What Is Fascia?
Fascia—it’s everywhere in the body. It is divided into two layers, superficial, near the skin level, and deep, covering nerves, arteries, veins, lymphatic vessels, bone, internal organs, and muscle. Superficial fascia lies beneath the skin and helps us regulate our body temperature and skin turgor.
Deep fascia, on the other hand, lines muscle groups and organs and has long been called the ‘organ of form’ because it offers shape to our human body. However, recent research has demonstrated that deep fascia serves more than a structural purpose.
Fascia is recognized as the “largest sensory organ” in the human body because all types of deep fascia, including myofascia or muscular fascia, have been shown to have extensive receptors that sense pain (nociceptive) and movement (mechanoreceptive). These receptors respond to even low threshold pressure changes such as light touch. The pain experienced when fascial nociceptors are triggered varies. It can range from dull to sharp and from localized to diffuse.
Myofascia ranges in thickness and length. A mesh-like substance of tightly knit collagen fibers forms a network of connective tissue that holds muscle fibers or cells together—it is an integral part of almost every movement you make. Although connected to muscles, myofascia has its neural network and can contract independently of a muscle contraction. Because of this, your fascia can contract and relax on its own, allowing it to react and adapt to various types of stress, including chronic muscle use.
The specialized contractile properties within the myofascia enable the nervous system to maintain biotensegrity or balance within our joints and muscles. This balance allows us to perform a function or hold specific postures that offer a protective role, preventing trauma or the threat of injury. However, if this protective reflex is chronically maintained, it causes the myofascia—muscle connection to be stiff and inflexible. One of the most significant sources of pain is not from the muscles but is the result of tight or contracted fascia.
Restrictions can cause considerable discomfort and loss of movement or range of motion. Most people suffer from fascial pain as a root cause and are not even aware of it. So how can you alter the myofascia’s pull or hold on muscles? Is there a way to return flexibility to these tissues or influence the nerves to release fascial tension?
How to Change Tight Fascia
If your fascia is too tight, you may experience muscle spasms, soreness, loss of range of motion, or pain. Tight fascia is associated with lack of movement and exercise, stress, emotional distress, trauma, poor diet, inadequate lymphatic drainage, and the buildup of inflammatory toxins.
The first step to you work with and influencing the nerves and cells that keep myofascia tight is to ensure you’re getting adequate sleep, full breaths, and quality relaxation or downtime. Mental stress, repeatedly thinking the same thoughts, can rev up your nervous system and significantly contribute to the tight fascia. That is why mindfulness or attention to what you think, believe, and feel can quickly change the nervous system’s response to a situation. If you’re constantly stressed, the bodily systems cannot focus on balancing and healing internally. When you feel the effects of stress, it’s a sign that you need to breathe more deeply through the nose and do so more often. Can you let the breath clear the cluttered landscape of repetitive thoughts spinning within and release that myofascia tension?
Tight fascia can result from chronic poor posture or repetitive movement patterns that arise as compensations from old injuries. You can stretch out tight fascia by taking a warm shower and gently working on the myofascial connection to muscles through specific activities such as foam rolling, somatic-based movement exercises, and stretches.
Also, make sure you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed foods will help your body detoxify properly and prevent the excessive buildup of inflammatory chemicals. Start to become conscious of how much sugar you are ingesting, especially the ‘hidden’ sugars in food. A chronic state of inflammatory chemicals circulating throughout the blood can impact all layers of fascia and contribute to further impairment of the lymphatic system.
Another way to change myofascia is by using a gentle, manual therapy technique called Fascial Counterstrain. Practitioners, explicitly trained in this technique, use their hands to evaluate and treat dysfunctional areas within the fascia. This technique manually shortens the affected myofascia, releasing the neural protective reflex and allowing the contracted tissue to elongate, clearing out any trapped or ongoing inflammatory process occurring in the area.
Why is Fascia Significant to Your Health?
There are many reasons you should care about your fascia. One of the main ones is the fact that it affects your health in a variety of ways. Here are several ways it does:
- Fascia is the fibrous tissue that supports our muscles, bones, ligaments, and organs. It acts as a shock absorber when our bodies are under stress. Over time, our fascia will change its shape, becoming more or less taut depending on the pressure or demand placed on it. If you spend too much time sitting at a desk, your myofascia will adapt and shorten; your body will become less mobile. The contracted myofascia can lead to poor joint mechanics and weaken some muscles and therefore impair movement, contributing to back, neck, hip, and knee pain.
- Fascia is a fluid system that every cell in your body depends on for proper functioning. It provides the scaffolding for creating all your cells and has adapted and changed throughout your life experiences. Fascia is like a memory storehouse for these life events. Myofascial release can elicit an emotional response that may or may not have anything to do with what’s happening in your present life. If emotions or feelings arise in you during treatment, allow and support these emotions without trying to interpret or figure out where they come from or why they are there.
- Your fascia provides a reliable way to gauge your muscle health. If you spend hours sitting at a desk, notice how your shoulders, hips, or back feel after a prolonged period. Can you feel that sense of ache or feel tightness? Can you use your breath and somatic-based stretches to restore the suppleness of the fascia—muscle connection
All movement impacts fascia. If you tear a ligament or muscle, you also tear the myofascia that holds it in place. Fortunately, fascia can heal and return to its original function quickly if given proper attention and care. However, chronic, or severe pain is not normal and needs intervention. It’s essential to seek help if your pain persists despite self-treatment or if your pain interferes with your sleep or daily activities. If your pain does not improve, reach out to schedule a session with me so we can decide on the right treatment option for your muscle tightness and pain.