Fascia—What You Should Know

by Cinthia P. Cable, L.M.T.

What is fascia?

Fascia is a body-wide, protective, supportive, flexible, soft tissue network. It has been found to be the most abundant tissue in the body. It looks much like a three-dimensional spider web that surrounds and separates muscles, nerves, arteries, veins, and organs. It attaches one body element to another and stabilizes and supports structural components with its connective ability.

Fascia exists just below the surface of the skin but also penetrates deep within the body, surrounding the organs and filling the space between the organs and other components. Scientists have identified three types of fascia. The first is superficial fascia, which lies just below the skin and gives the body its shape. The second is visceral fascia, which surrounds and suspends the organs. The third is deep fascia, which surrounds muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels.

The web-like fascia fibrils are composed mostly of collagen, which makes them strong, and elastin, which makes them flexible. But there is another component within the fascia—slippery proteins—which makes the collagen fibers moist and slippery. This moisture gives the fibrils a dewy sheen and facilitates movements between the various bodily components.

Fascia is one continuous network that extends from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. The word for this quality is continuity. Fascia has the quality of plasticity as well, which means it has the ability to soften, lengthen, and separate—to become more pliable. And finally, fascia has the quality of sensitivity due to the many nerve endings and mechanoreceptors contained within it. This sensitivity gives us the ability to be physically aware enough to control and coordinate our movements. Perceived sensations within the body are felt via the fascia, starting just under the skin.

Why is fascia important?

Fascia is the compression and tension system of our body. It helps hold things together and keep things in place. It is important to note that all of the fascial tissues in our bodies interconnect. In fact, approximately 30% of our fascia attaches to other fascia, which creates its three-dimensional network and facilitates a more even load distribution to make movement easier on the body.

The fascia is necessary for you to have range of motion and for your organs to function optimally. It also facilitates movement of components within the body. If the fascia is negatively affected, this can cause a wide variety of problems, some often misdiagnosed.

So what can go wrong? 

The fascia can be affected by a number of factors. Direct trauma can cause adhesions. Muscle strain can tear the fascia. Poor hydration can prevent structures from gliding smoothly against each other. Lack of movement can decrease circulation, while too much repetitive movement can create inflammation followed by adhesions. Poor postural habits can bring stiffness and lack of circulation, eventually resulting in decreased range of motion.

The fascia can also be too loose, which could allow the internal organs to drop or shift out of place, affecting their ability to function properly. Even stress can negatively affect fascia. And, given the abundance of nerve receptors within fascia, problems with the fascia itself can also cause chronic pain.

What can be done? 

We can restore the fascia’s ability to move independently and regain its pliability within its network by separating, smoothing out, and calming the fascia. Various techniques and tools can be used to correct fascial changes. Modalities such as myofascial release, cupping, Gwa Sha, connective tissue rolling, fascia blasting, and Rolfing are a few among them.

Within these modalities, some of the tools that can be used include suction cups and flat, smooth instruments made from bone that fit into the therapist’s hand. Most often, therapists would use their elbows, loose fists, or palms. These tools help the therapist to differentiate the tissue and bring back its elasticity and hydration so that it can function optimally within your body. 

If you are experiencing sharp pain, cutting or burning sensations when stretched or touched, decreased range of motion, or postural asymmetries, you may have fascial changes that should be addressed. Please feel free to contact our office for a consultation. We would love to help.

References:

Massage and Body Work May/June 2014:  Understanding Fascial Change, by Til Luchau

Massage and Body Work July/August 2014:  Tools for Working with Fascia, by Til Luchau

Massage and Body Work May/June 2015:  Fascia Related Dysfunction, by Leon Chaitow

Massage and Body Work Sept/Oct 2016:  Understanding Fascia, by Thomas Myers