When people think of stretching, they think of stretching their muscles only. But just as important, if not more so, than stretching the muscles is stretching the often overlooked fascia that surrounds the muscle. Fascia is an innervated network of connective tissue that surrounds muscles, organ structures, and vertebrae. Like muscles, it is important for fascia to stay hydrated as it can become stiff which can then manifest in the form of inflammatory injuries all over the body. Research has shown that fascia contains even more sensory receptors than muscles making it all the more important that self-care is shown for this network.
Unfortunately, the everyday activities we engage in such as walking and working at a computer can lead to misalignment, adhesion formation and consequently, a stiffening of the connective tissue network. Compounding that, flexibility is impacted by numerous other factors such as age, hormones, rigorous exercise or lack thereof, and more. Traditionally, static stretching has focused on isolating single muscles and not on functional mobility or dynamic movements and it is often not sufficient enough for the many of us who have developed compensatory movement patterns over time as our fascia have become dehydrated or tense in certain areas of our bodies.
The concept of stretching out the myofascia, the specific term for fascia surrounding the muscles, more commonly known as fascial stretch therapy (FST) has become increasingly popular among professional athletes over the past few years as a way for them to improve their mobility and hence, their overall performance. It is now slowly creeping its way into the mainstream of physical therapy and yoga clinics across the country as the recognition of the critical importance of supple fascia in whole body alignment grows. Finding a therapist or practitioner certified in FST can be challenging due to the lack of those with the proper training or expertise in this domain and foam rollers and soft massage balls have been primary mechanisms for at-home versions of loosening up myofascia, though they do not come with guides. However, that tide is turning nationwide and also here in Waukesha County as Momentum adds LifeStretch classes, a form of self-traction FST designed by the Stretch to Win Institute based in Tempe, AZ, to its portfolio.
‘LifeStretch was developed so clients could do some of the FST to themselves without assistance from a therapist,’ stated Lisa McNeil, a LifeStretch certified instructor who has also been providing FST sessions as a level three medically trained specialist. ‘So instead of the therapist manually stretching a client on a table and sometimes using table straps, the client can be on the floor or just standing and use self-traction to stretch the fascia.’ McNeil has recently begun offering 30-minute LifeStretch classes every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. and every Saturday at 8:00 a.m.at Revolution Fitness in Pewaukee.
McNeil, who completed certification on site at the Stretch to Win Institute recently, says that after practicing LifeStretch she feels empowered as she deals with her own pain and injury issues stemming from a car accident January 2016. After two years of movement restriction and pain, I can now heal my body like I have been doing for my clients all these years,’ she added.
Because the choreography increases functional mobility, LifeStretch compliments regular yoga and Pilates practice. And much like Pilates, focusing on breath is an important component of LifeStretch. McNeil explained that participants start the workshop with a postural assessment and then move into a breathing assessment followed by a lesson on correct breathing. There are no ‘perfect poses’ and there is a focus on overall balance and movement of the myofascial system as opposed to targeting specific muscles. Self-traction is employed which means that instead of an FST therapist manually stretching someone on a table, participants learn to do this unassisted through stretching or moving, or even using the floor, an object, or wall as a means to create resistance.
According to the LifeStretch creators at the Stretch to Win Institute, ‘when traction with inhalation is followed by exhalation on the mobility-stretch sequences, range of motion increases rapidly without discomfort.’ In LifeStretch you learn how to self traction your body.
Alexandra Archibad, a client of Lisa McNeil, said that she saw the class advertisement and signed up to learn more about stretching. ‘I noticed that after the LifeStretch class my body felt more flexible and my joints felt like they received some oil,’ she said.
‘One thing I’ve learned is that everybody has “issues in their tissues”. It was surprising to learn that I was extremely hyper-mobile in some stretches and extremely hypo-mobile in others. Everybody needs work with flexibility or strength, or both …somewhere,’ added McNeil.
A little from Dr. Dan, a little from Lisa but always a lot of good stuff!