By Mary Galloway, ND

Be gentle on yourself

Movement and exercise are essential for health. So why is it sometimes painful to exercise? Why do I sometimes hurt so much the next day? It may be that the fascia in your body is out of shape.

The Basics of Fascia

Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds muscles and organs in the body. When you look at meat, you see the fine white layers inside and around the meat – that is fascia. It helps cells and organs slide across each other in fluid, pain-free movement. If the fascia tightens, dries out, or is damaged, it becomes sticky. The cells and organs no longer move fluidly across each other. You feel tight, stiff and in pain. Causes of fascia degeneration or damage can include:

1. Dehydration – if your body is dehydrated, the fascia will lose fluid and become stiff and sticky.
2. Inactivity – Working or doing activities that involve long periods of sitting contribute to fascia tightening and becoming stiff.
3. Too much exercise – You have heard that you should stretch or warm up before vigorous exercise. There is a good reason for that! If the fascia is dehydrated or stiff and you start right into a vigorous routine, you can cause microtears in the fascia. This can be very painful and reduce your ability to continue the exercise.

Problems Associated with Stiff and Sticky Fascia

1. Chronic pain – As mentioned above, tight, dehydrated and damaged fascia can be quite painful. If not treated, the fascia can continue to deteriorate and the pain can increase in intensity. You may have more difficulty moving and your health can go into a downward spiral.
2. Susceptibility to cancer – Cancer tumors are believed to rely on connective tissue to support themselves as they grow. A study from the University of California took rats with cancer tumors and had some of them gently stretch every day for 10 minutes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Gcl7BN6-38). The rats who stretched had less progression of their cancer tumors than those who didn’t. While we are not rats, the idea of gently stretching is certainly a good idea for everyone.

Take Care of Your Fascia

1. Drink plenty of fluids – Drinking water is a good start. It can be flavored with lemon, ginger, cucumber or herbs. Limit your consumption of coffee, tea, caffeinated sodas and energy drinks – caffeine is a diuretic, causing you to lose more fluids and possibly making you more dehydrated than before.
2. Warm up before exercise – Before exercising or any strenuous activity, spend at least 10 minutes stretching and bending. Be sure to move your arms, legs, back, hips and neck, anywhere there are joints.
3. Do gentle exercises and stretches 5 times per week for 10 or more minutes. Tai chi, yoga, Nia and stretching help keep the fascia limber and fluid. The movements squeeze old liquid out of the fascia and pull in fresh liquid to help the fascia move more smoothly. These gentle movements also help improve balance.

My Favorite Types of Gentle Movement

1. Essentrics is a combination of Tai chi, yoga and dance. I especially like the Age Reversing series. You can either buy DVDs or subscribe to the web site where you can watch and participate in hundreds of videos for every skill level and body system. The web site is www.classicalstretch.com.
2. Nia is a combination of dance, martial arts and mindfulness. It is non-impact and adaptable to your individual needs and abilities. There are both local and on-line classes available. The web site is www.nianow.com.

The Bottom Line

You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to be healthy. Be okay with yourself, find what works for you and get moving. Most of all, be gentle on yourself!