Fascia Refresh: Our Evolving Understanding

By John F. Barnes, PT, LMT
July 12, 2023

Fascia Refresh: Our Evolving Understanding

By John F. Barnes, PT, LMT
July 12, 2023

Most, if not all, massage therapists have a deep love and respect for the profession. One of the greatest honors of being in the profession is witnessing not only how we’re able to help our clients but also how we’re able to help our profession grow and take more solid root in how we approach a wide variety of conditions, from chronic pain to anxiety to injury to mental health.

A good part of that growth is evidenced in research. More and more we’re seeing research solidly indicates what many of us have known for a long time: there are real benefits to our work.

The growth of the massage profession is also seen in the myriad ways we as therapists grow, like through continuing education and our own experience as we practice over the years. We are continually challenged to review and revise what we know and understand about the complex systems that combine to create the whole human body.

This is especially true of fascia.

See Also: Myofascial Release and Massage Therapy: A Winning Combination


Much of the beginning of our understanding of fascia comes from dissecting cadavers. Part of the problem with cadavers being the main source of all of our information is that they don’t mirror lived experience; in other words, our model of reality and how we work with living beings was founded in bodies that were no longer alive.

Put simply, the fascia is the immediate environment of every cell of our body—including a microfascial system within every cell. Try to picture the fascial system as a three-dimensional web made of a collagen matrix that extends all the way down to the molecular level.

The space within the fibers of the web is the fluid of our bodies; this fluid is called ground substance. Gerald Pollack’s research advanced the idea that there is a fourth phase of water—beyond the well-known water, ice and vapor—where water can at times demonstrate a tendency to behave in a crystalline manner. Pollack named this water “vicinal water.”

All the oxygen we breathe, all the nutrition we ingest, all the fluids that we drink must pass through the ground substance. Remember that hydration isn’t just the fluid going down your throat but also how hydration enters your cells, just as nutrition is not nutrition until it enters the cell.

Within the cell is the cytoskeleton, a dynamic network of protein filaments that lend structural support and is involved in myriad cellular processes. Microtubules, one of three components of the cytoskeleton, are hollow, tubular structures that can influence fluid dynamics within cells. The frequencies of light and internal milieu of the microtubules of the fascial system must be fluid to allow the photons to flow for consciousness to reach every aspect of our being.


As you go through trauma, that which should be fluid—the ground substance—begins to solidify and can disrupt the lymphatic system’s ability to filter waste products.

My own struggle with many traumas and trying to free myself of the pain that I incurred over the years is what deepened my understanding of the fascial system and how it functions.

I tried every other type of therapy available and nothing gave me more than temporary results. When we go through physical or emotional trauma, the ground substance of the fascial system begins to solidify into a crushing mass that can create pain, dysfunction, disease and restriction of motion, and this blocks the flow of consciousness into vital areas of our bodies.

See Also: Myofascial Release as a Self-Care Tool

If you are interested in more details about this, there are two wonderful books you may want to read. One is called “Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness” by Dr. Roger Penrose, who is one of the leading consciousness researchers in the world, along with Dr. Stuart Hameroff. There is also a book by the physicist Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, called “The Rainbow and the Worm, The Physics of Organisms.”

You may also want to look into the work of Dr. Paul Standley, a Professor of Physiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Some of his research suggests that the process of mechanotransduction—what happens during myofascial release when massage therapists use sustained pressure—produces interleukins. Interleukin 8 is one of the natural anti-inflammatories of our bodies, and may also help us to increase circulation and boost the immune system, all essential for the healing process.

As our understanding continues to grow and more firmly root the benefits offered by myofascial release, we must not lose our curiosity and commitment to advancing not only our own knowledge but also how our clients understand the work that we do together.