Fascia is the name for any of a wide variety of connective tissues. It develops from the mesoderm and is distributed extensively throughout the body, providing a kind of “packing” for muscles, bones and vessels. The two kinds of fascia that most concern the Structural Integration practitioner are superficial fascia and deep fascia which are different both in location and form.
This is a loose areolar layer of connective tissue that covers most of the body just beneath the skin. It is in the superficial fascia that fat cells accumulate as modifications of the basic tissue cells. Because of its “cotton candy” consistency, the superficial fascia tends to conserve body heat and to provide a medium through which nerves and blood vessels may freely traverse to the skin above. The superficial fascia may be thought of as a kind of “wet suit” holding everything under the skin in some semblance of position.
Deep fascia is a dense, tough bluish white fibrous material. Unlike superficial fascia, it is devoid of fat. Its structural latticework is more regular and symmetrical than the latticework of superficial fascia.
The body provides deep fascia where mechanical and physical load requirements call for a stronger and better organized “packing material” than the superficial fascia would provide. Each individual muscle, and in fact every muscle fibers is surrounded by a deep fascial sheath. Also, groups of muscles are bound into a common sleeve-like structure by an envelope called investing fascia. And sometimes, particularly in the limbs, a fascial septum communicates from the investing fascia to the periosteum of the bone. This septum compartmentalizes whole groups of muscles along the long axis of the bone, serving as a point of attachment along the axis and aiding in discrete muscle function.
It is important to note that the fibers of deep fascia tend to run at right angles to muscle fibers at the body of the muscle; at the origin and insertion of the muscle the fibers of deep fascia tend to follow the axis of the muscle.
Fascia and body function
From the above anatomical and histological description of fascia, one can see that the free movement of a muscle is limited to a great degree by the condition of the fascia encapsulating it. Conversely, the condition of the fascia around a muscle is influenced by the mechanical, biochemical and psychological stresses the muscle is subject to. A common effect of this close relationship is a shortening of muscles or muscle groups by way of their fascial coverings. And if the stress situation which initiates this process happens with sufficient impact or is maintained over a period of time, the fascia “takes a set” and loss of freedom becomes permanent.
Fascia as a communicating system
The superficial fascial envelope of the body is a continuous loose fibriotic sheath with a fluid-filled matrix. It is therefore a system with ideal mechanical and hydrokinetic properties. It can be compared simplistically with a fish net in water. If any point of the net is tugged on, the displacement is not merely local, but is reflected throughout the whole net. And at the same time the fluid medium is also forced to change in order to come into balance.
Therefore, when the fascia in a given area “takes a set” the effect is not limited to the area, but is translated throughout the entire myofascial system in a compensatory response. In this way problems of deviation from the anatomical ideal are compounded and the body becomes increasingly vulnerable to the further effects of stress.
Moreover, in areas that reflect changes due to stress factors, whether they be chemical or physical, the tone of the fascia of the area is changed. Circulation of tissue fluid becomes limited, with resultant vascular impairment. Soon fascial planes that once slid over each other easily begin to knit together in the form of fascial adhesions. Eventually muscles can no longer function discretely, but rather drag along their attached neighbors, wasting both efficiency and energy. The loss of energy and efficiency is referred throughout the whole body. In time, and with varying degrees of magnitude, the accumulating effects of myofascial displacement create a disorganized system of body segments lacking normal integrating mechanical and physiological relationships.
Processing of fascia
Because of the plastic nature of fascia, it is subject to corrective mechanical displacement in the say way that it fell victim to stress related forces. This may be accomplished by the application of energy in the form of mechanical force. The process of fascia manipulation as applied in Structural Integration is not a localized corrective procedure. Effects radiate throughout the whole myofascial system by way of its fibrous and fluid components. The art is in knowing when, where and how to institute the corrective manipulation and how to project the consequences of the resulting fascial change.
As discussed earlier, the function, fiber pattern and location of deep fascia are more predictable than those of superficial fascia. Therefore its processing can be more specific. We know that if we apply force across the fascia fiber pattern, the fascia will expand over the body of a muscle. The restrictive envelope has been loosened and the muscle can now lengthen at the place it has been worked on. At the ends of the muscle, fascial fibers become more dense and fall into a pattern that is roughly parallel to the functional axis of the muscle. Here application of energy should be parallel to the terminal ends and should be directed especially to cleaning and freeing stuck places in order to bring about unrestricted movement of the attached tendon.
The investing deep fascia also has an established fiber pattern and should be processed in the same “across the grain” motion.
The structural aberrations of the body are, in many instances, of fascial origin, and even when they are not, fascia is intimately involved in maintaining them. Fascia, therefore, is the medium in which the practitioner of Structural Integration renders his art.
In the area of the ribcage the freeing of superficial fascia will bring about an increased thoracic capacity within a very short period of time. Locally, we note the ribcage has expanded and shows increased mobility, better skin tone and balance. The effects of the processing are not limited to the ribcage internally. The skin over the processed area shows signs of greater surface mobility over the underlying areas. Increased temperature indicates vascular involvement with increased metabolic activity. As we look at the whole structure it is apparent that other changes have occured in surfaces that were not yet processed. These changes are reflected in the border areas as decreased or increased stress lines from tissue seeking new level: of compensation, as a result of the relaxation in the processed area. The fascial integral now has a “released” area that radiates lines of force throughout the whole system. Some strings on the “fish net” have been re-orientated toward the normal. Now, the whole network shifts. The vast communication complex of fascia has been stimulated from a dynamic stress-supporting mass towards a kinetic stress-relieving structure. Fibers move, stretch, and open up. The matrix fluid seeks a new hydrostatic balance.Fascia