What is Fascia?

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

It's mostly water but stronger than steel. It weaves throughout every structure of the body. It conducts raw consciousness. Fascia is the organ that they never taught you, that creates the sixth sense you probably can't name.


The name fascia means "band" in Latin and it refers to how fascia encloses body structures. (It has nothing to do with the face. Fascia is pronounced FASH-uhhh.)


If you're experiencing myofascial pain (such as a chronic crick in your neck or sore low back), chances are fascia has something to do with it.



What is fascia?


Remember last time you cooked some chicken and you pulled it apart, and saw little silver connections between the pieces? That's fascia.

Fascia is found throughout your entire body. Think of it as seran wrap.


It encases muscle cells, muscle fascicles, the entire muscle, and groups of muscles. It also wraps around other structures like organs and bones.


Then these connective tissue sheathes weave together, so the body is entirely connected up, down, inwards, and outwards.


Fascia is the connective tissue that wraps around each fiber, fasicle, and muscle.
All the white stuff in-between is fascia.

In some places fascia is incredibly thin, like the layer between your forehead bone and skin. In other places it's so thick you can see it, like the iliotibial band (ITB) on the outside of the leg (which is 100% fascia).


No matter where it is, this connective tissue is extremely tough and can withstand up to 2,000 lbs of pressure per inch of fascia.


But it isn't some dead duct tape materiel. Fascia is extremely elastic and flexible. In fact, it can transform between a gel and fluid state.


Fascia might rest in an almost stiff, solid state, but activity causes it to become fluid and free-flowing. This is the principle behind how fascia blasters work. Fascia blasters (DIY massage devices) ruffle up the fascia so it will soften into a fluid state and become more functional.


OK, so this silver stuff is everywhere. But what's the point?



How does fascia work?


On a basic level, fascia ties us together and makes us person-shaped. It also separates body structures and allows them to slide across each other without friction.


You can imagine what happens when fascia goes wrong and becomes tight, scarred, or matted.


Yes, fascia can become tight. It has contractile tissue, although it can't contract as dramatically as a muscle can. When we're injured, fascia protects us by clamping down to restrict bloodflow to the area.


But if you think that's all fascia does, you're missing out on the real magic.


Fascia is our body-sense organ.


It feeds our sixth sense, propiception. That's our sense of where we are and what position we're in. It's essential for us to orient in space, maintain posture, and perform complex motions like walking.

Fascia can do this because it's a highly sensitive organ and rich with nerves. It contains pain receptors (nociceptors), stretch receptors (muscle spindles), pressure sensing corpuscles (Ruffini and Pacini), tension sensors (Golgi tendon organ endings), and free nerve endings.


In fact, fascia has 6x more nerve receptors than muscle tissue.


So fascia has a strong and direct connection with our nervous system.


Fascia Magnified 25x (Narrated) [1:49]




Fascia and Mood


Fascia and mood are closely connected. When we're stressed, fascia tightens, which makes us more stressed. Being stressed makes us tighten up even more. Pain starts. The downward spiral continues.


The mind and body are always influencing each other. They tense together, and they relax together.


Massage that focuses on fascia (Myofascial Release Massage) is known for having a strong effect on the nervous system. It downregulates the nervous system from fight-or-flight mode to rest-and-digest mode, which has benefits such as pain relief, lower blood pressure, better digestion, deeper sleep, and, yes, feeling calm and relaxed!


Fascia is our biggest sensory organ, our organ of awareness, our internal ocean. ... You learn to feel the fast and slow vibrations of your neurological patterning, and, when you allow yourself to let go and open even deeper, you notice these openings giving way to your life force… Interoceptive movement teaches us higher sensitivity and, the more sensitive we are, the deeper the patterns we are able to unwind. The more we do that, the more freedom, love and passion for life we can experience.
- Alexa Nehter, fascia researcher and yoga teacher

Why does fascia get tight? Can fascia cause pain?


Sports injuries, car accidents, and even daily stresses like poor posture will stress fascia and cause it to become restricted.


These restricted spots then pull on the fascial network, and cause secondary and tertiary problems that can manifest anywhere in the body.


For example, let's say Joe gets surgery on his leg. A couple months later, Joe has low back pain he just can't seem to fix. That's because the source of the tightness is the scar on his leg, which is pulling on the fascia of his low back.


Fascial restriction can create fatigue, chronic pain, and compensation patterns that can last for years after the original injury.


The real danger, though?


Exercise expert Erin Bourne points it out:


If we stop moving one part, or all, of the body then the fascia starts to dehydrate, solidify and constrict. This spot becomes like a dam for the energy, the information and the signals. We lose awareness in that part of the body and healthy function.

That "losing awareness" part is really crucial. Fascia is our sensory organ, and when it's dysfunctional, it often appears as a void in our body awareness. The flow is dammed, both in terms of crucial circulation and neurological information.


So Joe doesn't notice his leg is tight. He doesn't have any symptoms there. Because the fascia isn't healthy, it can't communicate with the brain.


On the flip side, the fascia of the back is being pulled on, even in a relaxed position, because the fascia of the leg is taking up all the slack. So when Joe bends over to pick up a sock, the fascia of the back is stretched farther. Too far! The body is afraid the fascia will tear and starts sounding the alarm bells.


By alarm bells, I mean pain.


So Joe ends up in this confusing, frustrating cycle of pain. No matter how much he ices or stretches or massages his low back, the pain doesn't go away. Because in this instance, fascia is being sneaky, and the back is a victim of the leg.


Fascia is connected throughout our entire bodies, which is a beautiful thing... but it can make treatment tricky. When you're trying to escape myofascial pain (like plantar fascitiis or chronic neck stiffness), you need to work with a professional who understands the tensegrity of the whole system. (Learn more about how the body plays tug-of-war.)



How can you heal and balance fascia?


The best treatment is Myofascial Release therapy. Myofascial Release massage is an advanced manual therapy that's designed to work with fascia for pain relief and relaxation. Learn how Myofascial Release is different from Swedish massage.


 

Jesse Martel is a Licensed Massage Therapist who practices in Seattle, Washington. She has helped many people overcome neck/shoulder injuries and chronic back pain with Upgraded Myofascial Release massage. Treatment includes Aromatherapy, Myofascial Release, Cupping, Lymphatic Drainage, and Kinesiology Tape at one flat rate. Her website is SageBodyworkSeattle.com.

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