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What Exactly is Fascia?

As the heat of the summer starts to taper off, there are many running events in the Hampton Roads area.  Many of our patients and clients have been putting in a lot of hard work and many miles in preparation for these events, or just to keep fit by staying active through the summer.   As a result, a lot of patients have been suffering from what is called “myofascial pain,” or pain resulting from irritation to the muscles and fascia.  Some common forms of fascial pain are plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, and tendonitis.  These topics are often discussed in running magazines, on blogs, or amongst workout partners.  But what exactly is fascia, and how can it become so painful for some people?

In the simplest of terms, fascia is an opaque connective tissue covering to muscle tissue.  Let’s use the quadriceps muscle group as an example:  The quads are a group of four large muscles on the front of your thighs that straighten your leg at the knee.  There is a layer of fascia that surrounds the entire muscle group.  There are also layers of fascia that surround each of the four individual muscles of the quads.  Within each individual muscle, there are fascial layers that separate bundles of muscle fibers.  Within that, there is a layer of fascia that surrounds each individual muscle fiber; the same goes for every other muscle within your body.  The fascia from one muscle then connects with the fascia from other muscles, and forms a network of connective tissue that integrates from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.  Each layer of fascia allows each portion of the muscle to glide smoothly along each other as they contract and relax.  When we look at the fascia as a system instead of individual pieces, it becomes apparent that the fascia is more than just a covering.

Fascia’s role in the function of the body is much more complex than it may appear.  Embedded within the fascia are many types of nerve endings and receptors that communicate with the central nervous system.  Every movement we make changes the tension of the fascia in different parts of our body.  As the tension changes, these receptors tell your brain a ton of information about where your joints are, what muscles to recruit, and how much force to generate.  Proper function of the fascia allows for normal, coordinated, unimpeded movement patterns.

However, when the fascia becomes injured through a particular event or from repetitive stress, inflammation occurs and that normal coordinated movement pattern becomes altered.  This can have a serious impact on proper technique when running, throwing, swinging, or any other activity.  This leads to pain, decreased performance, and a long list of other potential injuries secondary to the fascial dysfunction.

Foam rolling and regular massage therapy are effective methods of keeping the fascial layers gliding smoothly across each other.  Icing can be helpful to minimize the pain and inflammation associated with myofascial conditions, but will not address the underlying cause.  Sometimes more aggressive techniques, such as FAKTR protocols, are necessary to reestablish the proper function of the fascia, and therefore decrease pain and improve overall performance.  If you have dealt with tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, IT band problems, or other muscle pains, talk with your doctor or massage therapist at Body Logic and get your body back to working at its best so you can “Move Better, Feel Better, and Live Better!”

Source: “The Fascial System is a Sensory Organ” Warren I. Hammer, ACA News; April 2014

By: Dr. Scott Kuper