What is Fascia?

What is Fascia?


Fascia is connective tissue that lies beneath the skin and encases the muscles of your body. Googling the word “fascia” will give you the following definition: “a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ." But did you know that this thin layer is responsible for up to 40% of our muscular force, or, that it communicates with our brain about every movement we make? Probably not, as the importance of this body system has only been discovered recently, and these discoveries are our topic of discussion in today’s blog.

Where is Fascia?


Between our skin and muscle are layers of fat and fascia:  

1.      Skin

2.      Superficial adipose (fat) layer

3.      Superficial fascia

4.      Deep adipose (fat) layer

5.      Deep fascia (most important)

  • a.  “Epimysial” – fascia around single muscles; thin and small

  • b.  “Aponeurotic” – fascia around groups of muscles; very dense and large

6.      Muscle

Within aponeurotic fascia are thin layers of loose connective tissue that allow the fascia to glide over itself as we move. Layers of fascia called endomysium surround each individual muscular fiber in our body, which gives them the ability to glide amongst each other. Hyaluronic acid, a natural lubricant created by our bodies, is present amongst these fascial layers, allowing this movement to happen easily and smoothly

What does Fascia do?  

·         Transfers forces to and from nearby muscles.

·         Generates 30% to 40% of muscular power

·         Has special sensory cells (called proprioceptors and mechanoreceptors) that monitor muscle contractions and movements.

·         Chains of fascia,  called “Fascial Slings” help stabilize our body during large and powerful movements (i.e. walking, running, jumping, throwing, and lifting). There are four different slings:


1.      Anterior sling – muscles on the top of the foot, front of the legs, abdominals, fascia of the sternum, muscles of the neck, and fascia of the scalp.

2.      Posterior sling –  muscles on the bottom of the foot, back of the leg, sides of the spine/neck, and back of the head.

3. Anterior diagonal sling– inner thigh and outer abdominal muscles.

4.      Posterior diagonal sling – consists of the outer lower back (latissimus dorsi) and gluteal muscles (gluteus maximus).  

What happens when Fascia malfunctions/becomes stiff?  

Fascia contains important sensory cells and when injured, these cells can no longer provide accurate information to our brain about movement and force in the case of malfunction/stiffness.

 This inability to coordinate and transfer forces properly can result in:

o   Loss of strength

o   Loss of flexibility

o   Pain

 This condition may be the underlying cause of common diagnoses:

o   Muscle pain

o   Tendinopathies/Tendinosis

o   Rotator cuff and biceps tendonitis/opathy

o Lateral/Medial Epicondylitis

o IT band syndrome

o Patellar tendonitis/opathy

o Achilles tendonitis/opathy

o Plantar fasciitis


How does Fascia malfunction, and how can we fix it?

Injury and overuse can create scar tissue and dense hyaluronic acid (HA). HA is a fluid that is around joints and connective tissues to allow for smooth gliding, but when it becomes dense, the surrounding structures lose their mobility. HA can become too dense with trauma and overuse, and this dense form of HA causes inflammation and fascial restriction. These restrictions prevent fascia from gliding properly, which causes fascial stiffness. Chronic back and neck pain are two prime examples of what can happen when fascial restrictions are left untreated. We can return HA to its normal state, and break up scar tissue, with a treatment such as:

  • Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM)

  • Manual therapy

  • Cupping

  • Therapeutic exercise

  • Active release

  • And Many more physical therapy techniques…

At Vital Step, we use the Graston Technique of IASTM to assess and treat painful fascial restrictions. Graston also increases blood flow and induces a healing response in the body to speed up recovery. If you think fascial restrictions may be the cause of your pain, click this link to schedule a visit with a physical therapist at Vital Step.


Resource: The Fascial System is a Sensory Organ by Warren I. Hammer, DC in ACAnews 2014.

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