Fascia – The Secret to Pain?
I’m sure you have heard of fascia, but you may not understand what it is nor its connection to the body. I am going to share some information with you about what it is but more importantly why we need to care about it.
The terms fascia and connective tissue seem to be interchangeable but they are different. Connective tissue is the largest material in the body. It supports, stabilizes, and protects us. Blood and even bones are considered connective tissue. Fascia is a type of connective tissue.
Fascia is responsible for giving us the ability to move, so if we have trouble moving in some way, either due to pain, restrictions, injury, or something else, it makes sense that we should understand it and know how to treat it.
This integrated system, which maintains the connection between all of the systems in the body, has received very little attention despite its major role in how we move. But recently, more light is being shed on the importance of fascia.
One big thing to know is that not only does it hold everything together in the body, but most of our nerve endings attach to it as well. Therefore, if the fascia is affected, it also affects our nervous system too. This is a big deal because the nervous system regulates, controls and communicates with the body and helps to keep it in homeostasis, or maintains the body’s balance.
Before recent times, fascia was seen as just the unimportant tissue that was cut away during dissections to get to the muscles, organs, and more. It was thought of only to protect and support these pieces. All these things are important to study, but without understanding how it all integrates together is not seeing the entire picture.
For a long time, muscles have been what we thought was the system that decided how our alignment, movement, and stability all happened. But, muscles don’t attach directly to bones. It is the fascia that allows connection between muscle and bone, therefore, it determines alignment, stability, and gives us movement.
Not only that, but our body is electric. Elements in our body have electrical charges, which is required for the nervous system to send signals throughout the body and brain. This allows us to think, move, and feel.
The nerve endings in fascia rely on it to signal the brain about what is going on in the body. It is also how we respond to what is going on in our environment. Since it is fluid based, it allows motion to occur with minimal energy.
This fluid is used by fascia to manage tension and compression. This works ideally when the fascia is well hydrated. However, if there is not enough fluid flow in and around the collagen network, fascia cannot adapt as well to the tension and compression. Daily living, repetitive movement, injury, even illness can cause fascia to become dehydrated, which causes dysfunction and instability in the body.
All of our systems in the body depend upon the efficient hydrated fluid of the fascia. It does so much for us – providing structure for cells, controls cellular communication, regulates cell processes, and more. If it is off in any way, it really can wreak havoc on our body, including causing pain signals. Cells need appropriate nutrition but also a healthy environment (hydrated fascia) in order to function at 100%. Without this, it does not work effectively, and neither do we.
Since all the systems in the body work together, you can start to see how if fascia is dehydrated, it can cause all kinds of symptoms. Not just body pain, but also problems with digestion, sleep, neurological control, sensorimotor compensation, and more. Dehydration of the fascia can cause joint compression, which leads to chronic pain conditions. Therefore, it is very important for us to do what we can to keep this system hydrated.
When we talk about hydration, we automatically assume water intake. While this is very important, it is not what we are referring to when talking about hydrating the fascia. As a matter of fact, when the fascia is dehydrated, drinking more water can overwork the kidneys.
Hydrated fascia is kind of like a sponge. When that sponge is wet and wrung out, you can pour water onto it and it will soak it up. But when it is dried out, if you pour water onto it, the water will just run off, not getting into the sponge at all. Similarly, if the fascia is dehydrated, it cannot soak up the necessary fluid carrying needed nutrients, oxygen and more.
Also, when a sponge is hydrated, it can bend and adapt to however you move it – compressing, bending, twisting, pulling on it, just like how our bodies need to move. When it is dehydrated, it gets stiff, so when you bend, compress, twist or press on it, it does not return to its original shape quickly.
Think about this, if you sit for long periods of time, what are you doing? You are compressing joints all over the spine, low back, and neck. If cells are not able to take in necessary fluid or communicate with each other (because of everything being dehydrated and compressed for so long), cells can’t absorb nutrients they need. This can cause cell death, which can spread quickly and accelerate the aging process. See how important it is now to maintain cellular hydration? The same goes for repetitive movements and standing a lot.
Not only can cells not absorb needed nutrients, but it affects waste elimination as well. It can cause the lymph system, liver (a big detox organ), and large intestines to become overworked and exhausted. Some common symptoms that could show up as a result are headaches, fatigue, bloating, cravings, and PAIN.
No matter the cause of dehydration of the fascia, when this state occurs the body slowly starts to show age – we deform, lose space (think of how older people tend to “shrink” as they get older).
But I have great news! Fascia dehydration does not have to be a permanent state! Thankfully, our tissue is a remarkable, renewable resource!
Hitzmann, Sue (2020) The Science of Self-Care & Art of Hands-Off Bodywork Manual, Longevity Fitness, Inc.
John Hopkins Medicine – Muscle Pain: It May Actually Be Your Fascia - https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/muscle-pain-it-may-actually-be-your-fascia#:~:text=Fascia%20is%20a%20thin%20casing,When%20stressed%2C%20it%20tightens%20up.
University of Maryland Graduate School – How the human body uses electricity - https://www.graduate.umaryland.edu/gsa/gazette/February-2016/How-the-human-body-uses-electricity/#:~:text=The%20elements%20in%20our%20bodies,called%20ions%2C%20to%20generate%20electricity.&text=Cells%20can%20achieve%20this%20charge,and%20out%20through%20the%20membrane.
Hitzmann, Sue (2020) Hand and Foot Instructor Workbook, Longevity Fitness, Inc.