Below The Skin – Fascia
When speaking to either doctors, therapists or massage professionals, one inadvertently hears about ‘soft-tissue’. In the medical field, soft-tissues refers to tissues that connect, support or surround other structures and organs of the body. Some example of soft tissue includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, fats, blood vessels, joint membranes and fascia. It is fascia, the last example that we will focus in this article. It is the least well-known term amongst the rest yet it is one of the most common soft-tissue that therapist and massage professionals work on.
Fascia is almost found everywhere in your body. It is an uninterrupted, three-dimensional web of tissue that extends from head to toe, from front to back, from interior to exterior. It has several functions:
- Helps maintain structural integrity
- Provides support and protection
- Acts as a shock absorber
- An essential role in hemodynamic and biochemical processes
- Provide the pathway for cells to communicate with each other
- It is the body’s first line of defence against pathogenic agents and infections
- After an injury, it creates an environment for tissue repair
Three Layers of Fascia
There are three layers of fascia types. Each with its own distinct function and properties.
It is found just underneath the skin, and stores fat and water and acts as a passageway for lymph, nerve and blood vessels. It also acts as a protective padding to cushion and insulate.
Superficial fascia is viscoelastic (like a Tempur-like pillow). It can stretch to accommodate the deposit of fat from ordinary and pregnancy weight gain. After pregnancy and weight loss, they slowly revert to its original level of tension.
This is the tough fibrous tissue that covers and permeates the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. While it doesn’t have blood vessels, it is full of receptors that reports that presence of pain.
It is this layer that your therapist works on using deep tissue massage or myofascial releases.
Visceral fascia is the deepest layer. It basically holds the organs in their cavities. Visceral massage techniques work at this layer.
With regards to therapy, it is the deep fascia that is of interest to your therapist. (See Causing Most of the World’s Pain, Anonymously)
Deep fascia has the interesting ability to contract. When your body tenses up before a fall, it is an example of your deep fascia contracting. In case of an emergency, the stiffened fascia helps provide a firmer foundation for your muscles to work against, providing additional strength in such events. However, the contraction process is not yet well understood at this time.
Deep fascia is also able to relax and plays a role as a release valve when the internal structures like the tendons are under too much stress.
As with much other parts of our body, occasionally the fascia doesn’t work as well as it should. It remains tight or tense when it should be relaxed. Therapeutic techniques such as myofascial release, Bowen technique, rolfing (body structural integration), deep tissue massage and active release are examples of techniques that work on this deep fascia layer to release the fascial restriction.
Do you know why you need to stretch your body? Let Gil Hedley tell you more about the importance of stretching to prevent “fuzzing” of the fascia in the video below.
- Paoletti, Serge (2006). The Fasciae: Anatomy, Dysfunction & Treatment. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press, 151-161. ISBN 0-939616-53-X
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