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Fascial Fitness Training in the Neuromyofascial Web

Fascial Fitness Training in the Neuromyofascial Web

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12/21/2012

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Fascial Fitness:Training in the Neuromyofascial Web
by Thomas Myers
Research shows why taking a different approach to exercise and the movement brain is the wave of the future.
If you are interested in the role of fascia in fitness training, the following questions lead to new take-aways:Most injuries are connective-tissue (fascial) injuries, not muscular injuries—so how do we best train toprevent and repair damage and build elasticity and resilience into the system?There are 10 times more sensory nerve endings in your fascia than in your muscles; therefore, how dowe aim proprioceptive stimulation at the fascia as well as the muscles?Traditional anatomy texts of the muscles and fascia are inaccurate, based on a fundamental misunder-standing of our movement function—so how can we work with fascia as a whole, as the “organ systemof stability”?Consciously or unconsciously, you have been working with fascia for your whole movement career—it isunavoidable. Now, however, new research is reinforcing the importance of fascia and other connective tis-sue in functional training (Fascia Congress 2009). Fascia is much more than “plastic wrap around the mus-cles.” Fascia is the organ system of stability and mechano-regulation (Varela & Frenk 1987).Understanding this may revolutionize our ideas of “fitness.” Research into the fascial net upsets both ourtraditional beliefs and some of our new favorites as well. The evidence all points to a new considerationwithin overall fitness for life—hence the term
fascial fitness.
This article lays out the emerging picture of the fascial net as a whole and explores three of the many aspects of recent research that give us a betterunderstanding of how best to train the fascial net.
The Neuromyofascial Web
Fascia is the Cinderella of body tissues—systematically ignored, dissected out and thrown away in bits(Schleip 2003). However, fascia forms the biological container and connector for every organ (includingmuscles). In dissection, fascia is literally a greasy mess (not at all like what the books show you) and sovariable among individuals that its actual architecture is hard to delineate. For many reasons, fascia hasnot been seen as a whole system; therefore we have been ignorant of fascia’s overall role in biomechan-ics.Thankfully, the integrating mechano-biological nature of the fascial web is becoming clearer. It turns outthat it really is all one net with no separation from top to toe, from skin to core or from birth to death(Shultz & Feitis 1996). Every cell in your body is hooked into—and responds to—the tensional environmentof the fascia (Ingber 1998). Alter your mechanics, and cells can change their function (Horwitz 1997). Thisis a radical new way of seeing personal training—stretching, strengthening and shape-shifting—as part of  “spatial medicine” (Myers 1998).Given the facts, many would prefer the term
neuromyofascial web
to the fascia-dissing
musculoskele-tal system
(Schleip 2003). As accustomed as we are to identifying individual structures within the fascialweb—plantar fascia, Achilles tendon, iliotibial band, thoracolumbar aponeurosis, nuchal ligament and soon—these are just convenient labels for areas within the singular fascial web. They might qualify as ZIPcodes, but they are not separate structures (see the sidebar “Muscle Isolation vs. Fascial Integration”).You can talk about the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Mediterranean oceans, but there is really only one in-terconnected ocean in the world. Fascia is the same. We talk about individual nerves, but we know thenervous system reacts as a whole. How does fascia webbing function as a system?
© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.
 
Magically extracted as a whole, the fascialweb would show us all the shapes of thebody, inside and out. It would be just one bignet with muscles squirming in it like swim-ming fish. Organs would hang in it like jelly-fish. Every system, every organ and evenevery cell lives embedded within the sea of aunitary fascial net.This concept is important because we are sostrongly inclined to name individual structuresand think that way clinically: “Oh, you toreyour biceps,” forgetting that “biceps” is ourconception. Our common scientific nomencla-ture gives a false impression, while the NewAge shibboleth is more literally true:
thebody—and the fascial net in particular—isa single connected unity in which themuscles and bones float.
You can tear this net in injury, cut it with asurgeon’s scalpel, feed and hydrate it well orclog it with high-fructose corn syrup. No mat-ter how you treat it, it will eventually lose itselasticity. In your eye’s lens, for instance, thenet stiffens in a very regular way, requiringyou to use reading glasses at about age 50.In your skin, the net frays to cause wrinkles.Key elements like hip cartilage may fail youbefore you die, and need replacement, butwhen you finally breathe your last breath yourfascial web will still be the same single netyou started with.It’s no small wonder that this system, like thenervous and circulatory systems, would de-velop complex signaling and homeostaticmechanisms (Langevin et al. 2006). Thelarger wonder is that we have not really seenor explored the connective-tissue system’s re-sponses until now.
A Definition of Terms
In medicine, the term fascia designates tis-sues with specific topology and histology, asdistinct from tendon, ligament or other speci-fied tissues. In this article, however, we areusing fascia as an overall name for this sys-temic net of connective tissue, because thereis no generalized term (Huijing & Langevin2009). Connective tissue includes the bloodand blood cells, and other elements not partof the structural net we are examining. Per-haps the closest term would be
extra-cellu-lar matrix (ECM)
, which includes everythingin your body that isn’t cellular (see Figure 3).The ECM has three main elements:
— 2
Muscle Isolation vs. Fascial Integration
Most fitness professionals have studied muscle function inisolation. Essentially, Western kinesiological anatomy asks:What would the action of the biceps be if it were the onlymuscle on the skeleton? Left to itself, the biceps is a radio-ulnar supinator,an elbow flexorand some kindof weak diago-nal flexor of theshoulder. Whenwe have thatdown, we imag-ine we under-stand the bicepsand what itdoes. That isone way of looking at it.The only thingis, the bicepsnever works inisolation. Isolat-ing muscles tostudy theirfunction is thevery opposite of integration and holism. What is the prac-tical difference? Studying the muscle solo leaves out fourvital fascial factors in daily muscle function:
1. The Effect From and on Neighboring Medial or Lat-eral Muscles.
The biceps has force-transmitting fascialconnections with the coracobrachialis, the brachialis andthe supinator and even across the septa into the triceps.These fascial connections affect the functioning of the bi-ceps and the arm (Huijing 2007).
2. The Effect From and on Muscles That Are Con-nected Proximally and Distally.
The biceps has connec-tions distally with the interosseous membrane and thefascia around the radius, as well as the bicipital aponeuro-sis into the flexors; and proximally with the pectoralisminor and supraspinatus via the short and long head re-spectively (see Figure 1) (Myers 2001, 2009).
3. The Effect Muscle Contraction Has on Local Liga-ments.
Contracting the biceps exerts a stabilizing influ-ence on the ligaments of both the shoulder and the elbow.Our assumption that ligaments are arranged in parallel tothe muscles is an incorrect one. Most ligaments are dy-namically integrated with the muscles in series so thatmuscle contraction helps the ligaments stabilize the jointat all angles (Van der Wal 2009).
4. The Fact That Every Muscle Has to Be Supplied byNerves and Blood Vessels.
These “wires and tubes” ar-rive encased in a fascial sheath. If this sheath is twistedor impinged, or if it becomes too short through bad pos-ture, muscle function is affected (Shacklock 2005)
   I   l   l  u  s   t  r  a   t   i  o  n  :   G  r  u  n   d  y ,   U   S  e   d  w   i   t   h  p  e  r  m   i  s  s   i  o  n .
 
fibers:
the strong pliable weave—consisting primarily of collagen (which has 12 types) and its cousinselastin and reticulin—that both separates compartments and binds them together
glue:
the variable and colloidal gels like heparin, fibronectin and hyaluronic acid that accommodatechange and provide the substrate for other cells like nerves and epithelia
water:
the fluid that surrounds and permeates the cells as a medium of exchange; mixes with the glueto make materials of differing properties; and keeps the fibers wet and pliableThough the ECM will be our topic just below, the term fascia as we define it also includes
fibroblasts
and
mast cells,
which give rise to the fibers and glue and then remodel them in response to the demands of injury, training and habit.The principal structural element in the ECM comprises the fibers collagen, elastin and reticulin. Collagen isby far the most common of these, and by far the strongest. This is the white, sinewy stuff in meat. Thecollagen fiber is a triple helix; if it was a half-inch thick, it would be about a yard long and look like an oldthree-strand rope (Snyder 1975). Collagen fibers can be arranged in regular directional rows, as they arein tendons or ligaments (dense regular), or in random crisscross ways, like felt (dense or loose irregular).The collagen fibers cannot actually stick to each other but are glued together by other proteins called
gly-coaminoglycans (GAGs)
, which are
mucopolysaccharides,
both of which are long words for snot. Weare held together by mucous, a colloidal substance, which, by varying its chemistry slightly, can display asurprising array of properties, from thick and sticky to fluid and lubricating. The fernlike molecules of mu-cous open to absorb water (they are hydrophilic) or close and bind to themselves when water is absent.Depending on their chemistry, they either bind layers together or allow them to slide on each other (Grin-nell 2008).The phenomenon we call “stretch” or lengthening (and that scientists call “creep” or hysteresis) is a func-tion not of the collagen fibers lengthening but of the fibers sliding along each other on the glue of the hy-drated GAGs (Sbriccoli et al. 2005). Take the water out of the GAGs, and the result is tissue that ismightily reluctant to stretch (Schleip 2003).Most injuries occur when connective tissue is stretched faster than it can respond. The less it is hydrated,the less elastic response it has in it.
The Body Electric?
Connective-tissue cells produce the fibers and the GAGs, and these materials are then altered to form aremarkable variety of building materials. If you were to try to recreate your structural body out of itemsyou could buy at Home Depot®, what would you need? Wood or PVC for the bones, silicon rubber for thecartilage, lots of string, wire, tubing, plastic sheeting, rubber bands, cotton, nets, grease and oil—the listgoes on. Would you try to build a body without duct tape?
— 3
A Few of the Many Forms of Fascia
This article uses the generalized term fascia to denote the interconnected net of fibers and glue. A. Two muscles heldtogether by “fuzz”—areolar tissue. B. The “strapping tape” nature of the fascia covering the quadriceps. C. (courtesyof Dr. J-C Guimbertau) The very delicate, gluey tissue that allows change and movement beneath our skin, betweenour muscles, and anywhere anatomical structures have to slide on each other.
ABC

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