What is fascia? What does fascia do in the body? How can you keep your fascia healthy?

What is fascia? BY: Bill Marley, Sports Medicine Expert, Soma Therapist

Did you know that your toes are directly connected to the whites of your eyes?  

You may have heard the word “fascia” a lot lately. So what is fascia? There have been many new discoveries involving fascia and a new understanding of our bodies “fascial systems”. In this article I clarify some of the important aspects of fascia and give some recommendations on how to better treat your fascia and thereby improve your health and vitality.  

What is fascia?

Often called “Connective Tissue”, fascia is a network of tissues, both flexible and inflexible that connect almost all cells in the human body. This interconnectedness is amazing, and the anatomical details are often well beyond what is commonly known (or taught in medical schools.)  

The new way we now see the body is as a complex global system, where everything is directly connected to everything else. Fascia is the wet, gooey, gliding substance that holds us together. Fascia is the dry, fibrous tissue that melds with the wet fascia and holds us in place. It surrounds muscle fibers, organs, bones, blood vessels and nerves. 

Biotensegrity [ref1]

Biotensegrity s a new term, which describes how our physical structures are made strong by working in unison and through interconnected fascia. We are exposed to stresses, which are shared as compression and tension, and our fascia holds us in place. A geodesic dome is an example of tensegrity, and of how movement in one area affects the whole structure. Our bodies are much like that. 

A classification of connective tissue

This healthy mechanical relationship shares the stresses and loads we are exposed to. It also supports the shape and structure of our bodies.  

When a body is healthy and in balance, there is movement between organs, bones and muscles. The fascial connections between them facilitate their movement. Some of these movements are not given much attention – but they are actually critical. Take, for example, the constant movement of the liver, which undulates in a sort-of figure eight when we breathe and move. The falciform ligament is a vertical ligament on the liver. It connects to the round ligament which, in turn, descends and connects with the bladder. The movement, or the lack of movement of the liver affects not only the liver itself, but also the bladder. This is an example of just one of many direct connections between areas of our bodies, often neglected or ignored.  

Fascia is a complex combination of various things (see images) that can be inflexible and stiff in structure, or loose and pliable.

Fascia, simply defined, is a network of organized collagen tubes that connect everything to almost everything in the body.  

One form of fascia is a fuzzy looking irregular structure that  is found almost everywhere. Also recently discovered is the interstitium [ref2], which is in the space between tissues and cells. Before the interstitium was discovered a few years ago, doctors and scientists called these areas of our bodies the “Ground Substance”. This did not account for the fascia present in this important tissue. The discovery of these new fascial systems is recent because CT scans, MRIs and X-rays do not see them. Scientists and technicians need to use dyes and microscopes to view these areas of the human body.

Interstitium (discovered in 2018)

What is fascia - cells and mucosa

Another type of recently discovered fascia is the lymphatic system of the brain, now known as the Glymphatic system [ref3]. This is a network of complex fascia, which removes waste from our brain and cerebrospinal fluid. Pretty darn important!  

The Glymphatic System (discovered in 2014)

The Glymphatic Pathway

Let’s simplify our view of fascia and call it a series of collagen tubes filled with water. These tubes have elastin to make them flexible and fibroblasts to make them stiff. The  periosteum, which is the skin on the surface of our bones, is also fascia. Not very flexible. Tendons and ligaments connect to it and need a firm grip. The skin surrounding your heart is a form of fascia and called the pericardium. This is quite flexible, so your heart can expand and contract. There are ligaments that tether your pericardium to your sternum and your diaphragm. These are not flexible. They connect the movement of your upper body directly to your heart. There are so many ways that our fascia connects, supports and stabilizes our body. I find it fascinating and sometimes amusing. 

What happens when something is altered in our fascial systems?

Sometimes beneficial things and sometimes harmful things. Scar tissue can form, which stabilizes an injured area. This can be healing and beneficial. Tissues can also sometimes scar too much or too long, and this limits normal movement and over time is detrimental.  

 We can definitely take actions to improve our fascia. To do so improves our overall health and happiness.  

  1. Drink water!  

The average sized person (170lbs.) should drink two quarts per day minimum . As we mature, the urge to drink diminishes. But the need for water does not! Since the things that hold us together (fascia) are made up of collagen tubes filled with water, it is important not to dry out these critical parts of our bodies. High quality, fresh water is better than other drinks because it can be absorbed easily (by osmosis), and does not need to be filtered by our kidneys. Artesian well water or spring water is best, but any good water is so very beneficial. Drink water! 

       2. Move! 

Activities of almost all types are good. Walking is the most functional and often the easiest. When we move and increase the circulation of blood, good things happen. When we use our limbs in their full range of motion, we are using our bodies as they were designed. 

A new type of exercise and stretching called ELDOA has shown to be very beneficial to almost all who use it. Yoga in its various forms is also great.  

There are many other types of organized and guided movements; Hanna Somatics, Feldenkrais, Myo-fascial  Stretching. And let’s not forget dance in its various forms. All these movements are potentially great for our health (mental health also!) Attend a class or use the internet to try out some new movements. For those who can afford it,  a personal training is a game changer. A good trainer can make a huge difference.  

  1. Get Treatment

Seek outside help. Chiropractic treatment is fantastic.  Acupuncture needles directly treat fascia and a treatment provides huge benefits. I personally do both regularly as maintenance, similar to servicing a car regularly, before it has a problem!  

There is a European medical treatment called Osteopathic Manipulation, which is amazing. If you can find it, try it. SomaTherapy, physical therapy, Rolfing, Structural Integration, massage and many many other therapies also provide much benefit. Oftentimes a successful treatment  depends largely on the skill of the provider. Get a recommendation or do some research to find the best practitioner. 

  1. Diet 

Clean up your diet! Inflammation in your body is hard on your tissues, all of them! Many of us are unaware of which  food we regularly eat that causes an inflammatory response. Common causes are gluten, dairy products, peanuts and too much refined sugar. Try cutting these out for two weeks and see how you feel. I will bet that you feel better, sleep so much better and have noticeably more energy. If you want to  add some of these foods back, do it one at a time to see if you notice any changes in the way you feel.  

  1. Stay informed 

There is so much to learn! The science of health and wellness is constantly changing. I often get inspired to try new things. I love to help others with the things I learn by staying informed, reading articles, watching Webinars and attending workshops. When I am learning new theories and techniques, I stay inspired and thereby feel more motivated to be healthy. Some good authors to check out are: Tom Myers, Jean-Claude Guimberteau, Danielle Ofri, Carla  Stecco, Gabor Mate and many others.  

Here is a brief anatomical description of how your toes connect to your eyes. From a standing position, lift your toe and forefoot. It pulls on your plantar fascia, which pulls on your crural fascia and the surface of you calf. It then crosses the knee and puts tension on you hamstrings, which pull  directly on your sacro-tuberous ligament. This ligament is connected  to your sacro-spinous ligament, LOL….. Stay with me! We  are now up to the thoracolumbar fascia and the tension in  your back muscles, which rise up and cross your neck to connect to the base of your skull. You may not know it, but  there is a fascial skin over your head called the galea aponeurotica, which shares tension with and effects the sclera, i.e. the whites of your eyes. Pull up on one toe and we are yanking on both eyes! 

The fascia in our bodies is amazing!  

 Blessings to you on your journey to more health  and more happiness.

To learn more about how acupuncture works with the myofascial system, contact Kai Wellness

References: 

  1. Dischiavi SL, Wright AA, Hegedus EJ, Bleakley CM.

Med Hypotheses. 2018 Jan;110:90-96. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2017.11.008. Epub 2017  Nov PMID: 29317079 

The design of a biotensegrity system suggests that when human movement occurs,  the entire musculoskeletal system constantly adjusts during this movement causing  global patterns to occur. 

  1. Another new organ! is this a golden age of discovery in anatomy? Neumann PE. 

Clin Anat. 2018 Jul;31(5):648-649. doi: 10.1002/ca.23184. Epub 2018 May 25. PMID: 29664145 

Twice in fifteen months the popular press has published reports of the discovery of a  new human organ. The claims that the mesentery and interstitium are organs come  from medical practitioners, not from anatomical scientists. 

  1. The Glymphatic System in Central Nervous System Health and Disease: Past, Present, and Future.

Plog BA, Nedergaard M. 

Annu Rev Pathol. 2018 Jan 24;13:379-394. doi: 10.1146/annurev 

pathol-051217-111018. 

PMID: 29195051 Review. 

Recent work has led to the discovery of the glymphatic system, a glial-dependent  perivascular network that subserves a pseudolymphatic function in the brain.