What is fascia?
Updated: Sep 11, 2019
Photo by Nhia Moua on Unsplash
Fascia is a dense layer of connective tissue, made mainly out of collagen, that attaches, supports, and stabilizes every muscle, bone, artery, vein and all of our internal organs. It is a continuous structure that connects our whole body head to toe. In a healthy state, the fascial connective tissue is relaxed and mobile in nature. It can stretch and move without inhibition, allowing all that it surrounds (muscles, joints, organs, tendons, veins and arteries) to move and function freely. (1)
There are three layers of fascia: the superficial, visceral and deep layers. Superficial fascia is located under the lowest level of the skin layer throughout the body. It serves as a storage location for fat or adipose tissue and movement of lymph, nerves and blood vessels (2). Visceral fascia suspends and connects the organs in their cavities and covers each organ. If it is too lax in its structure, organs can prolapse. If it is too taught or hypertonic, it can restrict organ motility or movement (3). This can cause a variety of challenges for the person. Deep fascia is more dense and surrounds individual muscles. It divides groups of muscles into fascial compartments. Deep fascia was originally considered to be without blood or nerve sensory supply. However, now research has found it to be very well interlinked with sensory receptors and blood vessels (4).
When trauma from injury, surgery or an inflammatory response in the body happens, constriction of the fascia connective tissue occurs. It can become very stiff, taught, and less mobile. This can be called an adhesion, tissue restriction or even connected with scar tissue. Surrounding tissues and nerves can become impinged. This can put pressure on the body structures it surrounds and create pain, stiffness, inhibited range of motion, and other challenges. Many people who have chronic pain or limited range of motion may have constricted fascia issues but are never treated for it.
Therapeutic massage can help lessen and loosen the restrictions in constricted fascial connective tissue. There are a variety of techniques that therapists use to stretch, pull, and release the various layers of connective tissue. They can have beneficial effects to open up space in the restricted area. As fascia connects soft tissue (muscles, tendons and ligaments) and bones, it can affect a persons posture and alignment. Therapeutic massage and bodywork focusing on releasing the bound connective tissue can have benefits of improved posture, improved blood flow, lessen pain and stiffness, and help scar tissue break down.
Keeping your body healthy, well hydrated, lower inflammation, and keeping connective tissue pliable, can help lessen chronic pains, improve mobility and help you continue living the life you want.
(1) Marieb, Elaine Nicpon; Hoehn, Katja (2007). Human anatomy & physiology. Pearson Education. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-321-37294-9.
(2) Hedley, Gil (2005). The Integral Anatomy Series Vol. 1: Skin and Superficial fascia.
(3) Paoletti, Serge (2006). The Fasciae: Anatomy, Dysfunction & Treatment. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press. pp. 146–147. ISBN 0-939616-53-X.
(4) Schleip, Robert (2003). "Fascial plasticity – a new neurobiological explanation: Part 1". Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 7 (1): 11–9. doi:10.1016/S1360-8592(02)00067-0.