What Is Your Fascia, and Why Is It Important?

There’s a very important tissue inside your body that affects your movement, health, and overall wellbeing. But most people have never even heard of it! I’m Lauren Masi, Doctor of Physical Therapy and board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. I’m also the owner and Clinical Services Director of Bay Area Physical Therapy and Lafayette Physical Therapy. Today, we’re going to talk about what fascia is and why it is important.

What Is Fascia?

Fascia is a very thin, silky, spiderweb-type material that surrounds all the tissues in our body. It’s between our skin, between every muscle around our organs. It’s everywhere. If you’ve used the spiderwebs that you decorate with during Halloween, think of that big mash of cotton that you pull out very, very thin to decorate around your house or outside. Fascia is very, very thin like that. 

Another example is, during Thanksgiving, if you guys ever separate the skin between your turkey and your turkey breast, or chicken skin and the breast, there’s just a little bit of resistance that you have to push through. You almost can’t see it, but if you try to do it, you feel it. That’s fascia. And even though it’s very, very thin, it can have a huge implication on how we feel, how we move, and how we function in the world. 

What Is the Purpose of Fascia?

Fascia’s primary purpose is to help everything slide and glide; but what can happen is it can get bound down. It can almost get sticky at times or a little bit hardened, and then that prevents free movement. It can entrap nerves.

What Causes Issues with Fascia?

One of the things that can cause those issues to happen is trauma. I don’t necessarily mean actual physical trauma. Sometimes even emotional trauma can lead to muscle guarding and how you posture yourself, which can lead to fascial disruption as well. 

Obviously, if you do have an injury or surgery, then that can and does affect the fascia. So can scarring, which can be either related to surgery or even little scars like if you’ve cut yourself in the kitchen. The way our body binds to heal creates scars, but our body doesn’t know how to separate the skin and the fascia beneath when scars form.

Poor posture can also cause fascial disruption. If we get in these funky positions, things tighten down—and fascia is one of those things that can bind down. As I mentioned in prior posts, our body loves to be hydrated. Fascia needs to glide, and dehydration makes it sticky. That’s why the number one treatment that I recommend to everybody is to drink more water. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water all the time.

What Are the Symptoms of a Fascia Issue?

Some of the symptoms you might feel if you have an issue with your fascia could be pain, tenderness, tightness. You might even get little electrical zings, which are those nerves being entrapped in the bound down fascia. It can also happen if the fascia tugs and does pull free, you might get a little zing from it. 

How We Can Test for Fascia Issues During Your Evaluation

When you come to physical therapy, fascia is one thing that we certainly check on during our initial examination. We will manipulate the tissues in all different directions and make sure you have freedom of motion.

We can even skin roll. To get an example of this, you can pinch the skin up on the back of your hand and roll your skin back and forth, and in all different directions. Theoretically, you should be able to do that all over your body. And what we find is in areas where there’s been chronic pain or chronic stresses, that’s very hard to do. The number one place I would say this is hard to do in my patients is the low back. I think I’ve had one in ten patients that I could actually do it on because we put so much stress through our body that our body just grabs and holds on, and the skin and the fascia all bind together.

How Physical Therapy Can Treat Fascia Problems

In physical therapy, we can help you free those tissues. Some of the ways that we do that include:

Cupping (Myofascial Decompression)

Cupping started as an Eastern medicine approach, which has certainly moved its way into Western medicine. We no longer do fire cupping or glass cupping. We have different kinds of silicone or plastic cups that use a little vacuum pump to help lift and separate the layers of tissue, and we use it in different ways. 

Initially, we might put the cup there and have it lift without any movement. Then, we might move the cups from the side to help free them in certain directions. And then usually, we’ll have the cups make you go through motions that might cause you pain, but it’s to help free up those tissues in all the different directions.

Foam Rolling

A foam roller is about three feet long and usually 9-12 inches in diameter. It’s commonly used to roll the IT band on the side of your leg, a long piece of connective tissue that runs from your hip to your shinbone on the outside of your thigh. What we found is, when you do foam rolling, you’re not making the IT band longer. What you’re doing is helping to free that fascia and giving input to the nervous system to relax and allow those tissues to move.

Massage Therapy

Your physical therapist will do some forms of manual manipulation of the tissues, but also we do have therapeutic massage therapists that work with us, or that we refer to, who can help you free those tissues as well. 

Some of you have heard the term myofascial release, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do: move the fascia on the muscles to free that, so that is no longer something that is impeding your ability to do the things you want to do, move as freely as you want to, have the range of motion that you want, etc. 

Laser Therapy

Here at Bay Area Physical Therapy, and at our sister clinic Lafayette Physical Therapy, we’re lucky enough to have a Class IV laser. Sometimes we use that laser as a heating modality to help bring blood flow to the area to make it more pliable prior to the application of some of those treatments that I’ve already mentioned.

Call Bay Area Physical Therapy for Fascia Relief

If you’d like more information on fascia, please reference our sister company, Lafayette Physical Therapy’s blog post on fascia. And if you feel that fascia might be contributing to any of your restrictions and limitations, please reach out today for a complimentary consultation, a demo of our laser, or to sign up for an evaluation for physical therapy. Call us at (925) 284-3840 so we can help you get back on track as soon as possible.

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