There has been a lot of buzz lately about fascia and luckily Yoga Tune Up® founder Jill Miller and I are both fascia geeks, or rather “afascianados” (teachers – I invite you to join my facebook group by that name). I’d like to point out some key features of fascia, which has been called the “Cinderella of orthopedic tissue”:
Fascia creates a 3 dimensional, continuous tensional network throughout the entire body.
It is thickened in areas of high stress such as the:
- bottom of your feet (plantar)
- connection from your hips to your knees (iliotibial band)
- continuity from the upper back to the low back (thoracolumbar fascia)
It acts as a functional conduit through muscle chains (see Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers).
It is a force transmitter, distributing tension along pre-determined lines throughout the body.
It is a neurological tranducer with a line to the brain that travels faster than the nervous system.
The focus of today’s blog is on the role of fascia as a force transmitter. Fascia acts as a mechanical strain gauge and helps lighten the load placed on our muscles, tendons and ligaments. This amazing tissue even shifts some of the load to other muscles along the fascial network, up the kinetic chain.
If left alone as in a sedentary lifestyle, or stressed during our daily activities, fascia can become dense and tissues can start to stick together like Velcro. When this occurs, muscles do not glide smoothly over one another, joints tighten and the very important receptor cells residing within fascia that communicate with the brain go into hibernation. In cases where muscles connect into already thicken areas of fascia, such as the feet, outer hips, and low back, a tightening of the fascia leads to inhibition of the local muscles. If the local muscles are inhibited, other accessory muscles, along with tendons and ligaments, will have to bear the entire force burden. It’s like hiking up a mountain and your friend passes out. Now you have to carry all of your own gear, along with your friend and his gear.
As bipedal beings, our feet are our first conduit to the earth, communicating forces via the plantar fascia extending upwards through the superficial back line ( see Anatomy Trains). This interconnected highway travels from the plantar aspect of the foot through the toe flexors, gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles), hamstrings and pelvic ligaments, the erector spinae, all the way to the occipital ridge and epicranial fascia (your forehead). A disruption of any part of this fascial network, beginning with the foot, can create turbulence in our movement patterns, causing pain and dysfunction anywhere and everywhere up the kinetic chain.
Additionally, it is impossible to strengthen a muscle that your nervous system isn’t using. For example, a computer can be a powerful tool, but if you can’t turn it on, you can use it. Consider the foot as the power button and the fascial network as the components that distribute the energy. For a lot of people, the power button of the foot, meaning the intrinsic foot muscles, isn’t functioning. Do you know what’s on the bottom of your foot? A thick band of fascia! By rolling out the bottom of your feet with your Yoga Tune Up® Therapy balls, you not only break apart the Velcro, but you also stimulate the cells in the fascia to start talking to the brain. You can finally turn on the computer! Once your brain is talking to your feet again, start mobilizing them by performing the YTU pose Barbie foot (shown in the second half of the video clip below and available on the Quickfix Feet and Ankle videos).
This is one of the most thorough yet concise overviews of fascial function and dysfunction in the body. It makes this growing field of body orientation accessible.
I love reading about fascia (perhaps I am a future facebook friend of “afascianados”!) Thank you for the informative article!
So amazing to think of what goes on in the feet carrying through the entire back of the body and up to the forehead! I am definitely going to spend more time rolling my feet to “turn my computer on”!
Love this! I did not know that signals travel faster to brain along fascia than through the nervous system… I need to know more about that!
Out of desperation to relieve sharp pain from behind my knee cap I began to experiment with self massage techniques using the Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls. As I began to move to different areas (other then the tissues around my knees) I discovered a lot of tension and discomfort in the sole of my foot. After rolling this out over the next few days, the pain in my knee subsided. Honestly I felt like this was a pretty big eye opener for knee maintenance. The fascial system
Is very intelligent. When in doubt, treat the feet!
By rolling out my feet, I can reduce the stress on the rest of the muscles in my body? I often skip my feet during my rolling sessions. After reading this, I will always begin by rolling out my power button so that I can clear the gateway for my neurotransmitters! Thanks for your blog!
What a wake up call to making sure we have happy feet. Thank you explaining how the fascua works as a force transmitter. The analogy of the computer is brilliant.
Thank you for providing this level of detail on the importance of rolling out the plantar fascia so that the brain can talk to the feet, as well as everything in between along the superficial back line.
Very interesting write up about the superficial back line and treating you feet as if they were the “power” button. Thank you for connecting the dot between rolling out the feet, walking and connection to the brain.
Great post – very educational and inspirational! I love how you explain the importance of fascia and how we can awaken and reconnect the system by working on the feet! Thanks for sharing your obvious passion – I plan to share this post with my students!
p.s. the hiking metaphor was perfect.
I love the way you describe the fascia. Your description is very accessible to the average person. I am always looking for new ways to explain to my students what fascia does and how it interacts with the body. In order to do that well, I need to solidify my own understanding of fascia. And how interesting that you mention fascia as a neurological transducer! I hadn’t heard that and would love to understand that concept more fully!
Sign Me Up. I have been intrigued with fascia since I took my Yin Training 3 Years ago. I love the way you talk about the feet being the first conduit of force to the earth beneath us. I guess you can say I am a little obsessed with the feet when I teach. I always remind my students to sense where their feet are and then look at them. If the feet are not where they should be there goes your posture or the pose in your yoga practice. Beginning with the feet we can develop unhealthy movement patterns leading to pain and dysfunction
Thanks for this. I am always amazed at how refreshed i feel when I take the time to roll out my feet after a long day of teaching. Next to my shower, rolling my feet literally puts the spring back into my step and has me feeling like I can take on the rest of my day with ease. The effects are so immediate so it makes sense that facia has such a direct connection to the brain. happy rolling.
I never knew this fact: “It is a neurological tranducer with a line to the brain that travels faster than the nervous system.” So facinating with so many implications! Thanks so much for this new education.
Love it!!!! The whole foot,brain,fascia connection is so interesting..Thank you.
Love the imagery about the Velcro and also the computer. Its made me think of feet and fascia in a new light. Really useful way to explain how beneficial ball rolling on sole of feet is☺
For those who suffer with plantar faciitis, is it better to roll the arches of the feet, or the calf which takes the foot into dorsiflexion?
I love the concept of the feet being a power button for the rest of the fascial chain! Great imagery, and so true. A wonderful way to lead into the importance of supple, working feet; and how we can get the whole chain firing better by stimulating proprioception in our feet!
LOVE THIS! Sending it to everyone I know! Feet are SO important. We often forget the body/brain connection. You can often help rejuvenate the entire person with some attention to the feet. And thanks to the cortical homunculus, you help your brain with some attention to the body. I have some MS clients with whom all I have to do is give some good attention to their feet, and they are totally relaxed and finally sleep after long bouts of insomnia. Using this with my clients for sure!
I’ve been looking for easy exercises my mother can incorporate into her routine as the ankles are problematic for her and this is perfect! Thank you!! =)
Best post I’ve ever read about fascia! Where were you today when I needed you as I was teaching how to roll out the feet in YTU TT! I should have read this yesterday! I was talking about the back line that connects from the feet and into the forehead, but didn’t know the relationship to the brain and nervous system, and love the velcro analogy.
Rolling out my feet with Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls is one of my favorite quick de-stress tricks and it’s no wonder since I am giving my whole body a treat through fascial connection. Bipedal power!
We did Barbie Feet today in training! It’s important for our students to understand that we can, and need to, “re-map” the neural connections between our brain and feet/toes, and that strengthening the intrinsic muscles in the feet will promote good body sense all the way the kinetic chain!
Thank you so much for your information on fascia. You are so experienced about this topic. I have learned so much from what you have written. I did not realize all the important details about fascia.
I will be sure to incorporate this valuable information into my work.
really interesting that fascia communicates to the brain faster than nerves. i would imagine it’s hugely important for proprioception then too, so that if you have less pliable and healthy fascia, it makes it harder to locate yourself in space.
Awesome reminder on the importance of the health of our feet and how any dysfunction of feet mechanics translates elsewhere in the body via fascia. As a society we mistreat our feet constantly by wearing uncomfortable shoes most of the time and thinking that wearing flip-flops is beneficial. It took me a long time to force myself explore walking barefoot but,once there, I loved it. I discovered that, in fact, I have 10 toes I can spread and move around and plant into the ground to support me. What a revelation! It also has affected the way I keep my spine too.
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Great blog post Robyn. It is helpful to be reminded that our fascia thickens with extensive use. The other side of this is that our fascia becomes lax when not in use. A propos of the feet, it’s interesting to note when clients roll to the outside of their feet, they may also present with excessive tension in the ITB combined with poor adductor and core muscle tone. Rolling the plantar fascia tissues as you suggest is terrific work for long-ignored feet. Once the client can start to feel their lower extremities again they will be better able to connect to a more justified distribution of weight in the feet. These new patterns will be more energetically grounding and in the longer term may also affect some of the “uptown” structures.
excellent educational blog!! this explains why reflexology and massage of the feet are so helpful as well as the YTU techniques. After getting YTU lower body I convinced my 85 yr old mother to get a tennis ball and roll the bottom of her feet….she now does this daily and finds it helpful in keeping her active. Keep educating us and doing what you are doing!! It is really helpful!