Image credit((Source: “Anatomical model of muscle and sinew in dramatic pose,” Standard License Subscription with Stock Photo Secrets – Image ID: 02A16GY5))
Hands On Healing is on the cutting edge of treating fascial conditions. We’re located in Montgomery, Alabama.
In the biggest hurdle we as therapists face when talking to our clients, or the open public for that matter, is a very large amount of outdated information about the human body.
Topics range from whether to treat with heat or ice and what is the best exercise for a specific goal, and the answers change from person to person depending on the circumstances.
However, no topic is more misunderstood and excessively outdated as the topic of connective tissue, or more the widely used term, fascia.
The topic of fascia is no small subject by any means.
Entire books are written about this unique bodily tissue, and each year more research is being conducted at universities trying to grasp the full function of fascial tissue.
Our goal in this article is to provide a general introduction to what fascia is and what it does for the body as well as to the body.
It’s not hard to imagine that most people would find the task of grasping the full picture of human anatomy as quite daunting; it’s simply a LOT of information to take in.
For us as therapists, fascia offers a simplified method for seeing the body as a whole unit.
As a tissue, fascia covers, connects, and holds together every single inch of your body. Yes, every single bit.
It covers your bones, your muscles, and your organs. Even your nerves and brain are all held together through the intricate network we call fascia.
Figure 1 (click to enlarge) is a photograph from a cadaver dissection showing how strands of fascia form an almost cobweb-like structure between layers of muscle tissue.
Although the most widely accepted function of fascia is to provide tensile strength to other tissues it surrounds, generally holding us together from the inside, it has been shown in recent studies to be essential to proper movement by separating and defining muscular function.
It’s also the tissue our body uses when forming scars, which means without fascia we would never properly heal.
Like anything else in the body, there is a catch to how fascia performs its tasks as it has no direct nerve connection to the brain.
So unlike your muscles or organs that can be told what to do by the brain itself, fascia responds to chemical signals in your blood instead. This translates to the outdated concept of “muscle tightness.”
Just as fascia can be remodeled by specialized cells for the formation of scars, it can also become restrictive when subjected to poorly learned movement habits.
These restrictions inevitably lead to the problems of pain and dysfunction for which clients seek treatment.
In future articles we’ll discuss how fascia may be the missing link in your health routine.
What causes fascia to tighten and lead to structural imbalance and dysfunction?
Unlike most tissues and organs of the human body, fascia does not share the same form of nerve connection to the brain.
Instead, fascia changes almost all of its physical properties through chemical reactions to hormones that are delivered through the bloodstream.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at this cellular change and the many of the implications that fascial restriction holds for someone’s health.
If you happen to be a regular client of ours here at Hands On Healing, you’ve undoubtedly heard us remark that “it’s not muscles that get tight, it’s fascia.”
The reason we work so diligently to make this point clear is that treating muscle conditions requires very different therapy than treating fascial conditions; this is why so many people who come through our doors looking for help have often been through a myriad of health professionals before they get to us.
Many available therapy methods have not caught on to this way of thinking just yet because medical textbooks are, sad to say, way out of date.
What most individuals are taught is that muscle tissue comprises the motor units of our bodies, and fascia was always believed to be a ground substance for forming scars through the body’s healing process.
Researchers have recently discovered that certain immunohistochemical (hormone) reactions cause fascia to contract independent of muscles (see Figure 2 below).
In some cases fascia had been reported to produce as much as 1500 lbf/in²; that’s a lot of force!
However, fascia only responds to hormones and not to direct nerve signals. Once fascia has become restrictive it can cut off its own blood supply.
This means that the hormones necessary to release fascia’s restrictive state cannot reach the cells in the tissue, leaving the body unchanged and tight for very long periods of time.
This discovery has changed the perception of how the body is capable of forming restrictions, as well as altering the entire human frame.
Much of this is why so many traditional therapies have been so ineffective at treating these types of problems.
The therapy that we specialize in here at Hands On Healing is on the cutting edge of treating fascial conditions.
It may very well be the missing link for individuals that have searched far and wide for something to give them relief from their chronic pain.
Using manual manipulation, therapists can improve the blood supply to the tissue by selectively elongating areas of restriction.
The body becomes flexible, movement becomes easier, pain will begin to diminish, and you can begin to experience a better quality of life.
Figure 2 (click to enlarge) is a representation of the new research that has been compiled about the cellular reaction that fascia undergoes when exposed to specific hormones.
Resident fibroblasts are exposed to mechanical tension, e.g., injury or stress, causing the tissue to begin binding to its surrounding structures.
As the brain begins to release hormones to initiate healing in response to the aforementioned trauma, the fibroblasts react with a cellular contraction, ensnaring all the structures they’ve attached to, creating a restriction at the site of the injury.