Fascia, it has become one of the hottest words in the world of manual therapy, including Chiropractic, you may have already heard the term being used by your manual therapist and the importance of treating it to help you move better and aid in your recovery. So what is it?, what’s its role?, why is it so important?, and how significant is it to your overall treatment?
Well the truth is that if your practitioner is up to date about just how significant fascia is, then it can be used to completely change how you move and think about your body. What is not commonly known about fascia is that, along with your muscles and ligaments, it is one of THE main factors contributing to your overall posture, injury susceptibility and ability to move freely.
‘Fascia’ is a web like tissue that connects a variety of structures in the body together, the term ‘myofascia’ is a more commonly used term and relevant to this discussion, all this means is muscle (myo-) and its surrounding web of connecting tissue (-fascia). When a practitioner is working on your fascia they are most commonly trying to loosen the connections between the muscles so that they can move freely.
A little known fact is that fascia actually has the ability to contract on its own which can, in some cases, lead to muscles becoming ‘stuck’ to other muscles and structures. Therefore decreasing the ability of the muscle to contract and lengthen correctly. Well informed Chiropractors and other manual therapists can work on relaxing or ‘breaking up’ these stuck areas and subsequently increasing your muscles ability to function using a variety of techniques.
‘Candy floss’ like fascia connecting individual muscle fibres. Image taken from: Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement therapists, Myers T.W., 2009
Now for the important bit readers!!, It is, in fact, not the properties of fascia alone that makes it so important but it is the fascinating role it plays along with muscle, bone and ligaments in allowing movement across the entire body.
The best way I can explain its importance is by referring to a well renowned book called Anatomy Trains that was made to illustrate and map out these fascinating myofascial connections by dissecting the human body.
These ‘trains’ or ‘lines’ as the author prefers to call them are end to end connections of individually related muscles and connecting fascia that essentially link one end of your body to the other via bones and ligaments. Think of them as a road map as to how the body moves as a whole rather than in just one area. What is so significant about these ‘lines’ is that, due to these myofascial connections, areas of the body seemingly unrelated to the area you are concerned about may actually be the predisposing factor that led to your injury. It may even be the reason why you keep getting an injury even though the area has been assessed and treated multiple times before.
To explain the significance and simplify the idea of these connections just ask yourself if you have ever wondered “why does my head look like its further forward than the rest of my body??” or “why is one of my shoulders higher than the other??”. A common one for footballers is “why is it that no matter how much I stretch my hamstrings, I can never seem to touch my toes??”. A familiar one for some of you golfers out there is, “why do I feel twisted even before I start my swing??”. These are just a few noticeable postural problems that are very likely due to a line that is tight somewhere along its path that requires loosening. A good therapist will be able to determine which line is involved, where exactly and then subsequently provide you with a treatment plan and exercise regime. The plan will aim to lengthen the musculature, free up specific joints and ‘break up’ and loosen tight fascia along the involved line or lines so that you can move freely.
This is a picture illustrating the Superficial posterior line of muscles and fascia that very often gets tight in people due to our culture of sitting down for prolonged periods of time.
Top athletes may have lines that have been chronically tightened over the course of their careers since they began their sport. These lines may be the reason why they have struggled to reach their peak due to movement restriction or the reason why they have been become so prone to injury due to over compensations and increased stress along the structures of the involved line.
Think about it, having your lines assessed and treated could even be the difference between success and failure in a competitive environment. They play a major role in your ability to move.
References: Myers, T.W. (2008). Anatomy Trains: Myofascial meridians for manual and movement therapists. 2nd ed. London: Churchill Livingstone.