Fascial Research – the three most important findings

Fascial Research

Having previously led a shadowy existence, our fascial network did not come to the attention of researchers until 2003. Till then it had been dismissed as merely a “filling material” for our body.

All that changed in 2007 when the first Fascia Congress was held at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

In a radio interview, Dr Robert Schleip, one of the co-organisers and a leading fascia researcher at Ulm University in Germany, described fascia from the medical perspective with a chuckle as “unsexy”. In the past, this “boring-looking tissue” in a dead body was simply pulled aside to get to the interesting stuff. Seeing fascia in a living body is a whole different sight. It just looks stunning.

Until 2003, scientists did not yet have access to imaging equipment nor was the computer technology advanced enough to measure fascia in the way they can now.

Of course they had ultrasound, but that only enabled them to measure the thickness of the tissue and not its elasticity. Today shear waves and high-performance processors are used to measure and examine fascia. This offers a fascinating view into the depths of a previously unexplored area of medicine.

In the meantime, wonderful, magical film images of the living fascial tissue and its networks became available thanks to the work of Dr Jean-Claude Guimberteau, a French plastic surgeon and hand surgeon who inserted a camera into the human body to observe and study fascia (YouTube “Strolling under the Skin”).

Some of the research results from the Fascia Congress of 2007 turned the world of medical experts, alternative therapists and yogis (Yin Yoga), who work with fascia, on it’s head and made them sit up and pay attention.

The three most important results:

1)    Fascia moves! The fascia or connective tissue can contract and relax.
Granted, it does this more slowly than muscles, but it does it steadily nonetheless.

2)    Fascia is interspersed with all kinds of nerve endings and pain receptors.

The fascial tissue is thus not “dead tissue”, but is actually pain-sensitive, active tissue – making it our largest sensory organ. Moreover, the fascial tissue has sensory motor capabilities (proprioception), which allow you to measure and feel precisely where you are in space or in relation to other objects.

Excerpt from Wiki with references to Robert Schleip and Thomas W. Myers:

Deep fascia is less flexible than surface fascia. They have a lesser blood supply, but are acutely innervated with sensory receptors which signal pain (nociceptors), changes in movement (proprioceptors), changes in pressure and vibrations (mechanoreceptors), changes in the chemical environment (chemoreceptors) and fluctuations in temperature (thermoreceptors).

Much deep fascia are able to react to a corresponding mechanical or chemical stimulation by contracting or relaxing, and by gradually reorganising the structure of their internal components.  

3)    Fascia contracts under psychological stress

On the basis of these research results, the implications of pain and disease of the body throughout stress is inevitable and the fascial network is now considered one of the most important tissues in our body, about which we still know very little.

In regards to ways in which one could prevent and or alleviate many types of fascial pain eg. back pain, Dr Robert Schleip stated “in addition to receiving treatment, it would certainly be helpful, to lead as stress-free a life as possible.”  

Summary of fascia findings and their implications for Yin Yoga

1)    Fascial tissue contracts

Positive Effects:

Both night and day, fascia’s job is to return the tissue that is stretched during everyday movements back to “neutral”.

Negative Effects:

After injuries or rest periods, e.g. after operations, contraction – specifically long contractions (called contracture) of the joint capsule – can cause a joint to become stiff. Each movement of the joint then unleashes pain both in and around the joint capsule.

Contractions arising from lack of movement (office work) can lead to fixation of the joints, e.g. the facet joints in the lumbar spinal column. Fixation can cause perceptible tightening pains in the nerves of the surrounding muscles and fascia.  

Contractions of the fascia which enclose the nerves can compress them, thereby triggering pain.  
Contractions in the fascial tissue which last for a longer period of time lead to “felting” or “adhesion” of the tissue, i.e. too many transverse connections and consequently too much collagen tissue is formed, which is stiffer, less flexible and thus drier. The formation of more tissue is actually a protective function to unburden the muscles and make the structure more stable. However, it can lead to stiff, dry (owing to lack of use) and painful tissue.

Contractions of the fascia can be triggered by stress – or rather the distribution of hormones in the body cause the fascia to contract. One possible implication of this is that stress could be responsible for an array of different types of back pain, especially lower back pain.

This is not such an absurd notion, considering we have eight layers of ligaments – including the intervertebral disc – running up the length of the spinal column for stabilisation and that the lower back is the central point where many dense fascial layers lie on top of each other (including the large fascia of the back muscles).

Contractions or relaxation of the fascia which sheath and connect the organs can certainly contribute to either a positive or negative effect on organ function.

Contractions arise from – among other things – an acidic environment. An alkaline environment would also help to relax the fascia in these circumstances.

2)    Fascia can relax

If we able to create the right chemical environment, temperature, pressure-stimulation-vibration = movement then we are well on the way to relaxing our fascia. Any therapeutic approach, like Yin Therapy’s, focuses on stimulating the body and mind in a passive and active way and therefore “working the body” holistically.

If we were to give a general health tip on how to grow old happy, healthy and active, we would recommend:

“A good passive yin training, a good active yang training and a healthy mind set.”
Markus Henning Giess & Karin Michelle Sang

One way to do this would be to practise a combination of Yin Yoga, yang yoga and meditation. 

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