Fascia is a continuous network of connective tissue in the body, composed primarily of cells, collagen and elastin. Fascia is everywhere in the body; it surrounds and permeates all other tissues. Superficial fascia lies underneath our skin, binding it to the underlying tissues; visceral fascia is that which surrounds our organs. There is also deep fascia, the connective tissue that permeates and encases our muscles (myofascia). Deep fascia also connects and surrounds nerves, bones and blood vessels.
Deep fascia is very dense, flexible yet incredibly strong. It surrounds individual muscles, keeping them separate from other muscles and tissues in the body, yet it also goes deeper to encase groups of muscle fibres into compartments and even surrounds individual muscle fibres. The best way to describe it would be to look at an orange and peel it and all the white outer layer surrounding the orange it the fascia.
Our skin is our primary sensory organ and fascia is the secondary. There are more neurons being transmitted via our fascia at any time than our actual nerves themselves. Incredible! This communication highway gives us our sense of interoception – which is our awareness of our internal body state. It is through interoception that we can feel, for example, our heartbeat, our breath and recognise feelings of hunger or fullness.
Fascia also houses an important part of our immune system: the lymphatic system.
Because fascia is involved in all aspects of the body it is important that it is maintained, in clinic we can use different techniques to release some built- up tension within the fascial chains. If it goes unchecked it can lead to problems such as lack of flexibility and mobility which can lead to an injury, the fascia can rupture also if not attended to and too much stress is placed onto it.
In addition, pain may present itself in an area that is unexpected because of tight fascia elsewhere. Do remember fascia should be tight due to its role however there is such a thing as too tight. Also, because the lymphatic system (autoimmune system) is part of the fascia there can be immune problems that can occur.
Fascia can be treated with hands and with tools. When we treat fascia with our hands, it is in the form of stretching to treat large portions of fascia. When we treat fascia with fascial tools, it is generally for concentrated work although this also affects the wider fascial chain too. The fascial tool is used with light pressure to break the adhesions that build up in the fascial layers (like sticky bonds of chewing gum). This can sting a little when you experience it in treatment, but this is you feeling those adhesions break. Improvements in flexibility and pain are immediate after a fascial treatment, so it is worth it!
Hydration is also essential to the fascia, but you cannot necessarily chug a litre of water to do the job. The fluid must work its way through the fascia, but unlike blood and the heart, for example, there is nothing pumping it through the body. So, it’s the types of movements and stretches you do that get fluid moving into the fascia. The best thing in the world is any type of rhythmic contraction and relaxing action. Stretching, turning upside down—all of these helps.
Manual release is also a common technique whereby we apply massage and deep force to move the tissue underneath the skin and move the fascia and release the tension, this is a common technique for sports therapists as we can feel the tissue release under our hands which is a great indicator of positive treatment.
Do you feel like you need your fascia pulling in to check? Book in a sports therapy treatment with Kirsty, Dan or Beth!
Written by Dan Marsden