Anyone that has been involved in some form of physical training or sports therapy has probably heard the words “Fascia” or “Myofascial” being used, usually in the context of; “The ITB is a long strip of Fascia” or “Myofascial Release Techniques”. But what exactly is this fascia and how much of an important role does it play in our day to day function.
Fascia is primarily composed of the protein collagen, it forms a continuous connective tissue underneath the skin acting as a sort of “Internal stocking” which envelops, attaches and supports every component within the body. In this article we will be splitting the fasciae into two main categories – The Superficial Fascia and The Deep Fascia and will mainly be looking at the Deep (Muscle) Fascia. These categories are decided according to the fasciae’s distinct layers, function and location. (Visceral Fascia is involved in the envelopment and separation of internal organs)
In the early days of anatomical studies on the human body, no real purpose other than to form containment or wrapping for the body could be observed, so these layers of white connective tissue (Fascia) were often disregarded by the technicians preparing the cadavers for dissection. The anatomists wanted to study the muscles contacting and lengthening as they moved the limbs and the fascia simply prevented them from observing this clearly. As a result of this, the importance of the fascia was neglected and missed for many years. (Fascia was named after what it was perceived to be, “Bandage” In Greek)
The Superficial Fascia is a fatty adipose tissue that forms a single continuous layer that envelops the whole body. This Layer of fascia is connected strongly to the inside of the skin on its outer side and the deep fascia on its inner side. Its thickness can vary depending on its location in the body, genetic factors and the individuals level of body fat.
Due to the fact that this layer of fascia surrounds the whole body, its health is of great importance as any areas of poor condition or damage could result in a restriction of movement. It is often the indirect treatment of the superficial fascia during massage aimed at treating the muscle that has the greatest effect.
The Deep Fascia is a single three dimensional structure which envelops every muscle, bone and organ in the body, holding them all in place together. This fascia is rich in mechanoreceptors which send sensory information to the central nervous system. These receptors are particularly concentrated in the areas surrounding the muscle (The Epimysium) and it is often believed that the autonomic contraction of this fascial layer is the cause of muscle tone, rather than actual muscle fibre contraction.
The part of the Deep fascia that is involved with the musculoskeletal system is referred to as the Myofascia and this is seen as especially important within the sporting and fitness worlds. This Fascia is made up of a polysaccharide complex called “Ground Substance” which is contained within both collagen and elastin fibres (Collagen having great tensile strength and elastin having the ability to stretch, offering a great range of capabilities). The distribution of these fibres differs greatly depending on its location and its local needs.
Muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules may be perceived as separate structures but they are all part of one single fascial network, with the muscles acting as contractile pockets within this structure. The fascia which encompasses all the muscle fibres in the form of the Epimysium, Perimysium and Endomysium, extends out from the muscle to form the tendons (As well as ligaments and joint capsules), which then attach and encase the bone as the Periosteum. From here it then carries on through to the next muscle hence creating a chain of muscles working together to achieve movement. As a result of this connection, when there is a problem in one muscle it can affect other muscles along the chain, as well as the related tendons, ligaments, joint capsules and bones.
Just like any system within the body the fascial system needs to be kept in good health and often what is vital for this is simply use of the system. When movement does not take place for a period of time the fascia starts to form tiny fibrous bonds with the adjacent tissues, this can often be felt when we wake from sleep or have been still for short periods of time, but these can be easily broken down when movement is made, such as when we stretch out after waking up.
If lack of movement is sustained for long periods of time these tiny fibrous bonds can increase in number and strengthen. The Perimysium (The fascial sheath on the outer surface of the muscle) can be greatly affected by this and is one of the most common causes of soft tissue stiffness.
The fascial network will also be affected by poor movement pattern or posture. For example if it is held in a shortened position for a long period of time, it will eventually become set in that position. This is often a far more significant problem in comparison to just the muscle being short and tight and will often remain unsolved by the fact that normal muscle stretching will do little to correct the issue. A real solution would be to use manual Myofascial techniques to release the fascia and from there corrective exercise and postural adjustments to ensure long term improvements rather than just a quick fix.
It is clear that the fascial network is an extremely important system within the body and more work can be done to increase the general populations understanding of what may be the true nature of their injuries or related dysfunctions and how these can be best rectified. Often people live with pain or discomfort as a result of poor posture or injury and this can quite easily be rectified by a good Sports Therapist.