Welcome back! As we discused in Part I, fascia is our connective tissue, a very intricate and integrative system throughout the entire body. In this post we will discuss the composition of fascia on a deeper level, no pun intended!, it’s form and function and how it can be used for or against us.
There is a reason why we call fascia ‘connective tissue’. It is because it, literally, connects everything and is connected to every system in the body, as we discussed in Part I. According to David Lesondak’s book “Fascia: What it is and Why it Matters,” he states that fascia is “a substance that surrounds and penetrates every muscle, coats every bone, covers every organ, and envelops every nerve.” This is a very interesting statement since, going back to the cross-section of an orange theory from “Fascia, Part I”, fascia or connective tissue not only keeps everything together, but keeps everything separated as well.
Up until recently, fascia was not studied and researched in depth. It has been, in the past, in fact, overlooked by most scientists. It was thought to be just a “coating” to the other important tissues such as bones, muscles, joints, and organs and was often thrown out during dissections. What we have learned, however, is that is just as important, or more important, as these other parts of the body because of its form and function.
Let’s begin with Form:
What comprises fascia?
- Collagen. Fascia is largely made up of several types of non-water-soluble collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, that, when laced together, becomes one of the strongest substances on earth. Which makes sense why our bodies are heavily comprised of this!
- Elastin. This substance adds resiliency to the tissues and allows it to stretch up to 230 percent the original length and still return to its origial shape! Be careful…elastin can deminish with age (if you’re not moving!) and too much exposure to the sun.
- Interstitial Fluids or otherwise know as water. This substances makes up 70% of the fluids in connective tissue, allowing it freedom of movement in the body. This is why keeping a water bottle near you throughout the day is very important!
Fascia, in essence, is what gives our bodies their shape or form. It allows the body to hold itself
and move into certain positions and then return back to it’s original form. As we stated in part I, it is formed in and around every cell, organ, muscle, bone, joint and so on. In fact, fascia, like muscles, can be thought of in terms of chains. From the deep to the superficial fascia, it is all connected in chains, one piece leading to another, connecting the entire body as one. Science has identified many specific chains in the body that all have particular functions. The photo to the left gives an example of one identified connective tissue chain. One ‘kink in the chain,’ so to speak, can determine how the surrounding tissues will function.
And then there is Function:
- Recoil. There are many functions to our fascial system. The main function of fascial tissues is to allow movement within our bodies and in turn be able to return to our original shape. Healthy fascia has ‘recoil’. This recoil is what allows the body to stretch and strengthen and move without the fear of changing the form of our body, as if we were clay in the hands of a child. Many times there are disruptions in the fascial tissues that can interrupt this recoil function such as injury, misuse or underuse, which we will discuss shortly.
- Our ‘Other’ Brain. Fascia also has a very important function that we are still learning about to this day. I am talking about it’s connection to the nervous system. In fact, the majority of your nerves are embedded into the fascia. This is why it is so painful when you tear or cut a tendon or ligament, for example. But this is also how the body communicates to the brain and another reason we have body awareness and proprioception, or joint position sense. (Test of proprioception: Close your eyes and try to touch your nose. The nerves in your connective tissues at work!)
- Emotional regulation. Have you ever experience a trauma to have it released physically with myofascial release, acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic treatment? Or have you ever had manipulation to the tissues in the body and end up in tears for ‘no reason at all’? This is your nerves in the facial system and it’s connection to the brain at work! This is what are called SERs or somatoemotional releases. It is believed that past traumas can be stored in your tissues as a sort of memory, only able to be released physically!
But when it comes to maintaining the form and function of our fascia, there are several things that could have an impact it’s health. Here are some examples:
- Injuries or Sugery: These can be a cut, tear or even a simple bump or bruise that you never remember. These microtears can create limitations from densly packed CT called scar tissue. Cuts from surgery or tears from injury*, for example, can be very painful and heal very slowly as they are full of nerves and have a very limited blood supply. It is important to make sure you receive the necessary treatment and take the necessary time to allow healing. For those of you who are active, this may require much patience on your part. You never want to push through any sort of CT injury or begin movement before the body is ready. This being said, however, it is important to gently move what you can around the injured area to avoid ‘gluing’ of the surrounding tissues, which can impede a timely return to preferred activites. When surgery is performed it is to fix a damaged area of the body. This does not come without side effects. When we have surgery on a smooth muscle such as an organ, or a skeletal muscle, what fills in the area that was damaged or cut is not more muscle cells necessarily but rather connective tissues, which are as not as pliable as muscles, therefore creating limited movement in those areas. (*Remember: injuries can be from repetitive movements as well.)
- Not taking in enough fluids: Dehydration is not good for any of our systems to function properly, especially our connective tissues, which communicate with the brain about the body constantly! Make sure you drink enough water (soda, sports drinks and coffee do not count!) Here is a simple formula: Drink 1/2 -1oz of water per pound you weigh.
- Not Enough MOVEMENT: One of the largest issues we have with our connective tissues is the amount of full body movements we do NOT perform. And when I say FULL BODY movements I mean from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and everywhere in between! When we do not move all of our tissues on a regular basis the body starts to, well, glue together. This can pull on the fascial and muscle chains causing imbalances the body, leading to compression of joints and pain/injuries. When our tissues begin gluing, it becomes harder to move, leaving us with daily fatigue just moving through life! Not only that, our nervous system begins to ‘turn-off’ the areas that we are no longer using! The solution? MOVE YOUR BODY, ALL OF IT, DAILY! I hope this post has given you a little more insight into the world of fascia; it’s form and function. There are still so many things we do not understand about fascia. The more we study it, the more we learn about it’s importance in the body. But there is one thing we know for certain: balanced movement is what the body craves to maintain the fascial system’s peak performance. I can help you. Will you join me?
Reference: “Fascia: What it is and why it matters.” Written by: David Lesondak