Fascia has long been the forgotten tissue in the body, discarded by medical students as the ‘white stuff’ so they can get to the more interesting structures underneath such as muscles and bones. This disregard for fascia has arisen from a lack of understanding of the nature of the tissue, which often appears less uniform and more disorganised than other more easily identifiable structures such as muscles and organs.
Added to this, it is only recently that science has developed the tools with which to recognise and measure fascia. Now scientists are beginning to be able to research what manual therapists have felt under their hands for centuries.
Fascia is recognised as a tensegrity structure, a concept that served as a basic inspiration for the field of fascia research. Taken from arts and architecture, tensegrity structures are where the solid compressional elements are held in balance yet without touching each other, by the elastic tensional elements that are all connected to each other in a global tension-transmitting network.
in the body this translates into the bones being held in balance by the fascia, rather than the classical weight-bearing structure of the skeleton, as proposed in traditional anatomy.
There is much research interest into the load bearing implications of fascia when seen as a tensegrity structure. The fascial network adapts to the load bearing demands made on it, including the force of gravity which has evolved as humans have stood up and become bipeds.
These findings are of interest in the field of sport, particularly with the rapidly advancing research into the ability of fascia to store and release kinetic energy. Put simply, correctly trained fascia has a greater ability to become more elastic, springy and resilient, leading to improved athletic performance and movement capability, while reducing the likelihood of injury.
But what does all of this mean for the layperson, the general public?
Just as fascia can respond to sports training by adapting positively to sports-specific needs, so can it respond negatively to the ab-use of modern office life, a sedentary lifestyle and high stress.
Fascial thickening in the wrong places can lead to restrictions which change posture and balance, reroute tensional forces and overload pain sensitive structures. It is these restrictions that can lead to many of the common chronic pain conditions that baffle the medical profession as they are unable to find an attributable structural cause. This is often because even thickened restricted fascia cannot be identified using common diagnostic tests such as MRI scans. And even if it was identified, many medical professionals have not yet been trained to understand the significance of the fascia they are identifying. The reason lies back in their student days when dissected fascia was stripped away as being medically insignificant.
As an understanding of the significance of fascia in body-wide health is now starting to ripple out through the sports world, it is important that this information is also shared with those people for whom the causes of their chronic pain have yet to be properly explained.
This is an abridged excerpt from Living Pain Free: Healing Chronic Pain with Myofascial Release, a self-help guide written by Amanda Oswald, lead therapist and owner of the Pain Care Clinic.