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What is fascia?

The medical term for the body’s connective tissue is ‘fascia.’ Fascia holds the body together. It attaches everything to everything in the human body and is part of muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and even covers the nervous system.   Fascia envelops all of our organs and anchors them to each other or to the abdominal wall internally. Fascia gives our body stability.  However, it must also glide and yield to our every movement. If the ability of fascia to stretch or elongate is lost, the end result is pain, numbness, loss of mobility, etc. 


We know that fascia can become restricted from scar tissue following trauma such as surgical procedures - this is well documented in the medical literature.  What has been more recently discovered is the fact that fascia is CONTRACTILE, meaning it can tighten similar to how a muscle contracts.  We know this from an explosion of research on fascia that has emerged out of Europe over the past ten years.  It was discovered that fascia contains cells called myofibroblasts. These cells are embedded in the fascia and are attached to an extensive “lattice like” network of collagen fibers (envision a 3 dimensional spider web).   When the myofibroblasts contract they cause the fascia to constrict and thereby restrict motion in the tissues to which they are attached. Prior to this research it was assumed that only muscles could contract to cause/resist movement. 

The primary difference between muscle contraction and fascial contraction is that muscle contracts to move you while fascia contracts to protect or resist movement around a specific tissue.  Even more interesting is that when fascia contracts it is capable of stimulating muscle stretch receptors and cause the external muscle to also contract and cause chronic musculoskeletal pain.  In other words, the pain from contracted fascia can look like a common case of back or neck pain that does not resolve with traditional treatments like massage or exercise.

This becomes extremely important when it is understood that the nervous system is enveloped entirely in deep fascia. The specialized fascia of the nervous system is called the epineurium.  Over 50% of every nerve is actually made of neural fascia. It covers and protects all of the nerves in the human body including those related to the muscles, skin, organs and vessels.  The fascia also envelopes all of the organs and circulatory tissues including the arteries, veins, and lymphatic vessels. Therefore, fascial dysfunction can directly compress nerves and other sensitive tissues causing severe pain in some cases. 

For more information visit, website of the originator of the fascial Strain-Counterstrain treatment:  Brian Tuckey, PT, OCS, JSCCI.

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