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Fascia Part 1: What is fascia?

Updated: Mar 6, 2023


 

Fascia has become a big buzzword in the world of health and fitness. Folks all around the body-world are proclaiming, "It's all connected!" You'll hear it from yoga teachers, doctors, trainers, perhaps even your Gran!



But what does that really mean?



Fascia is a huge and mysterious topic, as new research findings are being revealed frequently.



In this series of articles I aim to give a succinct overview showing why some knowledge is important to your health and movement practice.


 

Fascia is a type of connective tissue in the body. It helps transport substances and chemicals around the body; it holds the structure of the body together; yet its consistency also changes state constantly to meet the body's needs, thus it can be in liquid form, gel-like or solid. It is ultimately is designed to stretch and contract as you move.



When stressed or held still, fascia dehydrates, tightens up and become sticky / more solid. When squeezed the fascia pushes out water and then when let go of, new water fills it in. Much like a sponge.


 

There is superficial fascia which joins the skin to the underneath tissue, whilst also facilitating its movement.



Then there is deep, dense fascia which gives outer protection to organs & muscles.


Fascia also connects to all ligaments and tendons; it attaches to bones; and further still, it surrounds & cases all muscle fibers, nerves, blood vessels and organs.



So, you can think of your body's fascia as a connective web binding the whole body and its contents together into a unified whole.



As Tom Myers rightly points out: "While every anatomy book lists around 600 separate muscles, it is more accurate to say that there is one muscle poured into six hundred pockets of the fascial webbing."



A great metaphor used is an orange sliced in half: the white skin between each segment represents fascia. If you look even closer, you can see the juice of the orange is held within even smaller bags of skin within each of those segments. That is even more, deeper fascia.


 

This fascial system is also known under different terms such as, the fascial Web, the fascial network, connective tissue webbing, collagenous network, extracellular matrix, but to clarify, these terms all refers to this one organ.



It's then further important to understand this organ's structure and its various components. Fascia is made up of 3 principle components, each with their various functions and sub-components:



1) Cells


Fascia has 4 main types of connective tissue cells:

  • Fibroblasts: main role is producing the various buildings blocks (Collagen, Fibrillin, Elastin, Reticulin & Interfibrillar proteins) for the extracellular matrix and our bones, cartilage, ligaments and tendons.

  • Myfibroblasts: a cell which is in a state between a fibroblast and a smooth muscle cell.

  • Fasciacytes

  • Telocyts


2) Extracellular Matrix


The extracellular matrix is made up of Fibers and Ground Substance.


Fibers

  • Collagen fibres types 1 & 2: give our fascia its structural mechanical properties and consists of closely packed bundles of wavy fibres that pull straight when under tension.

  • Elastin fibers: as the name implies, these fibers are employed in areas such as the ear, skin, or particular ligaments where elasticity is required.

  • Reticulin fibers: a very fine fiber, a kind of immature collagen that predominates in the embryo but is largely replaced by collagen in the adult.


Ground Substance

  • The ground substance is a watery gel like substance a similar consistency to egg white.

  • It fills in the gaps between the collagen and provides support, lubrication, moisture, nutrients and other important materials to our fascia.

  • It is formed from gluey interfibrillar proteins, such as proteoglycans, mucopolysaccharides, glycosaminoglycans [hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate, keratin sulfate, and heparin sulfate] all suspended in an aqueous medium.


3) Nerve Endings


I will cover the different types of nerve endings and their functions in a later up-coming article in this series.

 

I will finish by sharing that almost all soft-tissue therapies (massage, deep-tissue massage, myofascial release, thai massage, gua sha, trigger point therapy) affect the fascia by either repositioning it, lengthening it or changing its consistency. In other up-coming articles I will explain in more depth exactly how bodywork is helping disordered fascia.


For now, I hope this has given you some insight into just how your body is put together. And hopefully this new understanding might further offer you some insight into your movement practice, self-care and postural habits.

Best wishes,


Fred



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