What The Fascia?
What is the largest organ in your body? Nope, it's not skin (anymore). I know, you're thinking I'm lying at this point. Fact check me! They rewrote the anatomy books in 2009 because the correct answer is Fascia, a newly found organ that yes, is the largest organ in that nice bod of yours.
Simply put, fascia is the body’s connective tissue. It is a head to toe, inside to out, all-encompassing and interwoven system of fibrous connective tissue found throughout the body. Your fascia provides a framework that helps support and protect individual muscle groups, organs, and the entire body as a unit, so much so that it even wraps each individual cell. If you’ve ever cut into a piece of raw chicken or steak and seen that thin, white, filmy layer, then you’ve seen fascia.
For those of you who are visual learners, you can imagine your skin is like the rind of an orange. So, if your skin is the outer layer of the orange peel, the thicker, white, fibrous layer that lies almost immediately beneath the peel would be your fascia. Just as that thicker layer completely surrounds the inside of the orange, the same holds true to your fascia. We all have a layer of fascia directly beneath the skin that completely envelopes the body, giving another protective barrier between the skin and the deeper soft tissue.
Fascia provides the protective sheath around our entire body as a whole and also surrounds each organ and muscle for protection from outside trauma. Our fascia also plays an important supportive role to the musculoskeletal system by enabling us to perform functional activities like going from sitting to standing and being able to walk, jump and run. Blood, nerves, and muscles are enveloped and penetrated by fascia, allowing your muscles and organs to glide smoothly against each other. When you have fascial adhesions and distortions, this can cause poor blood flow, weaker nerve impulses, limited flexibility and range of motion, and a host of other physical ailments. (hello! Sound like anyone?! *points at myself*)
Pain and Fascia
So much pain, tightness, and discomfort is unnecessarily caused by distorted fascia. Distortions in fascia can pull, torque, and compress the body into malalignment. Studies show that fascial tension in one structure - such as the knee - can cause tension or issues in adjacent structures, such as the hip or ankle. Some common conditions you may have heard of like Plantar Fasciitis, IT Band Syndrome, and frozen shoulder are all attributed to distortions in your fascia.
Nerves & Fascia
When the fascia is tight, it can constrict the nerves and actually block off the nerve signal! The Autonomic Nervous System (nervous system that controls bodily functions not directed by conscious thought – i.e. breathing) is directly connected and has innervation with the body’s fascial system. This had me in tears, and gives me a sense of hope to get my symptoms under control while I try to develop healthier fascia.
Blood & Fascia
The fascia facilitates the flow of your circulatory system. Veins and arteries run through the fascia, and if the fascia is tight or adhered, it causes restriction - like a kink in a garden hose. This would lead to poor blood flow, which means less oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to your cells.
Have you ever been sitting with your legs crossed and your leg falls asleep? Are your feet and hands constantly cold? This is due to tight fascia clamping down and impeding the blood flow.
Skin & Fascia
The condition of our skin can be affected by the state of our fascia. Not many people understand the impact of blood and fascia, and how it relates to the quality of our skin. Elastin and Collagen are two proteins which are essential to maintaining healthy, youthful skin. Nutrients are carried through the blood to the skin, and when the fascia is distorted, it limits the supply of these proteins. This can cause a decrease in cell turnover, which is responsible for the natural, healthy glow we all strive to maintain.
It baffles me that we try to treat our skin from the outside, when it’s what's going on inside that determines health of the skin. If you want youthful, healthy skin, take care of your fascia and keep the blood a’ flowing!
How am I hurting my fascia?
Whether you are the poster child of healthy living, or suffer from a serious health condition, we all do little things everyday that can negatively impact our fascia. Most of us are unaware that the way we walk, stand, and even sit can hurt our fascia. Each step you take with poor form or symmetry will create a microtrauma in the body that your fascia will have to compensate for. If you have an old injury that never properly healed, your fascia is working hard to make up for the imbalance.
Fascia is protective by nature, and it will adhere to protect or atone for imbalances. Imagine that your fascia is putting a band-aid over every microtrauma! The band-aids are piling up, and eventually you have a big, adhered mess! This “mess” is what I’m referring to when I talk about tight, distorted fascia.
How can I restore my fascia?
While there is still so much we don’t know about fascia, I wanted to highlight what we do know and what I'm currently learning about restoring and maintaining healthy fascia, and ensuring it is working along with our other systems, instead of against them.
I cannot stress enough how important good nutrition is to every single system. It’s not just about how you look - it’s about giving your body the fuel it needs to function, repair and thrive! If you’re constantly putting toxins in your body, it will negatively affect your fascia! Nutrition is not alternative medicine, it is the foundation of life!
Hi, I'm Heather and I'm the absolute worst at staying hydrated. I get it, trust me. But this is important. There’s a fluid in the fascia that flows around the cells delivering nutrients and removing waste and toxins. When you’re sufficiently hydrated, this fluid flows abundantly and freely, your body functions correctly, and you’re able to move and operate without pain.
Check your Posture
Proper Biomechanics (the way you move your body) is key to keeping your fascia healthy. If you have poor posture and weak stabilizing muscles (guilty), that will cause the microtraumas that hurt your fascia. Stand up tall and hold you head high. Perhaps the biggest thing we all struggle with is to understand what is really going on in our bodies as we live our lives. I find that when I can help my clients achieve a true body awareness—that is to really understand what is going on—then it is not so hard to achieve a real and lasting alignment in the body.
Stretching and Exercise
Regular physical activity keeps fascia healthy by promoting good blood flow, muscle activation, and neural activity. Regular stretching and exercise reduces tension and fascial restriction, which will keep you in tip-top shape.
I just recently learned what the fascia is, let alone how to roll it. Luckily, I have an amazing local yoga class that walks you through each move and roll. The Fascia program I attend was developed by Anthony Chrisco, one of the founding fathers of The National Fascia Research Foundation, along with his wife Irene, who is a cellular biologist with a specialty in cancer research. I will be sharing the steps of each rolling movement soon, so stay tuned.