Tissue Talks: Fascia Congress Explores the Underlying Connection to Health
Feb 08, 2016 10:15PM
● By Janet Hardy
Nearly 800 healthcare professionals, representing more than 35 countries and backgrounds ranging from osteopathic, physical therapy and chiropractic to massage therapy and Rolfing, met recently at the fourth Fascia Research Congress (FRC). Seen by many as too long in coming, the focus of the biennial meetings is the investigation of a major factor behind much of disease, pain and aging.
The congress, first held at Harvard in 2007, was developed as an educational symposium for international researchers to present the latest findings on fascia—connective tissue which is primarily a collagenous web throughout the body, transports vital elements and supports all biological structures—to the medical, clinical and research communities. In particular, information is emerging regarding the structure, functions and implications of fascial tissue.
Manual therapists seeking to better understand causes of pain and for ways to help their patients, are among the most enthusiastic attendees at these biennial congresses. Research findings that validate the importance of addressing connective tissue in therapeutic treatment practices is opening doors for effective approaches to relieving pain. And it is supporting methods taught by such leading therapists as John F. Barnes, PT, named by Massage magazine as one of the most influential persons in the therapeutic profession in the last century.
One outstanding presentation at this year’s FRC was delivered by French hand and wrist surgeon Dr. Jean Claude Guimberteau. Using an endoscopic camera, Guimberteau films living connective tissue, magnifying the images from five to 200 times. The videos, and his recent book Architecture of Human Living Fascia, show images of a shiny mesh-like web made of fibrils of fascial tissue. It’s fascinating to see the glistening, net-like, fluid-filled threads sliding upon themselves, continuously changing geometrical shapes and configurations. They even split apart as they adapt to body’s movements.
One of Guimberteau’s videos is a side view that shows the area above and below the skin of retracted tissue while a therapist’s fingers are making small, circular movements on the surface of the skin, simulating massage therapy. The pressure of the therapist’s fingers can be seen in the underlying tissue. In effective myofascial release (MFR) there is an emphasis on the three-dimensional nature of the fascial system, feeling the depth barrier and also learning how to feel the opening of the system while allowing sufficient time for the tissue to respond.
The mesmerizing, moving images of the body’s interior demonstrate that muscles do not exist without fascia, something Barnes has taught for years. Guimberteau says there are no layers in our bodies, as illustrations in anatomy books depict. Fascia infuses every part of us, down to the cellular level. Consequently, it has an influence on the condition of our organs, nerves, blood vessels, digestion, lymphatic and energy flow, and so on.
This also helps explain why a restriction in one area of the body can have an effect on a seemingly unrelated area. For example, an abdominal scar could be contributing to neck pain by the scar tissue pulling through the torso and up to the neck. Releasing fascial restrictions through MFR therapy and stretching can also have an effect on our cellular function and biochemistry.
Another intriguing area of exploration at this year’s FRC dealt with oncology (cancer) and fascia, specifically the importance of the connective tissue matrix in tumor growth and metastasis.
Research presented at the congress shows that the network of connective tissue affects all aspects of our body and mind. Dr. Jaap van der Wal, of the University of Maastricht, Holland, quoted an 18th-century Doctor of Osteopathy, A.T. Still, who said, “The soul of man, with all its streams of pure living water, seems to dwell in the fascia of his body.” And Barnes has spoken of Roger Penrose, an esteemed English physicist who proposed that coherent behavior (our consciousness, as we understand it) occurs within the fascial system.
We are not made of individual pieces. The fascia is a continuous web connecting and transporting life support in our bodies. Maintaining the most fluid state of the fascia’s ground substance, as it is called, may be one of the most effective forms of health maintenance. Even though Barnes has been teaching about fascia for more than 40 years and Guimberteau has been filming living fascia for 20 years, light is just now beginning to shine on the value of myofascial release therapy and MFR stretching.
Janet Hardy, LMT, BCTMB, is a board-certified myofascial release therapist, licensed in massage therapy. She owns Caring Touch, in Santa Rosa Beach. For more information, call 850-231-9131 or visit CaringTouchTherapy.net.