In the past 10 years or so, “fascia” has become a common term among manual therapists, medical researchers, and physicians. So, as this connective tissue (fascia) has evolved over the years as a vital component to functionality, so has the protocol on how to treat it. Fascial Stretching has gained a lot of attention in the last few years.
Stretching is one of those therapies that has evolved over the years. No longer is it effective to isolate a muscle and hold it in a stretch position for 30 seconds (static stretching). There is much more involved when stretching, for both short and long term goals.
In this post, I will explain a few differences between static stretching and fascial stretching. In addition, I will explain why static stretching an ineffective modality to increase one’s range of motion (ROM). Next, I will discuss how effective breathing relates to movement. I will also go into how using a chronological order will yield better results. Finally, I’ll conclude with how focusing on the fascial connections, using different planes of movement, will increase ROM and flexibility.
Breathing works in conjunction with your nervous system. The rate at which you are breathing will either rev up the nervous system, or calm it down. The rate of breathing is established depending on the goal, pre activity or post activity. Static stretching doesn’t focus on breathing, it focuses on counting for a specific duration when holding and forcing a stretch. This time constraint actually prohibits the release of restricted tissue. Fascial stretching focuses on your breathing with your movement. Each muscle and related tissue will respond differently to a stretch so you can’t put a standard time limit on it. Rather, you want to use your breath to assist the stretching movement by gradually easing into the desired ROM. Some movements will take longer than others depending on where the restrictions lie within the fascial tissue.
Another difference between fascial stretching and static stretching is the order in which the muscles get stretched. It has been proven beneficial to use a logical anatomical order when stretching. If you start by stretching the hamstrings when the muscles in and around the hip joint are tight, then you will get no results keeping that hamstring loose.
Fascial stretching stretches the joint and the shorter, deeper muscles that cross only one joint first. Once those muscles are released (or loosened), then it moves to the longer, superficial muscles that cross 2 or more joints. For example, when referencing the backline of the hip joint, you want to stretch the glutes, hip rotators, and quadrates lumborum before first. Then move to the hamstrings and lower leg muscles. This chronological order has yielded very positive results.
When following a stretching order, you should consider prioritizing an area if there is severe tightness or an impingement that is inhibiting proper muscle contraction on the opposite side of the joint. So let’s use the hip joint as an example again. A common scenario I see is when the tightness in the hip flexors inhibits function in the hip extensors. If the gluteus (extensors) aren’t functioning or contracting properly, then the hamstring will help it out. This puts an overload of stress on the hamstring, then causing injury to the hamstring. So to avoid this domino effect, the proper order would be to stretch the hip flexors (front of the hip) first. They are the root cause of the hamstrings and gluteus being weak and strained. Once the hip flexors are loosened, the gluteus will function and work properly almost immediately.
I have heard time and time again that “stretching doesn’t work” or “I’m still tight but I stretch everyday.” The reason most stretching programs fail is because they don’t focus on the fascia. The fascia encompasses our entire body, and it connects muscle fiber to muscle fiber and muscle groups to muscle groups. This is why stretching one isolated muscle at a time is ineffective, it’s all connected. Fascial stretching focuses on the fascia and fascial connections, not individual muscles, and this is a main reason why this type of therapy works to increase flexibility and ROM. There is no scientific research that supports static stretching increases ROM, In fact, it’s been known to actually compress the joint.
Another difference with these two programs is, static stretching uses linear movement patterns. Fascial stretching uses multiple plane of movements including diagonal and rotating patterns. Our bodies move in multiple planes during exercise, competition, and everyday life. This is why its important to stretch the same way, with multiple angles that are unique to each joint.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of how fascial stretching differs from static stretching. Hopefully you understand the positive results you can get from stretching properly. I know many will disagree, but fascial stretching is just as important as your workout.
If you are interested in learning more about Fascial stretch therapy, I would suggest the book, “Stretch to Win” by Ann and Chris Frederick, founders of Fascial Stretch Therapy. Fun fact: Evolutions Annapolis trainers, Lauren, Thomas and I have been trained under these founders.
Fascial Stretch Specialist