Fascia (pronounced fashia) is one of the great unsung heroes of our bodies ability to function, especially to move.
Fascia covers, connects and separates just about everything under your skin. If you could magically pull all of your fascia out, intact, you would have a perfect 3D model of your entire body. Every muscle, bone, organ, blood vessel and nerve, including your brain and spinal cord.
It is sensitive to changes in movement, position, pressure, vibration, physiology and temperature.
Delicate and strong
Like cling wrap, it is delicate in a single layer, but if you bundle many layers together (which is what it’s name means), it becomes incredibly strong.
There are 2 main types of fascia, superficial, which attaches to our skin and deep, which basically attaches to everything else.
Fascia allows muscles to slide over each other, which they must do every time we move. It provides pathways for nerves, lymphatic and blood vessels to pass through. It also vitally important in containing, minimising and managing infection.
Fascia can contract and relax. It is essential in maintaining our ability to move smoothly. If it is too loose, joints become unstable and easily injured, too tight and joints become stiff and eventually arthritic. It tenses up in times of mechanical stress to make us stronger but it will also ‘let go’ to prevent damage to muscle and tendon if we overdo it.
When we contract our muscles and move our joints it is the layers of fascia sliding over each other that make this possible. When this is impeded or fails, movement becomes painful and difficult. Classic examples are frozen shoulder, some back pain, shin splints and plantar fasciitis (pain in the soles of the feet).
Fascia is full of nerve endings that detect and transmit a huge amount of information. Nociceptors are nerve fibres that give us the sensation of pain. Fascia is full of them, so when you significantly strain fascia it hurts. Fascial pain is sharp, stinging, burning, searing pain.
The strongest areas of fascia are in the back of our necks, our lower backs – the thoraco-lumbar fascia, down the side of our upper legs – the ilio-tibial band, and the soles of our feet – the plantar fascia.
To deal with fascial pain you need to address the underlying cause of the strain. This takes us back to the 4 basic principles of flexibility, alignment, suppleness and strength. Sorting out problems in these 4 areas will usually eliminate fascial strain and pain. In a phrase, do plenty of stretching.