Fascia is a buzzword in the health world right now. Here’s everything you need to know about this connective tissue—and how to use the knowledge to make great gains in your health!
What is fascia?
Have you ever wondered why you can’t touch your toes? Or why your organs don’t knock around inside you when you jump around? Have you ever wondered how your muscles stay attached to your bones? Or why you have cellulite?
Well we have the answer right here for you today…
It all comes down to your fascia (pronounced fah-sha)!
Fascia literally means band or bandage.
Think of it like a three dimensional web of connective tissue that supports and holds all of your internal body together. Picture this: Your body without bones could still stand upright with its fascia intact, however, your body without fascia would literally fall to a bag of bones.
An important perspective:
If I asked you what a heart is like, chances are you’d say it’s like a pump. The lungs are often described as “bellows,” the kidneys “a filter,” the brain “a computer.” We tend to view the body in mechanical terms because we live in an industrial age.
An anatomy atlas is a helpful tool for learning, but the error comes when we start thinking that humans are actually built that way.
Your body is much more like a PLANT than a machine. We are grown from a tiny seed—a single cell, not glued together in parts.
By the time we are fully grown, we consist of approximately 70 trillion cells, all surrounded by a fluid fascial network—a kind of sticky fabric that both holds us firmly together, yet constantly and adjusts to accommodate our every movement.
What this means is that you weren’t assembled in different places and glued together. Rather, all your parts grew up together within the GLUE.
What are the different types of fascia?
- Superficial Fascia, which is mostly associated with the skin
- Deep Fascia, which is mostly associated with the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels
- Visceral (or Subserous) Fascia, which is mostly associated with the internal organs
All of these types comprise of two overarching categories or networks: Fluid and Gel.
The fluid fascial network that lives between each cell in your body consists of bungee cord–like fibers made mostly from collagen and elastin. These fibers run everywhere, denser in certain areas such as tendons and cartilage, and looser in others like breasts or organs.
The other half of the fascial network is a gel-like web of variable mucopolysaccharides, or mucus. Basically, your cells are glued together with snot…Haha! It is everywhere, and is more or less watery (hydrated) depending on where it is in the body and what condition it’s in.
So how does Fascia affect my health?
Unhealthy fascia can cause a host of problems!
When it’s unhealthy, fascia is sticky, clumpy, tight, and flakey and forms restrictions, adhesions, and distortions (think: muscle knots).
All the circulation in your body has to pass through the fibrous and mucousy webs described above. Generally speaking, the denser the fibers and the drier the mucous, the less the fascial web allows molecules to flow through it: nourishment in one direction and waste in the other.
And because the exchange of goods from capillaries to cells is a two-way street, with cells delivering messenger molecules and CO2 and other waste products back into the bloodstream, a hardened fascial network can trap unprocessed cell products (toxins or metabolites) like a stream eddy traps leaves.
Healthy supple and hydrated fascia = increased permeability = increased flow of fluids through the body = good health!
Extra special bonus nerdy stuff: New research shows that this web of proteins runs down through the membranes of each cell and connects both aspects of the connective-tissue web through the cytoskeleton to the cell nucleus. This means that when you’re doing deep YIN YOGA deep stretches, you are actually pulling on your cells’ DNA and changing how it expresses itself.
Thus, the mechanical environment around your cells can alter the way your genes function! Whoa!
We’ve known for a while that the chemical environment (hormones, diet, stress catecholamines, and more) can do this, but these new connections explain some of the deeper changes we see when people start practicing Yoga regularly. More reason to get your Ommmmm on!
So what about posture? Tension in your body, ie. slumping your shoulders forward, prompts the fibroblasts (the most common cells found in connective tissue) to make more fibers that will arrange themselves along the line of stress. These bulked-up fascial fibers and denser mucous, will form a barrier that will slow capillary-sourced food from reaching your cells. Did anyone say PAIN?!
Plus! Fascial restrictions are often the cause of skeletal misalignments that result in joint pain, headaches, chronic pain and conditions like depression, TMJ and fibromyalgia.
Ok so now you know how important it is to have great fascia…
What causes unhealthy Fascia?
- a sedentary lifestyle
- poor posture
- overusing or injuring your muscles
- unhealthy eating habits
- poor sleep quality
How do we know if we have tight Fascia?
- hunched posture
- lack of body-symmetry, for example one shoulder is higher than the other
- poor mobility
- lack of flexibility and strength
- feelings of discomfort
What can we do to keep our Fascia healthy?
- Yin Yoga – there is literally nothing better for your Fascia, the benefits are similar to a myofascial massage – check out when our next class is on at Open Space!
- If you can’t get to a class…Stretch and hold for at least 30 seconds – greater than 10 minutes a day
- Exercise – Fascia loves agility training and cardio!
- Get a foam roller and roll out your tight spots
- Visit the sauna, especially after the gym when your capillaries are open
- Cryotherapy – this can be everything from a studio session to a cold shower. It will reduce inflammation in the body and improve circulation
- Drink water! At least 1 liter for every 22kg of body weight. Keep you and your fascia hydrated
A warning before we finish up….
Deep strengthening and stretching squeezes your fascial network the way you would squeeze your kitchen sponge. Those metabolites that were trapped in the mucous bits rush in hoards to the capillaries and your bloodstream. You may feel like you are detoxing after you release deeply held tension—that’s your liver dealing with the metabolites you squeezed from the tissues. Try a magnesium chloride bath, drink water and go back for more movement to keep the process going.
Over time, fascial fibers will slowly thin out and un adhere over weeks, sometimes months, but the mucus can change to a more liquid state in as quickly as a minute, allowing more sliding, less pain, more feeling, and less resistance. Yes!
That’s it from us today!
Yours in great health,
Dr Andrina & Dr Jacinta