What is fascia? If you’ve ever cooked chicken, you’ve probably noticed it. The thin, transparent, filmy material that covers the chicken meat. Our muscles are covered in fascia. Fascia covers every muscle and keeps the muscle together. Fascia covers and protects every single muscle bundle or fascicle that makes up the muscle. Fascia also covers every single muscle fibre or muscle cell that makes up the bundle, It is like the framework or scaffolding that the muscle operates within. Fascia holds and supports the muscle together giving it shape, form and function. It also helps the muscles slide over each other with less friction. The body is made up of over 600 muscles that layer over each other and criss cross each other. Each muscle needs to slide over, under or beside its surrounding muscles without interference in order to function properly.
Fascia has a few interesting properties too.
- It is pound for pound stronger than steel. In other words, unless you know how to treat it correctly it can and will be very difficult to get it to release.
- Fascia is also the material that makes up tendons and ligaments.
- It is not contractile. That is, it doesn’t contract or relax the way a muscle does.
- It can shrink or expand but we have little control over that. It also seems to be emotional. In times of emotional stress, fascia contracts and tightens around the muscle it is trying to protect.
- When a muscle is hurt, as in a car accident or athletic injury, the muscle and fascia often tears. This tear eventually heals the same way that a skin cut can heal. However, the same way that the skin can be left with a thick, inflexible, sensitive scar, the muscle and fascia can also scar.
The last point is why fascial work can be so important to healing sports injuries and traumatic injuries. An inflexible scar in a muscle can do a few things:
- It can remain short, tight and inflexible causing pain whenever the muscle tries to stretch to its full strength. You might even notice a sharp almost tearing feeling when you try to stretch.
- The scar can become adhesed or glued to the fascia of surrounding muscles. This acts as a monkey wrench in the system. None of the muscles that are adhesed can function pain free in their normal ranges with this. For example, if a scar forms between your quads and your adductor/groin muscles you might notice that you don’t have the same strength or flexibility with either quad exercises or adductor exercises. The reason is that those muscles are essentially glued together and pulling on each other each time you use them.
So now we know that fascia is everywhere; it’s stronger than steel; it can scar; it can become glued to other muscles. And for many people, it is the key to solving chronic pain from old injuries. I’ll have posts in the future about how I can treat fascial restricitons with active fascial release, rolfing, myofascial release technique and acupuncture.