At Muscle Medicine we are not always working on your muscles, you will often hear us mention your fascia (amongst other systems that we will get onto later).
Fascia has gained some mainstream attention lately, but most people, although they may have heard of it, are unsure of exactly what fascia is. So I’ll try and explain what fascia is - and why you should care.
In essence, fascia is one big continuous net that surrounds everything in our bodies, including our skeleton, muscles, nervous system and organs. The term is derived from Latin and means band, or bandage (J. Anat, 2009). Or as the thought leader in fascial systems, Thomas Myers explains;
‘Fascia is the biological fabric that holds us together, the connective tissue network. You are about 70 trillion cells – neurons, muscle cells, epithelia – all humming in relative harmony; fascia is the 3-D spider web of fibrous, gluey, and wet proteins that binds them all together in their proper placement.’
To help you visualise your fascia, think about the white sheath on the chicken breast you cut off before cooking, this is the fascia. Up until ten years ago, everyone pretty much ignored fascia in our bodies, in 2007 Harvard Medical School held the first International Fascia Research Congress.
That was the turning point, people now realise that fascia is not an annoying covering over our muscles and organs that can be ignored, but an intelligent system of it’s own that has much more impact on our health than we could have ever imagined.
Fascia binds our muscles, organs, nervous and skeletal systems together, it holds our shape, it helps our movement, it remembers trauma and it impacts our function. The continuity of fascia between the different regions of our bodies explains fascia’s role in coordinating muscular activity and acting as a body-wide proprioceptive organ, (J. Anat, 2009) meaning it senses what is going on in the structures surrounding it. As fascia holds our shape and houses our muscles and organs, this can have an impact on how we feel and how we move.
It’s simple to visualise how fascia can affect us, imagine one big taut sheet, if you scrunch it up in one location, it doesn’t just change the shape of at the location, the fibres elsewhere have to give to compensate. So when some of the fibres of you fascia become tight due to trauma, or more commonly repetitive movements and body positions, fibres elsewhere will compensate, they will overstretch and be pulled out of shape. This can cause you pain that you identify as muscle ache, tightness or stiffness.
Fascia is made up of multiple sheets of collagen fibres and elastin, the percentage of each will differ depending on the position and role of the fascia (Kawamata et al. 2003). Collagen and elastin are extremely important materials in our bodies and we will get more in depth about these in a future post.
So when you come to see us we work on your fascia; to help maintain its fluidity, to ease tension and encourage it to heal (the fascia is a great healer when we give it the chance). We try to break up restrictions, you may hear us say ‘that’s jammed up’ or ‘that’s gliding well now’ and by that we mean the fascia movement over its surrounding structures.
You can also prevent fascia injury by moving, yoga and stretching are great as they stretch the fascia, providing it with the opportunity to work out any creases or tight areas. We will often recommend some movements to practice at home to help you augment your treatments and ensure you aren’t simply going back to square one between sessions. We will also always recommend you drink plenty of water. As you know, 70% of our bodies are fluid, water, and our fascia requires this water intake to remain in its ideal state.
Dehydration can cause your fascia to tighten over the underlying structure, making you feel tight and fatigued.
So now that you know in essence what we are talking about, please don’t hesitate to ask questions during your treatment! We love talking about what we know!
J Anat. 2009 Jan;214(1):1-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2008.01011.x., The fascia of the limbs and back--a review.
Kawamata et al. 2003)