Fascia Foundations: a body-wide information system
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
Fascia is a head-to-toe, all-encompassing and interwoven system of connective tissue found throughout the body; connecting muscles, organs and the entire body as a unit.
All the connective tissue can be seen as universal building material in our body; fibers in a network pervading the entire body with different texture which is sometimes tight and dense, and sometimes loose and soft.
No matter how it feels, it always consists of (different proportions of) the same material: two main proteins called collagen and elastin, and a watery, gel like substance.
Fascia surrounds all the cells, and wraps like plastic wrap around muscle fibers, muscles, groups of muscles, organs, bones, blood vessels and nerves.
Visually the example of an orange is very helpful to depict and understand the fascia in the body:
The fruit is encased with a thick layer of white ‘fascia’ tissue right under the skin, and when we look closer we see that the different ‘fleshy’ parts (pulp) of the orange, all the way to the smallest pulp parts are encased with a thin layer of that same white ‘tissue’.
If we were to remove all the pulp and leave only the white skin, one could reconstruct the entire fruit and its form. Similarly this applies to the fascia and human body.
Did you know that we can actually see how a person physically looks on the basis of just the connective tissue (without the flesh and bones)?! We cannot see this from looking at the skeleton alone.
It is only since a few decades that we are understanding the incredible importance of fascia in the body. Where it in the past was seen as merely a passive sheeting, it now is acknowledged as a very important part of the musculoskeletal system. It is even seen as a special organ, with both general and specific tasks. It:
gives shape and form to our bodies
ensures the protection of the internal organs
serves as a sense organ and communicates with the nervous system
supports metabolism, transports fluid and nutrients
transmits the power of our muscles, supporting our ability to move
There is so much to say about these tasks, and we will get to that profusely in our Personalised Alignment & Fascia Intensives and Yoga Therapy Immersions, but for now let’s elaborate a little on the fascia serving as a SENSE ORGAN.
In the past the skin was said to be the biggest sense organ in the body, but this has now been countered by scientists. They found that inside the thin, thick and fine layers of the fascia, in and around the muscles, run an abundance of receptors.
These so-called mechanoreceptors are nerve endings which transmit information to the nervous system and communicate details about movement, strain, and stretching. They also support the body in space perception helping us to move smartly. This is called proprioception.
'We knew that such sensors existed in deeper skin layers and joints, but it is newly known that these sensors are present in all fascial tissues’, according to Richard Schleip, director of the Fascia Research Group, at the University of Ulm.
With the fascia being an all-encompassing network in the body, this has led leading fascia researchers to regard the fascia as an actual sensory organ and as such a: body-wide information system.
Knowing this, what happens when the fascia is not in good shape?
Good quality fascia is well hydrated; the less hydrated the tougher it gets, and the stiffer a person feels. As it is dynamic, all researchers and movement specialists agree that, fascia needs MOVEMENT in order to stay healthy and hydrated.
With improper movement, even simply due to a sedentary lifestyle, it becomes damaged and stuck together. As we learned that the fascia runs around all muscle fibers in the body, if the fascia gets stiff and stuck, the different muscle fibers will no longer be able to slide against each other in a healthy way. The muscles will be able to transmit less power and lack of mobility (or better said a ‘lack of flow’). We can become more prone to injury and even chronic pain can occur.
On top of this we can also lose the efficiency of the sensors located in the fascia, leading to lack of coordination in our movement and even issues with balance.
(>>There is also a strong connection between the fascial health and our emotions, but more on that in our upcoming blogs!)
What can we do to support healthy fascia?
In general the connective tissue is regenerated through fluid exchange and this is supported by movement. Therefore Fascia training should focus on movement and moreover fascia loves a versatility of movement. When working with the fascia we want to bring:
Strength and Elasticity (increasing so-called ‘healthy tension’)
Targeted (‘deep tissue’) pressure
Whole body awareness: including coordination and balance
And we want to have patience, as Robert Schleip in his book 'Fascial Fitness' underlines:
For instance in stretching we need to get past the initial stretch response of the muscles to be able to affect the fascia and this can take 1.5 mins – 3 mins
Also when we look at the body’s natural process of continuous replacement of connective tissue fibers, we see that this is slower than that of muscle tissue. For fascia this process (of all fascia tissue in the body) takes 2 years
With the right training though, the results are really worth it. Moving away from lack of flow and chronic pain to springy resilient body movement similar to that of a gazelle!