The Fascia and Muscle Movement

a model of arm and hand anatomy

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The superficial fascia is the soft connective tissue that is located just below the skin. It wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels of the body. Together, muscle and fascia make up what is called the myofascial system.

For various reasons, including inactivity, a lack of stretching, aging, or injury, the fascia and the underlying muscle tissue can become "stuck" together. This is called adhesion, which results in restricted muscle movement along with pain, soreness, and reduced flexibility or range of motion.

Prevention and Treatment

There are multiple options for improving fascial health. Try any of the following to prevent and relieve areas of tightness:

Movement

A key way to keep your fascia healthy is to incorporate consistent physical activity into your life. Gentle stretching, walking, swimming, and yoga are all great ways to avoid developing adhesions and keep the fascia pliable. These activities can also help loosen fascia that has become "stuck." Optimally, aim for 30 minutes of exercise and 10 minutes of stretching per day.

Dry and Wet Heat

Warmth, whether wet or dry, can feel great, especially after exercise, and it can help loosen fascia. Soaking in a bath or hot tub and/or spending time in a steam or infrared sauna can also help relieve tight fascia and muscles. You can also try a hot, damp cloth or a heating pad to relieve discomfort.

Foam Roller

Many people also find relief from fascial tightness by using a foam roller.??? Simply roll the foam over your body (or your body over a roller placed on the ground) until you find an area of discomfort. Then, concentrate on that spot for a minute or so. Use it once or twice a day, giving all your tight spots extra attention. Various types of massage may also be beneficial.???

Myofascial Release

Another effective treatment option for healing tight fascia is myofascial release. This bodywork technique uses gentle, sustained pressure on the soft tissues while applying traction to the fascia. This technique results in softening and lengthening (release) of the fascia, as well as the breaking down of scar tissue or adhesions between skin, muscles, and bones.

Injury Treatment

Injuries to the soft connective tissue, such as the fascia, are common, especially during athletic activity. A common acronym for the treatment of an injury to fascia or other soft tissues is RICE, which stands for:

Rest

Getting proper rest is an extremely important aspect of injury recovery, regardless of if the injury occurred to a muscle, tendon, ligament, or bone. Once injured, any activity that stresses the injured area must be stopped or modified until the injury has had time to recover. However, it's also important to add in movement when appropriate.

Recovery time varies based on the particular injury, but the need for rest following an injury is nearly universal.

Ice

Cold contact provides short-term pain relief to an injured area, and also works to limit swelling by reducing the overall amount of blood flow to the injured area of the body. When applying ice to an injured area, do not put it directly on the body. Instead, wrap the ice in a towel or paper towel before putting it on the skin. Apply ice to an injured area for 15 to 20 minutes after an injury occurs, but no longer.

Compression

Compression is also important for post-injury treatment. Compression helps to reduce and limit overall swelling. Compression also occasionally works to ease the pain. Wrapping an injured area in a bandage is a good way to provide consistent compression.

Elevation

Elevating an injured area after an injury occurs can also help to control overall swelling. Elevating is most effective when the injured area of the body is raised above heart level. This helps to control blood flow to the area, and thus reduce swelling.

When to See the Doctor

Studies also show that it can be helpful to get an individualized treatment protocol after an injury as different people heal at different rates and some injuries benefit more from rest and other interventions than others do.??? Sometimes, it can actually slow healing to rest too much and/or it's helpful to keep some activity. Consult with your doctor and/or physical therapist to get specific guidance.

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  2. van den Bekerom MP, Struijs PA, Blankevoort L, Welling L, van Dijk CN, Kerkhoffs GM. What is the evidence for rest, ice, compression, and elevation therapy in the treatment of ankle sprains in adults??J Athl Train. 2012;47(4):435-443. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-47.4.14