What it is, Types & How to Keep it Healthy
By Dominic Pereira
Fascia is one of the buzzwords currently floating around in the fitness industry among both instructors and fitness enthusiasts.
What exactly is fascia? Why is everyone suddenly talking about it and why is it so important to have healthy fascia?
What is Fascia?
Fascia, pronounced fah-sha, is connective tissue found beneath your skin, formed in bands which encloses and separates your muscles, bones, organs, cells, and blood vessels. The connective tissue helps your body’s muscles move freely with other parts in your body, like bone, and ensure friction is reduced. It’s almost like scaffolding for a building, but instead of bricks and other components, your fascial network is more flexible. You could say that fascia holds our bodies together.
“The fascia forms the largest system in the body as it is the system that touches all the other systems.”
James L. Oschman, PhD
Have a look below where fascia is located:
Types of Fascia
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there are different types of fascia.
Superficial fascia is located directly under your skin. Mostly constructed of collagen, reticular and elastic fibres, it divides the hypodermis into three different layers—superficial adipose tissue, true superficial fascia, and deep adipose tissue (fat).
Superficial fascia is thicker in your torso than in your limbs.
Superficial fascia layers can include muscle fibres at times which create different structures in your body—including the platysma muscle (in your neck).
Superficial fascia has a sub-type in the body’s abdomen called Scarpa’s fascia.
Superficial fascia provides a soft passageway for blood, nerve, and lymph vessels. When restricted or compressed, the vessels are also restricted and compressed.
This type of fascia can trap fatty tissue underneath your skin, causing the well-known, unwanted appearance of cellulite.
Lying deeper under the skin than superficial fascia, deep fascia wraps your muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels in a thicker, grey-coloured membrane. It also contains a high collection of elastic fibres, which gives the layer its flexibility.
The layer is abundant with sensory receptors (specialised cells that can detect and respond to chemical stimuli like movement), which is why those deep-tissue massages hurt but feel great.
Why it’s so Great
Deep fascia is amazing as it helps protect your muscles and other softer tissue structure located in your body. The connective tissue is also a barrier when you have an infection that has worked its way through your skin and superficial fascia layer.
Last but not least, let’s talk about visceral fascia. This is the deepest layer, and covers all your body’s organs. Every organ has its own type of visceral fascia surrounding it.
The main function of visceral fascia is to allow your organs to suspend within their cavities.
Functions of Fascia
Benefits of Healthy Fascia
What Causes Unhealthy Fascia
When you’re moving, your body’s fibers are supposed to easily glide over one another without problems. However, when your body sustains an injury or performs repetitive actions such as running or sustained positions like sitting or even “good” but repetitive movements like yoga poses, some areas of tissue can become inflamed. This causes the inflamed tissue to tug on your fascial network. Think of it like knitting, when you pull on one wool string, it can cause other sections to pull as well. Because of this, the fascial sheaths cannot glide as easily, becoming wound up like a ball of string. This can lead to restrictions and pain when moving your body.
How Can You Treat Fascia?
It can take some time to ensure your fascia is healthy again, but relief when treating fascia is instant.
Below are a few methods you can implement in your daily, weekly, or monthly routine to start working on the health of your fascia.
Stretching is not just about creating flexibility or to relieve muscle soreness for the next day. When stretching your muscles, it can help release tension and restrictions in your fascial network.
Incorporate stretches (not just after your workout) every day. When we’re not moving for long periods (sleeping for example), the fascia in our body becomes sticky. That’s why you often feel stiff in the morning when you wake up.
Have a look at your dog (or cat) and see how they stretch after waking up. Notice how they are stretching but also tensing their muscles while doing so? Also take note when you’re yawning, notice how good it feels? Not only are you stretching the muscles in your jaw, but also the fascia.
One form of stretching is the traditional static stretch which you hold for about 30 seconds. This is fine to do but ensure you take it slow to prevent pain and injury. A more beneficial way of stretching for muscles and especially for fascia is an active stretch where the joint is flexed and extended with the breath and the opposing muscle is contracted in order to allow a deeper release in the muscle being stretched. An example of this would be bending and extending the knee whilst contracting the quad (thigh) muscle on each extension of the knee.
2. Foam Rolling
Foam rolling, when done correctly, is a great method to release tension wherever fascia is tight. With this method, when you find a tight spot, you can roll over the location a few times and also hold it there for a few seconds.
Remember to be gentle and take it slow, especially if you’re new to foam rolling.
3. Cold Therapy
After a good workout, cold therapy is a great method to treat fascia.
You can apply an ice pack (wrapped in fabric) to areas of your body to help reduce inflammation; thus helping reduce swelling and pain.
Avoid applying the frozen item directly on your skin and also take breaks after 15 minutes and only ice about 3 times a day. Doing so will prevent skin, as well as tissue or nerve damage.
5. Yoga & Pilates
While it can improve your flexibility, balance, and strength, it can also help treat fascia.
Implementing self-myofascial release with your daily yoga asanas will ensure your yoga practice is highly improved.
You can start with your feet. As we use our feet everyday with almost everything, it’s important to take care of the connective tissue (plantar fascia) located on the underside of your feet. This type of fascia absorbs the impact of the steps you take and helps distribute your weight when you’re standing upright.
Plantar fascia connects to your Achilles tendons, as well as your calf muscles, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and skull. Working on these areas of fascia will also address aches in your upper body. A great way to release this area is by rolling the foot out on a tennis ball and for a deeper release on a lacrosse or golf ball.
6. Stay Hydrated
Our bodies need to be hydrated to ensure our organs perform their needed functions. It’s crucial to keep hydrated to ensure your fascia also does it’s job properly!
Healthy fascia has a gel-like consistency so when it’s properly hydrated, it works and feels better.
Ensure you replace lost fluids after each and every workout.
7. Massage and Physiotherapy
Have you ever wondered why that full body massage made you feel refreshed and energised? Apart from helping release tension from your muscles, a good massage helps release stress built-up in your fascia.