What is Fascia?
I looked at a couple of definitions for fascia and my favourite comes from Wikipedia.
A fascia (/ˈfæʃ(i)ə/; plural fasciae /ˈfæʃii/; adjective fascial; from Latin: “band”) is a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs.
The reason I prefer this definition to the Oxford or Cambridge dictionary version, is that it describes the relationship between the fascia and the muscle. It implies that if the fascia becomes dysfunctional then its logical to assume that the muscle will be effected. One thing that is commonly known, is that if a muscle becomes restricted then movement, strength, flexibility and proprioception (an awareness of position and movement of your body) can also be effected.
The other major role of fascia is to provide a frictionless surface for which arteries, veins and nerves can travel throughout the body. If fascia becomes dense and restricted then blood flow and neural pathways can become slower and less effective.
How does fascia effect movement and performance?
Lets look at types of movement:
Movement occurs in several planes, the body can move in a forwards (protraction) or backwards (retraction) plane, in veterinary terms that’s called the sagittal plane. This is your horse stepping forwards or backwards.
A horse can also move sideways, so they can step out laterally or take a step in would be medially. This is the frontal or lateral/medial plane.
Then we can also rotate, and there is external rotation and internal rotation. Leg yielding is actually an external rotation of one shoulder and internal rotation of the other.
Then to facilitate movement we need the muscles to contract and relax.
But it’s not as simple as one muscle contracting and the other relaxing, the body is so more complicated than that.
If you look at the equine shoulder, there is the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, teres minor, teres major, etc…. that’s not even the full list.
To get all of those muscles to talk to each other and then physically move the shoulder they all have to work together. Each of those muscles are encased in fascia and in the fascia manipulation protocol, this is known as myofascial unit. When the movement occurs, forces travel throughout the entire myofascial unit. For example for a horse to move one step forwards, all of those forces converge to a single point at the front of the leg and when the leg moves backwards the forces transfer and converge to a point in the back of the leg.
If the fascia has become tight, tense or restricted, then that point where all the forces need to create the end of the movement becomes restricted. This is where you can see shortened stride length, and also lameness.
Fascia has more free nerve endings than muscle and nearly as many as the skin, therefore if it becomes dysfunctional then expect pain to be present!
In terms of muscle function and power, restricted fascia will restrict the muscle and reduce the muscles ability to work at full power.
This is a really large and complex network of tissues to understand, but hopefully from the few examples that I’ve listed its obvious that fascia will directly effect movement, strength, power and flexibility. Therefore its an essential area to include as part of my treatments if your horse is going to perform at its best.
In Part 2 we’ll look at how to treat the fascia and the improvements you’d expect to see after treatment.