What is fascia and how does it affect muscle function and postural alignment?



Fascia is a single three-dimensional web of connective tissue that wraps around all the internal parts of the body from head to toe. It allows the muscles to move freely alongside other structures and reduces any friction. It is a very strong but flexible connective tissue. It can be found immediately beneath the skin, around muscles, groups of muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs.

The fascial system maintains a fine balance of tension and elasticity which allows for smooth, unrestricted movement of each muscle group while holding everything in place. If the fascia is restricted then the muscle contraction would not happen as expected.

Since there is one piece of fascia wrapping the whole body from toes to head, a problem anywhere along its length can affect and create symptoms elsewhere. As soon as there is dysfunction or pain in one area, the body adapts and compensates to keep the body upright and work without causing the pain. As it does this the fascia will shorten or tighten in areas because the muscles cannot hold the extra tension alone. Posture changes to accommodate this. This can be likened to a tent with the guy ropes being slightly tighter on one side than the other. The tent would still stay up but this would make it weaker and more vulnerable or unstable to a possible strong gust of wind, just as the body is a weaker structure if misaligned, and therefore more prone to injury. On top of this many of us also have occupational or lifestyle factors affecting our posture such as sitting behind a desk on a computer all day. This increases the shortening in some areas of fascia due to this area being held in one position for many hours at a time. So the body actually changes shape to reflect how it is being used. Therefore, some useful advice would be to have micro-breaks in your work-perhaps stretching your arms or standing up or walking around to try to break the cycle of shortening.

As a massage therapist I am able to look at someone’s posture and see where there may be a misalignment, where the fascia is possibly restricted and tight. I would then use a variety of techniques to move the tissues and fascia in the direction that I want them to move in. For example, if someone has hunched shoulders with their head poking forwards I would work up towards the neck and head with the tissues of the chest and down towards the mid-back with the tissues of the upper back. Over a couple of treatments the fascia is likely to release and lengthen, helping the overall postural alignment. It is also then important to do some remedial exercises for long term changes.

My aim, as a massage therapist, is help create balance within the body to support fluid movement.

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