Considering the amount of time that has historically been spent on learning human anatomy, surprisingly little is known about fascia. It is the film of connective tissue that surrounds muscle that anatomists have cut away in order to get to the interesting stuff. The traditional way of thinking about fascia is that it is the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles, bones and organs. It separates organs, muscle and bones into compartments.
In the 1970’s Dr Stephen Levin MD visited a natural history museum and looked at a diplodocus. He realised that this giant of dinosaurs just should not have been able to lift its own head based on his knowledge of the body as a skeleton with levers.
He started to hypothesise that there is another integral structure providing tensegrity to the body – very much like engineering used to build improbable towers and bridges. A series of solid parts held together with a flexible lattice. Like the needle tower in Seattle.
Dr Levin looked at fascia as the structure in the body that provides this bio-tensegrity – a spiders web structure of flexible and rigid structures that provides structural integrity, neutralising the gravitational force to the body and prevents us from collapsing.
Fascia what is it and what does it do?
Scientists have only really started to show any interest in this connective tissue in the last 40 years or so.
The different varieties of the fascia are named differently depending on where it is and how it is designed. We alternate between the term connective tissue and fascia, but it is the same tissue composed of collagenous fibres.
Anatomists have found that fascia is essential to balance and coordination and critical in injury prevention – if you hit your foot it is the fascia that ensures that the force is distributed throughout the body.
Fascia links together all parts of the body and has a significant role in balance, posture, coordination, and even positioning. It also has a relieving effect and transfers shock and load on to bigger areas to avoid overload.
Fascia is existent in the entire body and envelops organs and muscles. It holds together the skeletal parts and also forms a fibrous tissue filled with liquid.
It has been shown that even the cells of the body are surrounded by their own network of fascia.
Most of the blood vessels and nerves run along Fascia membranes, and there are about six times more nerve receptors in the fascia than in other parts.
It contains its own neurons and inflammatory cells and it has been shown that inflammation in the fascia is a cause of back pain and a contributory factor in whiplash injuries, tennis elbow and heal spurs to name but a few.
Fascia is also an integral part of our immune system – our white blood cells travel the body through our connective tissue/fascia.
We are not a system of muscles and bone surrounded by fascia but a system of fascia that contains all of the bodies other components.
Since the ’70s Tom Myers has been one of the strongest proponents for increasing the understanding of the Fascia.
“Fascia exists everywhere in your body. Your brain is wrapped in fascia, your heart is embraced in fascia, your intestines are enclosed in fascia and the same with your muscles and joints; they are all enveloped in this fibrous tissue. Fascia is the biologic structure holding us together.”
What fascia means to you
“Fuzz” is what develops between fascial layers when we don’t move. This is why we feel the need to pendiculate in the mornings – extend our spines and hips and fling our arms over our heads, just like most animals will do when they wake up – this wakes up our nervous systems, open up our lungs, gets our muscles working, encourages great circulation and starts fascia sliding and gliding again.
But what happens when we have an injury? We don’t move that joint/muscle, we are afraid, it hurts. We don’t restore movement, energise the local nervous system or encourage blood flow to the area. We hold it still and the fuzz in the fascia builds up, thickening starts to develop.
Fascia and lower back pain – people with lower back pain have thicker thoracolumbar fascial. Also the slide and glide of fascial layers is reduced in those with lower back pain.
Why stretching is a great idea
Research into the effects of stretching on fascia shows that it helps to reduce the “fuzz” (fibrosis) and limit chronic inflammation. The effect of stretching is greater the sooner it is started after an injury has occurred (within 48 hours). Stretching increases the release of resolvins (very useful chemicals that help resolve inflammation) into the tissue and allows it to permeate. Stretching also helps to reduce the permeability of inflammation into the fascia.
What therapies are good for treating fascial problems?
Chiropractic, of course! seriously though, if your chiropractor treats your muscles as well as your joints and gives you stretches to do at home you are on to a winner.
Massage: any type is good but therapeutic is better than relaxing massage.
Rolfing: A form of massage that has been specifically developed to treat fascia.
Vacuum cupping: An ancient form of alternative medicine in which a therapist puts special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction. People get it for many purposes, including to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being, and as a type of deep-tissue massage.