Therefore, the researchers believe that the nervous system resides in Fascia
Fascia and balance
The fascial network exists in various compositions, structures, and configurations throughout the entire body and is a crucial and essential part of the body’s function, particularly in the musculoskeletal system where muscles, bones, and fascia work together. The ability of different fascial layers, muscle fibers, muscle bundles, and other tissues to move and slide against each other is a vital component for smooth and pain-free movements. Moreover, it plays an enormous role in our proprioception, our ability to perceive the body’s position in space and movement. In essence, it is a critical part of our balance and coordination.
Denser fascial structures, such as those around the ankles, under the feet, and the thoracolumbar fascia (upper back and lower spine), contain abundant proprioceptors, nerve cells that sense balance and posture, coordination, and more. They are also known as mechanoreceptors and are the fastest nerve cells in the body, as there is a sense of urgency to get the muscles and fascia to correct balance when we twist an ankle or almost fall. Only a small fraction of nerve cells are mechanoreceptors, while most receptors in the fascia are free nerve endings (without encapsulation) and pain receptors.
Fascia and pain
Orthopedic surgeon and one of the world’s leading Fascia researchers, Carla Stecco, says “the thoracolumbar fascia is like a large receptor that can sense tension coming from the arms, legs, spine, and abdominal cavity.” The sensory receptors in the fascia register tension as pain.
Researchers have observed a significant correlation between impaired mobility in the fascia, impaired proprioception, and increased pain. It has been demonstrated that people with chronic lower back pain have thicker and stiffer fascia, 20% stiffer and less stretchable in the lumbar and thoracic spine, and they also have poorer proprioception. The nerve signals simply do not travel fast enough due to the higher pressure in the tissue surrounding them.
Researchers have induced inflammation and pain in the thoracolumbar fascia by injecting hypertonic saline solution, a solution that contains 5.8% salt as opposed to the body’s physiological salt balance in tissues of 0.9%, which irritates the tissue. It has been found that during chronic (long-lasting) inflammation in the dense fascia, the amount of pain receptors increases from 4% to 15%. In addition, the receptors become more sensitive, with a lower threshold for activation, the longer the pain and inflammation persist. The pain signaled from the fascia is also said to be more diffuse and radiating compared to pain in the skin or muscle, which is more localized.
Many Fascia researchers consider the skin to be part of the fascia, and that all cells, including muscle fibers, are completely enveloped in fascia, because nerve receptors do not sit directly on a muscle fiber, for example. So what we call one thing or another may be confusing, but what is essential is that everything in the body is interconnected and a whole, even if the structures and compositions vary.
Proprioceptors and pain receptors receive external information, such as what happens outside the body. The fascia also has many free nerve endings in the visceral fascia, among the internal organs, the viscera. These nerve endings instead register so-called interoception, what happens inside the body, such as heart rate, breathing, warmth, sensation from the intestines and stomach, taste, a deep feeling from soft touch, in short, how it feels inside the body. We have all felt this gut feeling that is trying to say something, but we can’t quite explain it. These are signals that are transmitted through slow nerve fibers, and the information is not so urgently needed.
Fascia is our largest sense organ
Recent research shows that the Fascial network contains around 250 million free nerve endings and pain receptors (nociceptors), compared to the skin’s 200 million and the eye’s 126 million visual receptors. (If you also count the skin as Fascia, it would be 450 million free nerve endings). This means that Fascia is our richest innervated organ, our largest sensory organ! Fascia communicates with all other organs and cells in the body. It sends signals and receives information in several different ways, to and from other organs and tissues in the body.
Is it only through the nervous system and hormones that the body communicates? No, new knowledge shows that in addition to the nervous system’s signals, there is communication that goes much faster than the fastest nerve cell! Fascia consists largely of a fluid ground substance, interstitium, which contains a multitude of large water-holding molecules, such as hyaluronic acid and other molecules, between networks of collagen protein fibers. In this flow, a multitude of signaling molecules circulate in Fascia, with a multitude of information. The slightest movement is conveyed to the body’s cells in the collagen fiber network, and weak currents are formed by the movement.
Researchers have identified several different communication processes that take place in Fascia, such as conduction, biomagnetic fields, light (invisible to the naked eye), and more, communication that goes much faster than the fastest nerve cell can perform. This is exciting and completely revolutionary knowledge that turns much of what we previously learned and took for granted completely upside down. So, calling Fascia the body’s largest and most sensitive communication organ is definitely not an exaggeration!