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What is Fascia?

Pizza fasciaFascia, as used on this website, is a word for the biological fabric that surrounds every structure in the body and invests most of them. Without this fabric the 70% of our body that is water would end up as a puddle on the floor. Without the fascia to organize them, our 70 trillion little fat/water/gel droplets we call "cells" would be a mound of slime mold unable to organize much at all.

So you could say that the fascial system is responsible for our morphostasis, or say that fascia is our "organ system of form". To get a handle on fascia's role in us and in therapy, we need to look for a moment at how cells hold themselves together.

NeuronsThere are four types of cells: neurons, muscle cells, epithelia, and connective tissue cells. Neurons are very soft and specialize in carrying ionic chemical signals along their membranes, which are released as chemical signals (neurotransmitters) at the far end. Muscles - smooth, striated, and cardiac - specialize in contraction, maximizing the myosin and actin protein in the cell space. Epithelia make tight and smooth linings or all kinds of tubing and are also very good at secreting enzymes, neuropeptides, and hormones.

All these cells can bind with each other using a few different kinds of chemical bonds, which allows each cell to act like its own tensegrity structure.

The fourth kind of cell, connective tissue cells, binds all the cells together in a stronger and more dynamic way than any of the bonds cells can make with their neighbors. By secreting a wide variety of cell products into theEpithelia spaces between the cells (the interstitial space), a binding web is created, which simultaneously helps keep the cells healthy and and in groups (tissues).

Connective tissue cells - principally fibroblasts - secrete proteinous building materials into the intercellular space. Although it is actually a wide spectrum, we could narrow it down to two major categories: glue and fiber.

Fiberglass and epoxy, plywood and glue, wire mesh and cement - a fibrous substrate in a gluey matrix is very common in modern building materials, and our body is no exception.

FibroblastsInside us, the fibers - reticulin (tiny collagen), elastin (stretchy, just like it sounds), and sinewy collagen (there are 12 types - let's not go there) are generally quite stable and hydrophobic (will not bind with water). The glue (mucopolysaccharides, glycoaminoglycans=GAG's), or just think "snot", is colloidal (jelly-like), hydrophilic (can bind with water), and amorphous (can take on any form).

In between our cells, these various proportions and arrangements of the fibers blend with various chemical states of the gel to produce the tissue that hold us together.

For instance, wrap tough collagen fibers together in tight columns to form a leather-like substance, and modify the surrounding gel to take up mineral salts, like calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate, and, presto! - you have bone.

Take a similar leathery matrix and remove water from the investing gel and you have cartilage. Add more elastin to the fiber and you get elastic cartilage, such as is in the ear. Add more collagen and you get fibrocartilage, such as the intervertebral discs.

Cut back on the gel altogether and go heavy on the fiber, and you can construct tendons, ligaments, aponeuroses, sutures, etc. Go heavy on the gel with a light network of fiber and you have room for fat, infection - fighting cells, an aqueous flow - perfect for some organs like the liver, odd places like the armpit, and essential places like the fatty layer just beneath the skin.

So, to summarize, the body is held together by the places between the cells, the extra-cellular matrix (ECM). The ECM consists of water (fluid, essentially lymph), fiber, and these colloidal gels. Each different mix of fiber types and gels produces a different type of building material with different properties - hopefully suited to the health of the surrounding cells.

The problems comes when either: 1) the building materials are too weak for the forces being put upon them, or 2) via trauma, excessive muscle holding, or bad chemistry, the materials become too hard, large, or too fixed for the surrounding cells to be well fed, or for them to work properly.



Videos

Living Fascia
A clip from Jean-Claude Guimberteau's groundbreaking video, Strolling Under the Skin

Fascia and Structural Integration with Dr. Robert Schleip

Fascia: The Architecture of Connectrive Tissue
Tom Findley at the FRC in 2007 and 2009


Downloadable articles

Understanding Your Fascia
By Julia Lucas
Running Times Magazine, June 2011


Dynamic Ligaments: Revisioning gthe Fascia as a Bodywide Regulatory System
Thomas Myers
Massage Magazine, March 2011

Everything You Know About Muscle is Wrong
Christopher McDougall
Men's Health Magazine, 2009

A histological study of the deep fascia of the upper limb
Carla Stecco, M.D., Andrea Porzionato, M.D., Veronica Macchi, M.D., et al.
International Journal of Embryology, 2006


Fascia is able to contract in a smooth musclelike manner...
R Schleip, W Klingler, F Lehmann-Horn
5th World Congress of Biomechanics, Munich, Germany 2006


Connective tissue: A body-wide signaling network?
Helene M. Langevin
Medical Hypotheses, 2006

Tendon elasticity and muscle function
R. McNeill Alexander
Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A 133 (2002) 1001–1011