Our bodies are made up of four different types of tissue: epithelium, nervous, muscle and connective tissue. The first, epithelial tissue, covers our organs and the surface (skin) of the body. Muscle tissue is responsible for what we do everyday…movement and there are three types of muscles tissue, smooth, skeletal and cardiac. The tissue that constitutes the nervous system is concerned with communication. Then finally, we have connective tissue, the most abundant of all the tissues. Connective tissue includes ligaments, tendons and fascia. Ligaments connect bone to bone (think about all the ligaments just in the foot alone) while tendons connect muscle to bone, think about how the biceps has two tendons, one that connects to the shoulder and the other near the elbow. Fascia are sheets of connective tissue that give support and stability for tissues, organs and muscles throughout the body. Fascia covers the body from head to toe, by way of a three-dimensional web-like structure that includes superficial fascia that lies underneath the skin and deep fascia that covers muscle. Fascia stays flexible as long as you keep moving, stretching, and breathing but if the body becomes immobile (i.e. injury, inactivity) then it can become less flexible and eventually restrict our movements. This is a big reason why it’s so important to keep fascia healthy.
“Understanding fascia is essential to the dance between stability and movement – crucial in high performance, central in recovery from injury and disability, and ever-present in our daily life from our embryological beginnings to the last breath we take.” – taken from Anatomy Trains.
If a ligament or tendon is continuously stretched beyond normal length, for example, when someone sprains the same ankle multiple times, there is a chance that the area could experience some joint laxity. Connective tissues do not receive a great deal of blood supply and as a result, recovery time typically takes longer for injuries like sprains and tendonitis.
According to H. David Coulter, author of the award-winning book, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, “ligaments and tendons can accommodate no more than about a 4% increase in length during stretching, after which tearing begins.”
The goal is to train diligently and never neglect your connective tissue, especially when it comes to your fascia. Strengthening connective tissue is vital but at the same time, continue to stay active and focus on keeping these tissues hydrated and supple. Include the following as part of your exercise prescription: regular massage, yoga, dynamic warm-up before each session and use a foam roller regularly. By including these on a regularly basis you’ll maintain strong and healthy connective tissue and experience improved performance, increased joint range of motion and your body will simply feel better.
Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, H. David Coulter, Body & Breath: CA, 2001.
The website Anatomy Trains, with Thomas Myers
Movement: Functional Movement Systems, Gray Cook, On Target Publication: CA, 2010.