The most important structure of the body you (probably) know nothing about

What is restricting your range of motion?  What is interfering with your precision of movement?  Why do you feel so stiff as you age?  Why won’t your muscles just relax?  What is affecting your posture so much?  The answer to all these questions is the vast fibrous network in the body known as the connective tissue or fascia. 

Fascia is what holds the human body together; it gives the form and structure to the organs and even the eyes.  Unfortunately many of us were never taught about the fascia so we know little about it and when we have pain in the body we immediately think we must have a problem with a joint, a bone or a tendon, when usually it is actually the fascia causing a restriction. 

You’ve seen fascia before when peeling an orange or cutting a steak.  It is the tough white/translucent material just beneath the oranges skin; that layer is called the superficial fascia.  Beneath that you can separate the orange into halves or even wedges. If you look you will see a strong thin membrane giving the wedge its shape and holding the juice in.  The human body is made up much the same way.

Just beneath our skin there is a layer of fascia (the superficial fascia) that surrounds our entire body.  If we look beneath the superficial fascia you will see the muscles, but if you look closely you will see that muscles are made of bands of tissue, and each of these bands are surrounded by their own layer of fascia.  If we look into this band of muscle fiber we will see it too is made of bands of muscle fibers also surrounded by fascia, and so on and so on down to the individual contractile fibers called actin and myosin.  The muscles and fascia are so interwoven you will sometimes hear the muscles called the myofascia. 

Now here’s the trick… Connective tissue does just what its name implies, namely, it connects to itself forming what are called fascial adhesions.  It is supposed to do that as it is what gives our body its structure and stability.  For example, a newborn baby can touch its toes to its shinbone- it has enormous flexibility but no stability so it can’t stand or walk.  Over time as the child crawls and practices standing and holding onto something, the contracted muscle fibers allow for the connective tissue to form adhesions in this new posture and soon there is enough stability for the baby to stand on its own but at the same time the flexibility disappears and the child can no longer touch their toes to their shins. So this formation of connective tissue adhesions through the hydrogen bonding sites in the fascia serves an essential purpose.

Pain and inflexibility in the body arrive later as the adhesions can become too numerous or form in too short of a position limiting our movement, range of motion and function. 

Myofascial adhesions are the number one culprit in chronic back pain, muscular tension, tendonitis, pain, misalignments, tmj, stiffness and soreness in the body but most people assume degenerative conditions like arthritis, bursitis, degenerative disc disease, tendon injuries, meniscus wear, etc.  Adhesions, once they have formed, will stay put for your entire life!  So, for example, an old back injury that caused a contraction in the muscles can still be felt 20, 30 or even 50 years later, if no one has worked out the connective tissue adhesions. 

Releasing the adhesions in the connective tissue, though not easy nor necessarily comfortable, has a profound affect on how you feel.   Vastly improved range of motion, flexibility and strength are just a few of the first things you will notice.   Strength is increased because many of the muscle fibers required for, say opening a jar, have been held in a fully contracted state by the fascia and cannot do any work thereby appearing weak and feeling painful.  The same goes for athletes who have extensive repetitive exercise routines.  You may gain more strength by releasing the fascia than doing another set of exercises. 

Typically, general practitioner physicians place less emphasis on the role of fascia in weakness, range of motion restriction and pain.  The doctors who specialize in fascia are called Osteopathic Doctors or D.O.’s and they can be a great resource for your pain or injuries.  In the natural and alternative health realm the specialists are known as Rolfer’s or Structural Integrators and they can make a profound difference in how you feel and move.

Free the fascia, free yourself!



-       Joe Dunkley is a Certified RolferÒ in Incline Village NV