What is fascia?

i_love_fascia_womens_tshirtI talk about fascia (FASH-uh) a lot.  Its function and role in restoring balance in the human body applies to all body-centered therapies.  When an area of your body is injured, or a muscle is hypertonic (tight), fascia is involved and the rest of your body is affected.  Imagine one of your friends is wearing her favorite t-shirt, you see that her tag is showing in the back. You can’t help but tuck it in for her.  As you do so, you lift the upper edge of the shirt just enough to create space for the incoming tag.  Bam!  Its back to its secret hiding place.  What happened to the rest of the shirt with your manipulation of the soft cotton fabric?  Our fascia acts just like your friend’s t-shirt: one part cannot move without the rest of the shirt adjusting ever-so-slightly.

Let me explain what fascia is before going any further…

Fascia is everywhere in our body- its the all-mighty connective tissue.  It forms a 3-dimensional meshwork throughout the body and its job is to protect and support (just like our sweet parents do when we are brought into this world) the organs of the body.  There is deep fascia and superficial fascia.  Deep fascia encapsulates all the muscle fibers of our skeletal system.  Even our little muscle cells are covered in fascia.  At this level the primary function is to protect.  Superficial fascia is composed primarily of adipose connective tissue with responsibilities to provide energy, protect the skin, support the movement of nerves and circulatory vessels, and provide thermal insulation.  This layer of fascia lies just beneath the surface of the skin and anchors the skin to underlying tissues.

Imagine your friend’s t-shirt again.  She’s sitting down and starts to tell you how that big coffee stain got onto her shirt earlier in the day.  She pulls her shirt away from her body and points to the stain.  You begin to notice that as she pulls one corner of her shirt in one direction, the entire shirt must tighten and adjust for the t-shirt to move at all.  A light bulb goes off and you realize how fascia works as a system.  If there is a restriction or an adhesion in the fascia, scar tissue is formed and the additional layers of tissue pull surrounding fascia towards it.  This new area of tension impacts structures that might be at a distance away leading to problems like restricted movement, compensation patterns, reduced circulation, muscular tension, and pain in areas that seem unrelated.

Massage and more specifically, myofascial release provides manipulation to both layers — superficial and deep and encourages movement and circulation of the fascial network, thus restoring normal functions of the body.  In bodywork, we treat the entire body during a session because releasing muscle tightness in the gastrocnemius (upper calf muscle) might help release tension of the lower back or pelvis because (you guessed it)… it’s all connected!

Tara Shultis, MA, LMT, RYT


“Intro to massage therapy” by Mary beth braun & Stephanie simonson, published in 2008.