, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 606-619
Date: 24 Oct 2006

The membranous layer of superficial fascia: evidence for its widespread distribution in the body

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A discrete membranous layer, “stratum membranosum”, in human subcutaneous tissue is classically described as confined to the lower anterior abdominal wall and perineum and referred to as Scarpa’s and Colles’ fasciae, respectively. Evidence for its existence elsewhere in the body is scanty and therefore the present study was undertaken. Dissection of six embalmed adult cadavers, along with ultrasound imaging on four living subjects, were carried out to determine the existence, topography, and thickness of the membranous layer of superficial fascia in different regions of the body. In all six cadavers, a continuous layer of fibrous membrane in the superficial fascia was found consistently in all the dissected regions of the body and was also confirmed by ultrasonography. The arrangement and thickness of this membranous layer varied according to body region, body surface, and gender. It was thicker in the lower than in the upper extremity, on the posterior than anterior aspect of the body, and in females than in males. The mean thickness of the membranous layer ranged from 39 to 189 μm, being thickest in the leg and thinnest over the dorsum of the hand. The membranous layer was observed to have two or even three components in regions such as the breast, back, thigh, and arm and was seen to split, forming special compartments around subcutaneous major veins of upper and lower extremities, with fibrous septa extending to attach to the vessel wall. Functionally, the membranous superficial fascia may play a role in the integrity of the skin and support for subcutaneous structures particularly veins, by ensuring their patency. Understanding the topographic anatomy of this fascial layer may help explain body-contour deformities and provide the anatomic basis for surgical correction.