Fascia: The Big Picture

Have you ever looked at a stippling painting? You know the ones that are made up of 1000s of little dots? When you are up close all you see is dots, but when you take a few steps back a clear image manifests itself. Well, I think of learning in much the same way. As a student I am taught sections of information, yet it isn't until I put them all together that I can see the whole picture.

Formal education in general has the tendency to divide the whole into discrete numbers of subunits which can be classified and taught as separate parts. The misfortune of this model is that the lesson ends without ever bringing those parts back into the big picture. The connective tissue, specifically Fascia, has provided the perfect place for anatomists to carry out that same reductionistic process when studying the human body, once again, to the detriment of our understanding of the "whole".

Connective tissue cells secrete a number of substances into the space around themselves. They also secrete what is commonly called "ground substance". Those connective tissue cell secretions (primarily collagen, retinacular fibers, elastin fibers and the ground substance) can combine with cellular components to form a variety of connective tissue structures, such as cartilage, bone, tendon, blood, adipose tissue, lymphatic tissue and fascia. The combination of connective tissue secretions are often collectively referred to as The Extracellular Matrix (ECM) - you may also hear it called 'The Living Matrix' or the 'Connective Tissue Fabric'. Regardless of name, almost every cell in the human body is imbedded in this pervasive matrix that, among other things, provides a supportive framework for cells to anchor to and move around on, separates tissues from one another, nourishes cells by providing a mechanism for the diffusion of nutrients and that regulates intercellular communication.

The Connective tissue properties are determined by the local components of the Extracellular Matrix. In the case of Fascia, elastin and collagen fibers are secreted into the ECM along with ground substance by the connective tissue's cellular components (fibroblasts, mast cells, adipose cells, macrophages, plasma cells, and leukocytes) to form this ever pervasive connective tissue network. This fascia network weaves its way through the body in every direction without interruption. It surrounds the cells of every nerve, blood vessel, organ, muscle and bone. An injury in one part of this dynamic web affects all other parts, which is why a client can have a resistant hyperextension in the upper cervical muscles as a result of a constricted planar fascia!

For over a century, the fascia has been sitting in a bucket where it was tossed aside by those who used it to separate the "parts" of the body. Thankfully, over the last few decades with advances in technology, the trend in research has shed new light on the importance of fascia to the function of the body. As a result, fascia is no longer seen as mere packing material, but is taking its proper place as one of the single most important structures in the body.

BIOTONE is exhibiting at the American Massage Conference in Atlanta this May. I am very excited to represent BIOTONE at the conference where on Friday, May 20 at 3:45 pm, I will be teaching a short 1 hour CE course titled The Fascial Matrix. We hope to see you there!