Fascia, that white fibrous layer under the skin that wraps around and separates our muscles, bones, organs, and other body structures throughout our entire body, is one continuous piece of connective tissue from the top of our heads to our toes. Scientists used to think that fascia in the human body was just a holding system, so we didn't just fall apart, but now we know it's also within our tissues and nerves. In fact, our fascial system interpenetrates our organs, muscles, bones, and nerve fibers in what scientists think may be a giant communications system that helps our bodies operate in an integrated way.
New research demonstrates that fascia may hold the key to relief from chronic pain and overcoming immune dysfunction. Pretty impressive! It is not only flexible, but it is also strong enough to stabilize, strengthen, and protect our muscles and organs. Fascia is comprised of closely packed bundles of...wait for it...collagen fibers! Even more intriguing, collagen fibers are produced by the fibroblasts within the fascia.
What is Fascia Made Of?
Your fascia has three components: collagen, elastin, and extracellular matrix (ECM for short.) You probably know a bit about collagen if you follow Health Direct, but long story short, collagen fibers are as strong as steel and hold us together. The word "kolla" in Greek is the basis of the word collagen and means glue. Collagen fibers in fascia help attach tendons to bones and ligaments to muscles and on and on. Collagen is the multipurpose foundation that helps keep it all together and strengthens our fascia.
Elastin provides the flexibility aspect of fascia. Elastin allows our fascia to stretch, bend, and bounce back to its original position. A good example is the fascia in our dermal layers. When you pinch your skin, it stretches and then goes back to normal; this is the elastin in your fascia doing its job. The elastin in fascia also acts as a shock absorber, which is especially helpful when you bump into things in the middle of the night. Thanks to elastin in fascia, we don't end up with lots of dents.
Third is something you probably are unaware of called the extracellular matrix (ECM). This is a gel within your fascia. It helps nourish your fascia and transports food to your cells.
This YouTube video shows a fascinating display of fascia and the ECM at work.
What Kinds of Fascia Are There?
Different types of fascia exist at different interdependent layers, from our skin to our deepest recesses. Fascia is classified into four categories:
- Superficial - the fascia in the deepest layer of our skin. When preparing chicken, it is the same white fibers you see between the skin and the meat.
- Deep - this fascia is more dense and fibrous. It encases our muscles and ligaments to ensure they work together, as well as our tendons and bones. Deep fascia helps us move and flex.
- Visceral - the fascia that holds our organs in place and wraps around them like a tight-fitting sock.
- Spinal Straw - this is the most dense form of fascia that surrounds our spine and provides nourishment to our discs. When this fascia gets too tight, it can shorten the length of the vertebrae.
What Does Fascia Do?
You already have a sense of what fascia does just by the different types of it, but that's only half the story. Remember, your fascia is one continuous complex with different formations within that system. So it connects our body parts, stretching and moving and relaxing with the movement of our muscles and bones but also with the nerves and vascular system that feed them. Your fascia is also a trauma specialist - it creates scar tissue after an injury and tightens up to guard against creating more damage. When we use our muscles, our fascia is like a train line conductor, transferring force from one muscle to another to create coordinated, efficient movement while preventing injury and exhaustion.
Our fascia also absorbs nutrients from our capillaries/bloodstream. It delivers them to our cells and helps take out the trash from them, too. And, in one of the most astounding discoveries in the study of fascia, it's also a sensory organ embedded with nerve endings and mechanoreceptors responding to stimuli. This helps our posture and movement, awareness of where our body parts are, and our coordination as it facilitates communication from one part of the body to another. It communicates all this information faster than our nerves themselves. In fact, our fascia makes up 70% of the nervous system. Messages from a cell conducted by the fascia to the brain arrive three times faster than those transmitted via a nerve. Finally, our fascia also senses our positioning in space; it moves, stretches, and twists in all directions. As it responds to our changes in movement, sensing load and force in one part of the body, it changes the tension in other parts of the body to counteract them and keeps the body stable.
How to Keep Your Fascia Healthy
You're probably wondering, "How do I know if my fascia is healthy?" The first red flag is feeling stiff, sore feet, and an aching back. Fascia that's not in good health becomes thick, stiff, and brittle. This creates a cascade of increasing health problems. Tightness leads to reduced mobility and pain. Your fascia becomes less efficient at absorbing nutrients to transport to your hungry cells, which can let the cellular trash pile up. You may experience migraine headaches and fatigue. If you push through the pain without helping your fascia return to good health, you can create muscle tears and adhesions where the fascia fibers fuse with surrounding tissues. We can get adhesions from injuries, internal scars, and fascia trying to create stability for a system that's not functioning properly.
You can keep your fascia healthy by keeping hydrated. Fascia is more than 70% water. Your fascia can actually store water, and proper hydration makes your fascia flexible. Beware of too much alcohol in your weekend "hydration;" it can be like static in your whole body communications system. Try to maintain a healthy weight for your skeletal structure size. Opt for an anti-inflammatory diet that supports connective tissue and reduces body-wide inflammation. Make sure you move and stretch your body daily so your fascia gets a good stretch. Animals do this naturally, and humans are starting to mimic that with somatic stretching.
Does Collagen Help Fascia?
Make sure you get enough protein; the thing your fascia needs for "food" is protein like AminoSculpt Liquid Collagen. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Your body needs a continuous supply to create more collagen and rebuild, repair, and rejuvenate its fascia.
Can You Harm Your Fascia?
In 2007, a researcher in Italy discovered that fascia is full of nerve endings. If your fascia is chronically inflamed, it grows more sensitive and can become a source of pain. If you are sedentary, your fascia can shorten because it's not being stretched regularly. Your fascia can also become brittle and congeal in places, creating adhesions that impair movement and mobility. Over time, that regular routine of sitting - especially in front of a computer - can lead to physical changes and reshape your fascia.
On the other side of the coin is too much repetitive movement; it can lead to inflammation and injury, causing your fascia to become rigid or stuck together. Sadly, the older you are, the more it can lead to stiffness and pain. Chronic stress, physical injuries, surgeries, and even mental distress can also cause your fascia to be damaged.
Even though pain often makes us want to reach for an aspirin or NSAID to make us more comfortable, it's also essential to pay attention to it and determine the source of our pain. Our damaged fascia will send messages to the brain that the body is experiencing pain. But, it will also try to shift/reposition the body to avoid that pain. This can end up causing other issues. But, if we pay attention to what we are feeling with an eye to how the fascia works when it's healthy, we can avoid long-term damage and find ways to relieve physical pain.
What to Feed Your Fascia
For the ongoing health of your fascia, look at what you eat. What you feed your fascia can help your body stay supple, flexible, and strong. Here are some easy ways to eat a more fascia-friendly diet.
- Reach for antioxidant-rich foods that, handily enough, also help with collagen production. Foods like avocados, berries, bell peppers, citrus fruits, cocoa powder or dark chocolate, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, herbs (parsley, rosemary, and basil), honey, leafy greens, onions, spices (ginger and turmeric), tomatoes, and white or green tea.
- Get your fiber. Fiber is essential for gut health and overall fascia health. Add beans, hard squashes, nuts (walnuts or pecans), and seeds (sunflower or chia) to your diet. You should get at least 25 grams of fiber each day. You can also use Ready Fiber to get 12 grams of fiber in a clear, unflavored liquid; add it to anything.
- Include collagen-based foods like yogurt, kefir, fish, red meat, eggs, and oysters. You can also use AminoSculpt Liquid Collagen to get 10 to 18 grams of collagen in a single tasty serving.
- Add plant-based proteins like pulses, grains, gluten-free pseudocereals (buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth), nuts, seeds, and shoots.
- Make friends with (healthy) fat! Remember, you need fat to get fit! Healthy Omega-3 fats can help reduce inflammation and support overall fascia health. Try to eat fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, and sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
- Get a helping of brassica vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower -- just remember to steam them a bit if you have thyroid issues.
How to Keep Your Fascia Fit
As you can guess, fascia fitness is vital to feeling fit as you age. I'm not saying you need to become a fitness model, but I highly recommend doing small things that will pay big dividends as you get older. Try basic stretching for at least 10 minutes a day - you can use resistance bands or simple muscle activation workouts that won't cause you to break a sweat. Even chair yoga while you're at your desk is a good choice. If you can, dedicate some time in your week to walking with purpose. Try to walk for about 20 minutes and do short bursts of fast walking during that time. A good pace, in general, is fast enough that you have to work to get words out. Try activities that involve a variety of movements like dancing, tennis, swimming -- even jumping jacks keep your fascia lublicated.
Several therapies are fascia-friendly. Try an Epsom bath at home or a foot soak in a dishpan. (Throw the water on your roses when you're done and watch them become more radiant, too!) If you have access to a sauna, sweating out those toxins helps lighten the load on your fascia. If you have adhesions around scars or general tightness, an experienced massage therapist can help you get that fascia flexible again. Many people also like cupping to help improve circulation and movement. You can also approach yoga and pilates as therapeutic movement classes, gently and slowly stretching your fascia to increase strength, flexibility, and elasticity. Finally, you've probably seen a foam roller; these can be a little painful at first but, over time, will help refresh the flexibility of your fascia.
The number 1 enemy of your fascia is sitting for long periods! Without movement, our fascia becomes stiff and brittle. Add in some injuries, and your fascia can become "glued" in adhesions that make it tough to move, stretch, and bend. Other bad things for our fascia are smoking and high sugar consumption, which creates brittle connections in our connective tissue and makes us look old before our time. Avoid all three of the fascia fiends!
So, What's The BEST Thing You Can Do For Your Fascia? Collagen!
As I explained earlier, collagen protein creates strength and flexibility in our fascia. It's also a key component found in our fascia's extracellular matrix (ECM). Our fascia itself helps produce collagen fibers from the fibroblasts in our fascia, but after age 30, it is less efficient at it. The collagen fiber network that is so important to the mechanical strength of our fascia needs to be constantly replenished with micronutrients called amino acids. Adding liquid collagen, which contains amino acids, to your daily regime helps to ensure your fascia has enough nutrients for strength, resistance to tension, and stretch required by our fascial tissues (ligaments, tendons, sheaths, muscular fascia, and deeper fascia.)
The type of collagen most prevalent in your body is Type 1 collagen. If you supply your body with sufficient Type 1 resources, it can make all 27 types on its own. There's no need to take exotic versions of collagen! But the key to nourishing your fascia with collagen quickly lies in your digestive system. Collagen on its own from an outside source is a big, lumbering nutrient that needs a lot of breakdown before entering your bloodstream. The race is to see if you can break it down quickly enough to be absorbed before your digestive system moves it down the digestive tract. The simple truth is you can't. You can get some collagen benefits, but generally, collagen that isn't hydrolyzed (predigested) wastes your money. This is why companies advertise that they have hydrolyzed collagen.
But here's an industry secret: most companies use the same twice hydrolyzed collagen from the same supplier. They add in other nutrients or other exotic forms of collagen as a marketing effort to stand out from the crowd (and charge more money), but you're basically getting the same low-grade collagen from most of the products in the market. This is why AminoSculpt Liquid Collagen is so different. It is hydrolyzed and cleaned three times using fruit enzymes. Health Direct is the only company that does this for consumers. Hospitals and care facilities use the same collagen, but only Health Direct makes it available to you.
If you want to feed your fascia, only AminoSculpt has the level of premium, bioidentical collagen micropeptides that can be absorbed into your bloodstream with virtually no digestion needed. You lose about 1% of your collagen each year after 30; that means you're robbing your fascia of one of its three components. Signs your fascia isn't at its best are if it's not holding you together well, you're not pain-free and flexible, and communication throughout your body isn't moving quickly. Remember, your fascia communicates faster than your nerves.
Regular use of liquid collagen can turn back time on the outside, which is nice, but it's what's happening inside your body where the most significant improvements to your health are taking place...in your fascia.
Kumka M, Bonar J. Fascia: a morphological description and classification system based on a literature review. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2012 Sep;56(3):179-91.
Fede C, Pirri C, Fan C, Petrelli L, Guidolin D, De Caro R, Stecco C. A Closer Look at the Cellular and Molecular Components of the Deep/Muscular Fasciae. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jan 30;22(3):1411. doi: 10.3390/ijms22031411.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Lisa Moretti is a Certified Health Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the largest nutrition school in the world. She was at the top of her cohort in 2015. She's professionally been involved in the natural health and supplement world since 1981.