What is Fascia?

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.”

References

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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Understanding Fascia: What it is, Types & How to Keep it Healthy

Understanding Fascia: What it is, Types & How to Keep it Healthy

Understanding Fascia:

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:

Muscle Anatomy | What is Fascia | moveOn 89
Image Credit: Deep Recovery
Keep in mind that fascia isn’t simply one big element, the connective tissue can be broken up into different types.

Types of Fascia

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there are different types of fascia.

Superficial 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).

Facts

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.

Deep Fascia

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.

Facts

Is more rich in hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid) than other subtypes
Highly vascularised
Contains well developed lymphatic channels

Visceral Fascia

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.

Brain – Known as meninges
Heart – Known as pericardia/pericardium
Lungs – Known as pleurae/pleura
Abdomen – Known as peritoneum

Main Function
The main function of visceral fascia is to allow your organs to suspend within their cavities.

Functions of Fascia

Fascia has a few functions for the body:
It provides structural support
Protects organs
Protects muscles
Helps reduce friction
Communicates pain signals

Benefits of Healthy Fascia

Healthy connective tissue can help you:
Reduce stretch mark appearance
Reduce cellulite appearance
Break down scar tissue
Reduce risk of injury
Reduce pain
Improve your body’s symmetry
Increase blood flow
Enhance your performance in physical activities

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.

Some elements that cause unhealthy fascia are:
Sitting a lot (sedentary lifestyle)
Dehydration
Inflammation
Stress
Poor posture
Unhealthy eating habits
Trauma
Poor sleep
Muscle injuries

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.

1. Stretch

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.

4. Mobility

Incorporating mobility exercises works on your body’s fascia and will help your body move better over time. It helps with flexibility, agility, and strength. Pilates combined with functional movements is excellent for this.

5. Yoga & Pilates

Yoga - Understanding Fascia | moveOn 89

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
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.

So the top areas to work on fascia is:
Your feet
Your legs
Your hips – as they can become compressed and tight from sitting all day.

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.

Many physiotherapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists incorporate fascial therapies such as myofascial release massages, fascial unwinding, Rolfing, and other effective methods.

Need help smoothing out your fascia and keeping it healthy?
We offer Pilates and yoga classes, as well as full-body massages. Start taking action to ensure you have your healthiest body and mind. Get in touch to make your booking.

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We use cookies to track visitors, measure ads, ad campaign effectiveness and analyze site traffic. We may also share information about your use of our site with 3rd parties. For more info, see, our Cookies Policy, our Privacy Policy. By clicking “Accept All” you agree to the storing of all cookies on your device. In case you don’t choose one of these options and use our website, we will treat it as if you have accepted all cookies.