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In this blog we will discover some fun facts about fascia that may surprise and enlighten, as well as dismantle some old ideas about how our bodies function.
Here is a picture of the fascia around muscles and bones. You have seen this when you have eaten a piece of steak or other meat. For a long time people thought the fascia was just kind of like cellophane around the muscle.Read on to see how complex it is.
Fascial tissues have 10 times as many sensory receptors as muscles do. Thus, the senses of proprioception and kinesthesia (your sense of where your body parts are positioned and how they are moving) are related more to the function of the fascia than to the muscles. For this reason, instead of saying you feel sore muscles, it might be more appropriate to say you feel sore fascia. At least you might want to raise awareness of the importance of the fascia as part of your body in order to better meet its needs.
For every spindle in the muscles, there about 10 receptors in the surrounding fascia. Some of these are:
In contrast to the old idea that fascia was just plastic wrap around the muscles, the new research shows that fascial tissue is quite complex and plays crucial roles in a great variety of bodily sensations and functions. For example, making love would be a lot less interesting without the fascia with all of its sensory receptors! Making love is no doubt the world's most favorite way of nurturing the fascia!
Fascial tissue is more elastic than muscle. Fascia contribute to the elasticity of the body and to your body's resilience in movement, more than the stretch in muscles. Thus, when you are "feeling a stretch," you are probably feeling it more in the fascia than in the muscles. Furthermore, when you stretch, you are activating the entire fascial web of the body, not just certain muscles. Remember the idea that when you pull on one strand of a spider web, you stretch the whole web. Thinking about the body in terms of fascia is a way of viewing it more holistically than as pieces and parts. Whatever you do to one part of the body affects the whole system--so take good care of yourself--and feel it all over!
Fascial tissue is plastic and can be remodeled and changed. It responds to the following:
Injury. An injury in one part of the body ripples through the whole system, causing a variety of effects, including pain, compensatory action, tightening of fascia that restricts movement in the body--and much more.
Habitual behavior and positional patterns. Postural habits, such as slumping, hunched shoulders, and crossing the legs can set the fascia into certain configurations that may cause pain and dysfunction. Likewise, positive behavioral patterns, such as good posture and regular exercise can enhance body function and keep the fascial tissues pliable and pain free. Your way of life, daily habits, exercise patterns and much more imprint themselves on your body's fascia creating an impression that all the world can see.
Habitual emotional patterns. Emotions affect the way we hold our bodies and the tension we feel as we go through each day. Stress causes a tightening of the fascia so that there is less resilience in the system. Emotions cause a wide variety of responses in the fascia, including pain and dysfunction.
Gravity. Fascial tissues respond to gravity, oh yes indeed! Most notably, we see this happen with wrinkles that hang down as we age and fat tissue that pulls toward the ground and hangs from the body in ways that make us distressed when we look in the mirror. The action of gravity on the fascial tissues is thus one of the big economic drivers in industries of plastic surgery, make-up and fashion.
Exercise: Researchers are exploring the ways that specific training can enhance fascial elasticity and enhance the whole body’s resilience. Indications are that it takes longer to train the fascia than it does muscles. Ideally training of both should proceed together to maximize benefits and avoid injuries. If there is only emphasis on muscles, the fascia could be stretched or torn if over burdened, creating a need for longer term recovery or rehabilitation.
In summary of our fun facts, we see that fascia is crucial to our sensory experience of the world and is important in our body's elasticity and flexibility. Our fascial web is plastic, meaning that we can change it in either positive or negative ways by our actions and lifestyles--which is good or bad news, depending on how we manage it!
In a future post we will look at some types of exercise, including Tai Chi, that nurture fascia.
Have a blessed day,
Copyright by Anna York, 2016
Thomas W. Myers, Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual & Movement Therapists. Elsevier Ltd., New York, 2014.