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What is Fascia?

Alexandrea Dillon, Meredith Mikell
  • Author
    Alexandrea Dillon

    Alexandrea has taught secondary science for over six years. She has a bachelors degree in Teaching Secondary Science and a Masters of Education in Instructional Design. She's TESOL certified and a National Geographic Certified Educator. In addition, she was the spotlight educator for National Geographic in late 2019.

  • Instructor
    Meredith Mikell

    Meredith holds a B.S. in marine science with a minor in philosophy, as well as a master's of aeronautical science with a space science emphasis. She has taught subjects including marine science, biology, astronomy, math, and reading to students from kindergarten through high school.

Explore the fascia in anatomy. Understand what fascia is by definition, identify the fascia functions and learn how to improve fascia health in the body. Updated: 02/02/2022

What is Fascia?

What is fascia? Fascia is a type of connective tissue that covers and connects all internal parts of the body. It connects muscles, internal organs, tendons, ligaments, and skin. It is primarily made of collagen, a tightly coiled protein that creates elastic and slippery fascial tissue. Collagen is produced by specialized cells in connective tissues called fibroblasts. Fascia is white when dissected in isolation but often looks light pink in the body due to the red muscle tissue behind it. Fascia is highly innervated and almost as sensitive as skin tissue.

There are four layers of fascia in the human body, all with slightly differing functions:

  1. Visceral fascia surrounds the viscera, or organs, of the body.
  2. Parietal fascia lines body cavities, like the cavities pictured in the diagram below.
  3. Deep fascia covers blood vessels, bones, muscles, and nerves.
  4. Superficial fascia is the outermost layer of fascia and connects skin to the tissue lying directly underneath.


Parietal fascia lines body cavities, like the cavities detailed in this diagram.

Body Cavities Diagram


Fascia Pain

Layers of fascia slip smoothly against each other due to the biological lubricant hyaluronan. An excellent example of this concept is two latex balloons with baby oil rubbed against each other. There should be very little friction, easy movement, and separation between balloon cavities. Fascia function provides this easy movement and separates body components from the surrounding tissue, like organs and muscles.

Fascia pain occurs when the easy movement between fascia is disturbed. Pain can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • Sticky or dried-up hyaluronan doesn't lubricate fascia movement and normal hyaluronan; this can result in muscle knots or muscles that bind in certain areas. These are called fascia adhesions.
  • Repetitive movements for many hours per day can strain the fascia, resulting in pain and inflammation in the strained area.
  • Surgeries or other traumatic injuries that damage the fascia can sometimes cause long-term pain.
  • A sedentary lifestyle can also be the culprit of fascia pain because fascia requires some movement to work correctly.


Factory workers, like this steelworker, can have fascia pain due to the repetitive movements their jobs require.

Factory worker


Fascia

Imagine your body being wrapped entirely in plastic wrap. When you tug on one part of the wrap, it will tighten elsewhere. If you tugged hard enough, the wrap could tear anywhere there is enough tension placed upon it. Your body actually has a system like this in place -- only it's on the inside where we can't see.

Fascia is internal connective tissue that wraps around organs, providing support and holding parts together. It has the appearance of a very thin spider web, connecting layers of muscle and surrounding all internal body tissues.

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Fascia in Anatomy

The anatomical definition of fascia is a sheath, covering, or sheet of connective tissue that encloses, separates, and attaches body components. These body components can be muscles, organs, skin, bones, or nerves. Typically developed and undamaged fascia is stretchy, flexible, slippery, coated in hyaluronan, and relaxed. It is relaxed, wavy and white in appearance. Healthy fascia will resist being pulled apart and can withstand considerable tension, helping to keep the body together during times of physical stress.

Some places inside the body, particularly the lower back and other aspects of the abdomen, have very thick sheets of fascia that hold muscles, vertebrae, and organs in place. Other areas have very thin layers of fascia, like directly under the skin. Every organ in the body is covered in one or several layers of fascia. For example, the lungs are separated from the thoracic cavity by the visceral pleura and then surrounded by fascia again by the fascia enclosing the entire thoracic cavity.

Fascia and Plantar Fasciitis

The bottom of the foot is held together by two ligaments called the long plantar ligament and the short plantar ligament. Together, they are called the plantar fascia ligaments and are surrounded by significant fascia. When this fascia on the bottom of the feet becomes torn or inflamed, a condition called plantar fasciitis develops due to strain. The strain can also cause microtears to occur. Plantar fasciitis is the most common type of fasciitis. However, other places in the body can experience similar strain, including the Achilles tendon; this means fasciitis can occur anywhere in the body.

Fascia Elasticity

When in a normal, healthy state, fascia is somewhat relaxed and wavy, much like a gentle yet supportive hug. The elasticity of fascia is due to many interlocking collagen fibers, or strands of proteins that act like coiled springs: being strong, but stretchy. This allows the fascia to be responsive and flexible when it comes to movement and activity. But when excessive physical strain or trauma occurs, the fascia becomes tense and strained. This can not only cause pain and discomfort, but also limit the body's range of motion.

Fascia & Plantar Fasciitis

When fascia becomes overly strained, it can begin to tear. The 'coiled spring' of the collagen fibers are overstretched and become 'sprung'. This causes the fibers to be misaligned and unable to pull and stretch against each other normally. Pain and swelling can occur in the areas of strain.

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Video Transcript

Fascia

Imagine your body being wrapped entirely in plastic wrap. When you tug on one part of the wrap, it will tighten elsewhere. If you tugged hard enough, the wrap could tear anywhere there is enough tension placed upon it. Your body actually has a system like this in place -- only it's on the inside where we can't see.

Fascia is internal connective tissue that wraps around organs, providing support and holding parts together. It has the appearance of a very thin spider web, connecting layers of muscle and surrounding all internal body tissues.

Fascia Elasticity

When in a normal, healthy state, fascia is somewhat relaxed and wavy, much like a gentle yet supportive hug. The elasticity of fascia is due to many interlocking collagen fibers, or strands of proteins that act like coiled springs: being strong, but stretchy. This allows the fascia to be responsive and flexible when it comes to movement and activity. But when excessive physical strain or trauma occurs, the fascia becomes tense and strained. This can not only cause pain and discomfort, but also limit the body's range of motion.

Fascia & Plantar Fasciitis

When fascia becomes overly strained, it can begin to tear. The 'coiled spring' of the collagen fibers are overstretched and become 'sprung'. This causes the fibers to be misaligned and unable to pull and stretch against each other normally. Pain and swelling can occur in the areas of strain.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Where is fascia located in the body?

Fascia is located everywhere in the body. It encloses and separates all organs, most muscles, and nerves. It adheres the skin to the rest of the tissues in the body.

What is fascia and its function?

Fascia is the slippery, elastic connective tissue that holds the body together. It not only provides structure to the body but also allows for easy, lubricated movement between body parts.

What happens when you release fascia?

Fascia release refers to breaking up fascia adhesions manually, usually through massage. Adhesions are created when the lubricant between fascial layers, hyaluronan, is sticky or insufficient.

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