Fascia is connective tissue made of collagen fibers that looks rather like transparent plastic food wrap. Connective tissue covers all of the major structures of the body including bones, blood vessels, and organs. It prevents friction between bodily structures during movement, enabling them to move smoothly against each other. However, like any body part, fascia can fail. Due to the widespread presence of this tissue, such failures can cause a variety of health problems.
Superficial fascia is present in the deepest layer of skin across the majority of the body. It is fatty and can stretch to accommodate weight gain and changes in body shape that occur during pregnancy. Its purpose is to store water and fat reserves, but it also provides insulation and protection. As well as the skin, superficial fascia surrounds major bodily organs, glands, and other structures. It also occupies various empty cavities within the body.
Visceral fascia holds the organs in place and wraps around each organ individually, in two layers. Unlike superficial, visceral is far less capable of stretching because it must remain reasonably tense to hold the organ in the correct position.
Deep fascia sheets surround individual muscles. However, they also keep distinct groups of muscles separate from one another, preventing friction when the muscles move against and over each other. It contains an extremely dense concentration of elastin, so it is more flexible and more resilient to strain and force.
Connective tissue needs to be stretchy to flex and move along with the body. However, if it loses its tone and flexibility, the individual can experience pain and other complaints. Because layers of fascia connect, pain in one area can be due to issues with the fascia in another. For this reason, physical therapy such as massage for pain in one part of the body may involve manipulating it in various regions.
Collagen gives fascia its flexibility. However, when the collagen grows too much, this can make the fascia stiff and cause problems such as compressed nerves. To maintain healthy connective tissue, it is important to exercise regularly -- lack of physical exercise leads to overgrowth of collagen in the body, and the fascia becomes inflexible and tight.
Plantar fasciitis is a common problem affecting the fascia, primarily in people who regularly walk long distances. It is often informally referred to as "policeman's heel." Plantar fasciitis develops when the connective tissue along the sole, between the heel and the toes, becomes sore and inflamed. The condition is most common in people over the age of 40. It usually improves with gentle stretching, the application of ice packs, and rest.
Eosinophilic fasciitis is a rare condition that leaves connective tissue highly inflamed, and also causes it to swell and thicken. This mainly occurs on the arms, legs, torso, and neck. Experts do not know why certain people develop eosinophilic fasciitis, but they do know what causes it. The condition occurs when eosinophils, a special type of white blood cell, overgrow in the connective tissue. The affected areas usually become reddened and painful. Over time, the condition also affects the surface texture of the skin.
Necrotising fasciitis is a serious bacterial infection of the connective tissue often called flesh-eating disease, although this is a misnomer. Instead of eating the flesh, the bacteria release substances that cause tissue to die. The condition usually starts with an injury to the skin and quickly worsens, with the skin becoming swollen, red, and blistered. Infected people may also develop symptoms consistent with the flu or a stomach bug. Necrotizing fasciitis can be fatal and requires emergency treatment with antibiotics and surgical removal of the infected tissue.
Fascial slings can treat stress incontinence, which often occurs after childbirth, using the patient's own fascia. Stress incontinence develops when the structures around the urethra no longer provide adequate support. During surgery to treat the condition, the surgeon removes a strip of fascia from somewhere else, usually the stomach or thigh, and attaches it underneath the urethra to improve support and stop urine leakage from the bladder.
Myofascial release is an alternative therapy, a form of massage that uses deep strokes to manipulate the connective tissue. Unlike many traditional methods of massage, myofascial release is done without oil or other lubricants. The treatment aims to restore normal movement and ease the pain. Myofascial release can offer relief from conditions such as repetitive strain injury, lower back pain, and sciatica.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.