Fascia – What is it? (Hint: It’s not a David Bowie Song)

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Fascia!  Turn to the left.  Fascia!  Turn to the right.

Ok, so maybe David Bowie wasn’t singing about fascia, but…what is fascia anyway?

Being the anatomy nerd I am, I’m really keen on fascia. I sometimes get the question “What is fascia anyway?”  So let’s dive right in and start with the definition.

fascia thoracolumbar

Fascia (Fa-Sha): A thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ.

Think about a raw chicken (or maybe an orange if you’re vegan). You know that thin membrane-y white stuff that surrounds all the meat? That’s fascia. Fascia runs throughout our entire body in a continuous fashion. It’s truly amazing. It holds muscle fibers together, attaches muscles to bones. It also holds our organs in place, including our skin. Fascia alone makes up about 6.5% of our total body volume If you could disappear your whole body except for the fascia you would see a remarkable web of connective tissue that looks exactly like you!

fascia orangeThink of fascia as that white membrane around every bundle of orange fibers.

So why is fascia important? It’s a very beautiful thing when the fascia of your body is unrestricted and free to move about, but sometimes it gets stuck. This can be due to the body’s response to an injury, or repetitive stress. Interestingly, fascia holds six times as many sensory neurons as any other tissue in your body (except skin). When fascia gets restricted, we know it, because those sensory neurons fire off pain signals to our brain.

Feel that crunch in your shoulders? That’s fascia getting all bound up and unhappy. Stretching, hydration, movement, and massage are all essential ways to keep our fascia healthy and happy.

Deep Tissue and Myofascial Release are massage techniques seeking to engage the fascia to get it to release. This is done with slow, deep movements with very little oil on the skin.

On a side note, have you ever had a massage where the practitioner doused you with oil? Their hands were basically slipping over your skin, and your muscles were screaming to be touched? Yeah, we’ve all probably had that experience and it’s lame.

But I digress…As a massage therapist, I know that engagement with the client’s fascia is important. In fact, I’m often thinking more about fascia than I am about muscles when I’m doing massage. It really makes a big difference in the feeling and outcome of a massage when a therapist knows how to engage fascia.

Want to watch a fascinating video all about fascia? Head’s up: There are dead bodies (cadavers), so if that makes you squeamish, then you’ve been warned. Gil Hedly breaks down the importance of movement in the body, and how to beat “the fuzz.”

Now stand up, roll your neck and shoulders around, and keep your fascia loose!

By Brenna Moore, Licensed Massage Therapist, Kona, Big Island, Hawaii

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