Updated: Feb 12, 2020
What is Fascia
Fascia is the connective tissue beneath the skin, composed primarily of collagen, that attaches, stabilizes, encloses and separates muscles and other internal organs.
David Lesonak, author of Fascia – What It Is and Why It Matters explains that fascia is “a silvery white material, flexible and sturdy in equal measure – a substance that surrounds and penetrates every muscle, coats every bond, covers every organ, and envelops every nerve.”
Connective tissue exhibits tremendous variety and exists in multiple distinct layers including superficial, deep, visceral and interstitial. It can be fine and delicate in some areas and thicker and denser in others, particularly when positioned nearer to joints or in areas where it is tensioned over time. Until relatively recently, fascia was thought to be unimportant to the functioning and movement of the body. Anatomists have traditionally focused almost entirely upon the bones and muscles rather than the casing of skin and fascia, but the importance of fascial tissue to a healthy body is critical.
Scientists are making significant discoveries about the role of this web of connective tissue. Like ligaments, aponeuroses, and tendons, fascia is made up of fibrous connective tissue containing closely packed bundles of collagen fibers oriented in a cross hatch or honeycomb patterns in parallel to the direction of pull. It is consequently flexible and able to resist great unidirectional tension. These collagen fibers are produced by fibroblasts located within the fascial tissue.
Reducing tissue friction caused by muscular force is the primary function of fascia. In doing so, it provides a supportive and movable wrapping for nerves and blood vessels as they slide and pass through and between muscles. In some cases this important function can become impaired: chronic areas of strain become congested as cross fiber bindings form, and scar tissue builds from over use or invasive trauma such as surgery.
“Our bodies are an incredibly vast body-wide communicating system for the push and pull of mechanical information. A system of collagen and elastin fibers suspended in a mucosy gel that binds with interstitial (inter -cellular) fluid, this system is closely aligned with the lymphatic system and the white blood cells of the immune system.” – Tom Myers.
Fascia and Movement
Fascial tissues are frequently innervated by sensory nerve endings. These perform proprioceptive (spatial perception), nociceptive (pain sensing) and interoceptive (tactile) functions. This dynamic and sensitive driving tissue is always listening and responding. Dense tissue, such the iliotibial (IT) band, provides stability and support and can deliver increased power and thrust (up to an additional 30%) when structures are hydrated, tensioned, and tuned optimally. This is energy producing capability is known as Hydraulic Amplification, and is one of the great benefits of healthy fascial tissue.
In mechanical terms, this “ground substance” acts in a variety of ways. Its viscosity reduces the sudden forces to minimize damage to tissues. Its elasticity allows for the change of shape to return to normal when forces subside. Its plasticity allows it to remodel in response to gravity and scar tissue. Its dense and highly innervated scaffolding forms a guide wire running up and down the body, acting like a physical early warning system. Our nervous system can turn parts of this fascial system on or off, as in frozen shoulder, or bypass and re-route movement (the subject of another entry coming soon :). All of this is to say, we are highly adaptive from moment to moment — more than you might think.
The Future for Fascia
Pioneers in structural integration such as Ida Rolf and Thomas Myers started exploring fascia’s properties as early at the 1950’s, but research is currently moving forward at an accelerating pace. With the advent of ventures such as the Human Fascial Net Plastination Project and the Fascia Research Congress, both developed by the Fascia Research Society, new aspects of fascia and the fascial system are being discovered regularly.