Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

Fascia: 5 Facts You Didn’t Know

by Eric Winder, DC 

 

The fibrous tissue called fascia has gained substantial press lately as more people are learning about the critical importance of this body-wide structural “fabric.” Some people have heard of it, and are aware of therapies that aim to treat it, but since the scientific understanding of fascia has historically been limited, most people haven’t yet been able to develop a deeper understanding of the important role fascia plays in their health.  

Fascia Is Strong as Steel. 

Fascia is a living tissue. Both the individual fibers and the tissue as a whole have the tensile strength of steel. This strength helps to protect the body from injuries. However, this same strength also means that you can’t actually stretch fascia (although there are many common misunderstandings about this).  

Different areas of fascia have differing amounts of stretch built into their construction. Think of it like a piece of gauze–the individual fibers don’t stretch, but there is a certain amount of give to the fabric because of the looseness in how these fibers are woven. The fascia under your skin has a loose “weaving” of fibers and allows for considerable skin movement. On the other end of the spectrum, the fascia that covers your lower back is dense and tight, which limits how far you can flex the spine and keeps your spinal joints safe. 

            Whether loose or dense, when fascia reaches the end of this give, it can’t stretch any further without injuring the tissues it is attached to. This doesn’t mean that stretching is problematic—it just means that when you are performing a stretch, you won’t actually lengthen the fascia fibers. Instead, you are forcing muscle tension to release and allowing the fascia to lengthen to its full capacity.  

Fascia Is Better than Vision. 

The eyes are important, but your most important sense comes from fascia. This tissue has millions of nerve endings that sense pressure or tension. Movement activates those nerve endings, which creates “position sense.” This sense is called proprioception, and is absolutely vital for the performance of all your coordinated motions, from tying shoes to swinging a golf club, to drinking a glass of water.  

Without position sense, the nervous system can’t properly align or stabilize your joints.  In addition, muscle tension (the muscles that balance push and pull motions) cannot be balanced without position sense, and it would be impossible to walk––or even do anything at all. Restrictions or stiffness in the fascia can disrupt proper position sense to cause joint instability and muscle imbalances that trigger pain in the body.  

Fascia Is Like a Hydraulic System. 

Whether dense or loose, fascia is like a fibrous sponge. The spaces between these fibers are full of fluid that is mostly water. This water is critical for keeping fascia healthy and pliable. So drinking water is vital for hydration of fascia. Movement is also critical. Exercise and stretching “squeeze the sponge” to move water through the body’s fascia network. 

            Healthcare practitioners who use manual therapy in fascia often feel a difference in the pliability of the areas where tension has been released.  Although not yet proven by research, it is widely believed that this softening is at least partly due to the treatment causing more optimal hydration in the treatment area.   

Fascia is an Active Tissue. 

Until recently, fascia was thought of only as a passive structural fabric. However, a type of cells involved in muscle contraction were found in small amounts in fascia. Then, just two years ago, studies showed these cells can, in fact, help fascia to contract or tighten.  

The contraction is slow, and the movement is small, compared to muscles. However, researchers propose that this ability to contract can increase stability and strength in parts of the body that bears heavy repeated force.  For example, if you were to spend hours lifting heavy flower pots and bags of mulch in your backyard, the lower back fascia might contract over time to protect your back, as if you were wearing a back support belt.  

Fascia Needs Maintenance. 

Just like muscles, fascia is stronger and more resilient with regular exercise.  But, while a single muscle can move just one joint, fascia is interconnected in complex ways throughout the body.  Strengthening exercises that focus on a single joint motion with exercise machines might help to isolate individual muscles, but this is not as helpful for the fascia. Adding in the stimulation from complex full body movements such as those from swimming, biking and yoga will help maintain peak performance levels in the fascia network. 

As mentioned earlier, hydration is also crucial for healthy fascia. Drinking adequate water each day is important. And once again, full-body movements help to push hydration through the entire web of fascia. Nutrition is also essential, and anti-inflammatory foods such as those in the Mediterranean diet help the fascia remain supple and resilient. 

Finally, stretching movements as part of your exercise program can be helpful too. Pre-exercise stretching should be light and gentle since you don’t want fascia tissues at their full length before you start an exercise or athletic performance. On the other hand, research shows that stretching after exercise helps to prevent injuries to muscles and fascia. Post-exercise stretching can be deeper and more intense, but should never be uncomfortable.  

Dr. Eric Winder has 24 years in practice with a focus on pain relief and restoration of alignment and motion. He uses fascia release therapies, without forceful manipulation. For more information, visit GentleBay.com. 

Shutterstock image - credits to "Rido".

  

January 2022 Digital Edition
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression