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Fascia: It’s role in performance and injury management

Fascia: It’s role in performance and injury management

The superficial fascia is a soft connective tissue located just below the skin. It wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. Together, muscle and fascia make up what is called the myofascial system.

For various reasons, including disuse, not enough stretching, or injuries, the fascia and the underlying muscle tissue can become stuck together. This is called an adhesion, and it results in restricted muscle movement along with pain, soreness and reduced flexibility or range of motion.

Source: www.sportsmedicine.about.com

A Brief history

www.sportsmedicine.about.comFascia has been a recognized structure of the human body for hundreds of years. It was thought of as nothing more than a fibrous wrap that covered muscles, tendons, ligaments and organs and was hastily cut away by anatomists that wanted to investigate seemingly more important structures of the human body. The true function of fascia began to become apparent thanks to a paradigm shift in dissection that saw anatomists begin to cut horizontally along the fibrous lines of soft tissue rather than cutting vertically into them.The full extent of fascia’s role in the body is still not understood but teams of scientists around the world are conducting research to develop our understanding of this important structure, a Fascial Congress has been formed to meet on an annual basis to discuss and compare research on a global level.

What does fascia look like?

Fascia is white in color and is often described as a spiders web. This is due to the thousands of thin white fibers that span in all directions and wrap over, in and around the anatomy of the body. The appearance of fascia may change depending upon where in the body it’s situated, for instance in the torso fascia is more integrated into muscle tissue and will blend into and along muscular structures. In the sole of the foot however the fascia is much more abundant and creates a thick white mesh of stiff fibers known as the plantar fascia.

Where is it?

The fascia is present all over the human body, in fact it acts as a link between structures that enable the body to work as one unit. The posterior line of fascia creates a link between the head and the feet and runs as a continuous structure down the back of the human body. Fascia can be divided into to key structures, the superficial and the deep fascia.

The superficial fascia lies just beneath the skin and is consistent in presence throughout the whole body with the exception of the palm of the hands and the soles of the feet where its presence is less so. The deep fascia is largely over muscles and organs but to varying degrees, in the torso the fascia is more present within muscle where as in the limbs it has a greater presence around muscle tissue. Some areas of the body have very abundant areas of fascia such as the lower back which is known as the Thorocolumbar fascia.

The role of fascia

In affect fascia holds us together but its function goes much deeper than that, it is a very intelligent structure. As previously mentioned fascia is still not fully understood but we do know that it plays a role in the following:

Mobility of the skin and muscles

Smooth, shiny fascial coverings of the muscles and skin layers allow the structures to glide over one and other facilitating movement and stretching.

Protection of vessels and nerves

Superficial fascia surrounds blood and lymph vessels and covers nerves offering protection from light damage and allowing other structures to glide past.

Proprioception

As fascia twists, stretches and shortens it provides vital feedback to the central nervous system about the positions our bodies are in and how much stress they’re under. This helps the CNS (central nervous system) make decisions on how we react and control motion.

Coordination of muscular contraction

As the fascia houses lots of nerves which blend in and out of various muscles it helps carry nervous signals that tell the appropriate muscle fibers to contract and create force where and when we need it.

Force measurement and transformation

Fascia can feed back to the CNS on the speed and intensity of forces in the body which help us to react appropriately to our environment. The collagen fibres that make up fascia have an elastic property enabling external forces to be absorbed and distributed across several structures to take the strain. This also works for force production in that fascia will link and channel force produced from various muscles for a greater net effect.

What happens when fascia becomes dysfunctional?

Fascia can lose optimum function for various reasons such as trauma, overuse or immobilization. Its not uncommon in this case for fascia to adhere surfaces and lose its ability to slide and glide. Trauma can also leave holes in fascia which impair function. These issues impact all the functions described above to varying degrees. In this situation an individual may experience symptoms such as muscle or joint pain, referred pain, stiffness, loss of motion, weakness and lack of control.

How I treat Fascia

I treat fascia in a variety of ways dependent upon the result I am trying to achieve, the goals of the client and even the clients personality type.

The simplest form of fascial treatment I use is motion, choosing the correct exercises to target the areas of fascia that are inhibited is a real skill.

Tool assisted massage which I nickname “fascial scraping” is a fast effective technique which I use to influence more superficial fascia.

Kinesio taping is a slightly less invasive technique which I can use to protect injured areas, hold good postures, reduce pain, reduce swelling, increase range of motion and strength.

Deep fascial massage is a technique I use on more chronic fascial problems as it allows me to penetrate down to the layers of deep fascia.

Anatomy Trains

Anatomy trains is a revolutionary book by Thomas Myers. Myers was one of the first to show how the fascia blends muscles together in chains that work together to create motion. Myers named these chains “Anatomy Trains” and pictured dissections of the chains along with descriptions of the motions that they help create and how dysfunctional chains can be treated. This book was a huge paradigm shift for the health and fitness industry as it emphasized the need to assess, train and treat the body as a whole rather than breaking it down to focus on individual muscles and joints.

Fascia will be an increasingly important factor in human performance and injury management as our understanding of this structure continues to develop.

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