Dr. Eric Hefferon is a Physical Therapist, strength & conditioning professional, and a competitive fitness enthusiast from Glendale, Arizona. Today, he’s got some great advice on how you can take better care of your fascia, feel great, and perform at your very best.
Enjoy and share,
I want to talk to you about fascia, so that you can better understand your body and why you’re likely not be performing at your best.
Fascia is the connective tissue or internal mesh that lines your entire body from head to toe. When taking a look under the skin, it looks like an omni-directional spider web made of collagen (strong), elastin (flexible) and a liquid gel. Together, these elements provide both strength and flexibility.
This material lines every single muscle fiber, every organ and bone, and acts as a structural and communication network throughout the entire body.
Fascia is what holds YOU together.
After an injury new collagen gets laid down in a haphazard manner to help protect the injured site. Since collagen is more rigid, it can create aberrant soft tissue tightness that can limit the function of surrounding muscles and joints.
I frequently treat athletes with painful connective tissue congestion and fascial adhesions, but there are also plenty of cases with abnormal mechanics without the presence of pain. This is far more problematic because cumulative adhesion and strains can lead to big injury and dysfunction later down the road.
Just as an example, let’s say I stain my hamstring and several days later the pain goes away. I still have connective tissue trauma at the cellular level that was never addressed with proper body work. And that old trauma could easily cause future biomechanical issues in my ankle, knee, hip and low back.
Surgery is also another form of tissue trauma that can cause increased scar tissue and limit the ability for surrounding tissues to slide and glide properly.
Learn more about fascia release and self-care HERE.
Our understanding of muscle function is changing, and we now have a much better understanding of the true characteristics and function of fascia. In short, you don’t have 600 individual muscles, all with separate functions. Rather, it’s more accurate to say that your body is made up of “600 fascial pockets.”
Check out our FREE guide showing you exactly how to mobilize to squat deeper for the OHS. Click the image above to download now.
So, how do you improve fascial/tissue congestion to have more desirable body mechanics?
- Get warm – Increase hydration to the tissues by using mild heat to allow them to be more pliable. People over ice injuries all of the time, causing tissues to become hypoxic and much stiffer. You don’t want that.
- Tissue breakdown – Your best option is to find someone that is highly skilled in bodywork. They will find the areas of congestion hampering you and will properly reorganize the old, dehydrated collagen tissue. Tools like foam rollers and lacrosse balls can certainly help improve tissue hydration and reduce areas of tension, but they do not afford the exact amount of tension and compression that is necessary for permanent, lasting tissue change. Everyone’s tissues are different, so the exact amount of pressure, tension, duration and angle of force maybe be completely different from athlete to athlete. So, get to know yourself and make sure you’re not wasting your time.
- 3D movement is critical – Once the gnarly tissue restrictions are all broken down, it’s important to then move and load the body in all three planes (front/back, side/side and rotation). This will rewire the neurological system to move appropriately, but it will also mechanically load and strengthen the newly liberated tissues. Once strengthened and primed for motion, you will be free of the problem. Staying free, that’s another challenge.
How do I prevent fascial congestion?
- Stop sitting – Our muscles, tissues and organs are made to move. That’s why sitting is so bad. It can bind down your hips, low back and neck, causing possible pain and dysfunction. I see a lot of Crossfitters and athletes that sit all day long at work, then suddenly need lots of hip mobility for their snatching workout in the evening. Sorry, but a basic hip flexor stretch for 5 minutes cannot possibly combat the 10 hours of sitting at your desk. Move as much as you can, all day long.
- Move in more planes – All joints and tissues move in three planes. To maintain a healthy, functional system, it’s important to move and rotate forward and back, and side to side. There are a lot of athletes that live primarily in the sagittal plane (forward/backward). That’s bad because tissues only get stressed in the same line of force, over and over and over again. The best athletes play more than one sport – They move and train in different planes. So, instead of always lunging forward, try going to the side and rotating while you do it. You will feel exactly what I’m talking about. Fix that!
- Reduce stress – Being tense all of the time causes muscles and fascia to become tight and shortened. Yes, it’s not just your training. Behavior can also cause limitations in mobility! So, act accordingly.
- Drink more water – We are comprised of over 60% water. So it goes, you need to be properly hydrated to to have normal slide and glide in the soft-tissues. So, jerky man, start carrying around a water bottle!
- Proactive tissue work is key – Tissue maintenance should be performed frequently to maintain normal extensibility throughout the system and to decrease abnormal mechanics and injuries. Think of it like going to the dentist for cleanings. You don’t wait until you have an expensive and painful problem. Instead, you must stay on top of the issue by working a little every day towards prevention. It’s now time for all of us to view our bodies the same way. Put in the work, and you will be rewarded.
Start your daily practice
There’s nothing magical or complicated about self-care. Simply put, if you build a daily practice around these simple steps, you will soon begin to feel and perform much better.
See for yourself.
If you’re feeling tight and find yourself in the Glendale, Arizona area, come by and check out my practice Impact Physical Therapy. You can also contact me via Facebook. We’ll get you sorted out. Also, feel free to leave a question below. I’d love to help you meet your fitness goals.
Hi my name is javier these injuries of mine never seem to stop. I have an ac joint problem people saying to hunch back that true? Now it’s my right bicep so tight and going towards my inner elbow I actualy looseing patience if you can help please would be appreciated and ive been to phiso countless of times
It sounds like your front shoulder is very tight. Could be anything causing the problem, but I would guess that you’re pressing and dipping a lot. What does your training look like right now?
Could very well be that you need to rest, then prioritize soft tissue and position work for a while before lifting heavy and moving often again.
Thank you so much for sharing. I see a lot of shoulder issues with CrossFiters and overhead lifting activities. Think of the shoulder as a part of the whole kinetic chain. Make sure you are foam rolling your thoracic spine, doing some backbends over the foam roller maybe even with a PVC pipe in your hand which can help open up your chest and the anterior part of your shoulder complex. If you’re doing a lot of computer work during the day you could be closing down on that AC joint and front of the shoulder. Make sure and get up stretch the connective tissue with in the anterior part of your shoulder. Hope that helps otherwise find a good physical therapist or bodywork expert in your local area.
I am going to have to come see you! I happen to live in Phoenix, so I would love to come by and get some extra work done. I do foam rolling, band stretching, and I use MobilityWOD’s Supernova for more localized work. I don’t have any nagging injuries per se, but I do have some strange pain twangs/numbness that happen in certain positions that I think might be a result of being so tight in some places, so getting that addressed by a professional is something I am interested in. Soon as I am financially able, I will be visiting!
Would love to have the opportunity to meet you and work out any kinks. It will also be a great learning experience and can give you some tools for future use. Please don’t hesitate to call me. 6232087575 or email me at
Ehefferon@impactptaz.com. I hope to see you soon. Way to be on top of your mobility and tissue work.
love the “600 fascial pockets idea” ive heard Tom Myers say the same thing
Tom Myers is awesome. A lot of my post-doctorate mentor ship has come through the great Institute and specifically
Sorry Gray Institute https://www.grayinstitute.com
Hey and thanks for a great article! I was just wondering if you maybe had a good routine that I could try? Or maybe point me in the right direction on YouTube, or another website…
Kelly Starrett is great check out some of his work. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3WOpb8PrrSc
Lenny p is great
This is my YouTube channel another good source of free information.http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6eT3ny_9Rws
I had a traumatic wrist injury, dorsal barton fracture with sheering, etc. The wrist was rebuilt, joint line is good and I’ve been cleared (this was last summer) to do any movements. The capsule around the wrist is very tight and even with months of PT I have very limited flexion and extension. To do pushups / burpees / etc I’m on the knuckles on the palm side and a front rack position isn’t happening.
Is there anything you can recommend to continue to loosen up the tissues around my wrist / forearm so that I might gain a little more flexibility.
Sorry to hear about the wrist fracture and some of the struggles that you are currently going through. The wrist is a very tricky joint as there is not a lot of room within the bones to begin with. When you have trauma, and then surgery it can really cause that space to become even more narrow. I am guessing that not only is the capsule and wrist area limited but also the surrounding fascial/soft tissues into the forearm. Try using a voodoo band along the forearm to help break up fascial restrictions. You could bring the wrist into flexion and extension with the band on. You could also try taking a mobility band and attach it to the pull-up rack (low) then place it along the wrist joint while you are on your hands and knees- try and rock forward into wrist extension while the band is pulling your forearm backwards. (you may have seen this for ankle mobility). Here is a similar pic (http://i.ytimg.com/vi/iLheJx3Gnsk/hqdefault.jpg) Get some extensive tissue work done by a massage therapist or PT/Chiro that is trained in myofascial work. Not all PTs are trained in working with soft tissues. Also know that your structure is changed and you may always need periodic tissue/joint mobility done by a professional.
Let me know if that works or if you need other suggestions
[…] here on Barbell Shrugged for how you can improve fascia in order to have better body […]
Awesome! thanks for the shout out !!
Would love to come by your box if I am every passing through.
Great article Dr. Hefferon. I myself am considering going back to school for DPT (I have my bachelors in engineering). I am also looking into Chiropractic as another option. I would love to someday have a practice such as yourself that is integrated with strength and conditioning and preventing/treating injuries. Any thoughts or suggestions between going the physical therapy vs. chiropractic route?
Go back to school buddy!! I am sure you would make a great PT or Chiro- you will be able to change a lot of peoples lives over your career – not to mention the opportunity to interact with a lot of special individuals.
Of course I am biased to Physical Therapy 🙂 but I will say that a lot of my current knowledge in fascia and soft tissue work was not taught in PT school- most schools do not offer a lot of extensive soft tissue/myofascial work. I have been able to take extensive courses in FSTT (functional soft tissue transformation (which was created by a massage therapist and chiro :)). If you become a PT or Chiro make sure to branch out beyond your field of expertise- as there are a lot of healthcare professionals doing some awesome things.
I wish you the best of luck Adam
Great help Dr. Hefferon, I’m hoping to go back to University next year to begin studying PT. I’m excited to learn about classic PT, but FSTT and neurological injury rehab are also areas I’d like to explore, how much does a classic undergrad course cover these more fringe areas of practice?
Congrats on the decision to go back to school and pursue PT!!! It will be an amazing decision that you will not regret. Most undergrad courses will cover the basics in human anatomy, biomechanics and physiology. Depends on the school/professor whether or not they cover the functions of fascia and soft tissue mobilization. You will not get much intervention (myofascial release, joint mobilization/manipulation ect.) until you are in PT school. There are so many good – FREE references out there on You Tube and the internet along with courses that you could take that will supplement your current knowledge base.
Good luck buddy
Dr. do you promote Graston technique to help with fascia/miofascial release to help with range of motion?
If so, as an athlete, what is the best way to incorporate this therapy in my training cycle to help my ankles (that are filled with scare tissue and my knee from surgery). Right now I do it 2 to 3 times a week and seeing improvement with a bunch of foam rolling and stretching! However I work out 5x a week, sometimes twice a day and scared if I release too much can I put myself in danger of an injury….please advise for optimal use of this technique.
Sounds like you are really on top of your tissue work and overall mobility- nice work!! Graston is a great technique to improve tissue extensibility and can free up a lot of congestion to increase ROM. Graston is just one of many ways to break up connective tissue congestion. Tissue work can be ongoing especially if your tissues are subject to more stress (running, CrossFit ect.). Stability is just as important as mobility- mobility without stability = instability. With that said- get as much ROM as you can but make sure you are stabilizing the new ROM with a variety of movements (increase the load, height, direction, speed, work at end range and mid ranges). Once you feel like the initial tissue congestion is gone use Graston as a maintenance tool along with Dynamic three dimensional (3D) stretching.
Best of luck – thanks for sharing
For stability, should I incorporate a bit more single leg work/balance work to help stabilize the new ROM? I squat 3 times a week, full snatches and cleans twice a week, and quite a bit of running/play hockey one day a week/sometimes soccer.
You got it!! You are getting some stability with the power lifting but it would be good to integrate SL dynamic strength training/proprioceptive work as well- especially since you play soccer and hockey. This will decrease your chances of ankle or knee issues in the future. Agility work, SL balance with overhead punching in 3 directions, static lunge with med ball toss against the wall, ladder drills, SL skiers, quick feet drills using the soccer ball ect. You will have the mobility, power, strength, conditioning, proprioception, speed and reduce your chances of injury. Good luck buddy- glad to see you on such a great path to wellness
Most of my life I played basketball (insert ankle injury here) and didn’t maintain good flexibility. Over the past 2 years I have been trying to correct this with MobilityWOD techniques and stretching. I won’t say I’m religious about my therapy but I do my best.
I have very limited ankle ROM. I tried stretching and banded work but haven’t seen significant improvement. Do you have any suggestions? I sought a PT once and their techniques helped some but after my sessions were over I could feel it kind of regressing. When I push my knee forward and out to stretch my calf, I feel sharp pain in the front of my ankle. Thanks for the help!
Man I feel your pain- played a lot of basketball in my day and experienced many ankle sprains. In fact, I try to keep up on my right ankle mobility as it can be the source of other pains. If there is a pinch in the front that usually means there is a increased congestion along the anterior aspect of the ankle (joint compression). Need to get more space within the talocrural joint and surrounding soft tissues in order to get into a normal calf stretch. This is a similar traction stretch I use for ankle tightness – https://youtu.be/EwGV3oWXigM. You can also use a KB/lacrosse ball underneath your calf for tissue mobilization while the bands are around your ankle. Consider going back to a physical therapist that is trained in manual therapy and myofascial. Hope these suggestions help- let me know if you need further help.
[…] Fascia with Jill Miller […]
[…] Click here to read the full article. […]
Aloha! I absolutely love Barbell Shrugged. It goes hand in hand with my daily morning ritual of coffee and reading. I’m currently a CrossFit coach/athelte and student going to school for physical therapy. Articles like this fascinate me and I want to know as much as I can! Do you happen to have an intern/mentorship program? You’re in the exact place that I hope to be in the future and figured reaching out would be only beneficial, even just to hear your story better. Thank you for taking the time to read this and hope to be in contact soon!
You can come on out to SD and visit. 🙂 We have interns.
I take interns all the time that are looking to get into PT school or that are in PT school on a clinical rotation. Let me know how I can help- would love to have you
About 8 weeks ago I tore my medial meniscus in my left knee approximately 75% and a Dr sewed it back together last week. I will be on crutches for a few weeks putting little weight on it. I believe I did it doing front pause squats. I always start w the bar and build up gradually so I wasn’t stupid about that. I am very interested in NOT doing the same thing w my right knee. Do you think I did something wrong? Is there anything I can do to try to avoid it in the future? My pain happened anytime I went below 90 degrees which my Dr told me I should not be doing. I am 45 years old btw. What are your guys thoughts? Thank you for your time I appreciate it. Kb
Soft tissues dictate your flexibility and range of motion (Bones are not fused). With that said, someone should have plenty of range of motion to do a squat below 90°. Proper neuromuscular control and strength is also very important. Incrementally loading the system is something to consider in another words not jumping up too fast in weight. Make sure you have plenty of flexibility within your knee, hip, ankle and thoracic spine along with good control during the squat. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get back to doing squats again and prevent yourself from injuring your knee.
Best of luck
What do you think of the fascia blaster? I’m not looking for an endorsement, just a general idea of if you think it’s effective and/or damaging. Thanks!