IN A STANDARD HUMAN DISSECTION, A TECHNIQUE THAT has hardly changed over the last century, little consideration is given to fascia. That unassuming white sheath that cloaks each muscle is simply cut away by medical professors so that students can examine the action of each muscle in isolation.
Today, however, we are on the brink of a game-changing shift in our understanding of human anatomy in which fascia plays a starring role.
"Fascia is the biological fabric that holds us together," says Thomas Myers, founder of The Anatomy Trains Myofascial Meridians and one of the leading pioneers in this vast new wave of research.
A manual therapist with over 30 years’ experience, Myers spent decades studying the neuromyofascial system. Humans are comprised of roughly 70 trillion cells - and Myers describes fascia as "the 3D spider web of fibrous, gluey and wet proteins that hold them all together in their proper placement."
In his book Anatomy Trains, Myers discusses 12 ‘myofascial meridians’ - or ‘fascial lines’ - of connective tissue that run throughout the body distributing force, information and biomechanical communication.
Karin Locher, founder of CPM Education, has studied extensively with Myers, and has applied the Anatomy Trains
philosophy in a Pilates context to stunning effect. "[The fascial lines] give us a means to travel around the neuromyofascial system in an organised continuity and get involved in the influencing, maintaining and sustaining of the connections," she says.
"This system brings to life implications from strain, pain, stress, emotions, our everyday actions and even our thoughts. Single muscle theory is something of a has-been... Connective tissue phenomena is a new [approach to] anatomy that is making a lot more sense to anatomists, professionals and practitioners."
The implications for anatomists, movement experts and health professionals are profound. Problems such as skeletal imbalances, inexplicable chronic pain and unhealthy movement patterns are being addressed through a rewiring of the neuromyofascial pathways, allowing the body to correct and heal itself.
One of Locher’s success stories is a woman - referred to here as "Sonja" - who came in with excruciating lower back pain. Sonja had been to specialists all around the UK, but nobody had been able to help. "Whenever she moved, it was like touching an electric fence: she winced, jumped, tensed, spasmed and each time hung back deep into the pain," explains Locher.
Sonja walked into Locher’s studio on a surgeon’s recommendation that she try working with him for three months before going down the surgery path. "I could see that her structure was bearing down on and hanging off the discs that were pinching the nerves," Locher explains.
"On re-aligning Sonja’s standing position, the pain was for that moment relieved. This was a revelation to her. I applied some neuromyofascial stimuli and had her perform some simple re-patterning movements in which no pain would be experienced in order to lose the pain reaction habit."
It took a lot of work to break the movement habits that were causing Sonja’s pain. She had to learn that it was up to her to do the work re-patterning her body within her daily activities in order to get rid of the pain for good.
The starting point for understanding the nature of this complex system is that it responds to demand. "Your fascia is responding in every minute to every action, reaction, thought and emotion," says Locher. "If we can make that conscious, we can ask it for specific changes. Become aware of it so you can feel it at work and feel where it might be stuck, blocked, restricted, too short, too long... Sustaining changes is the long haul, which can take months, because it requires you to change habits and beliefs, and become more self-aware."
The sad fact is that many people encounter this form of therapy for the first time due to injury. But there are a few things that can be done to promote general fascial wellbeing. "Fascia is 68 percent water, and it needs to be hydrated through squeezing and stretching," says Locher. "We are responsible for creating the conditions and symptoms we live with every day, and better yet, we are the ones that can resolve them."
WORDS KATHRYN CLARK
IMAGE: GETTY IMAGES
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