What is Fascia and Why Does It Matter to Your Back?

Thumbs giving a massage on someone's back.
Back pain is one of the main reasons why people turn to alternative medicine.. Christian Adams/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Fascia is the fabric of life, almost literally.  It acts as a sheet of biological glue that supports the structural integrity and motions of bones,  muscles, organs and blood vessels, and more, all of which are suspended in it.

Fascia and Your Back Pain

These days, many people - practitioners and back patients alike - are finding that taking a fascial approach to therapy can be extra good for your spine.

 The reason? Although fascia can painfully limit your movement (when it gets kinked up), when it is treated properly, it has the capacity to put the spring back in your step.

What is the Difference between a Fascial Approach to Back Healing and Usual Care?

Many therapists who see back pain patients are now either adding a fascial component to their treatment plans or working exclusively on the fascia.  The difference between dealing with back pain through fascia vs the more mechanistic model of treatment (in which the site of the pain or the lesion seen on an MRI is the only place that receives treatment) has to do with a fairly new term called biotensegrity.

Coined by Kenneth Snelson in 2009, the word biotensegrity describes how compression and tension in the human body are balanced  - based on the fact that they are suspended into the fascial fabric.  The mechanistic model says that bones provide a frame around which muscle and other soft tissue is draped.

 Biotensegrity “evens the score” so to speak, making bones and soft tissue equal partners in restoring or maintaining good alignment, efficient movement and/or body healing.

Fascia has both superficial and deep “lines,” which traverse through the body in various directions.  These “lines” transmit the force of physical functionality, making them prime targets for effective treatment, according to some.


Taking a fascial approach to back pain involves identifying and treating limitations anywhere along the line or lines.

Fascial Treatment

Releasing restrictions (or “kinks” as I called them above) in the fascia is the goal of most treatment.  This is usually done with a hands on technique known as myofascial release.  In a myofascial release treatment the therapist provides a sustained, low load stretching to your tissues, and allows the restrictions to relax on their own.

Related:  Before You Get that Back Massage

Fascial work is also hitting the fitness world.  Fascial fitness is a system of movement involving, among other things, bouncing, stretching and more, and done in a way that reportedly restores the natural resilience of fascia.  (This is what "puts the spring back in your step," so to speak.)  And, a form of yoga known as yin yoga is designed specifically to release tight fascia.

Related:  Stretch Your HIps to Help Your Back and Transform Exercise into a Back Healing Experience


Clancy, K., OTR/L, CHT, SMS, Founder Seattle Center for Structural Medicine. Postural Assessment and Myofascial Length Testing. Medbridge Education. Accessed: October 2015.

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