Fascia is one of the least understood tissues in the body. Just as vital as bone and muscle, fascia permeates nearly every aspect of the human form, but still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Healthy fascia is as important to well being as healthy muscles; fascial imbalances can lead to a host of physical problems, from chronic pain to limited range of motion.
What Is Fascia?
In the broadest sense, fascia, pronounced FASH-uh, is a thin layer of connective tissue that encases every muscle in your body. If you’ve ever cooked a chicken breast, you’ve seen fascia—it’s the thin, clear film on top of the meat, and also the clear tissue connects the skin to the muscle (meat). However, there’s more to it than that; muscles themselves are made up of smaller bundles of fibers covered by fascia, and each individual muscle fiber is itself encapsulated in its own layer of fascia.
Imagine a handful of strands of spaghetti, with each individual strand wrapped in cling film. Then surround this bundle with another layer of wrap, combine several dozen of these bundles together, and seal the whole package. This is how your muscles are structured, and the fascia, including tendons and ligaments, is the “glue” that binds it all together. In fact, if you could remove all other tissues and leave just the fascia, it would conform exactly to the shape of all your muscles, organs, and connective tissue. It would be a perfect replica of your body.
What Does Fascia Have to Do With Injuries or Pain?
Fascia, like other connective tissue, can change in response to repeated stress or injury. Just as tendons may thicken in response to repetitive motion or lifting heavy weights, fascia may thicken and stiffen in areas where it is repeatedly exposed to stress. This results in areas with less flexibility, and can contribute to limited range of motion and improper movement patterns. In time, all these factors can result in chronic pain and even injuries. Many conditions, such as frozen shoulder, have a fascial component. Other conditions, such as plantar fasciitis, in which the plantar fascia in the sole of the foot becomes inflexible and suffers micro-injury, are fascia-related.
Fascia may also lose flexibility due to inactivity. Your muscles may get stiff when you sit or stay in any one position for too long, and your fascia does, too. These small restrictions can change the way you move and cause physical stress on different parts of your body that may kick off a cycle of injury.