In the world of anatomy, fascia is a relatively new discovery. This web-like layer of connective tissue surrounds vital organs, muscles, and nerves, allowing them to move freely within the body. But researchers are only beginning to understand how critical this tissue may be to functions of the body like posture, flexibility, pain management, stress relief, and even sleep. An up-and-coming therapy called fascial stretch therapy (FST) serves as an effective way to tap into the many benefits of healthy fascia. In some respects, this therapy resembles massage: During a typical hour-long session, clients lay prone on a table as a therapist applies various healing techniques. In other ways, however, it parallels physical therapy, as client and therapist work together to manipulate the body into various stretches targeting the fascia.

To get the lowdown on this novel approach to physical healing, we sat down with Phoenix-based fascial stretch therapist Renee King of Renew Mobility for Life. King advocates for the use of FST for many common conditions, and believes it’s unique for its big-picture focus. “Other stretching looks at individual muscles, whereas fascial stretching takes a more global approach, looking at the body as a whole,” she explains.

Here are five areas in which FST could help with a variety of physical ailments and overall health.

1. Posture: There’s no getting around the fact that most Americans struggle with chronically poor posture. “In general, the biggest causes of poor posture right now are using devices and sitting,” says King. “Texting and phone use cause a head-forward posture, which strains the neck and back and tightens the muscles in the front of the body.”

Fascial stretch therapy can help straighten us out — literally. As the therapist creates targeted stretches, muscles that have gotten lax due to poor posture are strengthened, “taking back the job they’re intended to do,” as King puts it. Meanwhile, muscles that may have begun to overcompensate are retrained to relax. For even better results, King recommends practicing FST’s “Great 8™” stretches at home.

2. Joint Health: While joint mobility may not be at the forefront of younger people’s minds, it’s a critical element of healthy aging we shouldn’t neglect. Sedentary lifestyles of desk jobs, limited exercise, and hours reclining in front of a screen add up to excessive joint compression. “When your joints are compressed, you’re looking at an increased chance of joint degeneration, which can lead to osteoarthritis and other painful conditions,” King tells us.

Even one session of fascial stretching can begin to alleviate some of this pressure. Because blood doesn’t flow through your joints, movement is key for maintaining their health. Creating space allows the cushioning elements of the joints to “breathe.”

3. Pain Management: According to King, all tissue (including muscle, fascia, and nerves) has a certain level of tone, or firmness. Increased tone means these tissues are working harder or contracting more than they should be, leading to more painful trigger points. FST works to dial down the nervous system and reduce excess tone, using a technique called slow stretch wave. This slow, therapist-guided stretching aims to activate the parasympathetic nervous system — the network responsible for rest and relaxation. As the nervous system begins to calm, tight muscles relinquish their tension. Any part of the body experiencing muscle tension is fair game for this pain-reducing release.

4. Stress Relief: Certainly, laying down on a table in a peaceful environment for an hour might be enough to chill you out all on its own, but fascial release takes it a step further. Just like heightened muscle tone causes pain and tension, nerve tone can also get too high, increasing stress levels. Tapping into the fascia surrounding these nerves creates a calming effect.

And there’s another surprising reason this therapy could loosen you up: “Allowing the therapist to guide your body’s movements is a means of giving up control,” King notes. Letting someone else take charge for an hour or so gives the body and mind space we don’t often allow them.

5. Improved Sleep: FST’s healing benefits add up to a delightful bonus: better sleep. With the reduction of pain and relief of stress, restful sleep becomes a much more realistic prospect. Freedom from pain also allows for the ability to exercise, a proven sleep improver.

So if you’re looking for pain management, muscle relaxation, or stress relief, does stretch therapy trump massage or physical therapy? “All these modalities can work together, and each has its benefits,” says King. “It’s great to take advantage of as many as you can.”

To find a fascial stretch therapist near you, search the Stretch To Win institute’s directory.

Have any experience with fascial stretch therapy? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)