Nine Fascinating Fascial Facts Which Explain Why We Hurt

On 3rd April 2018, the New York Times announced that a new organ had been discovered. The organ was “the fascial matrix.”…

On 3rd April 2018, the New York Times announced that a new organ had been discovered. The organ was “the fascial matrix.” For many of my colleagues around the world who call themselves Rolfers, this announcement was not exactly news. The followers of Dr. Ida P Rolf have been working with fascia to get people straight and out of pain for 70+ years!

Why has it taken so long for the importance of our body’s fascial structure to be recognised?

Well, it might surprise you to know that most of what we understand about how humans work comes from dissecting dead people in the last century.

As any manual therapist will tell you, living, conscious tissue looks, feels and behaves very differently from what is described in the pages of anatomy textbooks.

Of course, we have long had machinery that can see into living bodies. Ultrasound scanners, X-ray, MRI, cannot detect important connective tissue restrictions. Fascial layers that are stuck together or under too little or too much tension do not show up.

Living biopsies and surgery involve cutting, which it turns out, fundamentally changes the architecture of fascia.

However, in the last few years, Confocal-laser microscopy and tiny remote-control cameras have made it possible to see beneath the skin. So that we can now observe the working structure and fluid dynamics of living fascia. This is how it was (at last) officially confirmed that fascia is, in itself, interesting enough to be designated an organ.

It has taken a while for science to catch up with what biochemist Dr. Ida P Rolf was telling her students way back in the 1940s. But the importance of healthy fascia to our general wellbeing is now recognised by a growing community of health professionals.

To be fair, fascia has been a focus of scientific inquiry for a small band of pioneers for over a decade. Each year the fascia research congress brings together scientists from around the world to share their ideas and new discoveries. I attended the last fascia congress in Berlin in 2019 and from it would like to bring you –


The fascial system forms a dense matrix of intelligent fibres that wrap, permeate, and connect every cell in the body. This fascial network is like a secondary nervous system. It communicates mechanical information around the body at 700mph. This is almost 10x faster than the actual nervous system. 90% of the nerve receptors which transmit pain signals to the brain from an injury or strain are found in fascia, not muscle. Of the other types of nerve that signal pressure, vibration, heat, and cold, there are six times more in fascia than in muscle.

So, what has traditionally been classified as muscle pain is actually fascial pain. This is why the release of fascial strain to correct posture during a Rolfing series, very often alleviates long-standing pain issues too.

The architecture of fascia varies widely according to its function. Collagen fibres in the fascia of some tendons and ligaments have the same tensile strength and spring capacity as stainless steel. The elastic spring effect of tendons can be seen clearly in walking and running. The tremendous amount of power required to lift the body upwards in toe-off, comes, not as was thought from the calf muscles, but from the elastic recoil of Achilles tendons and plantar fascia.

This explains why an Achilles tear or plantar fasciitis can be so painful and debilitating.

The fascial network is always growing. It branches and changes according to the forces it is subjected to. In the morning after sleep, our first movements break some of the fascial bonds that have grown overnight and which we do not need. In parts of the body subjected to prolonged periods of inactivity, poor movement patterns, or habitual emotional holding, fascial binding continues unchecked.

This is why, over time, these thick and fibrous sheets bind us into the painful and restrictive shapes we often see in “old age.”

Healthy Fascia is very wet and is bathed in a gel-like fluid called Hyluronon (formally known as Hyluronic Acid)

This fluid forms the ground substance of the fascial architecture and performs many useful functions:

it contains nutrients that feed cells,
it takes away metabolic waste,
and is very slippery enabling fascial sheets to slide freely over one another.
the fluid pockets in fascia also cushion mechanical stresses, much like a pocket sprung mattress does.

However, when subjected to emotional stress, dehydration or inflammation, hyluronon turns from a super lubricant into a super glue.

When this happens, fascial layers become stuck together hampering joint and muscle movement. In addition, nerve fibres which should slide freely between moving sheets of tissue, become trapped and are subjected to painful stretching or even tearing.

Finally, it has been shown (but not yet proven) that cancer cells are able to travel along these sticky fascial pathways but are prevented from spreading in well hydrated fascia.

Literally, everything that happens to us in life – good and bad – is felt and recorded within the fascial system. The fascial matrix has direct links to the limbic (emotional) brain centres. Which might explain why our posture often reflects how we “think” and “feel” and vice versa.

When muscle contracts the forces generated travel along the muscle. Research has shown that fascia enwrapping the muscle also creates lateral movement. Restrictions in the myofascial network can therefore affect movement in all three dimensions. This is why the cause of pain is often not where the pain is felt.

One of Dr. Rolf’s favourite admonitions to her students was, “where you think it is, it ain’t”

Fascial sheets traverse the body, surface to deep, and from head to toes. Recent research has shown that 80% of the energy meridians known to traditional Chinese medicine follow the same pathways. It was also found that many of the major energy points used in acupuncture are places where nerve, blood, and lymph vessels penetrated a layer of fascia. When fascia is under too much strain or fibrotic it can cause pain and interruption to fluid flow by squeezing these vessels.

It is interesting to note that traditional acupuncture needles have a slightly abrasive tip and once inserted, are often twisted by the practitioner. This has the effect of winding the fascia tighter and then releasing it, thus easing the pressure on the vessels and the nerve fibres that are being strangled.

Releasing strain patterns in connective tissue creates space in the body and eases pressure on joints and the internal organs. Compressed joints sap energy and wear out quicker.

Clients who have received the classic Rolfing ten series not only feel more energetic and in less pain but are often up to 2 inches taller.

Current thinking about human evolution says that we began life in the sea. Fish to amphibian to mammal to ape to homo sapiens. Interestingly, our interstitial fluid has the same chemical makeup as seawater. So, it seems that we came from the sea but brought the sea with us, inside our fascial matrix.

On many levels, our lives still move to the rhythms of the moon, the stars, and the oceans. The latest research seems to take that analogy a stage further. On a microscopic level, variations in fluid sheer affects the behaviour of fascial cells. Like tiny sea creatures carried along by the ebb and flow of undersea currents, minute variations in the rate of flow, pressure, and volume can cause fibroblasts to produce more collagen fibres to strengthen fascia, or more reticular or elastin fibres to make it more stretchy. Whilst other tidal movements may increase the production of mast cells leading to inflammation. Even though inflammation is a necessary part of any healing process, too much of it has the potential to cause fibrosis — the medical name for scar tissue.

So there you have it, nine reasons to take care of your Fascia. To read more please visit https://www.wellbeings-feelbetter.com/blogs1.html

Ready to book?

Move well with skill and technique. Our mission is to get you moving well and pain free so that you can enjoy life as fully as possible.

Book an Appointment