What is fascia (and why should I care)?

Last week was one of new beginnings.  I started the new applied anatomy group and I also gave my first class on the yoga and anatomy immersion with Claudio. I love meeting the new students and seeing their curious and attentive expressions while I present the lesson. It’s very exciting! 

One of my favorite topics to teach is fascia. This part of the body isn’t very well known and sometimes it is hard to understand, as we don’t have much to reference back to. That’s why today’s post is all about this very important tissue and why it matters.  

Fascia is an opaque white tissues that ensheathes and connects muscles, organs and bones. It also envelops and protects joints, blood vessels and nerves.  To better understand fascia and how it works we’ll take as an example an orange. 

naranja en gajosUnderneath it’s peel the orange has a white layer of skin. This is how it is in the human body as well. Underneath our outer layer of skin you’ll find the superficial fascia which covers the body like a wetsuit. Ida Rolf considered fascia the “organ of form” as it holds the body together and preserves our individual shape. 

Back to the orange. The membrane that divides the orange in slices corresponds to the deep fascia of the human body. This layer separates muscles from one another. It has a liquid and slippery texture that allows the muscles to glide effortlessly over one another as when they move. Sometimes the fascia of adjacent muscles get glued to one another creating an adhesion. Fascial adhesions limit movement and cause compensation in other parts of the body. 

Visceral fascia invests organs and allows them to move independently of their adjacent tissues. An example of organ movement is the intestinal peristalsis, or the heartbeat, or the stretching of the lungs that occurs on inhalation. Visceral fascia has specialized names according to the organ it covers, some examples could be the pleura of the lungs, the peritoneum that encases the abdominal organs, or the pericardium, the layer of fascia that encases the heart. 

Examples of other types of fascia are the periosteum that ensheaths bones, the epimysium the external covering of muscles, and the tissue that makes up joint capsules. All these are specialized forms of fascia. 

Why is fascia important?

  • Fascia is important because it reserves the integrity of each organ, muscle and blood vessel in the body. It also protects them from external pathogens and is the first line of defense of the body. 
  • Thanks to fascia we can move! It’s true that muscles contract to create movement, however, without the slippery encasing of fascia there would be no movement. Fascia allows muscles to glide over one another completely free of friction. 
  • It also allows the internal organs to carry out their physiological functions.
  • The elasticity of fascia protects the body from harsh impacts. It acts as a shock absorber to protect bones and organs from injury. 

These are some of the reasons why fascia is important for a healthy body. Ida Rolf suggested that due to its complexity, fascia should be considered an organ rather than a tissue. 

Online resources

http://youtu.be/Ikx-0s8y480

This documentary is all about fascia. It discusses how fascia influences chronic pain and how complementary therapies such as acupuncture and Rolfing work with fascia. It’s really eye-opening!

Lastly, Tom Myers’ Anatomy Trains website has a section dedicated to fascia. It’s easy to asimilate and full of useful information. Enjoy!

This article was written by
Julia Zatta

Julia is a yoga anatomy teacher and bodyworker based in Barcelona, Spain.

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