Fascia is a dense sheet of irregular connective tissue that supports and surrounds all muscles and organs of the body. This means that everything is connected together. Fascia is made up of a polysaccharide complex called ground substance which is contained within a matrix of elastin and collagen fibres. The proportion and distribution of these fibres varies dramatically in different areas of the body depending on local needs. The elastic fibres can stretch and the collagen has great tensile strength. Fascia carries nerves, blood and lymphatic vessels and fills spaces between muscles. It also holds muscles with similar function together.
Three layers of connective tissue extend from the fascia to protect and strengthen skeletal muscles. These are all continuous with the tissue that attaches skeletal muscles to other structures, such as bone or another muscle. (e.g. tendon, ligament or joint capsules). The three layers of connective tissue are:
Epimysium – surrounds the whole muscle. This provides a lubricated surface so that the muscles can move smoothly against other bodily structures.
Perimysium – surrounds groups of 10-100 muscle fibres to form bundles called fascicles.
Endomysium – Mostly made of reticular fibres, this surrounds each muscle fibre within the bundle.
The fascia holds the muscle together and keeps it in the correct place. It also separates the muscles so they can work independently of each other.
Each muscle is part of the chain of fascia that runs through the body. When one muscle contracts, others in the chain have to respond and assist in the function. The fascial connections may also create tension and movements in other directions and joints need to be stabilised. This means that the whole system is working together to perform the movement.
When no movement takes place for a while (e.g. when asleep overnight), the fascia starts to form small fibrous bonds with the neighbouring tissues. These easily break down when movement does occur, but that is why we feel stiff and in need of a stretch each morning. Prolonged lack of movement in local areas allows these bonds to increase and strengthen. They are not then easily broken by a quick stretch. The bonds start to restrict movement and a vicious cycle starts which inhibits normal range of motion. Muscle stretching alone will not release the fascial tension and Soft Tissue Therapy will be needed to break the bonds. Remedial exercises and postural improvement will only be effective after the fascia has been released.