What’s Fascia?

When people come into the office that haven’t been to a chiropractor before, the last thing they almost always mention before we get to work, is that they’re nervous about the popping and cracking as a result of the chiropractic adjustment. Too many cheesy movies and sensationalist news stories seem to have led to a public opinion that adjustments, especially in the neck, are dangerous.. or at the very least, painful.

Thankfully, I’m always confident in responding to the patient that on the contrary, when done correctly not only is the adjustment not painful but it actually often feels really great! But I believe what puts them most at ease, is when I explain that before we even get to any adjustments we’re going to be working with the soft tissues like muscles, tendons, and Fascia. This tends to prompt the question: “What is Fascia?”.

 

Fascia

Fascia is the often misunderstood or unrecognized source of many different problems that people suffer from. From athletes to desk workers and everyone in between, we all challenge our Fascial system in different ways. And when that system isn’t properly functioning it can’t respond well to the challenges that we place upon it, thus leading to pain and dysfunction.

Lately this dense connective tissue is getting more recognition, but it still remains largely unchecked. For many people unless you get diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, or have problems with a tight IT band, you don’t tend to hear much about your body’s fascia from any type

of provider. This is unfortunate to say the least because this tissue is literally all around you!

Fascial System

Fascia is a network of connective tissue that wraps around and through every structure in your body:

 

  • Muscles
  • Individual Muscle Fibers
  • Nerves
  • Organs
  • Bones
  • Blood Vessels
  • Lymph vessels
  • All the spaces in between

 

 

To put a picture to words, think of an orange. If you look at the rind, that’s what we’ll call your superficial layer of fascia meaning that it is the closest to the skin laying over your muscles like a sheet or cover. But peel through the rind and you’ll see those familiar white strings surrounding every individual orange pod and even running between and through the pods. Just like the pods are surrounded, so our muscles are surrounded. And just like the supportive strings go through all the different pods, so our individual muscle fibers get their support from fascia! The network of fibers is so incredibly invested and intricate throughout our entire body that it actually makes up the majority of the human form.

Fascia serves both to hold all these structures together as well as keep them separated or suspended in space. It also connects different areas of the body together as it runs through like a web. This is why sometimes you can get a massage where the therapist pushes in one spot and you feel something in a totally different area! This is the stuff that makes your body work, and as important as it is there isn’t much that gets done to address, correct, or maintain it by the majority of therapists today.

How did it get messed up in the first place?

The short answer to this, would be ‘life’. Not that we’re living the kind of lives where it’s just too much for our bodies to adapt to, but more like we tend to do far to little of what it was made to do. Specifics will differ from person to person, but as a generalization we don’t move often enough throughout our day. Or even those of us who do move often, it’s not a high quality of movement. If I walk back and forth the same five paces for 8 hours a day am I doing better than the usual 8 hours of desk work? Most likely, yes. But is that a good enough quality of movement to prevent problems from arising? Most likely not.

The repetitive stress we accrue due to performing the same actions repeatedly throughout our day (think sitting, typing, shoulders forward, head dropped) all produce a challenge to our Fascial system. Just like what happens when you challenge your muscles, continuing to challenge your Fascia will cause it to respond and get better at the challenging activities. So our bodies will get better at desk work, or sitting, or the same repetitive tasks, but worse at freedom of movement, at the other areas of our life we don’t tend to engage in often enough. After this cycle has gone on long enough, it only takes one seemingly simple motion or activity to prove too great for the body that has gotten used to not doing those things, and that’s how we end up with discomfort or injury.

Hippocrates said it best when he said “Movement is Life.” When it comes to the Fascial system, that is especially true. And the best way to combat the daily grind our routine puts on our bodies, is to break away from what you find yourself doing the majority of the time. Therefore, if you sit most of the day, the goal should be to stand more often. If you’re consistently working with objects held in front of you, you should try to get some extension through your back and shoulders. The majority of this restorative motion can be done during your hobbies, workouts, or leisure time, but no matter when you get it in, it is very important you do so!

Why does it matter?

Because this stuff is so heavily entwined with so many different aspects of our bodies, when our Fascial system is off kilter, so are the things it directly interacts with. Our Fascia can be torn in an acute injury such as a sprain or dislocation. Or the chronic irritation and repetition can cause thickening and tension in the system leading to inflammation and constant pain or discomfort.  Your body feels this pain or dysfunction due to the free nerve endings distributed throughout the Fascial tissues. When the tissues get tight, we feel tight. And when the tissues get injured, we feel the pain as a result of that injury.

Keeping our Fascia hydrated and mobile is the best way to prevent the injuries and discomfort from settling in. So make sure to rest up, drink plenty of water, and get moving!

 

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