Some people stretch daily, maybe near the start of your exercise session, or at the end, perhaps even both if your really dedicated. Some people are devout yoga attendees, but most often, people get their daily stretch when they slink out of bed and raise their arms over the heads. Fullstop.
So I started asking questions. In clinic, I see all sorts, I see the dedicated few that stretch daily or even several times a week, and the office dwellers, farmers or plant operators, that do no stretching fullstop. Some of these people are limber, some are not. But it’s not how often you stretch, that determines whether you’ll have a loose and supple body.
Stiffness and pain are really common complaints in the clinic, so here’s the lowdown on why I believe it happens, how you can limber up and feel better, and its probably not what you think.
Our bodies are mostly made up of organs, bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, fluid and fascia. I believe the single biggest factor in feeling tense and stiff is fascial tension and the state of our fluid (or more specifically, our ECF – extracellular fluid, which resides outside the cells). So, without getting all scientific, here are some facts about fascia and ECF.
Fascia is the transparent stuff, that encases the muscle. You can see it on chicken breast when your dicing it up for dinner. But it also encases every single cell, organ, bone, tendon, ligament and nerve in your body. It even criss crosses inside your muscles. I think of fascia, like the organiser of the body.
Now, the ECF is the fluid that surrounds every cell and joint. The ECF acts as the shock absorber for the body, it gives fascia it’s spring or flexibility. The ECF is responsible for nourishing the body, and for carrying nutrients to all the cells. When we run or jump, the ECF cushions our cells, and understandably, it’s super important to prevent cellular damage.
So, massage is wonderful for short term relief of those aches and pains, but to really relax our body, we need to relax the fascia and nourish the fluid that feeds us. We need to work from the inside out, here’s how.
- The big fella is the nervous system. The nervous system is directly connected with the fascia. If the nervous system is on high alert / stressed / not getting adequate sleep / or adequate exercise, the fascia will respond accordingly. It will tighten up, restricting the muscle’s ability to relax, tighten up the joints and generally become a ‘pain in the…bottom or neck or gut or wherever’. So, we need to find things that give us that sense of being chilled / relaxed / serene. Some people use meditation, some use exercise, some chat with friends. Whatever floats your boat, you need to do it e-v-e-r-y d-a-y and find peace on a daily basis.
- The state of our ECF has a large bearing on the health of our entire system – organs, nerves, muscles, bones etc. If your ECF is old, stagnant, full of toxic waste, then your body will feel the same. Feed and nourish your ECF via hydrating properly and eating well most of the time and it will start to flow freely and give your body that bounce. I compare a stagnant pond to a flowing river. The body will move more easily, with less pain in a flowing river. ECF also loves regular movement. Again, it doesn’t matter what type, but lounging around does not help flush the old ECF out and encourage new ECF to filter through.
- Breath is so under-rated. Heck, even I under-rated it until a little while back. Adequate breathing is paramount to oxygenate the body and excrete the CO2 waste, it gives the body energy to metabolise and go about its daily function. But most importantly, breathing properly settles the nervous system and lowers the stress response. There are a ton of ways to ‘breathe’, so I’d encourage you to find a way that works for you. Yoga teachers are an excellent resource to understand the variances of breath. Give it a try!
These are the 3 major reasons that I believe are the cause of tension, pain and stiffness. And like I said, massage in its various forms is simply amazing for short term relief, but lets start to look inside and learn to trust your body and move with confidence.
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Yours in health and happiness,