Fascia is a thin “cling film” that surrounds and wraps itself, like an internal spider web, in and around every muscle, organ, bone, nerve and blood vessel in the body. It is composed of layers of elastin and collagen. Fascia connects, stabilises and unifies all the parts of the body. The smooth, sticky white film covering the top of a raw chicken breast is similar to the outermost layer of fascia in our bodies.
Fascia has long been overlooked by conventional medicine, as just “wrapping paper” with the more important stuff underneath, like our muscles, bones, ligaments and joints. Anatomical charts of a human body do not show fascia. Fascia is now being recognized and scientifically proven for its importance in the correct physiological functioning of our body and the influence it has on all body structures. As fascia is filled with blood vessels, lymph vessels, immune cells and nerve cells you can start to understand why.
An analogy to look at fascia is the white skin around a peeled mandarin that holds the flesh of the fruit together and permeates inside every piece of mandarin. This tissue of the mandarin needs to remain oxygenated, fluid, pliable, moist and healthy so the whole mandarin can remain healthy, tasty and juicy. If it is damaged or bruised in one area, it will have an effect on the whole; leaving the mandarin dry, acidic, compressed and tasteless. This basically starts to happen in our body when pain and inflammation sets in.
Key Functions of fascia
Fascia is like our bodies “Internet Highway”, transmitting tension and communication through electrical signals to every cell in our body. Fascia can feel, as it is filled with nerve receptors and is our richest sense organ, relaying information up to the brain for processing and feedback. Fascia also functions as a shock absorber and storage container. Everything we experience in our life enters into our body through our fascia and literally holds all the information of our lives. When fascia becomes tight or damaged, a number of symptoms can start to show up like back, neck and shoulder problems, headaches, migraines, jaw problems, disk problems, inflammation, digestive issues, pinched nerves, joint problems and a sense of less flexibility and mobility.
How fascia affects your health - The issues that are affecting your tissues.
One of our oldest biological responses to stress is tissue contraction also known as muscle guarding or emotional bracing. This is one of the common causes of fascial restrictions. Stress causes the fibers to harden and can result in adhesions, stiff and tight muscles, hyperacidity, those frozen places or that clicky sound we hear when we move our shoulders. Chronic stress or worries can also lead to a changed chemical environment with high levels of adrenaline or cortisol floating in our bodies, leading to crystallisation of the tissues.
The human body is able to repair itself after any small accident or injury but if we have a more severe injury like an accident or fall, doing heavy physical work or over-exercising; the impact can sometimes be greater than the body is able to deal with. Sticky adhesions and compressions can start to form in your fascia, much like a chewed out gum, impeding blood flow and other important physiological functions.
As fascia runs through the whole body and links all body parts together it also has a reciprocal nature, allowing for any pull or twist to be transmitted and ricochet through our fascial system to another part. That is why when you fall on your bottom, you can sometimes end up with a headache.
Surgery, like a cesarean, inevitably cuts go through several layers of fascia. Imagine several layers of “cling wrap” on top of each other and these different layers may not necessarily realign perfectly again afterwards, bunching up and sticking together and starting to pull on nearby areas like a vertebrae. Anesthetics or any chemicals through long term medication or radiation carry a high toxic load and can leave a residue toxic effect in the cells of the fascial webbing, impeding proper nutrition, information and fluid flow.
Ever gotten out of a long car ride or sitting behind your desk and felt really tight, stiff and in need of a good stretch? This is your fascia starting to stick together and needing to become stretchy and flexible again. As fascia has the tendency to mold and adapt itself, over time bad posture can become more permanent leading to hunched & rounded shoulders, forward head posture or a tight back. This inhibits our range of motion and impedes circulation of blood, oxygen and energy through our fascia to various areas of our body.
5. Shock, Trauma & Life Experiences.
Scientific research shows that fascia holds our emotional memories as a storage container absorbing our emotional tensions, particularly the ones we don’t deal with as we repress and soldier on. Fascia is the body’s primary communication system and plays a big role in the Mind-Body Connection. Life experiences causing pain, grief, anger and sadness can get buried into your fascial system. This could be a one-off significant event or a more slow and gradual persisting stressor that leaves imprints in our bodies. The body does find some good places to hide things and if unreleased can start to create aches, pains, inflammation, anxiety, depression or things like ear ringing or twitches.
How to improve your Fascia: 4 ways to keep you and your Fascia healthy.
1. Movement – Use it or lose it
There is a great video on YouTube -The Fuzz Speech – by Anatomist Gil Hendley (done on a human cadaver) that shows “the fuzz’ that builds up in your fascia after any prolonged rest like sitting behind your desk or sleeping. Stretching your body every day is a great tool to avoid this and to get the fluid moving into your fascia. Your body loves to move and any kind of soft tissue exercise like swimming, tai chi, qi gong or yoga that gets your fascia going is perfect. After getting up in the morning gently stretch for three to five minutes, from head to toe and side to side and relax into each stretch before you move on. My personal favourite is dancing “like nobody is watching” to any Bruno Mars song.
2. Water and Natural Supplements
Fascia contains 70% fluid in a gel like consistency. Fascia needs to stay pliable and moist in order to work properly and for us to feel well. Clean food and drinking pure water is essential in keeping it hydrated. An expert naturopath will be able to assist you with the right supplements to keep your fascia in good health and detoxify. My personal favorite products to de-clunk and de-junk are the Detox kit from Heel, Basica Active to lower Ph levels and a high quality Omega 3 or 6 fatty acid to boost the intercellular matrix.
3. Self-fascial Release
Australia’s leading Fascia expert and Myofascial Release teacher Chris O’Brien explains that using soft tissue mobilization tools such as a Swiss ball, Foam Roller or Lacrosse ball can be excellent tools to release tight fascia.
1. Opening up the Fascia along the whole front of the body: Lie with your back over a Swiss ball, with you feet flat on the ground and your arms spread out wide to the sides, facing up. This will open up the heart, lungs and chest area with some excellent results and benefits. Do this exercise for a minimum of 2 minutes.
2. Use a foam roller -When using a foam roller apply slow movements and go gentle at first and when you have you found your area of tension you can hold pressure there for 3 to 5 minutes. A great way to release tension in the chest and rib area is to place the foam roller underneath your chest, whilst lying face down on the floor or a mat. Slowly add pressure by sinking into the foam roller - rest here for two minutes until you feel a softening happening in the area.
3. Lacrosse ball - Most people will have sore spots on the edges of their shoulder blades. To release this tight fascia, lie down with your back on the floor and place a Lacrosse ball between your shoulder blade and spine, seek out the areas of tension and sink into the ball for at least two minutes.
4. Myofascial Release Therapy
Fascia does not respond to force or hard massage techniques as it creates muscle guarding and will go into protection mode. Fascia needs to be released with a slow and sustained pressure to first get to the elastin level and then onwards to the collagen level. This is the beauty of Myofascial Release. The movements are slow and controlled, turning hard clay into soft clay by stretching and decompressing tissues, melting away tension, pain and stiffness and creating space in the body so it can take up its proper physiological functions again. As fascia holds our emotional memories, myofascial can assist you in releasing and resolving those emotions. If you have ever found yourself crying at the end of a yoga class or myofascial release session you will know what I mean.
Fascia is everywhere in the body, full of life, energy and memories and vital to your health. Blood vessels, immune cells and nerves run through it, so fascial care means not only circulatory and nervous system care but overall care. Therefore the benefits of Myofascial Release are multiple and can be profound and really good for any kind of condition: From less pain, to better posture, increased energy, vitality, better sleep and improved flexibility. Beauty therapists in America & Europe are now also starting to incorporate fascial myofascial release – aka face-lift massage - to target those all important collagen fibers for better skin.