Fascia is a glistening membrane of connective tissue of varying thicknesses and tensile strengths that is one continuous system and encapsulates every single aspect of our anatomy. Yes….our muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels etc. It is widespread…from top to bottom, front to back and inside out. If you remove everything from the human body EXCEPT the fascia…..you would have a perfect three dimensional outline of our entire anatomy.
In some areas of our body the fascia is thick and leathery and in other areas it is thin and delicate. It is made up of a continuous sheet of tiny tubules. These tubules transmit fluids to and from all of our body parts. These fluids carry information and nutrition and help wash toxins away. When our fascia is healthy and hydrated it allows us to move smoothly and effortlessly. It allows our parts to slip and slide along one another smoothly while at the same time connecting our parts in a way that one can’t move without the other knowing.
When it is dehydrated or injured either directly or from overuse or from chronic inflammation it becomes more rigid and brittle and can get stuck to other neighbouring layers of fascia or adhered to the tissue it is enveloping. It also becomes less effective at carrying fluids from one part to another.
Recently, research has determined that our fascia actually has contractile ability! Yes….it can contract like a muscle….although it is involuntary. When our fascia tightens for various reasons it essentially chokes the structure inside of it…any muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels …..on and on become choked and thereby less useful.Fascia can become restricted and inelastic from trauma such as accidents and surgery, as well as from poor posture, chronic inflammation and overuse.
Prolonged tension from stress or emotional upset can also cause restrictions. Restrictions in facsia pull on muscles and other structures, causing tightness, pain and limited movement. Physiotherapists, massage therapists and chiropractors most frequently work on fascia. We use our hands as well as some manual therapy tools from our tool box.
I can’t recall a single time when a patient came to me complaining of pain in their fascia. It is innervated and we do feel pain in it but because we are unfamiliar with this part of our anatomy. So how do we injure our fascia?
Here are some examples of how our fascia can get injured or dysfunctional:
- The most obvious is via direct trauma like bumps, bangs and bruises or from surgery. When a cut is made through several layers of tissue, as it is in many surgeries, the scar that forms is the adherence of all of those layers.
- Facial layers can also get stuck together when we stay in positions for lengthy periods of time repeatedly, like sitting at a desk all day. Our fascia needs to move and stretch regularly to avoid seizing up.
- When we do a repetitive movement throughout the day regularly, like typing, the fascia and muscles in the area can become inflamed from overuse. Inflammation creates adhesions (binding together) between the layers of tissue. In any of these scenarios our movements become less smooth, less flexible and sometimes painful.
- Clothing that is too restrictive, like tight socks or tight under wire bras or tight sports gear, can cause layers of fascia to stick together. When suction is applied to these areas using massage cups the tissues should lift up smoothly. If there are adherences, the skin will have dimples, puckers and sometimes even ridges showing the outline of that clothing.
How do we take care of this important part of our anatomy? First, it is important to stay hydrated. Easier said than done, I know. The next thing is to move. Find activities to do that require big movements and find activities to do that require small movements. Vary your positions through the day if you have a sedentary job. This may require you go out of your way to find reasons to get up and walk around, like taking the long way to the water fountain or intentionally placing an important work item at the opposite of the room from where you are working so you are forced to take that walk to use that item. Buy a foam roller or roller stick and find a professional to teach you how to use it properly. Last, but not least, seek out treatments from health care professionals who treat the fascia.