The fascia is like a wetsuit underneath the skin, or a permanent bodystocking: a layer below the skin that covers all the muscles and tendons. It's a single 3 dimensional structure that forms a chain covering and linking muscles & tendons together down the body and through the limbs.
Or it's like a bodysuit made from bubble wrap - the "bubbles" over the muscles are stretchy, whilst the material between these muscle-pockets aren't
Iamge courtesy of belovedshirts.com
Imagine what would happen if you were wearing the bubble-wrap sweatshirt (above) which was attached to your waist, but it was too tight at the front. You can try this by rolling up folds in your shirt, holding it to your waist and then trying to stand up straight - you find that you can't straighten up; you're forced to stay bent forward.
This is what happens when the fascia becomes tight- your muscles can't stretch inside the bodysuit. If your fascia stays tight, pretty soon the muscles become "set" in this new shortened position.
So if the fascia gets tight, or restricted for any reason, then the muscles can't extend properly.
For example, a person who has tight hamstrings may well find that it's the tight superficial fascia that is restricting his movement. To overcome this, a remedial massage therapist will use connective tissue and other techniques to target the entire lower superficial backline:
The superficial fascia is made up of a continuous layer of fatty tissue surrounding the whole body under the skin. It contains a very fine matrix of 2 different types of fibres:
In certain places the fascia is quite thick (for example where it covers the glute muscles, the buttocks), whilst in other places (like the lower arms and legs) it's quite thin.
The most important thing that you can do to take care of the fascia is to make sure that you're well hydrated - drink plenty of water. If it becomes dried out, the fascia can be damaged causing movement of the muscles that it covers can become permanently restricted.
Making sure that you move your muscles through a full range of movement helps, too - it keeps the fascia supple and stops it becoming "set" in one position.
Then there's massage: massage that works on muscles has to go through this superficial fascia. This is a good thing since often it's the fascia that's restricted and stops the muscle from extending fully. There are, in fact, special fascial massage procedures, called connective tissue massage that deliberately target the fascia.
Connective tissue massage works along bands of connected muscles, usually without any kind of lotion of oil.
On the understanding that all muscles along a particular anatomy train are connected by the fascia, release of discomfort in one area is often achieved by working along the entire chain of connected fascia/muslces.
As always, if you think I can help, give me a call.
If you want to get geeky on fascia, and don't mind seeing the dissection of a human body, then one of the best explanations available is by Gil Hedley on youtube. The guy is whacky as anything, but his explanation is fantastic.