What is fascia?

– Introduction
– Fascial Layers
– Self exploration: Experiencing Connective Tissue

The connective tissue, or fascia, is a complex three-dimensional fibrous web. It acts like a sweater or body stocking that suspends, surrounds, supports and separates every muscle, bone, organ, nerve and blood vessel down to the cellular level. This fascial net is 16% of a person’s body weight and stores 23% of the body’s total water content.

The fascia has tremendous tensile strength gives support, stability, structure and organization to the body, while allowing flexibility, plasticity, mobility and cohesion of anatomical structures.

It helps the body to handle both internal and external mechanical stresses.

A dynamic balance exists in this extensive, complex elastic body system. If all the organs, muscles, vessels and bones of the body were removed with the fascia left intact, the network of empty fascial partitions would maintain our physical shape.

This three-dimensional body stocking divides the body’s tissues and organs into different compartments, unifies them into complex systems and into a single integrated organism. The fascia transforms the pulls of gravity and muscular contractions into the controlled and harmonious movement of all our body parts. It acts to stabilize and maintain upright posture through the lumbodorsal fascia, the iliotibial band, the gluteal fascia, and superiorly through the thoracic and cervical fascia.

Fascial Layers
The fascia consists of three layers: the superficial fascia, the deep fascia and the dura mater. The superficial fascia is attached directly beneath the skin and is loosely knit, fibrous tissue connected to muscles and joints. This fascial layer is like a body stocking that allows movement of the skin in many directions over the deeper structures allowing enough space for the accumulation of fluid. It can stretch in any direction and adjust quickly to all kinds of strains.

The deep fascia is more dense, tough and tight as it partitions the body. It covers and separates muscles, surrounds, separates and protects internal visceral organs and contributes greatly to the shape and function of the body. The deep fascia is very strong yet flexible. When placed under unusual strains or tensions, it can become quite constrained, acting like a straightjacket to the structures it holds. Scarring and adhesions from surgery, trauma, infection or inflammation can significantly increase this “straightjacket” effect, decreasing organ function and/or causing pain.

The deepest fascial layer, the dura mater, surrounds and protects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). The dura is divided into cranial and spinous parts. The spinal dura is a hollow cylinder that stretches from the cranial base of the occiput to the sacrum. It connects with the cranial dura and has strong attachments to the cranial vault, around the foramen magnum, the posterior bodies of C-2 and C-3 and the vertebral foramen. Inferiorly, the dura attaches to the anterior portion of the canal of S-2 at the sacrum, and it blends with the periostium of the coccyx.

Within the skull, the dura mater lines the cranial cavity and forms a support for the brain. The cranial dura mater surrounds the brain and neighboring structures, including the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, whose functions are vital in order for female reproduction to occur. There are three intracranial membranes of the dura mater: the vertically oriented falx cerebri and the falx cerebelli, and the horizontal tentorium cerebelli. Their primary role is to stabilize the brain inside the cranium during direct or indirect trauma.

Self exploration: Experiencing Connective Tissue
Here is an experiment to let you experience the continuity and importance of connective tissue in Rolfing.

Sit upright in a chair which has a relatively solid hard bottom. Use the thumb and forefinger of one hand to gently grasp the bridge area of your nose. Next wiggle the toes of both foot (keeping all other areas of your body motionless) and notice if you can feel this wiggle with your fingers on your nose. If you can’t, try varying the pressure of your grip. You can also try this experiment by placing the flat of the hand on top of your head instead of on the nose.

This experiment shows how the connective tissue connects us. It should be clear that if any area of connective tissue becomes short or hard, it will cause compensations throughout the body. Rolfing® Structural Integration re-balances this web of connective tissue.


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