|What is Fascia?|
Before we can understand how manipulating the fascia can change and reorganize the body, we need to understand fascia better. To understand fascia, we need to look a little more at the body’s structure...
Most people are familiar with bones, muscles, and organs, but few know about fascia which is the name for our connective tissue of structure. (There are other connective tissue types, such as blood, but we are interested in structure here and will stick to the fascia.) Fascia is the glue that binds everything together. It is also the support network that provides the structure and relationships of most body parts, by providing organization as well as a foundation for other tissues to connect to. This is sometimes difficult to understand, so let’s make this easier by another simple analogy...
Think of a super-luxury suitcase that has pockets built into its lining with a spot to hold everything you’ll take with you on your next vacation. It has individual pockets for each pair of your socks, your underwear, your shirts, your toothbrush, your razors, etc. Everything is neat and tidy in its own little pocket within the suitcase. No matter what orientation the suitcase is in (sitting upright, on its side, or even spinning through the air because it has been thrown by the airport luggage guys) everything stays neat and tidy in its place. Just as you can think of these lining pockets as separating each item from its neighbor, you could also think of it connecting each item to its neighbor… separating and connecting, giving shape to the inside of the suitcase.
Our body is analogous to this luxury suitcase with the connective tissue (i.e. fascia) acting as the suitcase lining, providing “pockets” for muscle fibers, bones, organs, blood vessels, nerves, etc. It separates and connects all these tissues together. It relates the position of one thing to another, literally creating the shape of the body. By connecting the tissue together, it provides a foundation for each part, and an organization for the whole. Similar to the suitcase liner keeping everything organized no matter what orientation the suitcase is in, our fascia does the same for us… helping us to function and stay organized whether we are standing, sitting, lying down, or hanging upside-down. Fascia is truly amazing!
Fascia is a three-dimensional web of fibers and fluid/goo. The fibers create a mesh vertically, horizontally, front-to-back, and at odd angles. A kitchen sponge is a regular household item that can give us an idea of what this is like. No matter how we might choose to cut the kitchen sponge, we would find that the 3D mesh network continues inside just as it does on the surface. Likewise, the fascia web (or matrix) has fibers going this way and that, throughout our body organizing our three-dimensional volume.
Taking a very simplistic view, fascia is made up of three major components; elastin, collagen, and ground substance. Elastin are rubber-like fibers that have stretch and recoil to them, and you can think of them as rubber bands. They provide much of the stretchiness of fascia. Collagen fibers act like tough threads, providing strength and support. The more collagen fibers tightly connected (or woven) together, the stronger that portion of the fascia is. The third component is called ground substance, and we can think of it as a thick lubricating goo. The goo of ground substance provides shock absorption, just like the gel pads in running shoes, as well as lubrication to the elastin and collagen fibers. This is an amazing composite that provides strength, flexibility, pliability, and can absorb impact... perfect for structuring an active organism.
One other thing I should mention about the collagen fibers before we move on... They are proteins that are shaped somewhat similar to a fern leaf, in that there is a main stalk with loose ends. On the loose ends are binding sites. These binding sites can attach to water or other binding sites of other collagen fibers. The more cross-linking or cross-binding that occurs between neighboring collagen fibers, the stronger and tougher the tissue becomes. The more water-binding to the collagen, the more flexible the tissue becomes. Though this is a simplification of what actually occurs, it does help one imagine why dehydrated tissue is tough and hard, and hydrated tissue is soft and pliable.