Fascial Planes Defined

The term ‘fascia’ is often used interchangeably with connective tissue proper, but they are not the same. Connective tissue proper consists of the fibroblasts and the extracellular matrix they produce – for our purposes, the collagen fiber and ground substance mix. These are identifiable things in the body.

‘Fascia’, however, is a concept more than a thing in the body. Fascia describes the way connective tissue proper wraps and contains itself and other tissues; for example, the epimysium of a muscle. When we consider that all connective tissue is one piece throughout the body, then we can see that ‘epimysium’ is not a component of the body but rather it is a concept. Another way of describing this: you cannot dissect the outside of a muscle and say, “That is epimysium, that next to it is endomysium, and that on the outside of it is superficial fascia”. They are all connective tissue proper and they all blend into each other. ‘Fascia’ is a concept helping us describe how connective tissue proper functions.

“Fascial planes’ is also a concept. It is used to describe how adjacent structures slide relative to each other to facilitate movements in our bodies. As we move, parts of our bodies will need to move in different directions from each other without pulling on each other excessively for full range of motion. Any excessive pull will impede full range of motion. Understanding ‘fascial planes’ will help in understanding the nature of what constitutes ‘excessive pull’ and in understanding the dynamics involved in relieving it.

There are some core anatomy and physiology facts to keep clearly in mind. One we’ve mentioned: connective tissue proper is one continuous piece throughout the body, it has no end like a myofibril or a neuron does. Also key is the response of the cells of connective tissue proper, the fibroblasts, to pressure and movement: to pressure, fibroblasts produce enough collagen fibers to support the pressure; to movement, the fibroblasts produce synovial ground substance to lubricate the movement. Another aid in creating and sustaining free and purposeful range of motion is that movement attracts collagenase, a protein the body produces which dissolves collagen fibers. The dynamic created between the pressure of muscle tone and the movement it allows determine the functional shape of each human body, from the fluidity of a well-conditioned athlete to the rigidity of the crone/curmudgeon. Fluidity is reflected in fascial planes that readily slide relative to each other; rigidity is reflected in fascial planes that stick to each other.

Understanding the function of fascial planes and how to impact their dynamic is key for an educated and effective massage therapist.

This is a very good link describing the dynamic of connective tissue:

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