Our body web

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I just spent the last 4 days at the 3rd International Fascia Research Congress, so thought I would attempt to share this new way of looking at the body.

What is fascia, and why should we care about it? Because it is the tissue that holds our body shape. There is so much fascia in the body that if we took out the muscles, the fat, the blood vessels, the organs, the nerves – everything in the body except the fascia, we’d be able to recognize each other with no difficulty.

Fascia is everywhere, and connects everything to everything else. So why the sudden excitement over a tissue that has always been there?  Because most frequently anatomists have cut it off to better view the other body parts that they were interested in examining.

Some fascia has been considered important for a while, such as the IT band, and the thoracolumbar fascia, which support the side of the hip and the low back respectively. 

For this reason, anatomy books do show that fascia, but most of the images are devoid of fascia, and if you went to BodyWorlds, the muscles were all separated out, hanging as separate pieces which does not represent what is really happening in the body.

Think about the magic that is our skin and the tissue just underneath.  We can pick up a pinch of skin and roll it under our fingers, and when you let it go, no matter what direction you moved the superficial tissue, it pops back into place. 

The fractal grooves in our skin are a reflection of the 3-dimensional spider-web-like, flexible, dewy tissue underneath, designed in a way that allows for movement in any direction via watery sliding fibres and stretch.  Take a look at this video clip to get a feel for what the superficial fascia under the skin looks like.

Veins, the bluish tubes that return deoxygenated blood to the heart, are collapsible, yet the loose superficial fascial web keeps them open while we move and  stretch our bodies.

Human movement does not work entirely as a muscle-lever system as we had previously thought.  Such a lever system would probably result in very robotic movements, but we are capable of very smooth, coordinated movements.

Muscles don't really begin and end – they continue via the deep fascial system something like sausages linked together through their casings.  This means that when we stretch or massage a particular muscle, we will affect many of the muscles within that connective tissue.

You can prove this to yourself easily.  Stand up and bend over, and note about where your fingertips reach with respect to your legs or feet.  Then stand up again, and roll the bottom of left foot only on a golf ball for about 3-5 minutes. 

Bend over again, and what do you notice?  Most people notice that the left fingertips are reaching further than previously.  Even though you only worked the tissue on the bottom of the foot, you have magically become more flexible in the entire back-line of the body on that side!

Fascia not only connects muscles lengthwise to each other, but also glues certain muscle bellies that sit beside each other together.  This allows forces to be transferred laterally (or obliquely or whatever) across muscle bellies as well.

Depending on the movement we are doing, different layers of our muscle-fascia system move us by sliding over each other as needed. 

The ability of the fascial-web system to spread forces out and to dynamically create tension exactly where it is needed, when it is needed in order to move the body makes for a movement system that is far superior and more representative of how we actually move than a mechanical lever system ever could be. 

I wish I were able to find online a copy of the video we saw of a fresh dissection, showing the slide and glide as a leg is moved.  What I saw did not match at all how I had previously imagined movement to work. 

Obviously the movement was passive rather than active but still I did not expect to see so much sliding of layers of myofascia over each other.  What I had in my mind previously was muscles stretching and shortening but staying rather static.  I did not imagine the sliding.

Individual muscles can be useful to designate a particular area of the body, but when it comes to function or treatment it is helpful to consider what is happening in the entire muscle-fascia system involved rather than each muscle individually.

So, instead of learning anatomy by memorizing origins and insertions of muscles that don't really exist as independent functional units as we previously believed, perhaps it would be easier, more accurate and useful to study movement patterns like  the squat pattern, lunge pattern etc., or fascial planes that organize movement, such as the inner-leg line, the side line etc.

3rd International Fascia Research Congress, Vancouver BC, March 28-31, 2012

Copyright 2012 Vreni Gurd

3 Comments »

  1. jenneke said,

    April 2, 2012 @ 12:01 am

    Thank you for your great blog. With you bringing up the fascia I like to ask you what can you advise me for Myofascia syndrome.
    The weather from this last year has been very hard on my body. Yoga and prolo therapy beside medication are giving me the best results. Beside that I go ones a week for massage therapy. My infrared sauna is my best friend!
    Do you have any other suggestions for me??

    Thank you from Jenneke

  2. Vreni said,

    April 2, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

    Hi Jenneke,

    I think that getting a good postural assessment from a CHEK Practitioner http://www.chekinstitute.com, or Integrated Neurosomatic Therapist http://www.neurosomaticeducators.com/html/contact.htm. That way you can direct your stretching to the areas that will balance your body out.

    You need to stretch the areas that are tight. IF one side is tighter than the other, (left leg more than right) balance is more important, so only stretch one side until they are even, then stretch both sides equally.

    Hope that helps,

    Vreni

  3. Liz said,

    April 3, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

    Thanks for the article. I’d never thought much about fascia until recently when I visited an RMT who also does viscera and fascia release/manipulation. In one visit she addressed a long-standing issue I’d had with low back pain, which did not originate in my back at all.

    I’d also never realized that all of our organs move in a rhythmic motion, rather than sit static. It’s given me even more respect for the interconnectedness of all systems within our bodies.

    What a fascinating new area of study.
    Liz

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