What is Fascia?
Within the body there is superficial fascia, deep fascia and myofascia. The superficial fascia is a layer of fatty adipose tissue which encases the whole of the body. It is joined to the inside of the skin and is also connected to the deep fascia on the inner surface. In some areas, such as the abdomen and buttocks, the fascia is thicker. In other areas, such as the lower arms, legs and skull, it is thinner. The thickness also depends on the person’s body fat and genetic make up.
It is made up from deep connective tissue and is important in maintaining the shape of all muscles. You come across fascia when you trim meat . It is the white thin sheet of tissue which is between the skin and the meat.
Superficial layer has its own nervous, vascular and lymphatic supply and in its own right can be classed as an organ. The fascia is made up from mainly soft fatty tissue but it also has stronger connective tissue fibres. It consists of elastin fibres and collagen fibres. It is this that make fascia soft, pliable and able to resist over stretching. It is important to keep the superficial layer healthy as it will aid good range of movement, when it is in poor condition or has been damaged the fascia will restrict movement. It is important to keep hydrated and to have the correct diet as this will also affect the fascia.
Fascia works with the skin and can be responsive to pressure and impact. Myofibroblasts that are within the fascia work just like smooth muscle cells and can autonomic contract the fascia. Fascia can also contract in response to a pressure, providing protection to the body.
Deep fascia is a structure that protects every muscle, bone, nerve, organ and cell within the body, connecting everything together and keeping everything in place. The deep fascia is a filter for body fluids for the organs. If the fascia is damaged or in poor condition, for example dehydrated, then the deep fascia will alter the exchange of chemicals that go through it.
Mechanoreceptors within the fascia send sensory information to the central nervous system and like the superficial fascia, contains myofibroblasts which enables it to autonomic contract. Around the muscles epimysium there are many layers of mechanoreceptors which when massaged can give the impression of muscle tone but could actually be an autonomic fascial contraction and not the muscle fibres.
Myofascia is made up from a polysaccharide complex called ground substance and is within a matrix of elastin and collagen fibres. The myofasica wraps itself around the body providing movement and posture. It is the muscles that provide and create the movement and the myofascia which allows it to move freely. Myofacia extends to form muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules. The myofibril within the fascia has a lot of elastin which creates a good range of movement within the fibres. When muscle fibres end, fascia continues with mainly collagen fibres and forms the tendon, with the fascia then connecting to the next muscle. It adapts well to stress and needs to be kept hydrated to function correctly.
Healthy fascia helps aid muscle strength and function. When the fascia is in poor condition, dehydrated or injured it dramatically affects the muscle function and performance. This is due to fascia being able to restrict movement if it is dehydrated or if it is contracted. When there are long periods of inactivity and lack of movement, tiny fibrous bonds start to form which binds the fascia together with the surrounding muscle tissues.
It is often the fascia that is short and tight and not the muscle. The fibrous bonds within the fascia become thick after periods of inactivity, this causes the fascia to restrict the movement of the muscles which in turn makes them hard to stretch and can cause pain.
If the muscle is constantly in a shortened position the unused the fibres are no longer able to glide along each other. As there is no movement the fascia the fibres bind with the muscle fibres which make the muscles stiff and no longer elastic causing the muscle to have a poor range of movement.
When we suffer from physical and emotional trauma and poor posture, the fascia’s fibrous bonds, bind the fascia to the surrounding muscle. The fascia in the affected area becomes contracted and pulls the internal structures out of alignments. The un-alignment causes pressure by effecting nerves, blood and lymphatic vessels and creates tension in the muscles.
When we have an injury there is tearing in the muscle tissue, ligaments or tendons and scar tissue forms. The scar tissue not only forms within the muscle but also in the fascia, causing dense scar tissue. The scar tissue within the fascia shortens the fascial tissue causing constant tension within the area. The tension affects the skeleton and can pull the joints out of alignment causing the body and surrounding fascia to compensate for the postural imbalance. This leads to poor posture and pain within the muscles and joints. Fascia can also be affected by our client’s lack of mobility due to sedentary jobs. In an office, clients are now required to sit for long periods, affecting the shoulders and lower back. This is due to the fascia becoming shortened and inflexible within the shoulders, lower-back and quads. Eventually the skeletal posture changes causing pain in the tight fascia and muscles and joints.
• Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology for the Massage Therapist – Second Edition, Su Fox and Darien Pritchard
• The Concise Book of Muscles, Chris Jarmey
• The trail guide to the body - Fourth Edition, Andrew Biel, LMP
• Muscle Energy Techniques, A Practical Guide for Physical Therapists, John Gibbons
• Advanced Remedial Massage and Soft Tissue Therapy, Mel Cash
• Anatomy and Physiology – Fourth Edition, Louise Tucker
• Chris Phillips – Cotswold Academy