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Fascial Tension

Rethinking Stretching
It’s true what they taught you in kindergarten: the hipbone really is connected to the knee bone. 

By Lindsay Dixon

Runners sometimes forget this elementary truth in their search for the cause of overuse inju- ries: the body is a collection of systems that work together – if you ignore this interconnectedness, you’re ignoring how the body works. If you keep it in mind, you might figure out how to get rid of that nagging pain.

Fascia: “The Connector”

The body is not made up solely of muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons. It has a continuous band of connective tissue called fascia, which effectively links opposite ends of the body together. Deep and superficial fascia covers organs and envelope nerves, arteries, veins and lymph vessels. Think of fascia as a sweater: if you pull on the bottom of your sweater you’ll feel tension at the top. For example, fascial tension at your hip might cause you to feel tension in your shoulder, or vice versa. The source of your injury may not be where you are experiencing pain.

Consider a common runner’s complaint: lower back pain. The thoracolumbar fascia connects the shoulder girdle to the pelvis; it is this connective tissue that may mask the true origin of an injury. Many of us work in offices, sitting at a computer all day, which leads to tension in the shoulder and chest area. As the fascial tissue adjusts to this tension, the changes can be manifested as lower back pain – even though the source of the problem is much higher up in the body.

Mobility

“Life is like riding a bicycle,” Albert Einstein once said. “To keep your balance you must keep moving.” He was right: mobility is crucial to keeping our bodies balanced and injury-free. If we lack mobility in one area of the body, we will compensate for it in another. This ultimately leads to postural imbalances, with each run increasing the risk of injury. Common injuries that are a result of such imbalances are tendonitis, and joint or muscle pain.

Chronic ankle sprains can cause a lack of mobility in the part of the ankle called the inferior tibiofibular joint. This alters the ability of the lower extremities to disperse force. The body then begins to absorb force where it’s not meant to, ultimately leading to stress fractures or shin splints.

A common condition among those who work at a computer all day is a lack of mobility in the upper thoracic spine. This can lead to the lower lumbar spine and pelvis taking on too much load, thereby changing how the body bears its own weight and possibly even causing you to favour one side of the body over the other. The result: excessive stress on joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments – and eventually, injury.

Supporting the body

Core strength, coming from the gluteus, transverse abdominus, oblique, multifidus and several other muscles, is essential in keeping the body balanced. If you’re weak in your glutes, for example, this can lead to a drop in the pelvis, altering the force on the knee and leading to injury.

Rather than using separate strength-training exercises that isolate muscles in your upper body, lower body and core, focus on exercises that incorporate the whole body. Functional movements such as one- legged squats and one-legged lunges are valuable – after all, consider how often you are supporting yourself on one leg while running. Remember, the body wants to work as a unit.

What you can do

  • Incorporate a dynamic warmup and proper cooldown, as well as regular stretches to keep your body mobile.
  • Do a regular circuit routine that includes functional strength, using exercises that target the body as a whole.
  • Get up regularly throughout the day, especially if your job is sedentary.
  • Consult with a kinesiologist or athletic therapist to help pinpoint and correct imbalances that your body is already compensating for.

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