This famous quote from Dr. Ida Rolf was probably uttered long before she met her student, Thomas Myers. She was known for creating the hands-on, deep tissue program known as Rolfing® and conceived of the myofascial scaffolding long before we knew much about it. Her quote seems to reference “referred pain” which is a complex issue but basically occurs when a source of pain is somewhere other than where it is felt. See last week’s blog, “Planes, Trains and Vectors,” for a review on fascia’s linkages and the latest buzz around self-massage research and instruction. Rolfing® and the concept of fascia were once seen as “alternative medicine” because there was no clinical “proof” but researchers are now delivering some compelling evidence – with more on the way.
Aside from the Anatomy Trains’ view of functional lines of fascia within our body, Myers’ textbook also summarizes his overall theory of the stability of human frame as a whole, using the term “tensegrity.” This word was originally coined by an architect and inventor named Buckminster Fuller. Applying the idea of “tensional integrity” to the human frame suggests that our bones are suspended within a continuous fascial net of floating, but supportive tissues, producing mechanical stability. In this type of structure, tension on one area impacts another; like cables on a suspension bridge. Human design was previously seen from the perspective of “compression;” more like bricks stacked in gravity. This concept proposes that myofascial “lines” carry forces from one body segment to the next during movement.
Visualize the consecutive chain of body segments that must activate when brushing long hair, or chopping wood or throwing a baseball. The “chain” concept is not an entirely new idea, but suggesting that the transmission and deceleration of force via connectivity of continuous fascia is the newer twist.
Thanks to current laboratory researchers including Gil Hedley, we have learned in meticulous dissection studies that muscles are often embedded in the fascial sheets and cannot easily be separated, supporting this fascial “line” concept. We have a lot more to learn about the human architecture, fascia, movement and neuro-receptors. Fitness and movement educators always want to know about “generating force” which is what happens with muscle movement, therefore we seem to focus on measuring ball rolling “forces” on fascia. However, science tells us that mechanical intervention on tissue (force) generates many types of changes: chemical, structural, or neurological; so are we trying to measure the right construct in our ongoing research? Is there something else going on that we cannot even conceive? Stay tuned for updates!!
So where does the idea of continuity within the fascia appear in different modalities?
“Kinetic chain” concepts have been around for some time. Fascia research is still closely questioned and considered theory, but orthopedic specialists, sports medicine and physical therapists have understood and utilized the body’s “kinetic chains” in rehabilitation practice for years with positive results. They have recognized that defined sequences of muscle coordination exist in patterns of multi-joint movements throughout a body segment, impacting each other. A chain of joints exercised together such as the hip, knee, and ankle joints, comprise the “lower extremity kinetic chain,” as an example. While this model is utilized in standard medical practice, it sure carries similarity to the myofascial lines theory. Is it just semantics or a case of blurred lines?
Reflexes/ Gait Patterns. Humans have motor development milestones that occur as infants and body reflexes which are a part of healthy development and motor control. Certain segments of the body develop neurological linkages that work in symphony with others (e.g. kinetic chain). Most obvious is perhaps our gait (walking) pattern, where a naturally contralateral movement or “cross-crawl” of opposite arm moves with opposite leg. Sometimes these synchronizations get confused or have signal problems and we end up with inhibited muscles that won’t contract, but we may not always realize why something feels “off”. “Where you think it is, it ain’t.” When the gait pattern is out of whack, an inhibited gluteus maximus on one side typically accompanies a tight low back, that is trying to “help” or compensate and there are often issues in the opposite side latissimus dorsi. Why does this happen with a movement that an individual has successfully executed for years? This dysfunction is seen frequently in physical therapy clinics and gyms and called kinetic chain, but also fits into the theoretical “Functional Back Line” from Myers. Applied medicine and theory meet again.
To use our knowledge of chains and lines in daily life, consider your low back. This is a place we have all experienced myofascial connections. It is a busy area where forces are generated, absorbed (decelerated) or transferred from lower to upper body or vice versa. Low back tension may come from the kinetic chain gait example above, or other brisk activities, or inactivity. Since the low back is also a place where referred pain or tension occurs, it presents a challenge for medical providers. Back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, but most of it is termed “non-specific” or “idiopathic” meaning from unknown cause. There is speculation that fascia may be a major player in such pain. The thoracolumbar fascia (TLF) is a multi-layered sheet of connective tissue at the low back which forms an intersection for muscles from several body segments and also shows up as a junction for most of Myers’ fascial “lines.” The TLF is a deep, layered tendonous sheet also called an aponeurosis, which is almost constantly activated whether we are moving or standing still due to the array of muscles that attach into it from front to back, above and below and the lumbar vertebrae to which it anchors. When a cranky muscle feeds tension into the TLF, there are ramifications for the fascia and its other muscle relations. Hopefully the fascia researchers that will help us to guide people with back pain towards relief because currently our treatment results are impotent.
Evolving research has influenced some hands on approaches for chiropractors, physical therapists and massage practitioners. In the workout world, we have seen a powerful wave of change towards comprehensive compound exercises; multi-joint, multiple body segment workouts. Fortunately people are edging away from the old muscle isolation strength training model (e.g. biceps on a nautilus machine) which has little relationship for better function in daily life. CrossFit, use of free weights and body weight exercises, TRX Suspension Training®, BOSU® for strength, and of course Pilates, Yoga and now Yoga Tune Up® offer excellent compound exercises for mobility and stability.
Come back Friday for my recommendations to unravel tension and enhance well being through movement!
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Fascia is a buzz word for many yoga teachers these days and what a relief that it is hitting the mainstream! Now we can all witness how using the Roll Model Method® helps heal so many people from yogis, dancers, weightlifters, and athletes. In regards to Kinetic Chain and the deep similarities with Tom Myers’ concepts and Anatomy Trains®, I love the question you ask, “Is it just semantics or a case of blurred lines?” Yes, the Kinetic Chain of joints is inextricably enmeshed in the fascial lines, muscle fibers, and other soft tissues. I’m hoping that standard medical practices evolve their practices sooner than later!
I was exposed to Rolfing at a young age because my mother sought a Rolfer out after having back surgery. I then began seeing a Rolfer and was exposed to the fascial system. It still amazes me that more are not aware of these ideas and this interconnected system however I have seen increased awareness in many of the trainings I have taken. I am excited to see what new research is shared on Fascia and the body’s responses to working with it. I hope to see more movement educators also having some knowledge regarding fascia and sharing this with their students.
It’s amazing to know that low backpain is so prevalent to humans, yet so difficult to find relief/solutions. Reading about thoracolumbar fascia is new for me and it’s peeked my interest to find out a little more. Thanks for the info.
As a student of Dr. Rolf’s school, I couldn’t agree more. The roll model method is so complementary to structural Integration.
I have appreciated the Fascial lines and Anatomy Trains work of Thomas Myers, yet had no idea of the association to Rolfing. We should be so grateful of the lineage and evolution in movement that has let us to compound exercises, using multiple body segments and joint for mobility and strength. This article highlights the “interconnectiveness” of our bodies and sheds light on looking up and downstream for the source of potential discomfort in our bodies. Just fascinating……
I’ve observed the kinetic chain in my own body, and had it explained to me by a body worker –for example, how a tight hip on one side affects the glutes and low back on the other. Seems logical enough and it causes to to shake my head as to why this is only a relatively recently accepted and practiced theory. Changes about how we live and view life are often slow moving. I felt validated to see a number of movement practices that I do mentioned in the listed modalities that use compound exercise for movement and mobility.
It is absolutely fascinating to watch the healthcare industry, progression of scientific research and studies, coupled with the fitness and movement professionals of this world as they navigate and weave together the available research of the day to create healthy long term self-care solutions.
It has been several years since this original blog post has been written, even the definition of fascia has changed since then. One question is how do we keep up with these changes and adopt newer perspectives and theories?
Love this article. Fascinating how everything in our bodies are interconnected. Movement and pain have to be understood as a unit or system. Not something that happens in isolation, but a confluence of many moving parts, tied together through fascia.
This what a wonderful fascia seam exploration. I can’t get enough of reading about fascia and it’s connection with everything within us. I let the theories run wild in my imagination. I have one of those “well where is the root of that coming from” pain on my right “low back/glute” region. I feel it could be from a multitude of regions, like there’s just this little nugget hiding. I’m nervous it is a deep trauma being exposed and I’ll need a professional to complete healing, which I can’t afford. Until then, I will work on my many blind spots since I’ve stopped weight lifting.
What a fantastically written article. The concept of total inter-body connection is so powerful and so rarely emphasized.
Incredibly insightful and informative article!
You’ve made me feel very lucky to live in an era that recognizes fascia as something beyond “alternative medicine”. Thank you for this interesting article.
Oh miss Diane! I love how you write in such an approachable yet scientific way. I am so glad I finally listened! The tensegrity term makes sense as does the fascia system interconnectedness . I
am wondering why we didn’t know more about this before. More to come. Thank you!
I completely forgot that “tensegrity” was a Buckminster Fuller coinage AND a portmanteau to boot! Such a great bit of trivia (that my classes are probably going to hear me spout a lot now), and it’s really useful and illustrative to think about the origin words, “tension” and “integrity,” as well. So much going on in just one term. Thank you!
Great article! Really informative!
Thank you for a thoughtful article – it is so exciting to be a part of this fascial revolution.
This reinforces my opinion that doctors are so limited on their knowledge of how the body works. The body, mind and spirit must be considered as inseparable before true healing can occur.
Love this article and its contents with credits to Ida Rolf and Tom Myers. Thinking of the body as originiating from a seed with everything connected, as opposed to one muscle does one action, is so useful in considering patterns of tensegrity and patterns of pain.
Great article. What a insightful way to explain this important body “part” that needs more attention.
Thanks for the way you have outlined the fascia – it is a huge area of interest for me and I am always amazed how one seemingly small area of fascial restriction can have such wide-ranging consequences. You have helped to illuminate the reasons why – thanks for sharing.
I love the concept of tensegrity! When playing with the tensegrity models it makes so much sense that you can not alter one part without it affecting the others in some way. I love how bringing awareness to our bodies through mindful movement, as we do in Yoga Tune-Up, opens our eyes to our blindspots. Allowing us to feel stronger and more mobile in our bodies.
I feel this referred pain when I roll my rotator cuff. A sharp pain at the top of my shoulder. I am looking forward to the day I have rolled away all the tension in my shoulders. My overhead shoulder flexion improves so much each time I do it too!
I love how everything adds up to the human body being one big interconnected system. Even though when I first came across the book of Tom Myers (and later on The Roll Model by Jill Miller and now the Yoga Tune Up Teacher Training) I was having trouble “believing” in fascia, after having been taught about singular muscles, as time went by (and still is going by) I appreciate more and more of it. I think part of it was seeing and experiencing in my own and other people’s body that it can and does work. Personally, I would not need proof through research, but it will certainly help the “concept” and knowledge of fascia and the people working with it, for the school medicine to appreciate and approve of it.
Pain traveling from one tight muscle to it’s neighbor is so true and you explain it so well. My first experience of this was rhomboid pain a friend of my googled and found a sight that said rhomboid pain could come from tight chest muscles. It is something I share with students even though they’re sometimes skeptical. 🙂
Great article Diane. Missing you at YTU training this week! Rolling on the balls does bring great relief to this amazingly tight web of tissue – the TFL – and I’ve also gotten great relief in this area from Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST) – another great modality. I do think we will see more and more applications. Thanks!
This is another example of how science is still seeking to find out answers to questions. Fascia is still not considered a major part of anatomical discussion in medical schools because much of this research is still cutting edge. It is also interesting how exercising fascia is different from how we traditionally think of exercising muscle. We tear down muscle and it repairs itself over time, but tearing down fascia usually leads to creating scar tissue.
What an interesting article. I knew nothing about kinetic chains or gait patterns prior to this article, and all of it makes sense. This totally sparked my interest and I am excited to do some research on my own to learn more about it.
I’ve found that the analogy of the “white stuff” in and around an orange is a great analogy for beginning to explain fascia
Thank you for the article. Its great that Yoga Tune UpⓇ offers such an accessible way of self care.
Loving all the juicy knowledge you shared here. I also specifically enjoy the imagery of cables on a suspension bridge.
Hi Garrett– thank you for your appreciation. On this topic – Jill Miller’s practices (movement– not just Balls) are the best applications I have seen so far; incorporating and honoring the multi-joint multi-directional connections. From a very technical nerd-y perspective, Mark Lindsay wrote a great science (text) book called “Fascia: Clinical Applications for Health & Human Performance. The intertwining of fascia-movement is only recently being “named” and becoming understood, we simply never had the whole picture before. I believe we will see more and more applications and clarifications in the next 10 years!
Wow Diane, thank you for composing such a succinct and great on article on the topic of fascia and movement. I love how you provide historical context for tensegrity. I found that very helpful! Are there other books / research you would recommend, aside from Myers, to help understand the broader context of how fascia and movement became so intertwined?
Great article Diane! I do hope the newer fascia research will convince the medical community