What Is The Fascia And Why Does It Matter?

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Ryan Cross, B.A. Hons (Kin), MScPT, FCAMPT
Registered Physiotherapist in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

For as much as we know about how the body works, there are still mysteries when it comes to anatomy and body functions. The fascia is one area of functional anatomy that is not well understood and is sometimes overlooked.  The fascia is a specialized system of the body that has an appearance similar to a spider’s web or the membranes of an orange. Fascia is like plastic wrap around all muscles and organs that is connected and permeates the whole body.  It is a structure that can adapt and is highly innervated by the nervous system.  It plays a role in many functions of the body, but we are only just scratching the surface of what we know about it.  Let’s begin with the basics.

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What is Fascia?

Fascia is the soft tissue component of the connective tissue system that filters through the entire body.  This forms a three dimensional structure of support that is continuous throughout the whole body.  This continuous network envelops all muscles, bones, and organs. The fascia assists with muscles as they glide through movements, facilitates fluid flow between tissues, and transmits mechanical forces. This broad definition of fascia describes fascial tissues as an interconnected tensional network that can adapt to the demand placed on each part of the fascia.

The Structure of Fascia

Fascia will present differently according to where it is located in the body.  The superficial fascia is a layer of areolar connective tissue or adipose tissue located directly beneath the skin. Deep fascia consists of dense connective tissue which separates groups of muscles and contains them into specific compartments. Visceral fascia surrounds all organs and helps to maintain the position of each organ.

Why is the fascia Important?

  1. Pain and inflammation causes the fascia to tighten and lose its extensibility.  Over time, this can force some parts of the body to maintain a particular position which will prevent full mobility of the fascia.
  2. Since the fascia permeates the whole body, decreased mobility of the fascia in one area can contribute to pain in a distant area.
  3. The fascia also contributes to the fluid dynamics of the body by influencing interstitial fluid flow.  This will affect functional and structural changes of the tissues, which helps maintain healthy tissue.
  4. Differences in the content of water, ions and other substances within the interstitial fluid can change the biomechanical properties of connective tissue.
  5. The fascia also contributes to the respiratory system and breathing mechanics. 

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What can I do to keep my fascia healthy?

The fascia plays a role in the function and mobility of the entire body; therefore it is important to keep it working to its full potential.  Take care of your injuries no matter how seemingly insignificant because pain and inflammation can cause the fascia to tighten and lose its mobility – see Is Quality Sleep A Predictor For Sports Injury? Treating injuries properly can protect against this loss of extensibility.  Staying hydrated and drinking water consistently throughout the day can help the fascia and its role in interstitial fluid flow.  Daily mobility work and exercises that target the fascia can also help keep the fascia limber and strong.  Finally, deep breathing exercises and proper breathing during exercise can also maintain proper function of the fascia. 

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Although there may be more to learn about the fascia and its multifaceted role in the body system, having an awareness of the basics can help maximize mobility and function.  The fascia is a connective tissue system that connects and supports the body in different ways.  Don’t forget about the fascia when working out and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Related Article: When You Should Go See A Physical Therapist

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