What is Fascia?
By Dominic Pereira
In this article, we look at what fascia is, how it affects the body and why we want our fascia to be fit!
1. What is Fascia?
a). Fascia is connective tissue made of collagen and elastin fibres, water, and GAGs (glycosaminoglycans). This forms a “wetsuit” like structure that connects muscles to bones, organs and the neurological and circulatory systems.
Fascia is found everywhere in the body, forming layers between the layer of the skin, muscles, cells, and every other body tissue. Superficial fascia is located under the skin, deep fascia surrounds the muscles, and visceral fascia supports the vital organs. Read more about the types of fascia.
An excellent example of fascia can be seen in citrus fruit. The pith is the spongy white tissue lining the rind of oranges, lemons, and naartjies. It is the essence or core. The pith holds everything together. The individual wedges are “glued” together by it, as are the cells within. Fascia does the same in the body, e.g. it binds individual muscle fibres into bundles and bundles together to form a muscle; one muscle connects to the next fascially all the way up the chain to form the body, giving shape and integrity.
“The fascia is our strength system and our recoil rebound mechanism that stores energy like a catapult or spring.”
b). Our fascial “suit” creates a tensional force transmission system, known as tensegrity, in the body.
Tensegrity is the strength or structural integrity created by the tensional forces between the bones and the elasticity of soft tissues like muscle and fascia and the space in-between all of these. Balance between these three elements creates a two-way pull, which allows buoyancy and a resilient, expressive and responsive system. This tension allows for compression and expansion within the body as the body moves and forces are distributed to maintain structural integrity.
An example of tensegrity is the quad stretch, where you bend your right knee, holding onto the foot with the right hand. The foot is then pressed into the hand while the elbow is kept straight and the right glute is activated. This creates tension within the system by creating resistance to the extension of the knee and using the glute to allow the hip flexor to release.
c). Fascial lines: Structurally, fascia is defined in terms of specific lines where it runs uninterrupted forming one piece of connective tissue when dissected. These fascial lines are the core or deep front line; the deep front arm line; the anterior or superficial front line; the posterior or backline; the lateral line, the spiral lines, and the deep back arm line.
d). Redefining the core: traditional core vs myofascial core.
The traditional concept of the core was seen predominately as the abdominal muscles, specifically transverses abdominis, that support the trunk and spine and the activation and strengthening of these muscles. Other muscles may also have been focused on like the pelvic and shoulder girdle, but mostly, the TA was the focus.
The myofascial core, or deep front line, however, is based on the core fascial line which runs as one continuous fascial connection from the big toes to your temples. This involves many more muscles than just the horizontal abdominal muscles. In this myofascial vertical core, the diaphragm plays an integral part as it is connected fascially to most of the important movement and stability muscles in the body, like the psoas and the quadratus lumborum etc. And hence, diaphragmatic breathing is key to connecting the core and also releasing the often tight and unhappy psoas, which is also known as the “muscle of the soul”. Read more about the diaphragm and psoas in point 3.
2. So What is the Problem?
a). Fascia moulds to the position or posture we spend most of our time in. This is called adapation or mechanotransduction. Most often this means that we mould into a seated posture and remain “seated” even when standing. This is because the fascial ground substance hardens and dries losing its “glide and slide” ability and instead becoming sticky or dry and stuck. Poor posture, sitting a lot, poor hydration and diet, lack of movement and incorrect movement all mould and change the fascia creating adhesions or fascial resistance. This will limit joint range of movement which can create strain, tears in the fascia and scar tissue which will inhibit movement.
“Having tight fascia is like driving a car with the handbrake on.”
3. Fascial Fitness
“Improving fascial pathways by manually releasing fascial tension improves the neural and arterial systems so that the energy and communication via the central nervous system flows easily to the brain stem and then sets in the cerebellum, our seat of memory for movement.”
a). The idea is to create fascial flexibility and fascial integrity by creating “space” in the tissues (preparing the fascia) and then moving into that space (strengthening). Creating space removes resistance and restrictions along the fascial lines or pathways. We want to create a healthy fascial suit that allows us to be aware of our bodies not through pain but through proprioception (spatial awareness). Fascia is our biggest proprioceptive “organ” or system.
b). Fascia thrives on hydration so drinking water is important but moving that water into the tissues is vital. So movement in all planes is imperative to achieve this. The most important way to move fluid through the tissues is with diaphragmatic breathing.
To create space in the tissues you can use techniques like compression and expansion (rolling and shearing), bouncing, tensegrity and pandiculation. All of these are performed with diaphragmatic breathing, proprioception and intentionality.
c). Pandiculation is the all-inclusive stretching (equal stretching and contracting) of the whole body, against internal force, in as many fascial planes as possible accompanied by a yawn, which resets the neuromuscular pathways.
d). The diaphragm is our breathing muscle. It connects fascially to many parts of the body including the thoracic spine as it resides within the cavity of the ribcage and connects to the spine posteriorly, to the sternum anteriorly and to the bottom six ribs laterally. These are all part of the thoracic spine.
Diaphragmatic breathing causes the ribcage to expand three-dimensionally and because it connects to the spine and many other important movement structures, like the *psoas, it is vital to enable the release of these structures.
e). The psoas is important because it is our major hip flexor and the only muscle that connects the spine to the femur. It is also important because it is vital to the autonomic nervous system and is activated by the sympathetic nervous which is responsible for getting the body ready to protect itself by either defending or fleeing, hence the term “fight and flight”. The psoas, therefore, responds to input from the brain and body when we are stressed and will go into defence mode, contracting, even if the body isn’t under threat.
So long term stress, as well as too much sitting, will create a short and over activated psoas, as the system becomes hyper-vigilant. But since the diaphragm links to the psoas, it can unlock and mobilise this muscle with mindful nasal diaphragmatic breathing by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
f). MAP is an educational and movement toolset that will educate you about your body by teaching what fascia is, and how it contributes to poor movement and posture as well as causing pain and injury. You are therefore empowered and taught how to employ various self-release techniques using different tools and methods (massage, bouncing, etc.) rather than having a therapist be hands-on with you. It allows you to create space from the outside by using self-release and from the inside out through breath and movement. And then, once space has been created through self-release, strengthening exercises are taught to maintain the space.
MAP is movement therapy and not manual therapy. It uses different evaluation techniques to determine where a person’s fascial restrictions. The fascial lines are released to realign, hydrate the fibres and then actively strengthened to ensure that the release is maintained, something which massage won’t give over the long term.
“A variety of movements is the key to healthy fascia. Don’t get comfortable with routines. Mix and match and vary the speeds and intensity of your movements. Bend and extend and rotate often. Get stretched. Be flexible and think flexible and make fascial fitness a habit and your focus.”
Sign Up for our Fascial Fitness Classes
At moveOn 89, our classes focus on diaphragmatic breathing throughout as techniques like compression and expansion (rolling and shearing using balls and rollers), bouncing, tensegrity, and pandiculation are employed to get the fascia “unstuck”. Book your class below!
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