Fascia is a continuous, three-dimensional web
of thin, tough connective tissue that runs
without interruption from head to foot.
Fascia surrounds and infuses every part of the body, including the bones, muscles, organs, vessels, spinal cord, and nerve fibers—all the way down to the individual cells. It provides internal structure and also has its own nerves, which make it almost as sensitive as skin.
Because of its interconnectivity, some scientists describe fascia as similar to a spider's web or the yarn in a sweater. Every part of the body is therefore connected to every other part—and the fascial system can act on every system and function in the body.
One of the major kinds of supportive connective tissues in the body, fascia is made up of elastin and collagen proteins that are suspended in a gel-like substance (the "ground substance"). It supports and stabilizes the body, enhancing its postural balance and ability to retain its normal shape; it even keeps vital organs in their correct positions. It is thought that if every structure were removed from the body except for the fascia, the body would maintain its shape.
Fascia, along with ligaments and tendons, acts to keep us structurally sound and help us engage in motion by transferring energy between muscles and bones. Additionally, fascia acts as a lubricant, due to the composition of the ground substance. Fascia is found between the muscle fibers, within a muscle, and surrounding the whole muscle. This arrangement helps ensure that muscles can fully contract while preventing damage from friction. The ground substance is also designed to absorb shock or compressive forces and distribute them throughout the body.
At the cellular level, fascia functions for support, protection, separation, cellular respiration, elimination, metabolism, and fluid and lymphatic flow. It can have a major influence on cellular health and the immune system. As a result, trauma or malfunction of the fascia can set up the environment for poor cellular efficiency, necrosis, disease, pain, and dysfunction throughout the whole body.
Fascia is also considered to be an instrumental sensory organ. It is spread throughout the body and contains a high number of mechanoreceptors, which detect stimuli from outside the body, such as touch, pressure, stretching, sound waves, and motion.
Fascia plays a big role in:
Proprioception—the sense of self-movement and body position in space.
Interoception—the perception of sensations from inside the body, such as
heart beat, respiration, and feelings of being full, as well as the autonomic
nervous system activity related to emotions and the unconscious regulation
the activity of your internal organs.
Fascia responds to problems with bones, joints, and organs,
but also it can be the source of pain and discomfort.
Any structure that surrounds and connects the body's infrastructure will react when parts are "out of place." For example, adjustments and massage might correct bone alignment, but fascia might still be activated, trying to "keep everything together." In addition, fascia can have its own problems.
Healthy fascia is smooth, flexible, and slippery. Fascial restrictions occur when the fascial tissue has become shortened and the ground substance has dehydrated and solidified—causing the fascia to become hard and immobile. Over time, restrictions left untreated may result in pain, dysfunction, and loss of joint range of motion.
Fascial restrictions are often caused by:
Physical trauma, including surgery;
Chronic poor posture;
A sedentary lifestyle;
Repetitive movement that overworks one part of the body;
Bracing against pain and stress.
Fascial tissue restrictions can produce pressure of nearly 2,000 pounds per square inch on pain-sensitive nerves, muscles, blood vessels, bones, and/or organs. Because fascial restrictions do not show up with standard imaging tests (i.e., X-rays, CAT scans, MRI, etc.), they often cause pain but go undiagnosed. Scientists speculate that a high percentage of people suffering with pain or decreased joint range of motion have fascial restrictions.
A new study by Helene M. Langevin of the National Institutes of Health
links fascial mobility and proprioception with myofascial pain. "Patients with
connective tissue hyper- and hypo-mobility disorders suffer in large number
from musculoskeletal pain, and many have abnormal proprioception." In
English this means that when the fascia isn't moving around correctly, the
body hurts—and your sense of how your body is moving is off-kilter.
["Fascia Mobility, Proprioception, and Myofascial Pain," Life 11, No. 7 (Published online
8 July 2021) https://doi.org/10.3390/life11070668.]
Two common examples of trauma that can impact the fascia are the average sports injury and repetitive movements—due to all kinds of work (from computers to gardening to running heavy equipment) or recreational activities. The science behind these traumas: when fascial restrictions are present, solidification prevents the ground substance from functioning correctly. It's designed to absorb shock or compressive forces and distribute them throughout the body—but when the fascia becomes restricted, injury results, sometimes in the form of dozens of micro-traumas.
Just think about it: your "tennis elbow" is all tight and inflamed—and then each additional swing of the racket adds another shock, with no "softness" and flexibility to absorb it. With continued activity, the body absorbs too much pressure in too small an area, and as a result will continually "break down." Or, consider the micro-traumas that can result from a slight imbalance in the pelvis. Instability could cause fascial restrictions, resulting in pain and decreased range of motion throughout the body.