The connective tissue that surrounds your muscles and organs, known as fascia, has always been ignored – but new insights suggest it holds the key to tackling chronic pain and immune dysfunction
11 May 2022
SCIENTIFIC revelations come from the unlikeliest of places. Like a rat, in a lab, doing a “downward dog” stretch.
According to the people who found a way to get rats to do yoga, these creatures benefit from a good stretch as much as we do. In the process, they are revealing the true significance of a body tissue that has been overlooked by science for centuries.
The 19th-century anatomist Erasmus Wilson called this tissue – now known as fascia – a natural bandage. In dissection, that is exactly what it looks like: sheets of white, fibrous connective tissue that are strong yet flexible and perfect for keeping muscles and organs in place. They are also sticky, gloopy and get in the way of looking at the muscles, bones and organs they cover. Which explains why, for years, anatomists cut this tissue off, chucked it away and thought little more about it.
Recently, though, researchers have begun to take a fresh look at fascia and are finding that it is anything but an inert wrapping. Instead, it is the site of biological activity that explains some of the links between lifestyle and health. It may even be a new type of sensory organ. “There appears to be more going on in the fascia than is commonly appreciated,” says Karl Lewis at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
We are now realising that a better understanding of this ubiquitous tissue is sorely needed. If we manage to figure it out, it has the potential to provide new ways to tackle many common yet hard-to-treat conditions, from immune dysfunction to chronic pain.
One difficulty …