that long. I want moderate pulling only. Low load, long duration.
- While you are stretching, you want to be conscious of trying to keep tension from sneaking back into your body in other areas (shoulders, jaw, neck for example)
- One way to help with this process is to breathe. Breathing keeps the tissues oxygenated and old tension patterns at bay. You should feel your belly expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale. The amount of time it takes for you to inhale fully should equal the amount of time it takes for you to fully exhale. Most of us are very good about inhaling, but then forget to exhale fully.
- You want to clear your mind. A tense mind will keep the body tense as well. Your stretching becomes more productive if you put off worrying about what to make for dinner for a while. I tell folks to purposely choose times in their day when they can more easily relax before attempting their stretching routines. This isn’t something you want to squeeze into a hectic schedule. Try soothing music in the background to help you prepare.
- If a stretch causes pain, its not for you. Pain will only tighten you right back up. So listen to your body and follow its cues. It is guiding you.
- Pick a comfortable area to perform your stretches. Be sure that if you are on the floor, you have suitable cushion for your spine. Please do not attempt to get down on the floor if you know that this very act is going to cause you pain. The bed is a perfectly acceptable option.
- Stretch bilaterally to promote balance in the soft tissue system.
- Stretch daily. Focus on the key areas of tightness that you are feeling. You do not have to do every stretch, every day. 15 min. is plenty of time to have a balanced, effective stretching routine.
Stretching is about holding and lengthening. Mobilization exercises are about gently lubricating the joints and helping to mobilize the body’s fluids. Mobilization exercises begin with small arcs of motion, gradually becoming bigger as your mobility improves. Examples can be as simple as rocking the body, performing neck rolls, gentle circular motions with the pelvis or knee to chest exercises. Rocking, as simple as it sounds, is very effective in distributing fluid. The next step becomes a walking program, if tolerated. Walking with arms gently swinging, mobilizes the spine and pelvic girdle. It can start slowly and progress to longer step lengths and quicker cadence. You can start in the pool, if joint pain is a problem. The same rules apply about keeping an eye out for tension sneaking back into the body and clearing the mind. Other activities to consider include ballroom dancing, gentle yoga, or swimming. Gentle rhythmic motion that starts small and has room to expand is the goal.
Things to Avoid Early On
Clearly, anything that has you moving very fast is going to challenge your ability to tune in to your body’s needs. You’ll just be thinking about keeping the pace. Less is more. Go slow. Be thoughtful. I’m going to make some enemies here, but early on please consider avoiding:
- Aggressive biking
- Zumba or high intensity aerobic dance
- Any exercise program that uses the word Insanity in its title
- competitive sports (basketball, tennis, golf, football, racquetball)
- Plyometrics (jumping activities)
- weight training
The take home message, is we want to loosen and lubricate, not tighten.
So we addressed some general ideas about the nature of exercise as a complement to myofascial release sessions. For a specific exercise program to go along with your time on the table, consider trial of physical therapy. Folks can schedule outpatient therapy with me at Synergy Rehab and Wellness. A little guidance in this matter can make a world of difference. For those of you who wish to stay outside the realm of medical system, Christine Flory, certified personal trainer in Staunton is also quite knowledgeable in how to build and progress a myofascial exercise program.
A Word About Yoga
Many of the principles of yoga are utilized in a myofascial exercise program. The idea of the body mind connection, movement in union with the breath, and conscious awareness of the body’s signals make this practice very appealing. In the clinic, I have the benefit of Kristine Sensenig’s wisdom in this matter. Kristine is a yoga instructor at Synergy Rehab and Wellness, the Staunton YMCA, and the Yoga Co-op in Staunton.
Lisa Shelton, PT, CMT is not a yoga instructor. 🙂
Clients frequently ask me about starting a yoga program. I love the idea, but the timing of when and how to begin are important to avoid frustration and exacerbation of pain symptoms. Important to note that a yoga practice is NOT one size fits all. Proper instruction is crucial. For clients with significant myofascial pain, even a beginner’s class may be too challenging. And for many people, that’s where it ends.
Consider this avenue instead, take the opportunity to enlist a yoga instructors expertise in a personal session while you’re getting started.
You are as unique as your fascial webbing. Embrace the uniqueness. Start slow and thoughtfully. Don’t forget the purpose of exercise is to loosen and lubricate. Get some guidance with your exercise selection.