What is fascia and what does it do for my body?
You rarely think of it, but a lot goes into keeping your body parts in place. After all, no one worries about dislodging their spleen during a sprint workout. That's thanks to a fibrous material known as fascia.
The fascial system works behind the scenes to keep everything in place so you can function at your best. But, for something housed in literally every part of the human body, fascia is seriously misunderstood.
What is fascia?
So what is fascia? Put simply, it's collagen acting as connective tissue. Fascial fibers form a thin casing of protective tissue that surrounds every system in your body. It works to hold your bones, organs, blood vessels, muscles, and more in place to give your body structure and support.
In short, when we talk about increasing collagen, restoring collagen, or laying down new collagen fibers, we're actually talking about fascia.
The fascial system works with blood vessels, nerves, the lymphatic system, and even layers of skin. The fibers range from thin and pliable to thick, dense, and resistant. And contrary to popular belief, your fascia isn't just soft tissue that just surrounds these areas like sausage casing—it is INSIDE them, too. Think of the fibers found inside orange slices.
There's a lot of confusion about fascia today. Here, I hope to clarify the basics of what fascia is and why it's important. There's a lot to cover, so let's dive right in.
The Three Types of Fascia
Your body contains three main types of fascia: superficial, deep, and visceral.
01. Superficial Fascia: Considered the deepest layer of skin, superficial fascia gives you your outward shape.
02. Deep Fascia: This layer of dense, fibrous connective tissue surrounds individual muscles and ligaments and groups them together for functional movement.
03. Visceral Fascia: Found within your abdomen, visceral fascia surrounds your internal organs and suspends them in place.
04. Fascial “Spinal Straw”: These three layers of fascia surround the spinal column and attach to all the other types of fascia to provide nourishment to the spinal discs of the spine. This type of fascia is also responsible for shortening the distance between vertebrae.
What does fascia do?
Not only is fascia found in every nook and cranny of the body, but it's also responsible for numerous physical tasks. Fascia forms connective tissue, reacts to trauma, acts as a communication system, stores fluid, acts as a delivery system, transfers electrical energy, and functions as long-term storage for compounds both good and bad.
Here's a closer look at the seven primary functions of fascia.
01. Forms Connective Tissue:
Like a rubber band wrapped around and within a set of straws, fascia holds your body parts in place and connects them. Fascia moves, relaxes, and stretches with the muscle fibers, and this sticky material also houses blood and nerves that link each part of your body together.
02. Reacts to Trauma:
Fascia protects your systems from within by reacting and responding to trauma. For example, it's the material responsible for creating post-surgery scar tissue. Fascia also creates tightness in your joints when they are unstable or misaligned. While this tightness is a protective measure that prevents you from further injuring yourself, tight fascia tissue can cause problems and limit your range of motion.
03. Acts as a Communication System:
As fascia is found within almost every region of the body, it provides the perfect framework for a functional communication system. Like a fiber optic cable, the fascia sends signals from one part of your body to the rest—all more quickly and efficiently than your nerve endings can.
04. Stores Fluid:
Fascia is filled with fluid, which keeps it flexible. This fluid must flow continuously to maintain smooth functioning. If the fascia is low on fluid, it will fail to operate properly.
05. Efficient Delivery System:
Fascia acts as the ultimate transportation system by delivering nutrients to cells and transporting waste and other unwanted compounds. It absorbs the nutrients from the capillaries and transports them throughout the body through blood.
06. Transfers Electrical Energy:
Similar to acupuncture, fascia transfers energy and frequency vibrations from one part of your body to the rest. In fact, ancient healing arts like QiGong believe that fascia contains and transports Qi, the body's ultimate life force.
07. Long Term Storage System:
While storage systems are beneficial for protecting your physical belongings, the fascia can hold on to more than you bargained for. This connective tissue holds onto toxins as well as emotions and trauma. Releasing these toxins from your fascia through massage therapy appointments with physical therapists can lead to significant improvements—emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Looking at the above, it's clear that fascia impacts your body in numerous, often unexpected ways. In other words, you can't isolate any single function from the others.
What happens when fascia becomes unhealthy?
Your nagging knee or back pain may not be a muscle injury but rather a sign of fascial system dysfunction. Unhealthy fascia becomes thick and gluelike, which can compromise physical systems everywhere and really take a toll on your body.
Since it's found everywhere in the human anatomy, unhealthy fascia can have severe consequences for numerous major systems, causing health conditions you may not initially connect to your fascia.
tightens the entire body and limits your range of motion
triggers myofascial pain syndrome (MPS)
disrupts communication signals and limits blood flow
traps toxins in the body
dries out and becomes brittle and thick
cannot take in nutrients, causing cells to die
blocks energy flow and cell voltage
limits muscle elasticity and triggers chronic pain
physically traps trauma in your body
may trigger tightening that leads to migraines
can tear, like a hernia or grade 1-2 muscle tear
can fold or bunch, causing adhesions
All of these side effects have profound consequences for your physical, mental, and emotional wellness. So, how do we avoid developing unhealthy fascia? First, let's address what causes unhealthy fascia to prevent it in the first place.
What causes unhealthy fascia?
Like other cells, fascia is affected by unhealthy habits. Think what would happen to your hair if you never brushed it. In a short amount of time, it would become tangled, sensitive, brittle, and broken. Fascia requires similar "maintenance" to continue functioning correctly.
From chronic dehydration to living a sedentary lifestyle, your daily habits can harm fascia at a microscopic level and impact your health in significant ways.
Some leading causes of unhealthy fascia include:
Body imbalances from poor posture or low muscle tone
Stress, both physical and mental
Drug and alcohol abuse
Eating inflammatory foods and failing to take in key nutrients
Never massaging or stretching the affected muscles and their fascia
Improper healing after invasive surgeries
Autoimmune and inflammatory issues
A Closer Look at Muscle Adhesions
Sometimes myofascial fibers become fused together with surrounding tissues in abnormal ways. These spots are known as muscle adhesions, and they typically form at the sites of injury or microtrauma.
Muscle adhesions act like internal scar tissue, and the spots can become tight, stiff, and painful. Over time, they limit your range of movement and pull the body out of alignment, so you experience more pressure on the muscles and joints. In fact, these adhesions are one of the most common forms of pain in the body.
Thankfully, manually manipulating these sore spots through massage therapy and other techniques like cross-fiber friction can smooth out the scar tissue and even break it down. This improves your range of motion and relieves the pain at the damaged site.
Healthy Fascia for a Vibrant, Healthy Body
I hope the evidence is clear—if you want a healthy lifestyle, you need to take care of your fascial system.
It’s always smart to speak with clinicians and other healthcare experts as soon as you start to experience problems so they can get you on the fast track to a pain-free life faster.
Fascia might get overlooked, but this humble connective tissue is responsible for healthy functioning of almost every part of your body. We're only scratching the surface here about the importance of maintaining your fascia, but hopefully, you've gained an appreciation for its role in your daily life.
New breakthroughs in fascia research are announced regularly, which continue to prove how vital this connective fiber is for overall health. But there’s more work to be done. The deeper we look into the fascia and its impact on the body, the better we'll become at mastering how to stay healthier.