So you’ve heard a bit about fascia by now..but do you really know what it is and how it functions in your body?
Fascia (otherwise known as connective tissue) has become quite the buzzword. Which is awesome!
When I started working with fascia in 2008 very few of my new clients knew what it was. Now fascia is a huge topic getting a lot of attention and all of my clients have at least heard of it. Many of the articles I read are spot on. And, a lot of them are – in my opinion – missing what I consider to be the most important details about this critical tissue.
If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about, this post is for you!
What is fascia?In its simplest definition, fascia is a collagen-like substance that separates and connects almost everything in the human body.
Most people are familiar with the kind of fascia found in a steak or chicken breast, because this is similar to the fascia that wraps our muscles – and this is still what most people think of when they hear the word fascia.
But what most people do NOT know is just how much fascia we have, how critical it is for our entire well being and that it’s found in the tiniest of places down to the cellular level.
We have more fascia than anything else, certainly more than muscles and bones!
Fascia wraps every single nerve ending and nerve, every fibril of muscle tissue as well as the fiber (which is made up of multiple fibrils); it wraps every muscle bundle and muscle group and then turns into tendon and ligament (also fascia), which connects to our bones, also wrapped in fascia. It wraps our organs too.
When we observe fascia at the microscopic level and THEN zoom out, things get really interesting. This is about to get sciency, so hang with me.
Why is fascia so critical?
I think we can all agree that nerves – and the nervous system – are critical for us to function optimally every moment we’re alive, right?
Every nerve in the body is a cordlike structure containing bundles of axons. Within a nerve each axon is surrounded by a layer of connective tissue (fascia) called the endoneurium. The axons are bundled together into groups called fascicles, and each fascicle is wrapped in a layer of connective tissue called the perineurium. Then, the entire nerve is wrapped in a layer of connective tissue called the epineurium.
Fascia wraps each part of a nerve and every nerve in its entirety, and we have a hundred billion of them!
The nervous system is the master regulator of everything that happens to and within us in our lifetimes. Every thought we think produces a feeling, and every single feeling is FELT in the body as sensation, via the nervous system.
The implications of this fact alone are enormous, and largely unstudied or talked about.
I’m convinced the fascia feels everything that our nerves do – perhaps on an even more intense or widespread level.
Take fear for example: whenever we feel fear we tend to experience it as anxiety or adrenaline, tension or stress. When we feel joy it’s often described as light, expansive, buoyant. Our feelings and actions every day direct the hormone cocktail released by the brain to regulate whatever state(s) we’re in.
Literally everything that happens to us in life – good and bad – is felt and recorded within the fascial structure or system.
I also have it on good authority (from an orthopedic surgeon) that fascia bleeds a LOT more than muscle when cut into. Fascia contains more of our blood supply than anything else. This fact alone also gives fascia an incredibly important role – by being the main source of fresh blood within the body.
Healthy fascia gives us “spring” (aka, it’s our shock absorption!)
All connective tissue has within it something called ground substance, one of the most important elements in the human body.
Ground substance is an amorphous gel like substance that surrounds every cell; it contains the nutrients that FEED every cell in our body, AND it takes the waste excreted by every cell and ushers it out of our body.
So basically – fascia is our nutrient AND waste distributor!
That’s not all though…This ground substance is part of the extracellular matrix (or ECM) which is responsible for distributing mechanical stresses and tension throughout the entire system when force or compression meets the body.
It is THIS part of the fascial system that is most responsible for being our shock absorber!
Activities like walking and running, jumping and dancing should all feel easy and create minimal impact on our body – if the fascial system and its ECM are healthy.
However, most people today have relatively (or extremely) unhealthy fascia.
That means even if you’re not in pain, you may have fascia that’s become dehydrated, brittle, and stuck to itself in knots. These adhesions pull the muscle tissue with them, as well as our attachments (tendons and ligaments), and it is for this reason that we get joint pain like knee or hip pain or elbow tendonitis.If you get shin splints or heel pain through activities like running, or a stress fracture in your foot, then you can be almost certain your ECM has lost its spring.
Also, if we have brittle or dehydrated fascia, then our cells aren’t getting the nutrients they need! And when our cells excrete waste – if the fascia doesn’t have fluid and space to usher out toxins, they get stored instead. The #1 place the body likes to “hide” toxins (where they can’t poison us) is in our FAT!
If you have serious difficulty losing weight and your fascia is brittle, maybe this has something to do with it. (Obviously diet and activity levels have more to do with it, but it could potentially contribute to difficulty in my opinion), because our bodies won’t let us lose the fat unless it can also usher out the toxins stored there.
For our cells to be healthy and free of waste, for our muscles to glide freely, for our tendons and ligaments to feel securely attached, for our joints to get nourished with blood and ground substance – our fascial system needs to be spacious AND lubricated with ground substance.
Think of a wet sponge vs a dry hard brittle one – the wet sponge represents healthy fascia that’s springy and full of ground substance that feeds our cells and ushers out toxins. The dry dirty sponge represents brittle fascia that has lost ground substance, so waste gets stuck there and the fascia has lost its ability to distribute compression and outside force.
This should give you a small window into the importance of connective tissue and just how abundant it is in the human body!
So yes it wraps our muscle fibers in a more linear way which is how most people talk about it, but because of the way it also coats or surrounds our axons and nerves, it’s really more like a vast criss-crossing matrix.
The good news is: unhealthy fascia can become healthy again!
This is what I’ve devoted my life to, in my private practice as well as here on Mobility Mastery.
Healthy fascia means little to no pain; it means you’ll literally have ‘spring’ in your step and be able to jump, run and hike down mountains without knee pain; it means your cells are getting what they need to thrive and your nervous system and fascial system are in sync and optimized for an active unstoppable life.
Everything I do here at Mobility Mastery is done out of a desire to empower you to trust your body and stop fearing pain so you can adventure through life with confidence.
Unfortunately, most people learn just enough about fascia to get themselves out of pain and stop there.
An undaunted, curious, committed and persistent few of you will actually use this information to not only get out of pain, but feel better than you ever imagined possible.