Deep Fascia Explained:
What You Need to Know
Your body is a web of interconnected systems. When one part slacks, the rest will suffer. Nowhere is that more true than with your fascia. This web of tissue impacts every bone, organ, muscle, and bit of soft tissue in your body. Understanding how fascia works and what it takes to keep the fascial system healthy will make a big difference in your quality of life.
Our bodies have four types of fascia, each with its own role to play - Structural fascia, Interstructural fascia, Visceral fascia and the Spinal Straw. The two most commonly known types are traditionally called "superficial fascia" and "deep fascia”, which are both part of the structural fascia. But these terms can be a little misleading because superficial and deep barely begin to describe the big picture of fascia. In fact, if you were to look at a cadaver dissection, you wouldn't find fascia stacked in neat, linear layers. What you would see is all one interwoven, consecutive piece—like a 3D spider web.
How does this giant 3D web affect the function of deep fascia? And how do we reach it to keep it in working order? We're going to explain it all. Let's dig in.
What is "Deep Fascia"?
Fascia is a system of internal connective tissue that forms fibrous bands or sheets throughout the body. The structural fascia, including your superficial and deep fascia, surrounds your muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and internal organs. Fascia is the body’s first line of defense against infection and other pathogens, and it creates the environment for tissue repair to occur.
You can think of fascia as a layer of plastic wrap holding the contents of a sandwich together - but in this case, the sandwich is your body. The top layer of the wrap is the superficial fascia and the bottom layer is deep fascia. Many scientists today are working to redefine these terms, to offer a clearer understanding of the relationship of “deep fascia” to the three types of fascia that are actually even deeper beneath the surface, including:
01. Inter-structural fascia:
found within internal structures, like your muscles
02. Visceral fascia:
"goopy" fascia, found in the abdomen
03. Spinal Straw:
found within the vertebral column and all around the spine
In traditional anatomy, the layers that surround the spine and neck are called the investing layer of fascia. But since this fascia is connected to the entire spine, I believe it's more accurate to look at the investing fascia as part of a "spinal straw" that envelopes the spine.
Difference Between Deep Fascia and Superficial Fascia
While your fascia is one interconnected piece of tissue, it does look and operate differently depending on where it’s located.
For example, the superficial fascia (located just under the skin in the subcutaneous tissue) is filled with sensory receptors and anchors your skin to the tissues and organs below. It’s a thin, fibrous material that is classified as loose connective tissue throughout the skeletal muscles. Superficial fascia is a subcategory of the structural fascia.
My favorite way to think of it is of a piece of pizza piled high with cheese and toppings. If you pull on the cheese, it stretches into gooey strings but stays connected to the slice.
Deep fascia is a little different. It’s found further below the surface and surrounds, separates, and supports every structure in your body. Your deep fascia is also filled with sensory receptors, and it’s sensitive to changes in pressure and movement -especially through massage and stretching. Deep fascia is also a subcategory of the structural fascia.
So let’s summarize. Superficial fascia and deep fascia have more similarities than differences. Both are made of connective tissue and contain bundles of collagen and elastin fibers.
The primary difference is that superficial fascia is composed of loose connective tissue and is found in the layer between the dermis layer of your skin and muscles, while deep fascia contains dense connective tissue and is found within and between your muscles, all working together in the extracellular matrix.
Researchers used to think of deep fascia as a second layer of superficial fascia. Now, we know that it extends far deeper in the body than it was ever previously credited for. And that once you get past the superficial and deep fascia, there is a Pandora's box of fascia awaiting you.
The Role of Deep Fascia
Fascia is seamlessly integrated into every nook and cranny of the body.
All the muscle fibers in your body are wrapped in epimysium, which is essentially a sleeve of fascia membranes, like sausage in its casing. Within each muscle are bunches of muscle cells known as fascicles. Each fascicle is also wrapped in its own fascia layers, which are known as the perimysium and the endomysium. These three layers all come together to form tendons, which connect the muscle to your bones. Finally, the layer of fascia surrounding each bone is known as the periosteum.
Also included are broad, thick sheets of fibrous membrane connective tissue that bind muscles and ligaments together, known as aponeurosis or the aponeurotic. They are held together by the retinacula, a band of thickened deep fascia around the tendons. You have a large, diamond-shaped one located along your lower back that is often depicted in muscle charts.
Let's put this in simpler terms. Deep fascia holds your “parts” in place. Without it, they would fall through your body. If you want a visual of the importance of fascia, think of your bladder.
Now, let’s look closer at the ways your deep fascia is impacted by your lifestyle—for good or bad.
Deep Fascia and Your Daily Life
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that deep fascia acts as a roadmap of your daily life. When you’re in a stressful situation, it may get triggered by your natural fight or flight response and contract and get temporarily stiff—essentially making you feel like you’re being “shrink wrapped”.
This shift makes it possible for people to perform superhuman feats of strength in emergency situations, but activating it too often can trigger inflammation known as fasciitis that leads to problems in the long run, like myofascial pain syndrome, issues with the thoracolumbar fascia in the vertebral part of the spine, fibromyalgia, and numbness and pain in the lower limbs.
Fascia is full of sensory receptors, including ones that register pain. In fact, fascia is 1000x more sensitive than muscles. This means that problems with fascia (including conditions that cause it to thicken) will increase your number of pain sensors and make you more sensitive to discomfort.
Deep fascia can also relax rapidly due to quick movements or excessive pressure on your muscles. This mechanism activates during PNF stretching and is released through the golgi tendon organ just like the muscles to helps keep our fascia from tearing. Usually, though, it relaxes more slowly, so techniques like FasciaYoga and stretching can keep it flexible.
We still don’t fully understand how fascia contracts like this, but you can look through leading studies on Google Scholar and PubMed to stay up to date on what scientists are learning. The research from Dr. Robert Schleip (leading fascia expert) is well worth looking through. But regardless of the detailed science, there are simple things you can do to improve your fascia, no matter what is causing the problem.
How to Take Care of Deep Fascia
The best way to ensure your deep fascia supports your muscular-skeletal system as it should is to keep it loose and limber. You can thank these high-density collagen fibers for deep fascia’s strength and integrity, along with many other benefits. Taking care of your fascia can help with:
Improved body alignment
Increased blood flow (faster recovery time from exercise)
Improved sports performance
Break down of scar tissue
Reduce the appearance of cellulite
Lower risk of injury
Less nagging pain
Unhealthy fascia isn’t flexible. Instead, it’s sticky, clumpy, and tight. When fascia becomes injured, it works to repair itself. Unfortunately, this resulting tissue is often thicker and less flexible than before. This forms restrictions and adhesions, which can be a leading cause of issues such as back pain and twinges in the gluteus maximus or fascia lata, the deep fascia of the thigh.
Fascia tightness can spread through the entire connected web. That’s why you might experience a knot in your shoulder that seems to travel elsewhere or tight hands and arms that lead to headaches.
When it’s unhealthy, fascia is sticky, clumpy, tight, and dehydrated. It forms restrictions, adhesions, and distortions (think: muscle knots).
Injuries aren’t the only cause of unhealthy fascia. You might experience problems if you live a sedentary lifestyle, have poor posture, too much body fat (adipose tissue) , unhealthy eating habits, take prescription drugs, have lots of stress, or frequently overuse your muscles, among others.
Use the FasciaBlaster
for Fascia Regeneration
One of the best ways to keep deep fascia healthy is to massage it regularly. This reduces thick buildups and ensures you maintain range of motion. The FasciaBlaster was designed for precisely this purpose. It works to loosen tight fascia to break down build-ups and improve your range of motion.
This personal massage device is easy to use. Apply a body oil to your bare skin to help the Fasciablaster tool of your choice glide and begin scrubbing the skin like a washboard, light and very brisk. Continue to apply pressure in one area whenever you hit a tight spot until you feel it release. It’s that simple.
The FasciaBlaster is the only device ever shown in ultrasound imaging to regenerate fascia tissue.Participants in the study began with documented thick, distorted fascia, but after using FasciaBlaster tools for 30 minutes, 4-5x a week, were shown to have smooth, organized and thin fascia. Ultrasounds even demonstrated the FasciaBlaster to set off a mechanism regenerating deep fascia beyond the device’s physical reach, which shows great promise of helping the internal organs.
With foam rollers, therapists or percussion guns may provide temporary symptom relief, but to regenerate tissue in a way that reaches your deep fascia, the FasciaBlaster is the go-to routine.
Taking care of your deep fascia makes every part of your day easier because you’ll feel better. So, invest in a healthy lifestyle and massage your fascia regularly to ensure you feel great for years to come.