What is fascia & why is it important to your body & your Bowen therapist?
Updated: May 18, 2022
As a Bowen Technique practitioner I might be interested in your musculoskeletal system & where you are experiencing pain, but what i am really interested in is your body's fascia. Fascia is a type of connective tissue which is found EVERYWHERE in your body, surrounding, binding & separating muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, organs, blood vessels, nerve fibres & cells. Fascia is laid down in multiple superficial & deep layers connecting all areas so whatever your big toe does creates a ripple right up to the top of your head! It provides structural support & integrity to the body but has a much more complex function than just support & protection.
Fascia is made up of a combination of :
Collagen – a tensile protein fibre that is incredibly strong & a little bit flexible.
Elastin -another protein fibre that, elastic in nature, is able to stretch and return to its original form.
Ground substance – a gloopy, viscous gel, a bit like thick cornflour or wallpaper paste.
Healthy fascia should be pliable, hydrated & fluid like in it's movements. The ground substance helps give fascia its fluidity but when trauma occurs it hardens, the collagen & elastin fibres move closer together& restriction in the area ensues. Other factors can contribute to fascia becoming less pliable - dehydration & lack of movement can lead to stiffness & even pain within the layers of fascia. The quality & fluidity of your body's fascial system is a vital part of your overall health & wellbeing. Here is a video, courtesy of www.functionalanatomy.com , taken during an educational dissection programme which shows the pliable nature of fascia:
Wrapped around muscles & tendons, fascia gives support to these structures but also allows for their range of movement by allowing them to easily glide alongside each other without friction during movement. If the surrounding fascia of the muscles of your shoulder have become hardened & stiff due to trauma, dehydration or lack of movement you will find it hard to freely move the joint to its full potential, you may even experience pain & it could even become as bad as a frozen shoulder.
Fascia quickly steps in to provide stability to prevent the body toppling over when a new pattern of movement or posture is set up - by laying down new collagen fibres to provide the strength to continue moving or carrying ourselves in a way our bodies weren't designed to. These changes are so subtle that we barely notice them until we experience stiffness in the area - the new layers of fibres create a less pliable thickening of the fascia in that area as it has been laid down to create strength for stability.
Due to the very connective nature of fascia any changes in one area will lead to changes in other areas. This relationship is often referred to as 'tensegrity' - imagine pulling on one corner of a fishing net - the pulling or snagging will be felt throughout the net. In your body a problem in one area is likely to set up compensatory patterns in other areas. The longer these patterns go without being addressed the more likely you are to experience pain & restricted movement in other areas of your body. In my Bowen Therapy sessions I tend not to focus on the spot that hurts as it is usually not the problem! Like a detective, I like to find the potential causes of the patterns your body has set up which have ended up in pain.
And here is where we get to the interesting bit! Rich in nerve receptors & hormone receptors, lymph vessels & blood vessels your fascia has a much more important role than originally thought! It will pick up messages from touch & send them to the brain for processing. It will pick up pain messages & send those to the brain. Lack of movement through the fascia can lead to a sluggish lymphatic system (which can impact your immunity) & lack of oxygenation in the tissues.
So as a Bowen Therapist I can help make a difference within the fascia - the act of touch with intent sets up a conversation with the nervous system. The rolling Bowen move helps create space for fluid to circulate more freely within tightly packed collagen fibres in areas of stiffness. The increased fluid allows for greater range of movement & increased blood flow & better oxygenation of the tissues. Increased fluidity & greater movement helps the lymphatic system move along the debris of bodily processes & increases excretion. And we can also affect pain levels you are experiencing - the brain can sometimes get fixated on the wrong information & interpret it as a need to produce pain in the body, a bit like a short circuit. This can become problematic for some & become chronic pain. By applying Bowen moves the therapist interrupts the circuit, asks the brain to re-evaluate & begin making changes in the body.
All in the gentlest of ways!