- Brian Phillips
Muscle vs Fascia – Why is fascia a big deal?
Connective tissue (fascia) was officially discovered in the early nineteenth century, but it wasn’t a big deal. Later in the 1940’s, Ida Rolf pioneered fascial bodywork and called it Structural Integration (SI). Structural Integration is a form of Myofascial Release, which became popular in the 1970s, and it brought more attention to fascia.
Myofascial Release therapy has evolved since the 1970s thanks to influencers/teachers of fascial bodywork, like John Barnes and Tom Myers. The increasing popularity of Myofascial Release, and yoga, has brought more awareness to fascia, but many people are still unfamiliar with it. Typically, yogis and athletes have an idea of what fascia is because their activities incorporate stretching; however, fascia might be an anatomical term without much meaning other than something that stretches, or that you can roll out with a foam roller.
What is the purpose of fascia?
Fascia is not just associated with muscles, like some people think. Fascia does surround muscle groups like casing, similar to sausages that are linked together, but fascia also integrates everything else in the body. Fascia is like a packing material that keeps our anatomy in place. Fascial fibers act as guide wires that sculpt the body and determine its position in space. The reason why a person’s leg might be longer than the other, why someone develops forward head posture, and why stress causes tension headaches, is largely because of fascia.
Fascia creates patterns based on cellular memory. Ideally we want to create healthy patterns, but that’s not always the case. Let’s pretend Joe has forward head posture because he sits at his computer all day every day. Over time his fascial fibers adjusted in order to sculpt his head into a forward position, and his fascial cells became patterned to keep his head in this position. Due to the way Joe’s fascia reconfigured itself, he feels a lot of tension in his neck, which eventually may become problematic.
What are the characteristics of fascia?
When magnified, fascia looks like a wet spider web. Fascia is a crystalline structure that changes between a gel and viscus state. Tight fascia is in its gel state, and relaxed fascia is in its viscous state. Vicious fascia can increase the distance between its fibers, which creates more elasticity. When fascia is more elastic, there is less tension in your body.
Most importantly, fascia is piezoelectric tissue. Anything that is piezoelectric can generate an electric charge when it’s compressed. When piezoelectric matter is compressed it creates pressure. In terms of energy, pressure is equivalent to voltage. Compressed fascia creates energy, which becomes stored in the fascial system, similar to energy that's stored in a battery. When tight fascia decompresses, it releases moving energy (current). This description of how fascia can release stored up energy will help you understand Myofascial Release (MFR).
How come facia is a vague subject?
Most people have a general idea of how the body works, like the nervous system, digestive system, skeletal system, etc., but few people know how the fascial system works. Even though fascia was discovered in the nineteen century, fascia just gained notoriety in 2012. It’s now considered the body’s largest organ, which was a pretty late discovery. Scientists typically study anatomy through dissection, and cadaver fascia appeared to have little significance. It wasn’t until scientists studied living fascia that they gained a new understanding of its properties. The piezoelectric effect is what makes fascia noteworthy. If you're intrigued about the facial system, I recommend Architecture of Human Living Fascia: Cells and Extracellular Matrix as Revealed by Endoscopy.
Why doesn’t my doctor talk about fascia?
Most people aren't familiar with how fascia functions, sometimes even doctors. This is because the medical books haven’t been updated to reflect the new discoveries in the fascial system. Another reason is, living fascia is clear; so, fascia doesn't show up on X-rays or Ct Scans because of its transparency. If you have pain and can’t figure out why, it might be your fascia. Oftentimes undiagnosed symptoms are the fascia squeezing the nerves, creating pain.
Fascia is a buzzword word, but its potential is overlooked
There are 6-10 times more nerve endings in fascia than muscle, but muscles and fascia are often referenced together, like they’re one in the same. When fascia is addressed as its own system–separate from the muscular system–there is potential for you to increase your range of motion further than you thought was possible, lessen pain signals, and break unconscious patterns–including physiological responses to trauma. Fascia holds a lot of value because it's sensitive to energy; it has a piezoelectric effect. Myofascial Release therapists help you tap into the subtleties of your fascial system so you can release the tension that your body stores in its fascia.