‘What is it?’ we hear you ask. The best visual reference [apologies to all our vegetarian readers] is the shiny stringy film like substance that is visible when preparing meat. All mammals have it but why does it exist?
Fascia is an exciting new area in medicine and in particularly in manual therapy. Osteopaths have been working with it for many decades however research is only now appreciating its importance. Before surgeons used to simply ignore it and cut through it with little regard for its relevance. However, this tissue plays an important role in the long term (termed chronic) aches and pains we feel. As the majority of our patients are long term suffers of pain, it is something we have become accustom to working with.
Think of fascia as a continuous sheet of cling film that wraps around all our structures (i.e. our bones, muscles, nerves, blood vessels and organs) starting at the head and working its way down to our feet.
What does it do? Well it provides a loose binding between all the structures keeping them together and in the same place. I.e. it keeps the blood vessels close to the muscles, the nerves close to the blood vessels, the muscles close to the bones, etc. It works in a similar way to how we use cling film. Because the fascia is the connection between different structures it also transmits forces between them thus allowing the body to work as a unit rather than as individual parts.
Each individual, dependent on their lifestyle, will have a different baseline fascial tension. In the event of injury the fascia is guaranteed to be damaged because it is everywhere. Thus the fascial tension will increase. This will transmit tension throughout the body and is usually the culprit for distant [from the site of injury] pulling or stretching pains.
The complex path of the fascia also means that it is difficult for the excess fascial tension to be resolved. In many cases, the fascial tension remains long after the structure (e.g. the muscle or nerve) has healed. In these patients we commonly see repeated episodes of symptoms or very prolonged recoveries.
As osteopaths our treatment approach always looks to address the tension in the fascia as well as helping the damaged structure, i.e. the muscle, tendon, joint or spine. By working on both factors we usually see faster and longer lasting recoveries.