By Dan Hellman
Serious people in medicine, rehabilitation therapy and sports training are finally waking up to the importance of fascia in the human body, and it’s about time.
At H3 by Dan Hellman, we train physical therapists, athletic trainers and other professionals in Soma Therapy and Soma Training. These are two methodologies that promote healing, prevent injury and lead to better overall health by concentrating attention on fascia.
Fascia surrounds every organ, gland, bone, nerve and muscle.
A fascia surrounds every organ, gland, bone, nerve and muscle in the body. It’s like a plastic bag or casing, but a fascia is not just a covering. It is a band or sheet of connective tissue—primarily collagen—beneath the skin, and it attaches, stabilizes, encloses and separates muscles and internal organs. It has a critical function in keeping us healthy and allowing us to move. Most importantly, the fasciae in the body are all connected, so paying attention to one fascia—or one set of fasciae—through proper movements and exercises will counteract the effects of aging. If you want to maintain a healthy, youthful body, you need to maintain all your body’s fasciae.
“Muscle is a stupid piece of meat.”
My colleague and mentor Guy VOYER, the renowned French osteopath, is fond of saying that “muscle is a stupid piece of meat.” His point is that the muscle depends on joints, bones, tendons—and fasciae—to do its job. If the fascia surrounding a muscle is lithe and flexible, the muscle will be able to move as it should. If not, the muscle will be constrained. Stretching a muscle does not make sense if the fascia that surrounds it is dried and retracted.
Finally, the matrix of every fascia is composed of glycosominoglycans, which are molecules that attract and hold water. Guy VOYER is fond of saying, “The day the water stops moving in your body is the day you die.” If the liquid in the fascia doesn’t move, the fascia itself becomes like a piece of leather, and the muscle—that stupid piece of meat—is trapped helplessly. It’s just a blob. In Soma Therapy and Soma Training, myofascial stretching is one of our most important tools for moving that critical liquid and freeing the muscle’s movement.
Myofascial stretching improves the quality of life.
Myofascial stretching does more than just elongate the muscle and the fascia. It also improves the quality of life for anyone who practices it regularly. That is because the body’s fasciae are the immune system’s first line of defense. If the fascia is tight, the white blood cells and proteins that make up the immune system cannot reach the area they need to heal.
Myofascial stretching must be taught by a certified professional because it is essential to know the direction of the fibers of the fascia or fasciae that are targeted in any stretch. Often, the fibers of a fascia are laid out in a different direction than the fibers of the muscle it surrounds. For example, the fascia of the psoas, a deep-seated core muscle connecting the lumbar vertebrae to the femur, is one of the most complex. The psoas is a factor in many cases of back pain, and to relieve back pain by working the psoas, you have to get the stretch right. To do that, you have to understand the anatomy of the muscles and the surrounding fascia.
Here is a guide to tell you more about fascia and how it works.
A Guide to Understanding Fascia and Its Role in the Body
Fascia is an extremely complex tissue composed of cells, fibers and a matrix.
The cells of the fascia include:
- Fibroblasts, which give shape and plasticity to the body
- Mastocytes, which are contained in hormone secretions and are part of the immune system
- Adipocytes, which store fat to protect the body and reserve energy
- Macrophages, which organize the antigens during an infection to clean up the injured area
- Plasmocytes, which produce specific antigens and organize the gamma globulin
- Leukocytes, which are part of the immune system and most important for fighting inflammation
The fibers of the fascia include:
- Collagen, which gives continuity to the body
- Reticulin, which organizes the direction of the fibers, a critical element in scar healing
- Elastin, which gives shape, viscosity and fluidity to the tissues
The matrix of the fascia
…is composed of glycosominoglycans, molecules that attract and hold water.
Roles of the Fascia
- Structure: Your body would have no structure without the fasciae. For example, just as the ligaments maintain the structure of the joints, the fasciae maintain the structure of the face. A muscle is a lifeless blob without its surrounding fascia.
- Circulation: Fascia needs to be in good order and pliable for the proper circulation of fluids in the body.
- Neurobiology: The fascia contains numerous receptors, and functions much like a mini-computer for the body.
- Communication: Because the fasciae are connected, they connect the various part of the body. They are the link between the kidney and the hip, the heart and the spine.
- Energy: Fascia is made up of adipocytes, fat cells that we can use as a source of energy
- Defense and Protection: Fascia surrounds everything like a shield. The pericardium surrounding the heart, the periosteum surrounding the bones, the pleura surrounding the lungs and the dura mater surrounding the spine are all fasciae.
- Scarring: Fascia is what heals a wound. It is the source of a scar.