Fascial stretch therapy (FST) is starting to take off. But there are many who have never heard of FST—let alone fascia.
So let’s start there. Fascia, explains Spokane-based fascial stretch therapist Kimberly Sheridan, “is the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and organs—it’s the connective tissue around everything.” Picture fascia kind of like webbing that’s woven intricately around the components of our entire bodies. It contains blood vessels and nerves. Because it contains proprioceptors and interoceptors, the overall health of our fascia affects not only how we feel physically but even, developing research says, our emotions. Fascia is meant to move with us, but it also toughens and seizes to protect muscles from injury or in response to repetitive stress—like sitting at a desk all day. When our fascia is healthy, we move better and feel better.
Sheridan, who has a background in personal training and Thai massage, became interested in FST when she lived in Los Angeles and worked The Stretch Lab. After FST helped her heal from a bulging disc, she decided to get certified herself. She currently operates Sheridan Stretch Therapy, where in addition to FST she offers instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (sometimes referred to simply as Graston) and cupping. Sheridan also works as the stretch therapist for the Eastern Washington University Football team.
So what can we do to keep our fascia functioning at its best? “The best way to keep fascia healthy and laying the way it’s supposed to is movement,” Sheridan says. This can mean simply walking, stretching, exercising, shifting. But sometimes the problems are more difficult to overcome. Fascia can get adhesions, and it can become stiff and damaged from underuse or stress—sometimes what Sheridan describes as “fascia that’s become like scar tissue.”
“Practices like yoga, stretching, and foam rolling all serve the job of stretching and caring for fascia,” she says. If and when something more is needed, there’s fascial stretch therapy.
In FST, the client lies on what’s basically a massage table fitted with a couple of resistance straps. The therapist uses dynamic circular motions to actively stretch the body. “It eases you into more flexibility,” says Sheridan. I can attest to this. I went in for a full-body FST session and left feeling like Sheridan said I likely would—relaxed and spacious, almost like I was floating. There was a sense of openness in my joints, a welcome looseness in my hips.
Unlike the stretching you do on your own at home—which is certainly also beneficial—in FST, you lay back and let the therapist do their thing, with a range of active postures that provide targeted, head-to-toe stretching. A side benefit is the sense of relaxation that comes along with the therapy. “The person just relaxes and breathes and it calms the central nervous system,” says Sheridan. FST is great for people of all ages, including those who experience strain from repetitive use injuries or tightness from long hours of sitting, people who are overcoming injuries, and those with conditions that might limit their ability to do other forms of exercise or therapy, like fibromyalgia. With a long list of potential benefits—increased mobility and flexibility, increased blood flow, a reduction in stress, injury recovery and prevention, increased relaxation, and decompression—it’s worth paying a little more attention to your fascia and giving a treatment like FST a try.