What is fascia and how does it effect us?

Courtesy of Fox Run Equine Centre


The following article was release by an equine research group about soft tissue in horses, but can help decipher the myth around our own human fascia and how it works.


Equine Fascia

Fascia is tough connective tissue that creates a 3-dimensional web extending without interruption from head to toe. Fascia is the connective tissue that links every tissue in the body. It connects the skin to the muscle, the muscle to the bone and the organs to each other. Fascia is immensely strong; someone has estimated that it can withstand more than 2000 pounds of pressure per square inch. The white, glistening fibers you see when you pull a piece of meat apart or when you pull chicken skin away is fascia.

Fascia consists of a complex which has three parts:
1. Elastin fibers – This is the elastic and stretchable part of the complex.
2. Collagen fibers – These fibers are extremely tough and give support to the structure.
3. Ground substance/matrix: A gelatinous like substance that transports metabolic material throughout the body

The fascial system generally supports, stabilizes, and cushions. It creates separation between muscles. It also creates space through which delicate nerves, blood vessels, and fluids can pass. Fascia has the ability to actively contract in a smooth muscle-like manner and consequently influence musculoskeletal dynamics. In a healthy state, the collagen fibers wrap around the elastic fibers in a relaxed, wavy configuration.

When fascia is injured, an inflammatory response causes it to stiffen, affecting electrical conductivity, muscle contractions, blood circulation, lymphatic drainage, and the circulation of fluid in the brain and spinal cord. This impacts the horse’s ability to move and to learn. Stiffened fascia leads to poor posture and biomechanics, with lowered strength and endurance. With an impeded or painful nervous system, it can lead to dull, reactive or unpredictable behavior.

Chronic pain or stress also impacts the fascia. Constant tension in the muscles reduces circulation, causing the fascia to become stiff and dry. This tensional network may then shorten, thicken, become dehydrated, and consequently affect muscle function and joint mobility. This in turn, is typically displayed as pain, discomfort, stiffness or decreased mobility and altered movement. Under these circumstances, fascia not only loses its ability to communicate via bio-tensegrity, but it also loses its ability to lubricate, insulate, envelope and functionally support the all body systems. It may become excessively bound or stretched and cannot respond rapidly to required functional changes in posture or movement. This explains why some people may have pain that appears unrelated to their original injury.

Fascial constrictions, the gait aberrations and dysfunctional movement patterns. These are present whether they are backyard horses or top athletes. These fascial or soft tissue dysfunctions lead to pain and lameness. The fascia will adjust to postural imbalances over time. The imbalances must be corrected or the horse rider will encounter resistance, stiffness, and avoidance. Riders should also address their own poor postures, which can in turn affect the way not only the rider, but also the horse, will move. The basics of horse riding include balance, posture, and seating. Without them, the rider will make the horse’s back sore, leading to injuries of the limbs.

Fox Run Equine Center

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