What is Fascia?
Updated: Sep 6
You might have heard of your plantar fascia or your ITB (iliotibial band) but did you know that fascia is everywhere in your body. Fascia is a continuous matrix of connective tissue that goes from the top of your head to the tip of your toe. It surrounds all of your organs, muscles and bones. Vleeming in 2011 said "Fascia is your soft skeleton". Think about fascia like the white part of an orange - it surrounds the outside of the orange pieces but it also surrounds each of the little pockets within each piece creating the structure of the orange. Fascia is the same.
There are four main types of fascia:
Superficial fascia - this is a layer of loose tissue just underneath your skin. This layer allows for smooth sliding of the muscles on each other as well as thermoregulation and assists with circulation and lymphatic flow.
Deep fascia - this is a more fibrous layer of tissue that covers the muscles. It is this layer that muscle force transmission occurs.
There is also a layer surrounding the nervous system and brain (meningeal fascia) and one that surrounds the organs (visceral fascia).
Fascia is designed to move, glide and slide to make out movements smooth and unrestricted. But life can get in the way of that sometimes and lead to shortening and tightening of the fascia in various areas. The body however is very resilient and is able to compensate for this for a period of time. We may 'get away' with it until there comes a point where the body can no longer compensate and we feel pain or an injury occurs.
A good example is sitting posture. We are all told about the importance of sitting upright. Whether we slouch or we try and sit up too straight, we can get a shortening of fascia in various spots. When we slouch the fascia behind out neck and the fascia over the front of the hips tighten. We then think that we need to get up and go walking or running but due to our now tight anterior hip, we end up compensating and increasing the load on our knees and our back. So the knee pain you might get running could be caused by how you sit and the fascial tightness that has occurred due to you slouching at your desk for long periods. Ultimately, movement and varying posture is a great way to prevent fascial shortening and sensitivity in our body.
It is important that when an injury does occur that we look beyond just the injured site. The body is all interconnected. The connection is the fascia.
How can we look after our fascia - our soft skeleton?
Firstly, fascia is like a sponge, when it is dry it becomes hard. In this state it is not very malleable and doesn't like to be exposed to pressure, twisting or stretching. Put the sponge in water and it is more bouncy and flexible. Feed your fascia water and it will enable it to be healthy and mobile.
Secondly, variety is the best defense against tightness of your fascia. Fascia fitness requires variety in movement - in direction of movement, in speed of movement, in the load applied and also whether it is compressive or stretching load. Variety makes our tissues more responsive and more resilient.
Look after your fascia and your body will thank you.
If you would like to learn more about fascia and how it may be impacting your body, feel free to reach out to our Physiotherapists at The Movement Workshop South Melbourne.