If you’re a hunter who skins your own meat, you probably know more about fascia than 98 percent of people, including medical professionals. Fascia is a thin, yellowish white membrane that looks rather like cellophane. It is tightly wrapped around the meat and the muscles, much like plastic wrap. Fascia (or the plural fasciae)is composed of several thin, tough layers of connective tissue. It lies about two millimeters below your skin. On the bottom of your feet (the plantar fascia) it is thick; on your eyelids it is tissue thin.
Fascia is flexible, and it is designed to resist great tensile force. When it is healthy, it consists of closely packed lines of wavy collagen fibers, which run in an organized parallel pattern. It holds the musculoskeletal system, circulatory system, and the nervous system together, all over and throughout your body, and yet it is little known and rarely discussed as a separate system by physicians.
A recent article in Runners World says of fascia:
It wraps around each of your individual internal parts, keeping them separate and allowing them to slide easily with your movements. It’s strong, slippery and wet. It creates a sheath around each muscle; because it’s stiffer, it resists over-stretching and acts like an anatomical emergency break. It connects your organs to your ribs to your muscles and all your bones to each other. It structures your insides in a feat of engineering, balancing stressors and counter-stressors to create a mobile, flexible and resilient body unit.
Until 2007, when the first international Fascia Research Congress was held at Harvard Medical School, fascia was almost completely ignored. During anatomy classes in medical school, the fascia was stripped away to show the individual muscles and organs of the body. Fascia was treated as extraneous, simply packaging for the important parts of human anatomy.
There are over 200 distinct medical specialties. There are cardiologists for your heart, nephrologists for your kidneys, orthopedists for your bones, and on and on. While this allows physicians to develop expertise in very specific areas of the body, it also interferes with their ability to see your body as a whole. As a result, maladies that result from fascial damage have been largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed.
Today we know fascia is your largest sense organ. Fascia feels. It contracts. It impacts every part of your body. Experts now believe all chronic pain syndromes are related to the fascia.
Over time, with continuous use, your fascia is subjected to many micro-tears. When you have an injury of any kind, the fascia is usually injured as well, and as it heals the collagen fibers are often bunched up and distorted. Blood vessels and nerves run through the fascia, and when there is fascial damage, your blood supply is compressed, and you have pain.
In Part Two of this article, we’ll explore the impact your fascial system has on your total health, and ways to protect and heal this important aspect of your physical body.