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Monday, 23 May 2011

Fascia. Fascianating stuff

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Fascia. (or myofascia) its the buzz word in physical therapies at the moment. If you are involved in them, you may know pretty much everything I'm about to write, if you aren't a practitioner, and are vaguely intrigued by the thought that there maybe something else in your body - other than muscles and tendons which may be giving you gyp, read on.

When you cut a piece of meat - a chicken breast for example, there is generally that white stringy stuff which is of a very different consistency to the meat around it. A bit like this:

It connects it - and is difficult to cut through because it is strong, kind of stretchy and doesnt break very easily. THIS is fascia. In dissections in the past, for many years, centuries, in fact, this was seen as biological packaging - the bubble-wrap of the body - which had to be cut away and disgarded to enable the dissector to get at what they wanted to see. The muscles and ligaments.

It wasn't until about 30 years ago that people really began to get intrigued about fascia - and it would seem that it was people like Tom Myers who began dissecting according to new "rules" not following directions from previous generations looking for old theories - but looking at tension lines across the bodies - and seeing fascia as a connecting tissue, which really kickstarted the whole thing into a new paradigm.

At this point, I must add a side note about Dr Ida Rolf who originally created Rolfing - which uses fascia as a connective tissue as a basis for treatment, but I should probably leave that for another day, else, I'll be writing a thesis.

So, the body is bound up with fascia. It interconnects all our muscles, tendons, bones, organs, everything. If a part of the fascia in the right leg gets bound up because of a strange way of walking/jumping etc, the repercussions can be felt right through the body. That issue in the leg pulls on tissue around the bum, which in turn pulls on tissue in the back - which at varying levels and layers through the body may pull on other tissues leading up to the neck - or through the body to the organs - and all of a sudden, it's not just the leg that hurts, and a limp which the client has, but potentially, neck ache and disgestive trouble.
From a leg injury.

Fascia is a plastic kind of material. Think back to the stringy bits in the chicken. Imagine if all the fascia in your body was gel like - sticky and not very mobile. The muscles wouldn't glide very well, you would be stiff, and movement would be very inefficient. Think if this stuff was closer to a sol (liquid) state - how much easier it would be to move, muscles would glide, and there would be less chance of binding.

That is exactly what fascia is like. It responds to water. If it is wet - and is closer to sol than to gel, you will be smoother, glidier (if such a word exists), and generally more happy. If you are closer to a gel state - the opposite will be true.

The plastic analogy continues.
If the body is used to doing something a certain way, the fascia will bunch and stretch in specific places to make it more efficient at this activity. If you sit at a desk, the fascia around the muscles in your shoulders will become stiffer, in order to help the muscles around the neck support your head in a slightly incorrect way - forward and looking down. If you are a gymnast, the fascia will become more and more bendible, if you kick right footed, the fascia around your legs will "deform" to make the leg more powerful and stable - and if you were dissected (in the right way)- this plasticness would be easily recognisable.

The plasticity however, takes a while to manifest itself. If fascia is stretched, it goes back to its original shape very quickly. It must be taught over a long period of time. 6 months to 2 years - thats the time it takes for fascia to renew itself.

Now, as a brief intro goes, this is getting a little long.
There is more though - fascia, originally thought to be just packing material, it was discovered had usage throughout the body - and now, from groundbreaking research at Ulm in Germany, fascia has been proved to have movement sensors in it. Fascia is the largest sensory organ that we as humans have. It even seems to have contractile properties - like smooth muscle.
New things are being discovered as we go along - hence the rather exciting feeling of being at the cutting edge of research into the human body.

As an upshot to all this, (which I have skipped over very briefly, and have probably missed out so much), the bodyworker and the physio and the Personal Trainer should no longer be looking at which specific muscle does a single action, which particular bit hurts - on its own or thinking in terms of a limb on its own, diconnected from the rest of the body.
The body as an organism is a whole integral unit. Fascia connects everything to everything else. A bicep curl does not just affect the bicep - the fascia around it links so much more in, although your neck hurts, it could be your ankle that is affecting fascia right the way up the body.
Don't isolate bits of your body - it is not there to be isolated - you will end up disconnected and disjointed. Think globally, think fascially.

I'm sure there are people out there who read this and will say - huh - he's missed X, which is SO important to this discussion... well, write a comment, I'm eager to have my mistakes corrected, and to learn more.

For further reading into this, google Rob Schleip for his research into fascia, Tom Myers for Anatomy Trains or Ida Rolf, for her pioneering development of rolfing and myofascial release.

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