Below the Skin – Fascia
When speaking to either doctors, therapists or massage professionals, one inadvertantly 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.
FIrst of all, the fascia is almost found everywhere in your body. Fascia 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 cell to communicate with each other
- It is the body's first line of defense against pathogenic agents and infections
- After an injury, it is the fascia that 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.
Superficial fascia is found just underneath the skin. It 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, the superficial fascia slowly reverts to its original level of tension.
This is the tough fibrous tissue that covers and premeates 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 work 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.
Deep fascia have the interesting ability to contract. When your body tense up before a fall, it is an example of your deep fascia contracting. When in the 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 much other parts of our body, occassionally 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 fascial restriction.
Paoletti, Serge (2006). The Fasciae: Anatomy, Dysfunction & Treatment. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press, 151-161. ISBN 0-939616-53-X