The Body’s Fascia
When was the last time you had a conversation with someone about your fascia? You know, one of those, “my back is sore; I think I pulled a muscle,” or “my calves are tight; I must not have stretched enough after my workout” kinds of conversations. “My fascia seems a bit locked up,” you might have said. Or you might, at this moment, be thinking, “My what?”
Turns out, the fascia is an incredibly important part of our body’s system and one that most of us are not very familiar with or even aware of.
“It’s as important as oxygen for the lungs or food for energy,” says Roger Patrizio, director of the Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy. “It is essential connective tissue that works in unison with healthy muscles, tendons, nerves, and joint movement. Fascia is a connective tissue, mostly consisting of collagen fibers, that is located in all areas of the body in varying thicknesses depending on the person. Imagine plastic wrap enclosing each individual muscle fiber, then wrapping around the entire muscle, which encompasses the entire arm, leg, back, etc. All of that is fascia, and it is there to stabilize and support the movement and structure of the body.”
Who knew? The fascia is obviously important to athletes and, of course, to us all because it plays a critical role in how we feel in our bodies and how our bodies move and function. What we thought were sore muscles may have been fascia-related issues, and our treatment method to alleviate those sore muscles may have changed had we known we were dealing with fascia.
“Imagine what it looks like,” says author and coach Brooke Thomas in a breakingmuscle.com article, “when you bite into a wedge of orange and then look at those individually wrapped pods of juice. We’re like that too! Fascia also connects muscle to bone (tendons are considered a part of the fascial system), and bone to bone (ligaments are also considered a part of the fascial system), slings your organ structures, cushions your vertebrae (yep, your discs are considered a part of this system, too), and wraps your bones.”
Jacki Koury, physical therapist and owner/founder of Great Moves Physical Therapy in Colorado Springs, says, “Fascia is more like Saran wrap, whereas a muscle is more like a rubber band. To stretch Saran wrap, you hold both ends, gently applying a force to stretch it. It takes more time to do that than trying to pull both ends quickly apart. Fascia can become inflamed if a force is applied over and over, causing it to overstretch (e.g., most commonly in the plantar fascia in the arch of the foot).”
As Corrie Pikul explains in a 2017 Huffpost article, “After a night’s sleep or another long period of inactivity, like a car trip or plane ride, the parts of your fascia that wrap around and through your muscle fibers, which are normally stretchy and flexible, can stick together like previously chewed Hubba Bubba.”
So how do we keep our fascia in nice, fluid-like, flexible shape, and what do we do if we experience fascial issues?
Injuries to the body, stress, restricted movement, dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, and certain pathological conditions can all cause inflamed or painful fascia, says Patrizio. “In most predominantly fascial issues, the client spends a significant amount of time sedentary or in a specific posture for prolonged periods of time, such as a job or poor postural habits.
“Because fascia is thixotropic [meaning it can move from a gel-like state to a liquid-like state and back], an approach called the myofascial technique involves using gentle, sustained pressure to create a less viscous tissue in order to alleviate pain and create more movement. When applied slowly, the gentle pressure mixed with body heat will elongate the fascia.”
“Physical therapists use specific stretching techniques, hands-on techniques, and biomechanical analyses to address fascia issues,” Koury says.
And what can we do at home? “Anything that creates heat and movement will influence the fascial state,” Patrizio says. “There are a variety of self-care tools, including self-massage, designed specifically to release fascial tension, e.g., foam rollers, floss bands.”
NOTE: Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy Education Director Nikki Alvaran contributed to the information provided by Roger Patrizio.
Benefits of keeping fascia healthy:
• Improved body symmetry and alignment
• Increased blood flow, which means faster exercise recovery
• Reduced appearance of stretch marks and cellulite
• Scar tissue breakdown
• Reduced risk of injury
• Less day-to-day pain
• Improved sports performanceSource: Healthline.com, February 2019, Gabrielle Kassel
Did you know…there are four different kinds of fascia:
Superficial: found directly under the skin and superficial adipose layers
Deep: surrounds bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels
Visceral: surrounds organs in cavities such as the abdomen, lungs, and heart
Parietal: tissues that line the wall of a body cavity just outside of the parietal layer of serosa. The most commonly known parietal fascia is found in the pelvis.Source: National Institutes of Health, “Anatomy, Skin, Fascias,” 2018