Fascia Lata: An important structure often overlooked
As we look at how things are connected and how structures in the body influence each other, I can’t help but think that the fascia lata often gets overlooked in the process.
Most people are familiar with the fascia lata from the muscle Tensor Fascia Lata (TFL) – a flexor, internal rotator, and abductor of the hip, who additionally has the role of “tensing” the fascia lata (hence its name). And of course, everyone knows that the TFL connects into the IT-Band along with the gluteus maximus (and depending on what text you read the gluteus medius as well, as it has some connection into the gluteal fascia, which is the more superior thickening of the IT-band).
Fascia Lata and IT-Band
So just what exactly are these structures?
In a nut shell, they are really the same thing! The IT-band, located on the lateral aspect of our thigh, is really the thickest portion of the fascia lata.
The fascia lata is the sheath of fascia that envelopes our entire thigh and hip region. It connects everything together in that area and if you can wrap your head around this concept (no pun intended!) you would come to realize that muscles which are antagonistic to each other actually share a connection! Extensors are connected to flexors, abductors are connected to adductors, and external rotators are connected to internal rotators. This is a drastically different way of thinking from the way in which most anatomy courses are taught, where muscles have these specific origins and insertions and there is no connection between muscles which are antagonistic to each other save for the fact that contraction of one inhibits the other.
Attachments of the fascia lata
To get an appreciation for how large the fascia lata is, lets explore its connections:
- Crest of the ilium
- Inguinal ligament
- Pubic bone
- Ramus and tuberosity of the ischium
- Sacrospinous ligament
- Passes over the knee and becomes continuous with the fascia of the lower leg
Understanding the vast connection that the fascia lata has through the lower extremity, we can see that treating it in one region will have influence over other regions/muscles as well. In addition, this fascial structure is continuous with another important fascial sheath, the iliac fascia, which continues the fascial webbing from the thigh, up through the pelvis, covering the entire iliacus and psoas regions and up to the thoracic area.
Mabel Todd in The Thinking Body writes:
“The iliac fascia is near the diaphragm at its upper end, and in the pelvis is closely associated with the pelvic fascia and with the formation of the femoral canal and the femoral ring, while below it becomes continuous with the fascia lata of the leg.”
Todd continues, offering these words about one of the functions of the tensor fascia lata:
“The tensor fascia lata, the so-called “posture muscle,” aids in this controlling function by drawing the fascia lata tighter upon need, thus pulling the individual muscle groups closer together within their intermuscular septa. This action aids the femur to steer the body-weight back to center from its outward position.”
The fascia lata can affect many structures, both locally in the thigh and hip region and globally via its connection into other fascial systems. When attempting to enhance movement with various soft tissue therapy techniques, understanding all of the potential connections that whatever you are working on (muscle, fascia, skin, tendon, etc) has on other structures is important. Remembering that the fascia lata is not just located on the lateral portion of our thigh (IT-band), but rather offers a means of communication/connection for all muscles of the thigh, including antagonistic muscles, can help aid the treatment approach.
Gray H. Gray’s Anatomy. Running Press. Philadelphia, PA. 1974.
Todd ME. The Thinking Body: A study of the balancing forces of dynamic man. Princeton Book Company. Hightstown, NJ. 1937
Ober FR. The Role of the Iliotibial Band and Fascia Lata as a Factor in the Causation of Low-Back Disabilities and Sciatica. J Bone Joint Surg [Am]; 18:105-110. 1936.