What is fascia?
Have you heard about fascia? What is fascia? It is the 3D collagen matrix inside our body that looks rather like a giant spiderweb. It has long been overlooked as simply “connective tissue”, however, not only is it the “glue” that holds everything together but it is also a system – an intelligent network of direct communication between the cells and the nervous system. These collagen fibers, or fascia, form a thin casing of protective tissue that surrounds every system in the body, holding bones, organs, blood vessels and muscles in place to give the body support and structure. It’s not our bones that give us our shape, it’s actually our fascia.
If you’ve ever eaten chicken with the skin on it, and peeled back the skin and saw a white substance that was connecting the skin to the meat, that was fascia. You’ve probably also seen fascia while peeling an orange as the white fibers that are found in and around each slice. Not only does fascia surround our bodily systems, they are inside them too. The fascial system works with blood vessels, nerves, the lymphatic system, and even layers of skin. Also, when we talk about increasing collagen or restoring collagen
we’re actually talking about fascia.
The body contains four main types of fascia, which are defined based on where in the body they are found:
1. Superficial fascia – this is the fascia most on the surface, forming the deepest layer of our skin, and gives the body its shape
2. Deep fascia – this is a layer of dense, fibrous tissue that surrounds muscles and ligaments, helping them group together for functional movement
3. Visceral fascia – this is the fascia that surrounds the vital organs and holds them in place
4. Spinal straw fascia – the three layers of fascia that surround the spine and attach to other types of fascia, bringing nourishment to the spinal discs
Fascia is found everywhere in the body and has numerous important functions that impact our overall health, including:
• Fascia holds our skin in place
• Fascia acts as a communication system
• Fascia is a delivery system for nutrients
• Fascia transfers electrical energy
• Fascia stores fluid (water in a gel-like form)
• Fascia reacts to trauma
• Fascia functions as a storage center
• Fascia supports the passage of our lymph, blood and nervous system
• Fascia plays a role in pain sensory
When fascia is working like it should, it feeds cells with oxygen and necessary nutrients to keep systems functioning optimally. It also helps the body flush out toxins. When fascia is unhealthy, however, it can wreak havoc on the body, pulling it out of alignment (leading to increased risk of pain or injury), depriving cells of oxygen and nutrients and causing toxins to become trapped. This can lead to stagnation, chronic pain and systemic health issues.
What is lymph?
Lymph is the clear fluid that flows through the body’s lymphatic system, which is composed of lymph nodes and lymph vessels. Its job is to pull fluid from the tissues back into the central circulation, much like tree roots draw water back to the tree. The lymphatic system is responsible for waste removal and detoxification – basically the sewer system of the body. It is also part of the immune system and keeps body fluid levels in balance and defends the body against infections. Another important thing to know about the lymphatic system is that, unlike blood circulation which is triggered by the heart, the lymphatic system does not have an organ to pump it into action and it relies completely on movement and muscle contractions to function.
How are they related?
Both the lymphatic system that helps remove toxins from the body and the blood circulation system that carries nutrients and oxygen to the cells are housed in the fascia. Fluid from the fascia drains into the lymph nodes and lymphatic system, meaning it is essential to have healthy, functional fascia for proper lymphatic drainage. If the fascia are unhealthy or dysfunctional due to injuries, scar tissue or neglect, lymph flow will slow down and the body will be restricted in its ability to feed the cells and flush out the toxins and pathogens that accumulate in our tissues. This congestion causes lymph to drain back into the blood, which must get cleaned by the liver. Stagnation in the liver causes more toxins to build up, creating inflammation throughout the body.
Symptoms of unhealthy fascia:
• Scars and scar tissue
• Wrinkles and cellulite (this fascia that is stuck, forming adhesions/dents in skin)
• Impaired blood flow
• Impaired mobility and range of motion
• Inflammation and autoimmune inflammation
• Hyper extension
• Shock absorption issues
• Chronic muscle pain and tightness
• Referral pain (pain that is felt in a different place from where it is caused)
Signs of a dysregulated lymphatic system:
• Water retention
• Stiffness, especially in the morning
• Brain fog
• Itchy skin
• Stubborn weight gain
• Night sweats
• Frequent infections, chronic sinusitis, colds and ear issues
• Chronic sore throat, tonsilitis
• Breast swelling with the menstrual cycle
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Cold hands and feet
How to take care of your fascia and lymph:
• Physical manipulation of fascia and lymph
• Supplements and dietary support
Physical manipulation and movement are key components to optimizing healthy fascia and a healthy lymphatic system. Anything that gets the body moving, like exercise or power walking, will help pump the lymph. Techniques such as dry brushing (using a special brush all over the body on dry skin, always stroking from the limbs back towards the heart) or using a TCM gua sha tool are another great way to support lymphatic flow. To reach the fascia, we need to go a little deeper. Just like the lymph needs movement to be healthy, the fascia need compression to stimulate blood flow! This involves practices like lymphatic massage, foam rolling, block therapy and fascia blasting (my personal favorites are Ashley Black’s Fascia Blaster tools, which are specially designed to stimulate the fascia below the skin). Not only do these increase blood flow, but studies have shown they also reduce cellulite, reduce fat, decrease inflammation, increase collagen production and remodel fascia tissue. They may be used on the body and face.
We can also increase the health of our lymph and fascia through supplements and dietary support. Drinking plenty of water, especially fresh lemon water or ginger tea, helps support the lymphatic system and hydrate the fascia. Also, eating adequate protein ( at least half your body weight in ounces of protein per day) and consuming collagen support healthy fascia tissue. In addition, homeopathic lymphatic drainage and herbal blends that stimulate lymph flow are great support and make physical manipulation practices even more effective.
Abby Vallejo graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay with a degree in Human Biology & Dietetics and went on to do her Dietetic Internship with Wellness Workdays, based in Hingham, Massachusetts. Abby is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach and enjoys training and counseling clients one-on-one to help them achieve their wellness and fitness goals. She is passionate about balance, wellness and all things holistic. In her free time she enjoys going to the gym, traveling, eating and spending time outside in nature.