What is webbed, wet, silvery in color and stronger than steel? No, it is not some hybrid super hero! It is, rather, something very intregal to form and function for all human beings. It is fascia, or more commonly referred to as, connective tissue.
Fascia has become a buzz word creeping into descriptions of modern fitness classes and news articles, but what is it exactly? According to the David Lesondak, an allied health member in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), in his book, “Fascia: What is it and why it Matters” it is “both a tissue and a system…know as connective tissue, fascial web, fascial net, fascial system, silver skin…” There are many different layers and connections of our fascia that are defined by location in the body or what it surrounds.
To put it in simpler terms: fascia is a connection of fibrous tissues bound together to support, and essentially “fill-in” around every part of our internal structures, including each and every cell. Imagine a spider web glistening with morning dew. Under the eye of a microscope this is fascia, with the exception that the webs are constantly moving and shifting depending on movement in the body.
Another great example to explain fascial tissue takes us into nature once more; the cross-section of an orange. Let’s begin with the outside area of the orange. What do you see? Perhaps many layers and compartments separated into sections?
Observing the outermost layer we find a white rind, durable enough to protect the fragile fruit that lies beneath. This is what we consider the superficial layer of our connective tissue or what is known as the superficial fascia. This layer surrounds our outermost, larger structures, lies beneath our skin and is intertwined with fatty tissues. It is the thickest and most durable layer for good reason.
Next, we have the layer of the orange that comes off the thick superficial layer and separates the fruit into large, triangular sections. This layer is known as the deeper epimysial layer. In the body these tissues surround each of our 640 muscles and what is often referred to as the “silver skin,” which may be seen when dissecting an animal.
Finally, take your orange and pull it apart until you come across the tiny, juice filled sacks. This layer is the innermost layer known as the endomysium which surrounds each and every cell of the body.
What the orange cannot demonstrate for us, however, is how much further our connective tissues integrate. Under electron microscopes, these fibers can be seen inside of cells, intertwined into every living part of us, suspending and supporting every living thing in our body.
To again explain the importance of these tissues imagine for a moment that our bodies were not supported by our connective tissues. This does not conjure up beautiful images by any means as our entire body would be displaced and we would look like a rather nasty, deflated blob of tissues, bones and organs, splayed onto the ground! Our fascia is important because it gives us our suspension, our shocks and literally that spring in our step!
In my classes, on a larger scale, I continually stress that we are not just “bits and pieces” but rather “chains” that run off one another and interconnect to function seamlessly. In fact, these “chains” can be explained as “lines” in the body.
- Superficial Back Line This group of tissues attaches at the plantar fascia under the bottom of the foot, and runs behind the heel, up the back of the legs, intertwines into the back and ribs to the base of the scull, up around the head and attaches to the front of the skull.
- Superficial Front line This line runs from the tips of the toes bilaterally to the jaw.
- Lateral line This line governs side to side movement as well as mobility and stability.
- Spiral Line. This connective tissue chain helps us stay upright when we twist.
Pretty impressive, huh? The placement of these tissues in the body should tell you how important it is to keep the tissues freed up. If one part of us is not functioning properly or “locked down” we can create problems in other areas of the body as well (which we will delve deeper into in an upcoming post.)
Join me for Fascia: Part II where I will delve a little deeper into the composition of fascia and how it can help (or hurt) us.
Information and photos courtesy of “Fascia: What it is and why it matters” by David Lesondak