June 3, 2022 | Jerry Bergman

New Body Organ Comes to Light

Another new organ discovered: the human
body has now become even more complex!

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Actually it is not formally a new organ yet, but “A long-ignored body tissue [which] could be a new sensory organ that holds the key to tackling chronic pain.”[1] Furthermore, recent research on this organ is now “revealing the true significance of a body tissue that has been overlooked by science for centuries.”[2] This organ is fascia (plural fasciae) which, according to Tabor’s Medical Dictionary, is a term from Latin meaning a ‘band.’ It has several functions, but its primary role is to knit our body together.[3] This complex fibrous membrane also functions for covering, supporting, and separating tissue.

The three kinds of fascia are the superficial fascia, located directly under the skin, the deep fascia, which wraps around the muscles and organs, and connects them to each other, and, lastly, there is the visceral fascia, which lines the body cavity and divides it into compartments to separate the body’s different organs. This last type includes the thin connective-tissue layers that line most every part of the body.[4] These sheets of white, strong-yet-flexible, fibrous connective tissue, designed to keep muscles and organs in their proper place, are now known to have other functions which will be reviewed.

Plantar Fasciitis

The most well-known example of fasciitis is the very painful plantar fasciitis which in the United States affects approximately two million Americans each year. This type of fasciitis causes pain in the arch of the foot. It is most commonly caused by a strain of the plantar fascia, the main fascia support on the foot bottom (i.e., of the sole or along the plantar aspect).  Plantar fasciitis refers to inflammation of the plantar fascia and usually worsens after long periods of standing or walking.[5] It causes simple physical activities, such as walking and standing, to become very painful, sometimes even making walking or standing difficult. The solution in the vast majority of the cases is the use of supportive inserts worn in the shoes and a simple physical stretching regimen.[6]

The Body’s Fascia Turns Out to Be a Very Complex Organ

Recently doctors have begun to research the details of fascia, and they

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. We are now realizing 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.[7]

We now know that fascia connective tissue consists of sheets made up of stretchy elastin (from the word ‘elastic’) fibers and strong collagen fibers. Collagen is composed primarily of the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline which form the three strands that make up collagen’s triple-helix structure. Collagen is used in connective tissue in skin, tendons, bones, and cartilage. These fibrous sheets are often separated by “areolar” or “loose” fascia, with the gaps between the fibers filled with a slimy, slippery-smooth substance that allows the surrounding layers to slide over each other. This slippery lubrication matrix consists of hyaluronic acid and proteoglycan molecules to provide cushioning. The fascia fibers and the lubricant are secreted by specialized cells including fibroblasts and the newly discovered fasciacyte cells.

The interstitium is the fluid-filled connective tissue that lines every organ, muscle fiber, and blood vessel. It functions both as a shock absorber and an immune network involved in inflammatory disorders, scar formation, and even cancer spread.

The details of the interstitium became apparent only in 2018 when Neil Thiese at Mount Sinai Medical School and his colleagues

used a new microscopic technique to look at its structure in a living person undergoing a biopsy. In the past, it was only possible to see this tissue by removing it and squashing it on a microscope slide. When seen in living tissue, what had previously looked like a dense tangle of fibers actually had a sponge-like structure filled with fluid that drained into the lymphatic system, part of the body’s immune set-up.[8]

The team soon realized that kinetic action due to the movement of the digestive tract or physical body activity, could help circulate this fluid. This discovery opened up the possibility that the body is connected in ways that we are only now just beginning to understand:

Remarkably, until the early 2000s, no one had studied this common tissue in detail. Among the first to do so was Carla Stecco, an orthopedic surgeon and anatomist at the University of Padova in Italy. She started studying fascia 20 years ago when her father, a physiotherapist called Luigi Stecco, invented a form of physical therapy called fascial manipulation, which he claimed could treat everything from headaches to muscle and joint pain. His system is now one of many physical therapies that hinge on the idea that fascia can become stiff, and that it can be “released” through massage.[9]

Since then, research has proven that fascia is rich in nerves, and that the information that these nerves relay to the brain varies, depending on the location of the fascia. Nerves in superficial fascia specialize in sensing pressure, temperature, and movement. Nerves in the deep fascia are involved in proprioception (the body’s sense of its parts position in three-dimensional space) and nociception (the sensing of pain). Because of this central role in the body, researchers reason that fascia should be considered a new organ specialized in communication to the brain about the body’s internal state.

An illustration of the hand in which the fasciae covers most muscles and tendons. From Wikimedia commons.

Furthermore,  it is not by any means a minor organ. One estimate is an adult fascia contains approximately 250 million nerve endings, slightly more than the skin. Thus, it appears “beyond any doubt our richest sensory organ.”[10] The evidence is that deep fascia specializes in a different message, namely while nerves in the skin and muscles produce focused, localized pain, the deep fascia is linked to the radiating pain common in several chronic pain disorders, including fibromyalgia. Some research has linked fibromyalgia to fascia inflammation. It is also common in post-exercise soreness, long blamed on muscle damage which may have more to do with injury or fascia inflammation.

Given what is now known about fascia nerves, the thoracolumbar fascia, the diamond-shaped, multilayered structure in the lower back in which different layers connect to different muscle groups, may be the cause much back pain: “The thoracolumbar fascia is like a big receptor that is able to feel the tension coming from the upper limbs, the spine and the abdomen.”[11] The fascia sensory neurons may respond to this tension by communicating pain.

Conclusions

This research has opened the door to understanding a long-neglected, complex and critical body organ system. Understanding this system may well end up requiring adding a new chapter to the anatomy and medical textbooks. It is another example of how, as research progresses, the human body is proven to be even more complex than previously believed. It gives new meaning to the scripture that David wrote in Chapter 139, verses 13 and 14, of the book of Psalms: “for it was You who created my inward parts; you knit me together [with fascia] in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been fearfully and wonderfully made” (emphasis added). In her article on fascia for New Scientist, Caroline Williams wrote, “it is high time for the mainstream medical profession to start paying attention to this tissue. … fascia [is] important to many areas of medicine, and as a window into our overall health.”[12]

 

Another Illustration showing the major muscles, each one protected by fasciae. From Wikimedis commons.

See also the article on fascia on Evolution News, 26 May 2022.

References

[1] Williams, Caroline. 2022. Your second skin. New Scientist 254(3386): 38-41, May 14, p. 38.

[2] Williams, 2022, p. 38.

[3] Unbound Medicine. 2000-2022. “fascia.” Taber’s Online: Taber’s Medical Dictionary. https://www.tabers.com/tabersonline/view/Tabers-Dictionary/736982/all/fascia.

[4] Williams, 2022, p. 38.

[5] Leeuwen, K.D.B., et al. 2016. Higher body mass index is associated with plantar fasciopathy/‘plantar fasciitis’: systematic review and meta-analysis of various clinical and imaging risk factors. British Journal of Sports Medicine 50(16): 972-981, August.

[6] Trojian, Thomas, and Alicia K. Tucker. 2019. Plantar Fasciitis. American Family Physician 99(12): 744-750, June 15.

[7] Williams, 2022, p. 38.

[8] Williams, 2022, p. 40.

[9] Williams, 2022, p. 38.

[10]  Williams, 2022, p. 40.

[11] Williams, 2022, p. 40.

[12] Williams, 2022. p. 41.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

 

An illustration of the hand in which the fasciae covers most muscles and tendons. From Wikimedia commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wrist_and_hand_deeper_palmar_dissection-numbers.svg#/media/File:Wrist_and_hand_deeper_palmar_dissection-en.svg

 

Another Illustration showing the major muscles, each one protected by fasciae. From Wikimedis commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Human_Body-Muscular.jpg

 

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