Have you ever heard of fascia? I had not until I went to massage therapy school. Understanding fascia is an important step toward understanding muscle movement and soft tissue pain.
The Thin White Skin
Most people have cut up raw chicken or beef. Remember that ultra thin translucent or milky white ‘skin’ that is almost impossible to pull apart? That is a layer of fascia. Do not confuse this with fat, fat is thick and dense. Fascia is thin, almost translucent or milky white and very strong.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is a connective tissue. It connects things, it binds muscle fibers together, it separates things, and plays a crucial role in movement. Fascia wraps around everything in the body, bones, muscles, arteries, veins, and organs. It provides support for tissues and organs while also separating the individual components in our bodies. It is like a spider web wrapping around and running through the internal body. Through the web of fascia, everything in the body is connected. Just as you cannot move part of a spider web without affecting the whole web, you cannot move part of your body without affecting the entire fascial web.
The cobweb looking matter is fascia interlaced with fibers have been teased away from a muscle. An excellent visual showing that fascia is integrated throughout the musculoskeletal system.
The Saran Wrap of the Body
An analogy often used for fascia is saran wrap. Like saran wrap wraps around a sandwich, fascia wraps around muscle, tendons, ligaments and organs. It is strong but can stretch, moving with the various body parts. Like saran wrap it can stretch to the point of tearing. Over stretched fascia can cause binding and restriction, limiting movement of structures. Torn fascia will cause pain and inflammation.
Unlike saran wrap, fascia is wet and slippery, allowing individual parts of the body to slide against each other. It can move with various body parts or it can initiate its own movement.
The Gooey Gristly Mess
Fascia has been largely ignored throughout medical history. It was considered the messy, slick, tough gristly stuff that stood between doctors and the internal body. Anatomists cut it away from muscles and organs during dissections thinking it was a covering that was not important. Thanks to the work of people like Tom Myers and Gil Hedley, the importance of fascia’s role in the body is beginning to be recognized.
“While every anatomy 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. The ‘illusion’ of separate muscles is created by the anatomist’s scalpel, dividing tissues along the planes of fascia. This reductive process should not blind us to the reality of the unifying whole.” Tom Myers from his book Anatomy Trains
Fascia: A Missing Piece in Puzzle of Muscle Pain?
The study of fascia is ongoing and its purpose and effects on the body are not fully understood. What is known at this time:
- If fascia is distorted it affects the function of the muscle, soft tissues and other functions within the body.
- When fascia sustains an injury it becomes inflamed and painful e.g. plantar fasciitis.
- During the healing process fascia can thicken, lose moisture and glue structures together which restricts movement.
- When movement in the body is restricted soreness, stiffness and muscle compensation occurs.
Muscle pain is complex with many variables that can contribute to its cause. The ongoing study of fascia and its role in the body may provide a missing piece of the puzzle in understanding muscle and soft tissue pain and injury.