Fascia and tensegrity = the human body.
This post is based on the work of Thomas W. Myers described in his book : Anatomy Trains, Myofascial Meridians for Manual & Movement Therapists
As well as of the work of Ian O’Dwyer and John Polley.
The picture shows the white fibres very nicely how it interweaves through the muscle tissue
(Courtesy of Body Worlds Exhibitions)
Most of you would have heard me talk about the fascial lines that hold our body in its shape as we know it.
Today I want to write a bit more in detail about it, for those who are interested and want to understand a bit more why we do certain “mobilizer” movements at the beginning and the end of a session, or why I work a lot on the bony structures through a massage instead of just focusing on the muscles.
So, here it comes.
The aim of the book that T.W. Myers wrote was not to provide another therapy or application of such for body manipulation, but more a new way of looking at the body, understanding how the mechanics work as whole, rather than “a single muscle approach”.
He started examining bodies, not by pulling them apart to look at the individual structures, but by keeping them whole, and simply following the connective tissue structures along to see how they connect bones, muscles and organs.
His findings are that the human body is a model of tensegrity
(Tensegrity or tensional integrity, is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially (Gómez-Jáuregui, V (2010). Tensegrity Structures and their Application to Architecture. Servicio de Publicaciones Universidad de Cantabria, p.19.)
This means, that none of the bones in our body is in actual contact with another. All bones are only in alignment and kept in place because of the surrounding connective tissue (fascia around bony structures), and connected to the allignet muscles which are again only hold in their place by connective tissue (myofascia around muscular tissue).
Now, fascia has been talked about in science since the 1950’s, but the research into it only ramped up over the last 10 years. We are only now getting an idea about, what fascia does, and therefore latest research is looking at the muscular system again to find that we may have to restructure what we thought we knew about that.
But i dont want to dive into things too deep, as this is how it always goes with research. “Eureca! we discovered something!” Only to find a few years down the track:”oh dear, we misinterpreted this, or we didn’t consider that…”
However, I believe if something makes sense to you, your intuition tells you it is good, then go for it and do the best you can with the knowledge and tools that you have at the time. If it changes down the track, that is ok, too!
Anyhow, the human body being a tensegrity model, what does that mean?
It means that if you take away all the connective tissue, the structure of the human body will not hold. All the bones and muscles will surrender to gravity and fall to the floor.
So, between the the soft and hard tissues of the body (this includes even blood vessels) exists a state of functional and structural continuity, with fascia being the stringy and elastic component that connects as well as separates, supports and divides, and wraps and gives cohesion. Myers and others before him call it “the fascial, connective tissue network.
This also means, that whenever there is a force/pressure in one area anywhere in the body, it has an effect somewhere else, as the fascia network mitigates that force/pressure away from the origin.
Hence, often when we experience pain in one area of the body, the origin of that pain is most likely not there.
I am using the word pressure here on purpose, as it is not just external forces that cause imbalances, but also internal inflammation or oedema will have an impact on the physical structure, either directly or by “favouring” another part of the body to elevate pain.
Fascia can get damaged itself as well though. When fascia is exposed to hyper mechanical stress, is inflamed or immobile (dehydrated), the tissue becomes disorganized which results in so called fascial “thickening”, fibrosis as well as adhesions. Once this happens it has impact on the muscular and bony structure of the body leading to imbalances and altering the proprioception (feeling where things are/should be).
Healthy fascia glides and slides. Once these actions are impaired it will lead to motor dysfunction, and overloading of tissue.
Hence, in hand on treatment, I will often work on the bony sections of joints etc with the attempt to free the fascia away from the bone.
The mobilizers we do focus on moving the fascia on the bony connections, rather than elongating the muscles fibres of your quads or somewhere else.
Imagine fascia being similar to a rubber band. What can happen to it?
It can dry out, become less elastic. It can also stick together. It can lose elasticity due to over stretching, and it can snap (most often that happens in the area of tendons and ligaments… Yes, they are a form of fascia!)
Also, if you have a “healthy” rubber band, and you pull it long, what happens once you let go of it? It snaps back into its original shape.
That is how the “loading” and “unloading” of the fascial lines works. By lengthening the superficial back line for example, we load that line, hence once we let go, it will shorten, and therefore will have an effect on the superficial front line.
In a seated position, the back line is lengthened, the front line shortened. In an attempt to bring that back into balance, you could load the backline under a light load, to help it to spring back into its shorter original position, hence opening up the front of the body.
In manual therapy the fascial tissues have been incorporated for a much longer time, but still not to its full potential either (in massage (Ida Rolf introduced the Rolfing method), osteopathy, chiropractic), but in movement therapy the body has only ever been looked at as a lever model, where the contraction of a muscle results in a move.
With the fascia now in mind as a connective tissue network, a different approach is evolving in the reigns of exercise professionals, when it comes to movement.
The Fascial Lines
There are 11 fascial lines in our body: The superficial back line, the superficial front line, the deep front line, the spiral line, the front and back functional line, the lateral line, the superficial and deep front arm line, as well as the superficial and deep back arm line.
These lines, as mentioned above, wrap around muscles, separate muscle fibres, and muscles from bones, as well as connect them etc. They are involved in all movements the human body is capable of performing. That includes the movement of internal organs like the diaphragm, which is needed for breathing
And even though we have these 11 lines, they again still interconnect as well.
End of the story, in any body treatment, whether it is hands on work or exercise, we have to look at the body as a whole.
Pain is simply an indication that something is not quite right, but usually it is not where you feel the pain. Follow the lines and find the origin of the problem.
If you do want to become stronger, there is nothing wrong doing bicep curls, lunges and so on, but maybe consider training the body as a whole as well to ensure good all over movement instead of just isolated muscle strength.
Well, I think this should do for now.
Reading this may lead to a lot more questions than answers, but all I can say then:
Welcome to my world 🙂
This is the path I am currently on, learning and experiencing the techniques used to make a difference.
And the physical body is not it, emotions have such a huge impact on all this, too.
But I will keep this one for later 😉
One more interesting fact: The fascia lines are identical with the meridian lines of the body we know from TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). The meridian lines are linked to certain body organ, therefore if a meridian is blocked, there may be issues to find within the associated organ. Since we know that fascia is also interconnected with the inner organs of the body…makes me wonder if science has an anker here to start new research into how/why meridian lines work….
And just a side note: Is it not funny that sciens again seems to have to catch up with knowledge that is already existing?!
If you do have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear them, and I shall do my best to come up with an asnwer that will make sense 🙂
Thanks for your time and interest today
If you are interested in seeing more pictures, just google fascia.
Due to copyright images etc I am careful with what kind of images I use in my blogs.