The essential part of the body that has been overlooked since the dawn of anatomy and only recently has begun to reveal it's purpose.
Since the beginning of anatomy studies fascia has been thought of as nothing more than a casing around our muscles and organs, or as connective tissue, passive in function with nothing too important to contribute to the bodily function.
It has only been in the last 20 years through the research of certain mavericks that fascia has begun to be viewed as the ‘soft skeleton’ of the body. It separates yet encompasses everything as one. A perfect example of this is if we look at an orange. When we cut it in half we see all these enclosed sections in this white skin. It wraps the whole orange and separates it into sections, then into tiny little compartment within. If we were to remove the fruit we could still rebuild the entire orange structure. We are all like an orange and our fascia is our casing that links us from our skin right on down to our cells and does more than just hold us together.
The basic functions that the fascia performs are as follows:
Muscles are essentially just many contracting fibers wrapped into bundles and put together to form muscles. Each layer is wrapped in fascia and attached to bone by even more fascia. Together they form one working unit called myofascia. The fascia is a stocking that, depending on the movement, aids or does most of the work. It will also direct the force generated from the movement. Like a new pair of stockings the fascia is initially tight, and resilient in returning to its original for but as we age and our physical capabilities dwindle, due to either a sedentary lifestyle or a lack of variety in movement, our fascia also loses its elastic potential and becomes disorganized when it is replaced with new tissue.
Within this all encompassing structure is a large quantity of various receptors that send and receive information between the areas of the body and brain. They relay information about movement, stretching, positioning, and kind of force that are put onto the body part. These all help to develop proprioception, the ability to know your positioning and movement. A perfect example of this is when we get up to go to the bathroom at night. We don't need to turn on a light or barely open our eyes because we just know where to go. That is proprioception at work. While these receptors are known to exist in skin, joints, and muscle it was only recently discovered that the fascia has the densest population of receptors. Not only that but it has been discovered that there are three times the amount of sensory receptors that motor neurons. This means that the fascia in and around the muscles are working as a three dimensional sensor, adjusting tensions and ensuring that the muscles work as one whole unit.
Furthermore, it has been shown that since that fascia contains such a wide amount and variety of sensors and nerve endings that it has a larger part in our perception of pain than once thought. It is that perceived pain that can cause an environmental change in the body and lead to stiffness and more pain.
Lastly, it wasn’t until 2019 that researchers discovered that fascia, like muscle, has the ability to contract. Now it does not have the quick ability to contract like muscle but it is something that occurs over the course of minutes to reflect changes in its environment.
In saying all this it is incredible to think that this amazing system has been little more than an afterthought for the past 400 odd years. Finally with technology and the view of the body as a self-regulating environment, with each piece having a purpose, we can begin to understand what the fascia's part is in this environment.
Contrary to what many people tout the fascial system is not some one stop cure for all ailments, nor is it the sole system that allows for movement. It does play a large role in musculoskeletal dysfunction and performance that is currently being discovered, but to make any larger claims would undermine the research and validity of what has currently been established. There is much to learn still about it's properties, how to train it, and therapeutic interventions, but
As time goes on there will be a bunch of articles under the title Fascial Fallacies. I will do my best to clear up many misconceptions, assumptions, and clear mistakes people have made about this burgeoning field.