Understanding How the Fascia System Works
Something inside you is causing you discomfort. Your brain is telling you to rest and self-heal. You try to do some stretching, hot compresses, aromatherapy, and whatnot. Unfortunately, there’s still that uncomfortable feeling that you can’t seem to shake off.
What you may not know is that the problem lies deep within. About 2mm to be exact, there lies your body’s fascia system. It is a web-like structure filled up with collagen fibers, creating webs of sheets, chords, and bags that permeate every single bone, muscle, nerve, organ, and blood vessel. In other words, fascia protects, connects, and keeps you in human shape.
The Hype About Fascia
Not many people knew about, let alone mention, about fascia many years ago. Aside from the fact that this part of the body is a bit of a complicated subject, fascia is so expansive that it’s hard to dissect, study, and illustrate it.
Some years ago, the fascia system was assumed as just the packaging in your body. In medical school dissections, students are taught to remove as much of the fascia to see the more important parts underneath the skin – bones, muscles, organs, etc. This means that most framed illustrations of the human anatomy are not quite accurate. People have long been taught that that’s how the human body looks like underneath the skin.
Until a few years ago, nobody really paid attention to what the fascia is or what its role is. It was only in recent years that interest in the fascia system has been ignited. It was first discussed on a bigger scale during the first Fascia Research Congress at the Harvard Medical School in 2007. Now, the medical and bodywork communities are making up for lost time and have been enthusiastic about studying this part of the human anatomy.
Think of the fascia this way: it’s the strong, wet, and slippery part of the body that wraps around every single internal body part to separate them and allow them to glide easily as you move. It’s a sheath that wraps around the muscles and doesn’t overstretch because it’s stiffer. It’s the part of the body that is responsible for connecting every organ to your bones and muscles. It is a structure that balances stressors and counter-stressors, creating a flexible, resilient, and mobile unit.
Tom Myers, author of the book “Anatomy Trains”, said that “fascia is the missing element in the movement/stability equation.” Myers was one of the first medical professionals to study fascia in the human anatomy. According to him, “While every anatomy lists around 600 separate muscles, it is more accurate to say that there is one muscle poured into six hundred pockets of the fascial webbing. The illusion of separate muscles is created by the anatomist’s scalpel, dividing tissues along the planes of fascia. This reductive process should not blind us to the reality of the unifying whole.”
The Important Role of the Fascia System
There are two layers of fascia: the superficial layer (fascia beneath the skin and is connected via skin ligaments) and the deep layer (a complicated network that is mostly made up of collagen that separates the muscles, forms sheaths for nerves and blood vessels, and strengthens the ligaments enveloping the joints). Both layers are supplied with free nerve endings, specifically Pacinian corpuscles and Ruffini endings, which are mechanoreceptors that identify and respond to mechanical forces. As the fascia stretches, the nerve endings will stretch too, stimulating the body’s ability to detect and coordinate movement. Stretching the skin stimulates the superficial fasciawhile stretching and pulling the muscles affects the deep fascia.
Just like the bones, the fascia system is composed of collagen that gives it its tough but pliable texture. It is mainly responsible for the smooth movement of each muscle, keeping a balance of tension and elasticity. This is why muscle contraction is restricted if the fascia becomes restricted. This is when injury and pain occurs. When a piece of fascia interweaving through various muscle groups and organs from your head to toe is distressed in a particular area in the body, it can restrict movement and cause discomfort elsewhere.
For example, a person may feel pain on a shoulder when it’s one of the ankles that are sore. This is because the human body is interconnected through this web-like substance.
Fascia is strong enough to hold shape, but cannot support the weight. This is why a person with poor posture or other unstable movements can feel pain. While each organ and system in the body has its own job to do, it cannot function without the other. This means that you can treat a distressed unit without affecting the entire system.
Massage as Fascial Therapy
The fascia system is a potential source of pain. When the fascial tissue is injured or dysfunctional, it has implications. It can be torn from an acute injury, like kneecap dislocation, ankle sprain, or muscle strain. Overuse of fascia or certain diseases can also cause chronic inflammation of the tissue and cause pain.
Fascia doesn’t respond to traditional stretching. When the tissue becomes overstretched, it becomes irritated. This is where manual myofascial therapy or massage will help improve the fascial layers’ mobility. A massage therapist will be able to reduce restrictions, allowing the tissues and joints to move better.