Dr. Ida P. Rolf was studying new massage and therapeutic bodywork modalities at Esalen close to 50 years ago. She was an extraordinarily astute and progressive woman whose impact on those she worked with is almost never forgotten. Yet it continues to surprise and impress us that her fascination with fascia began earlier than the research that has proven her hunches about it right. So what is fascia that makes it so… fascia-nating?
Let’s find out.
History of Fascia in Medical Science
Every medical student and doctor remembers learning about fascia as the excess packing material that needs to be cut away before accessing muscle and bone. Removing this intricate but delicate webbing became a competitive obsession for anatomists looking to create the cleanest looking textbook images for medical students and universities. The convenient images we see in Google searches and drawings of the human body certainly serve a function in letting us peer into muscle, bone, and tendon anatomy. But they also betray the actual form and function of the human body.
In real bodies, muscles rarely transmit their full force directly via tendons into the skeleton, as is usually portrayed in textbook drawings. In reality, they transmit large amounts of their projectile and contractile forces into sheets of fascia, which distribute the force to synergistic and antagonistic muscles. As a result, not only are their respective joints stiffened, but also exert an influence several joints away (Schleip, 2012).
In the reverse, fascia has also been found to play a significant role in ballistic movements. Modern ultrasound studies have shown that how far you can throw a stone, how high you can jump, and how fast you can run are all strongly interdependent with how well the elastic recoil properties of your fascial network are supporting those movements (Schleip, 2012).
Modern Research in Fascia
In recent years, evolution in imaging technologies and new conceptual frameworks for interpreting movement in the mammalian body have given us new ways of looking at the role of fascia in movement and healthcare. One such modernization is the discovery that tensegrity plays a critical role in the body’s sensorimotor and vestibular senses.
Tensegrity is difficult to explain, but simple to demonstrate. It is a system of tensional forces distributed over the entirety of a closed system, wherein every ‘band’ of tension is related to every other one (Myers 2014). The result is a system that has tools for balance allocated in a truly multidirectional and holistic manner. This principal is found on every level of biological organization, from the cellular up to the organismic level. It is nowhere more obvious in the body than it is in the fascia network, which is what Rolfers are trained to sense and work on.
If you would like to learn more about fascia, consider attending an annual Fascia Congress meeting. I’m sharing this information with you about fascia to feed your curiosity about this wonderful system, but also to share my passion as a Rolfer for working holistically with your body to help you get out of pain. Rolfing changed my life significantly for the better, more than any other modality, and I became a Rolfer to share the great wealth of healing that Rolfing offers with anyone I can help. Thanks for reading.
Myers, Thomas W. Anatomy trains: myofascial meridians for manual and movement therapists. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier, 2014. Print.
Schleip, Robert. Fascia The Tensional Network of the Human Body: the Science and Clinical Applications in Manual and Movement Therapy. N.p.: Elsevier Science Health Science, 2012. Print.
Kian Fallahi | New Austin Rolfing | 4412 Spicewood Springs Rd #402 | Austin, TX | 78759 | Schedule a Session