What Is Fascia?
Written by James Tyrell-Nestor on 9th March 2016.
If you have suffered any kind of chronic pain, such as lower back pain, fibromyalgia, trapped nerves, repetitive strain injuries, sciatica (the list goes on) then there’s something you’re not being told. And it’s something you don’t need a medical degree to understand.
Currently in the UK there is a problem in the treatment of chronic pain. And the scary thing is, whilst the answer has had over 70 years of medical research put into it along with instant visual and quantifiable results, our students of the medical profession are still getting themselves into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt to learn old, outdated understandings of the body.
That’s right, you can right now, pay to learn that muscles turn into tendons and attach to your bones ending at the attachment. That you have approximately 640 separate muscles in your body. That to take your arm from an outstretched position to a bent position, you simply tense your bicep and as the muscle shortens, your arm bends.
These are examples of the simpler presuppositions upon which many theories and protocols are based for treatment of pain if you were to visit your GP or Physiotherapy referral.
Rather than separate muscles performing individual tasks – we now know you are actually one huge muscle sat in “pockets” made up of connective tissues. Every movement is a whole body movement, for when you tell muscles to turn on, you must also correctly tell other muscles to turn off.
Therefore every single part of the whole needs to function correctly for efficient movement. Looking at the site of pain for the answer is old news.
I like to give the analogy to my clients of a towel being pulled at both ends. So hard in fact that a tear begins to appear in the middle of the towel. Ask your physiotherapist to rectify this and they will tell you the middle of the towel is too weak and needs strengthening.
If this doesn’t work you’ll be referred for scans which will confirm there is damage to the middle of the towel and your surgeon needs to go in and sew it back together or simply remove all the broken threads and the towel will have to just live with the obvious fate of a complete failure.
“Bring your towel to me, and I will ask the people at each end to stop pulling the towel. And so the root cause is addressed.”
Chronic pain, lower back pain, trapped nerves, reoccurring injuries, you name it, the root cause is never at the site of pain. Your body although more complex than a towel, is effected in just the same way and you don’t need a medical background to know that. You can feel it.
So this problem we have, it goes further. And to understand this you need to know about my most favourite thing. Fascia.
Fascia does not show up on any scans you may have if you have been down the traditional healthcare route.
I have had GP’s in the past correct my clients; “do you mean facet joint?” when they tell them they are pain free and the problem was their fascia. Unbelievably it is either unknown, undervalued or misunderstood although more than 80% of your body is fascia.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is the biological fabric that holds you together and your 70 trillion cells all humming in relative harmony. It is often described as a 3D “spiders web” is made of fibrous, wet, sticky proteins that hold them all together in their proper placement.
Understanding fascia and its role over our biomechanical regulatory system is understudied to date. To become fully intuitive as a practitioner its essential to understand fascias role in both stability and movement.
In Elite sport or dealing with chronic pain it is crucial. It is present from our first moments of life as an embryo and even plays a role after our very last breath.
Some old descriptions of fascia build a picture of the sheets of tissue in the body usually between the muscles, similar to that thin layer of skin you will find on your chicken breast.
Now though with increased scientific research and world wide discussions fascia has come to know a wider definition. All collagen based soft tissues your body, including the very cells that create and maintain the network.
In simple terms Fascia is in the tendons, ligaments, bursa, fascia around the muscles, the tissue that gives your organs the shape they hold, the tissue that holds every organ in its place in relation to the whole and the tissue that surrounds the brain, spinal chords and nerves.
Although this new definition doesn’t include harder tissues such as cartilage and bone I see over the coming years that they will be agreed to fall within the spectrum of fascial tissues. Within bones and cartilage there is a matrix of collagen that is responsive to forces going through the body. Absorbing this energy as to protect the solid structure.
Eventually it will be agreed that over 90% of you, is fascia. Even the fibrin in blood and the coral structure of bone.
Going back to our understanding of modern anatomy Vs the old outdated approach – how can a pain specialist fully assess you without understanding that fascia:
- Plays a larger role in movement than your muscles
- Plays a larger role in stability than your muscles
- Is one interconnect complete system that interacts with every other system in your body
- It relays information to the brain faster than nerve impulses
- The weblike structure is actually tiny hollow “tubes” filled with fluid, hydration is imperative.
- Can become damaged and restricted changing your movement and your posture
- Can be manipulated with hands-on techniques to get you pain free and address the root cause of pain
However you define fascia, it is everywhere. From you head to your toe. From the first moment of life until death.
The Single Network
Fascia is a single network – no matter what name we give to its part we have to remember it is one connected system. When we have a pain we tend to treat the site of pain when intact we need to see that the entire system had a failure of which your site of pain is the result. Here at Physology we always think globally.
Science has been fantastic for our discoveries concerning the human body. We dissect with the intention of understanding what we are made of – cutting into smaller parts and naming the parts within the whole. The problem this has had is that it can, and has, cut into important connections within the tissues of the body. Fascia needs to be treated as an entire system and thus dissecting it is a tricky task, making old research methods very difficult.
It is old news that the body has separate parts that work together to create movement – and life for that matter, although this is still taught to a very high level of education. Research is moving us very quickly towards tensegrity models, sacred geometry and synergetic systems theories.
Fascia & Tensegrity
Tensegrity, as a term, was first used by Buckminister Fuller. He coined “tension integrity” which describes the theory of designing structures that require stability with only a small amount of material. Unbeknown to Fuller he was describing most natural occurring structures, most of all the human body.
It is still taught in the UK, that our skeleton is responsible for our posture and holds us up right. It is scientifically and mathematically impossible for our skeleton to hold us in place without some kind of tensegrity structure around it.
A great example is in your doctors office – when you see the full size human skeleton hanging from the hook because it has no way to support itself. The tensegrity model – a single force in one part of the body is absorbed by and effects the whole structure.
In the body, fascia maintains anatomical relationships the separate elements – just like a tent.
When erecting the tent you begin with the separate structures like straps, roles and poles along with the fabric. – just like the bones, muscles, nerves, organs etc.
When you add compression and tension (tensegrity, the role of fascia) with the poles, the tent stands up. Any force you put onto the tent at this stage is distributed throughout the whole tent.
In fact it is impossible to move a separate structure without affecting the whole.
Two essential requirements for fascia are movement and hydration. The element of water within the fascial tissues is essential for gliding of interconnected surfaces. This lubrication allows for complete openness of joints & muscles meaning a greater range in flexibility and less energy required to do so.
So how does movement affect fascia? Muscles relax and contract under command. Fascia creates a structure around these muscles and the “sling” in which movement takes place.
One notable aim is that Fascia can lay down collagen fibres in areas where more support can be added with the specific aim of taking work load off the muscles. This means you use less energy – an important ability in survival.
Now if you have a repetitive movement such as sitting in the same position at your work desk, you begin to slouch over during the day and your back muscles show fatigue. The head starts to droop forwards and the muscles in your neck begin to drastically overwork.
As a one-off this wouldn’t do any long term damage but if you repeat this position for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week for year after year, then your fascia needs to start helping out. It recognises this issue and attempts to help out by laying down collagen to support you better in this position.
Thick strong structures begin to form around your neck and back muscles to strengthen you in this seated position. Is it any surprise when you begin to have very poor range of movement and pain in other areas of your daily life?
“Habits are at first cobwebs, so then cables.” – Spanish Proverb
The body constantly lays down collagen fibers—which add strength/stiffness to the overall structure. The thickening of the tissues reinforces the daily repetitive movements that you engage in. Thus Movement is vital to ensure your muscles continue contracting and relaxing in as greater range of movement as possible, without becoming stuck from extra fibres.
Do not teach your body that a sitting position is critical for your survival. You must teach it that movement is key and you do this by continuously moving and stretching into the limits of your range.
This video shows everything discussed here very well. Gil Hedley is a leader in the field of fascial research.
Myofascial Release – The Advanced Manual Physical Therapy for Correction of Fascial Dysfunctions.
So, Fascia a 3D continuous weblike structure of elastin and collagen fibres filled with fluid known as the “ground substance.” These two fibre types equate to great strength and great flexibility within a single structure whilst the ground substance allows for gliding and movement between all the interconnected surfaces.
It surrounds and protects every tissue in the body and when healthy it is much like an open, hydrated web, released and wavy in form. Fascia is also dynamic in nature as it responds to forces applied on it to absorb through the entire structure. Research proves fascia plays a larger role in movement than your muscle and acts as a tensegrity model.
Fascial restrictions do not show up on CAT scans, MRI’s or X Rays meaning over 80% of your tissues cannot be seen by traditional healthcare practitioners.
They create labels for your symptom and treat the symptom. At Physology we treat the body as a whole due to our use of myofascial release techniques and direct fascial release techniques which have been developed by Physology Founder – James Tyrell-Nestor, and have gained credibility with Premier League players and International Footballers.
Physology treatments have a number of different techniques not solely Myofascial Release, which when combined address the symptoms at their deepest root cause by releasing fascia.
Physology practitioners can assess, feel and see restrictions within the Fascial network. Myofascial Release is nothing like massage and whilst on the table you feel releasing sensations that you have never felt before.
A time component exists with fascia that does not apply to muscles. Fascia responds very slowly so our practitioners once finding a restriction will skilfully take time to connect to the tissue and slowly over a number of minutes can encourage an unwinding of the fascial restrictions and an opening of joints, muscles and tendons.
Results are instant and can be felt long after the treatment finishes. The body will also continue its own healing process post treatment due to the fantastic changes created by myofascial release techniques.
Here you will see a Physology client who was “stuck” in her before positions for around 30 years after an accident. You can see how these myofascial release techniques changed the structure to allow her to return to an upright pain free position.
By understanding how fascia works and how dysfunction can affect the structure as a whole, we can make entirely new judgments on pain symptoms and their origin. We stop looking at the site of pain and begin to consider treating the whole. Physology Treatment has many miraculous results because of this approach.
A common story when myofascial release techniques are used along side other Physology techniques is that your practitioner can identify the root cause of your symptoms elsewhere on the body and by working elsewhere in the body you can physically feel your lower back pain symptoms (for example). Over the course of the session the pain reduces and at the end of your first treatment you can feel instant progress.
Myofascial Release is a recognised therapy in the USA where the healthcare system is private – encouraging more ground breaking research and up to date practices. Hospitals, GP’s and private practitioners are readily using myofascial release as part of their treatment plans.
Fascia is everywhere and is heavily involved in every chronic pain symptom from lower back pain to headaches to sports injuries. Physology uses a range of techniques and myofascial release is one that instantly changes the condition of the tissues in your body to reduce pain and correct dysfunction causing long term issues.
We take pride in listening to you and can talk as long as you need about your symptoms and your story. Once you are happy we can book your initial assessment & consultation and start you on the road to becoming pain free.
Latest posts by James Tyrell-Nestor
- Your Sciatica Can’t Be Cured Because It’s NOT Sciatica - April 4, 2016
- What Does My Body Look Like To You? - March 23, 2016
- What Is Fascia? - March 9, 2016