Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What I've Tried: Fascial Stretch Therapy

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am a big proponent of self care, from regular foam rolling, to mobility work to massage, it's all an integral part of being a healthy injury free athlete.

Sometimes, you get to a point where these modalities may not be enough to help you feel or move better.  That was where I was at the end of last year.  I was having nagging SI joint issues, so I started working on engaging my core.  I also noticed that the range of motion in my legs had changed.  I felt like my hips and hamstrings were so tight that I couldn't stride efficiently.  Massage helped a little bit but within a few days I would be right back to where I was before my massage.  Something was up.

I read about fascia a few years ago as more and more research was being done on it's function and role it plays in mobility in the body.  Fascia is essentially a web that runs around our muscles.  It is a band of connective tissue that is found beneath the skin and it attaches, stabilizes, encloses and separates muscles and internal organs.

Fascia will thicken and shorten when any of your tissues are under stress, whether that be from poor posture, injury, surgery or long term exercise.   Shortened fascia can result in limited range of motion.  And limited range of motion can cause a host of other issues in your body.  It's a domino affect.

So how do you stretch fascia?  Doesn't regular passive stretching help with stretching your fascia?  It can help a little bit if done correctly but most of us stretch too deeply, usually to the point where were feel a bit of pain.  Your muscle will respond to that by tightening up, thus defeating the purpose of stretching in the first place.  And since fascia is deep within the muscle, it's very difficult to target it effectively without some assistance.

Enter Fascial Stretch Therapy, or FST for short.

What exactly is fascial stretch therapy?

The simple explanation is that it is assisted stretching, performed on a table, using stabilization straps to hold limbs in place.  Traction is a major component of the therapy.  This is the description from Performance Bodywork:  The therapist will apply gentle traction to the joint being targeted, opening up the joint and creating space for increased range of motion before taking the limb through the movement pattern, paying attention to the fascia restrictions that may need to be addressed.  

I have to say I've never experienced anything quite like it.  It is not meant to be painful and if I felt pain, I had to let my therapist know.  There were points where it was uncomfortable but if I managed my breathing, it helped with the discomfort.  I was twisted into all sorts of positions that I wouldn't have been able to get into myself.  After the treatment, I felt looser and lighter.  When I went for a run the next day, I felt like an entirely new person.  All of the restriction I had been feeling was GONE.  Even my SI joint pain felt better.   This was a game changer for me.

Why is it so effective?

FST targets fascia at the deepest level, which is around your joint capsule.  This forces the muscles around your joint capsules to relax.  If your joints start to get restricted, your mobility becomes compromised.  Compromised mobility leads to a feeling of stiffness and you'll notice decreases in performance.  As we age, we also begin to lose flexibility.  All of this can create a recipe for injury.

Currently, FST isn't covered under most extended benefit plans unless it is performed by an RMT (registered massage therapist).  Many personal / athletic trainers offer it as a service and several pilates studios also have practitioners.  I went to Body Harmonics, which is a pilates studio, for my treatment.  You can find your closest practitioner on the Stretch to Win website.  There are different levels and types of practitioners from level 1 to level 3, fitness specialists, which are usually athletic trainers, or medical specialists, which are usually RMTs, kinesiologists or physiotherapists.  I saw a level 3 fitness specialist.  She was amazing.  The higher the experience generally the more expensive the therapist, at least at Body Harmonics.  A level 3 practitioner is $115 for an hour and a level 2 practitioner is $105 an hour.  It was worth every penny.  That being said in future I may try to find a registered RMT so I can claim it through my extended benefit plan because if you're in rough shape, like I am, it's going to take more than one treatment to sort everything out.

I feel like FST has given my body a re-set.  As someone who has struggled with mobility issues and nagging injuries over the last couple of years, I feel like I am getting close to being back to where I was 5 years ago in terms of my mobility level.  I'm starting to feel like I'm physically ready to rise to the challenges I've set for myself in 2018.

Has anyone else tried FST?  Was it a game changer for you? 

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