Understanding Fascia: What It Is + Why You Should Care
Think of fascia as the most sensitive, highly interconnected system in the entire body — it's the life force next to blood. Without fascia, toned and structured muscle would turn to hamburger meat, organs would spread like wildfire and bones would crumble, as fascia is the single element that organizes and suspends these parts of the body. It's the most highly innervated tissue, sensitive to every hormone in your system, recoiling with every bump and bruise sustained.
Our understanding of fascia in modern science will revolutionize how we exercise, how surgeons operate, how athletes train and how we address pain management. Fascia is the frontier of body knowledge, and the better you understand what it is and how it works, the more in tune with your body you'll be. Here's what you should know about fascia.
So, what is fascia?
Fascia is the system of connective tissue fibers that lay just under the surface of our skin. Under a microscope, fascia is highly organized in a mesh formulation of tubules filled with water, and its job is to attach, stabilize, enclose and separate muscles and internal organs.
What does fascia do?
Fascia is wrapped throughout the body on "lines of pull." It connects toes to brow in one uninterrupted sheet of fascia, and fingers to chest and neck. The heart fascia is connected at the collarbone, which connects to the arm and fingers. It coils around the bones, muscle fibers, muscle bundles, organs, arteries, veins and nerves, applying tension and compression to the body material it surrounds.
This is what you feel as a stretch or when you have physical pain. It's the tension of the fascia around the area of sensation that causes feelings of tightness. Tendons and ligaments are layers of fascia that are meant to absorb shock and distribute the impact. If tendons are tight, dehydrated and shortened, they can't absorb impact and will fray, causing pain.
Fasica also has an organ suspension function. Have you ever wondered how your liver, stomach and intestines stay put? Your organs are not suspended without any connection to the outside body. Each organ is wrapped in a hammock of fascia that's connected to the spine, ribs, or pelvis. These fascial connections connect with the muscle fascia that affects your movement. Your breath, exercise and sitting posture will all affect the health of organs, as they're connected fascially to the muscles being used for daily activities.
How does fascia work?
Fascia is sensitive to all movement. There's no such thing as isolation exercises or having a "leg-day workout" — all movement affects the entire body because of the links to the body-wide fascial network. Working at your desk with hands pulled forward on the keyboard pulls the fascia in the low back and hips, and if you cross your legs, your knees and bladder.
Counting repetitions in your workout does affect the cells of the muscle, but ultimately muscle potential is limited by the quality of the fascia that surrounds it. Movement is supposed to be absorbed by fascia, not muscle. Watch a cat jump; that's not a muscular movement. It's the fascia recoiling and creating a spring tension to propel the cat upward.
Humans are the same to some degree. Our body mechanics are meant to be spring loaded for joints of the spine, hips, knees, ankles and ribs, so they can absorb impact and distribute the strain throughout the body. Proper exercise should follow the lines of fascial pull in order to distribute the impact. When you're tight and restricted, the fascia is stuck and doesn't glide smoothly over the muscles and bones. In order for your body to work like a well-oiled machine, you must focus on the fascia. Fitness ability is dependent on healthy fascia.
Why is fascia so crucial?
Joint health, injury-free sports, organ health and fluid movement are all dependent upon a healthy integrated fascial system. This promotes the notion that you need to take care of every part of your body in the same manner — without neglecting any one part. Total body health translates to total internal health and pain-free living.
Melissa Putt, RNC, is a fascia expert, posture and alignment therapist, nutritionist, author, and the owner of Healthy Habits Nutrition and Fitness Consulting Inc. in Toronto, Canada. Her training programs focus on fascial release exercise and manual therapy to correct posture, physical misalignment, and to eliminate pain. She is a dynamic keynote speaker and lecturer promoting the importance of fascial integration for lifelong wellness and management of chronic pain.