What is Fascia?
Fascia is pronounced fah-sha. It is one of the many types of connective tissue found in your body. It’s believed to be the largest organ and plays an important role in your health.
Because it’s found throughout the body, the function of the fascia connective tissue depends on what part of the body it’s in. Fibroblasts in the fascia produce collagen fibres. The collagen fibres then bundle together in a wavy pattern, creating the fascial layers. The fascia is separated into layers of superficial and deep fascia.
Most people, when asked “What is fascia?”, think of plantar fasciitis, but there is a much greater affect fascia has on our health than our feet.
Layers of Fascia
The fascia is separated into three distinct layers:
- superficial fascia
- visceral or parietal fascia
- deep fascia
As the name suggests, it’s the layer closest to the surface of our body, and hard to distinguish between where it ends and our skin starts. Like our skin covers every inch of our body, so does the superficial fascia. It also surrounds all our organs, glands, nerves, and veins. And actually also simply fills in space in our body. This layer acts as a storage unit for fat and water, except on our eyelids, ears, scrotum and sex organs.
It is also a pathway for the flow of lymph, nerve and blood vessels. And it gives us the padding we need to insulate and cushion our “insides”.
Ever wonder how a pregnant woman’s skin can “stretch out” during pregnancy and then pretty much go back to its original size? That’s the job of the superficial fascia.
Visceral fascia (Subserous)
This layer is less extensive because it is a specialized layer covering all our organs and must have a consistent tone. If it is too tight, it can restrict organ mobility, and if it’s too lax, it can cause organ prolapse.
- Skin layer: this is outer layer covering the organs
- Parietal layer: this is the inner layer of visceral fascia. To complicate things more, each organ has its own name for the parietal layer.
- stomach = peritonea,
- heart = percardia
- brain = menniges
- lungs = pleurae
This layer surrounds muscles, and divides them into a fascial compartment. Blood vessels and sensory receptors are intertwined with elastin fibers which our muscles need, in order to move. There are many types of deep fascia, including:
- Fascia Lata: found in the thigh
- Fascia Cruris: found calf down to the ankle joint, including the Achilles
- Brachial Fascia: found in the arm
- Plantar Fascia: found under the foot
- Thoracolumbar Fascia: found on the lower spine, it is roughly diamond-shaped
Muscle pain: It may actually be your fascia
Studies have found a correlation between pain, fascia thickness, tight fascia, aging and flexibility.
Is it fascia pain?
It’s not easy to figure out whether your muscles, joints or fascia are causing the pain. A general rule is that muscle and joint pain feels worse when you move. And fascia pain tends to feel better with movement.
Muscle pain often gets better with time, even if you aren’t proactively doing something about it. However, joint and fascia pain will worsen the longer you ignore it, often leading to far worse disorders.
Traditionally, the focus is to treat the pain and relax the muscles, and include some physical therapy and injections. But there are alternatives. I’ll discuss other treatments on relieving pain, options for healing and keeping your fascia healthy.
What causes a bad fascia?
One of the biggest factors negatively affecting our fascia is our modern lifestyle, which causes us to age in a forward rotation. This alone causes our fascia to become stiff and begins to compress, restricting the flow of blood and oxygen to our cells. Where the flow is restricted, our cells stop getting the nutrients they need.
Another contributing factor is scar tissue from injuries and surgeries. Which is essentially the hardening of the fascia.
Overuse or repetitive movement. This is from doing things over and over, like constantly standing in a certain way, or playing a specific sport. The most common injury to the fascia is plantar fasciitis.
Why Fascia requires special attention?
Many years ago, we were more active and didn’t remain in one position for most of the time, as many of us are now doing in front of our computers. Because the health of our fascia affects so many aspects of our health, we must start taking better care of it. It’s a vicious cycle we get into, we stop moving as much, which causes pain. We then start to move in an unnatural way, which causes more restrictions.
And these then cause further adhesions and restrictions, and so the cycle repeats itself. Causing more and more unnecessary damage to our bodies.
Benefits of keeping fascia healthy
Your fascia should be healthy, so it can glide smoother freely or easily, allowing your body to move in the way it was meant to.
- Better body symmetry and alignment
- Increased blood flow, which helps with faster recovery
- Scar tissue breakdown
- Reduced risk of injury
- Less pain and soreness
- Improved sports performance and endurance
How to keep your fascia healthy
This goes without saying. Eat organic where you can, load up on water rich foods and ensure you have a balanced diet. Avoid alcohol and junk food as much as possible. You don’t have to become too obsessive, just mindful of eating healthier than unhealthy meals.
When you begin to do this, your excess weight will go down, your energy levels will go up and your overall health will improve.
Take a collagen supplement, there are many to choose from, so you may want to do some research of your own, as to which one best suits your needs.
Manipulation of the fascia
Foam rolling is a widely recognised and favoured practice within the athletic community due to its tremendous ability to hydrate and release dense fascia, which is often found in areas such as calves, legs, and quads.
It is particularly effective when used to target the thick fascia of the iliotibial band. It’s harder and not recommended for smaller joints, like knees, elbows, and ankles, because you risk hyperextending and damaging them.
A small study found that it alleviates some symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage.
I have seen some people say it helps relieve stress, but this small study showed it had no effect, so this may need more research before any definitive claim can be made.
Block Therapy is a unique method, only recently gaining more popularity, as more and more people experience positive results from it. It addresses all the layers of the fascia and is safe to use on the entire body, including the face.
There are 3 components that Block Therapy addresses:
One function of fascia is to allow space in our bodies, and as we age, our fascia begins to compress, losing the space it had. Any dense matter weighs more than less dense matter. And a reason why our bodies “bulge” in certain areas.
As it compresses, the fascia begins to adhere to our bones, and it does so with a force of up to 2000 PSI. In order to get the space back into our bodies, we must release this grip the fascia has on the bone. In Block Therapy pressure is applied in targeted spiral movements, instead of broad movements. Like in order to remove a wine bottle cork, we must spiral into the cork, so that it easily pops out.
There are many studies on the way diaphragmatic breathing assists us, not only from recovering from major surgeries, but also reducing stress and improving our general health and wellbeing.
Here are a few research studies that show it’s far ranging effectiveness:
- Improvement in Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Improvement of balance
- Positive signs that it can improve concentration
- Reduction in oxidative stress
In Block Therapy, applying diaphragmatic breathing engages the strength of the diaphragm to warm the tissue, so we can release the grips the fascia has on the bone.
This is probably the most important component. Once we have put effort and time into releasing the adhesions, our focus must turn to maintain the space we’ve created.
Through bringing consciousness and strength to the foundational postural alignment. Which includes the position of the head, the tough, hips, knees and feet.