Content by: Deanna Niceski - Accredited Exercise Physiologist
Have you heard of the word Fascia? Hopefully you have, if not, you can always teach an old dog new tricks (I believe so anyway).
It’s an underrated system in our body that interconnects absolutely everything. “Fascia is the body’s connective tissue. It’s a head-to-toe, inside-to-out, all-encompassing, and interwoven system of fibrous connective tissue found throughout the body. Your fascia provides a framework that helps support and protect individual muscle groups, organs, and the entire body as a unit. It’s everywhere.” – Ashley Black
We describe it as “the membrane that connects the peel to an orange or white stringy goo on a raw chicken breast”. It’s like a spider has spent a long time connecting every cell, muscle, tendon and ligament in our body with a web (creepy but accurate). It’s why our organs don’t drop out and rattle around, it’s why we aren’t floating bones and can stay upright and move. It’s unappreciated, underestimated and misunderstood and it’s in every single one of us.
“Without muscle and fascia, you need a pole up your ass for stability. Joints are useless alone.”
But is it all a web of lies? Back in the day fascia was seen as a useless substance that was just in the way of getting to the good stuff (our muscles, ligaments and bones). Like most things, our understanding has developed over time and through research we now view the fascial network as an important system and structure of the body.
“Are there really 600 muscles? OR only 1 muscle in 600 fascial pockets?”
Getting Under Your Skin
Our fascinating fascial net comprises of both elastin and collagen fibres, allowing this structure to be strong yet highly flexible and malleable. This continuous and “dynamic webwork extends in every nook and cranny of the body”, and I mean every nook and cranny. Textbooks throw around the name Extra-Cellular Matrix (ECM), which is the term used for this non-living material holding us together.
Let me throw another word at you, mechanoreceptors.
I promise I’m not speaking gibberish; fascia contains these sensory receptors that are designed to detect and respond to mechanical vibrations and different pressures in our body. These mechanoreceptors contribute to fascia’s ability to communicate information across the entire body.
Superficial V Deep Fascia: What’s the difference?
Emphasising its uniting, shaping nature our superficial layer is like our jumpsuit, as it can be removed as a whole. Like an onion, it’s got some layers, and is filled with fat tissue, nerves, blood and lymph.
Pinch yourself! Literally “pinch an inch”. That wasn’t just skin you grabbed but also superficial fascia which plays a major role in stabilising your body.
I’m going to get a little deeper. With a more complex design deep fascia “surrounds muscle bellies, holding them together and separating them into functional groups”. Our bodies don’t like straight lines, so it makes sense that collagen (the main component of fascia) has a triple helix structure. So basically, it’s a spiral, which allows these multi-directional layers to perform 3D movement and the generation and absorption of force in our bodies.
Your Tension Network: A new model for fascia’s function
Have you heard the word tensegrity?
Simply broken down, it is tension and integrity of our fascial system and it provokes a different kind of thinking. The standard way to see the body is as a stacked skeleton (with a sombrero on), or a compression structure, like stacked bricks.
What if I challenged your belief and explained it as a matrix system. Think of floating bones inside our body, held in space by the balance of our fascial system and muscles. Not like a stacked object but a circle of interconnected pathways (google tensegrity sphere for visual).
The theory is, If you apply force to any one part of your body, there is force distributed through the rest of your system creating change and movement elsewhere. It challenges ‘best-practice’ as it shows a problem in your hip can be found in the arch of your foot or pain in your neck is caused by dysfunction in your ribcage.
Your entire matrix is influenced with one move, an inter-relationship within the body. So, in theory do isolated movements really exist?
How to Love Your Fascia
So, by now, you understand how important fascia is to your wellbeing and how fascial imbalances or an element of fascia restriction can lead to dysfunction, weakness, pain and limited movement.
7 ways to keep your fascia healthy and thriving:
1. Keep tissues hydrated and fluids circulating
2. Train in multiple directions and planes of motion
3. Train in intervals to allow for proper recovery
4. Avoid excessive repetitive postures or patterns
5. Avoid stillness and becoming stale
6. Isolate points of tension and release (grab out that foam roller)
7. Hot and cold therapy
To annihilate fascia’s enemy (stiffness), “just keep swimming”. The consistency and maintenance of the above point’s, over-time will help you create a healthier fascial network within your body and keep a solid, robust structure well into old age.