Discovering the fascial anatomy and its influence was
like realizing the world was round when I thought it was flat.
Every day in my work I have to explain fascial tissue to at least one person because they have never heard of it. When explaining what this tissue is I often say something like this: Fascia is the connective tissue in your body, it surrounds and supports everything. If you were a potted plant, your skin would be the pot, the roots would be the structures of your body and the dirt would be your fascia. It is even called ‘ground substance.’ It is around every muscle, every bundle of muscle fibers, every fiber and every cell. It is the covering of the cells. It is around every vessel, organ and nerve, and it surrounds and supports your nervous system. It has different names in different parts of the body, but it is all the connective tissue.
I could just apply my techniques to people but I take the time to explain because understanding the body in this way has huge implications on how we operate in our body and what we choose to do to treat ourselves. Seeing the body as a lively fascial web starts to change how you see yourself and the potential for your health.
We are connected from head to toe, what is happening at the base of the spine influences what is happening at the head, and vice versa. What is happening at the pelvis influences what is happening at the shoulder, and even into the arm and hand. There are anatomical links through the fascia. Furthermore, we are unified in mind, body and spirit. For instance, fascia will respond to thought. You can recognize an emotional state by someone’s posture. It is an error in thinking to treat anything as purely physical or purely mental.
Several of the people I have learned from have said, ‘all illness starts as stagnation in the tissues’. Repetitive strain studies showing increased distance between cells in the interstitial spaces (the space between the cells of the body, or connective tissue). Fibers form in the interstitial spaces with repetitive strain and this slows the movement of nutrients through the tissues, and also the removal of waste from the tissues. We know that cancer cells are forming in the body regularly and usually the body’s defense systems carry them away. However, if there is poor movement through the tissues, this can give cancer cells a chance to take hold. Cancer is a very complex disease, and there is much more to it than this one simple explanation. It is an important point though, they may give us one more thing to do for our health. I can point to a case study within my practice of someone who had a traumatic injury that created a fascial restriction in the area of the diaphragm. She had never had health problems before that and within two years following that injury she developed endocrine problems, musculoskeletal problems and ultimately breast cancer. The question is what role did the fascial restrictions created by the trauma play in the development of these health problems? I can’t say conclusively but it is something that should be examined.
Structure has a big influence on physiology and function. Pharmacology emphasizes a biochemical approach, but creating space for the cells of the body to work can have an amazing influence on the function. Treating pharmacologically alone is incomplete and can in the long run have negative implication on health.
The human is so complicated that we must divide our studies into parts such as psychology, anatomy, physiology, spirituality, etc. In medical studies we examine the various systems of the body individually. And to study the musculoskeletal system, we look at the various joint complexes individually. But after graduating from demanding scholastic and clinical program we have to put it all together. That often doesn’t happen. In fact, medicine has become more segmented with specialization. People seeking help for a dis-ease can end up going from one doctor to another to hear their specialized viewpoint.
It can be very difficult for those with medical training when it comes time to understand the holistic influence of the fascial tissue. Exceptionally bright people with MD, PT or PhD degrees can have a hard time putting it all together. In fact, I often find doctors struggling with these concepts. The lay person often does not. So this must be an illustration of human nature. When we are taught a system or model of understanding the human experience, we try to fit everything into this model. As adults, if new facts don’t fit our model we often don’t acknowledge it at all, or we find it threatening, get angry and attack.
As I said, learning about the fascial anatomy was a major shift for me. And my reaction included some anger. I had not been taught about the importance of fascia in all the fantastic training I had. I sat with my own anger for quite a while after I started learning myofascial release, and having great success with it. I couldn’t argue with the results and so I just kept with learning fascial release techniques. I read many books within physics, psychology, anatomy, and spirituality trying to answer the questions that came up for me.
There are many opportunities for new learning in all this but the lesson that stands out for me:
Models are necessary for learning, and living. They provide a platform and a grounding. They can become a cage when I use them to prevent new learning or experience.
There is so much more than can be said about fascia, and many others have done a wonderful job. Here are some examples.
Follow some of these links below and you can see some examples of fascia:
If you want to read more check out these choices:
- http://fasciacongress.org/ The International Fascial Research Congress: Basic science and Implications for Conventional and Complementary Health Care. Tons of research to give relief to the scientifically minded.
- The Fasciae: Anatomy, Dysfunction and Treatment by Serge Paoletti. A great book!
- Healing Ancient Wounds, by John Barnes. A book explaining Mr. Barnes approach and all that influences it.
- Discover Craniosacral Therapy, by John Upledger, DO. Dr. Upledger is perhaps the largest contributor to the teaching of craniosacral therapy in the US. This is an introductory book for the lay person.
- Understanding the Message of the Body, by Jean-Pierre Barral, DO, PT. Dr. Barral has developed the curriculum of visceral manipulation. This sophisticated approach to fascial release emphasizes specificity through thorough evaluation of the fascial system.
Samples of Treatment and Self Treatment:
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rxi8xJm82CU&feature=g-vrec Jean-Pierre Barral, DO, PT, demonstrating how he evaluates and treats.
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FtSP-tkSug&feature=context-vrec Gil Hedley, Fascial Anatomy and “the fuzz” speech. He gives a humorous and awesome explanation of the effect of stretching and is important for the fascial system.
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=1QM-8_DwArU John Barnes, PT, Unwinding. Assisting in the demonstration is Lori Zeltwanger, PT, who is also a gifted teacher of myofascial release techniques.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHLm9knl0vE Michael Morgan, LMT and a craniosacral therapist and instructor demonstrating this technique.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqf6zFMD9io A video describing structural integration, a technique developed by Ida Rolf.