THIS ARTICLE REFLECTS THE PRIVATE VIEWS OF THE AUTHOR AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED A MEDICAL REFERENCE..
Coming from the latin, fascia originally meant a “band” or “frame” (Pocket Oxford English Dictionary).
About 30% of our bodyweight is made up of connective tissue. Although strictly speaking, “fascia” is a term for just one type of connective tissue, it is increasingly used to mean the whole framework.
How fascia fits in to our anatomy
When you did biology at school, you learned about organs of the body, and the systems that they support, but I bet you didn’t get much information about connective tissue. You will have learned about the skeleton, and maybe muscles, tendons and ligaments. But they were not shown to be part of a complex system of support: the cobweb of supporting bones and fibres that keep us the shape we are, all bathed in a fluid ground substance that keeps it lubricated, nourished and in contact with the rest of the body.
“Wrapping Paper and String?
People usually describe something starting from the most familiar point. And so it is with the connective tissue. Because other things were of interest, it was considered just the “wrapping paper and string” for the main package. A bit of gristle that you scraped off in trying to get to the interesting bit.
When people first started getting interested in it, to show their awe, people would describe it as the cobweb of filaments that surround and pervade all organs. But even that description is inadequate, because it suggests that it is still a wrapping, and evolves after the muscles, veins and nerves.
We are all held together by “tensegrity”, a new term to describe the integrity of a structure maintained by tension between elements, like a marquee or suspension bridge. It is a very flexible structure, able to withstand distortion, and regain its shape through equalisation of stored pressures and stresses. There are some lovely pictures on the internet if you do a Google Images search on “tensegrity”.
So, with this in mind, a tightening in one part of the structure will have an effect on the rest of it, in lines of force. Think about how this might affect our bodies!
Ever wondered why the models of the spine in every chiropractor’s office need to be suspended from a string? They are not self-supporting on their own! They need a complex network of structures around them to keep them in place!
Tom Flemons is an artist that has produced some excellent anatomical models highlighting the flexibility and stability of this structure. Check out his website at http://tensegrity.wikispaces.com/Flemons,+Tom
He has even made some excellent self-supporting models of the spine!
Fascia comes first
It is more important even than that! Fascia develops early in embryonic development, and other tissues form in vacuoles (cavities) within it. Individual muscle cells develop in spaces in the fascia, and anchor onto it. The fascia provides the template for the muscle, and the contractile cells populate the gaps.
Muscle tissue is 50-60% connective tissue, according to John Smith (2005), which comes together at the end of the muscle and becomes the tendon.
Connective tissue forms sheets of tissue, which provides the base for, nerves, arteries and veins to develop. We are literally formed from a template provided by the connective tissue.
Once we are developed beyond an embryo, when injured, the first stage in the repair process is the build up of the collagen fibre network of connective tissue that provides a structure for other tissue to develop in.
So, to recover from damage properly, we need healthy fascia!
Smith, J., (2005). Structural Bodywork, An Introduction for Students and Practitioners. Edinburgh: Elsevier
Pocket Oxford English Dictionary (2001). Oxford: Oxford University Press