WILLETT WORDS OF WISDOM
THE F WORD: FASCIA
I recently sat down with a colleague who wanted to know what I was up to….here are my responses to that interview.
You have been studying it for a long while now. So, what exactly is Fascia?
Simply put, fascia is a fabric that holds us together. Traditionally in medicine, it has been described in components – like plantar fascia or thoracolumbar fascia. It has most often been put aside and discarded during cadaver studies or live surgeries. Yet, today fascia is taking center stage. It is now studied and seen through the lens of everything from Olympic athlete training to cancer transmission to its role in pain. Its definition has broadened – it is the extra-cellular matrix comprising the soft connective tissues as well as the cells that create and maintain this matrix. It is the connective web that runs from head to toe, from inside to out. It is a system that touches all other systems – such as the lymphatic or nervous systems. Fascia is now being considered in all aspects of health – prevention and treatment.
You attended the international Fascia Research Congress in Berlin this past year.
Yes. I am an active member of the international Fascia Research Society and I attended the international Fascia Research Congress (FRC) in Berlin in November. The conference was held in a place where Einstein taught; and, every moment I was there, I felt I was in the presence of brilliance. There were approximately 1000 of us from all over the world. I spoke with individuals from Turkey, South Africa, India, Australia, and many other countries. The 1000 included Medical Doctors, Doctors of Osteopathy, Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, Doctors of Medicine in Dentistry and Dental Surgery, PhDs, manual therapists, movement therapists, as well as scientists and researchers. Notably, there was not a hierarchy – no one smarter or better than the other. We comprised a group of individuals dedicated to our work however that manifests for each of us – sharing what we have learned in practice and research - each of us dedicated to the highest knowledge and the best practices.
I was experiencing cutting-edge medical information. Dr. Carla Stecco, an orthopedic surgeon and medical professor from Padua, Italy (incidentally, same place Galileo taught for many years) and who put together the first ever photographic atlas of the human fascial system, spoke on her discovering a new cell in the fascia that plays a role in the gliding surfaces of the fascia. Many have said she should receive the Nobel prize in medicine. Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau, a French plastic surgeon specializing in hand surgery and who has filmed live human fascia, presented his latest films on fascia, cells, and fibers in the human body. He calls for a new way of looking at the body and medicine – not from a linear model though from a view that the body is organized chaos. Dr. Neil Theise, also presented. Thiese is a liver pathologist, stem cell researcher and professor at NYU School of Medicine; and, is senior author of article “Structure and Distribution of an Unrecognized Interstitium in Human Tissues” that published in March 2018 in the journal Scientific Reports noting discovery of a new organ. As I shared with many of you, right after his publication I was on the call with him and Dr. Stecco and others who pointed out that what he discovered was not completely "new" though a different nomenclature of something seen through a different lens. At the FRC, Thiese said that he realizes that not only had he not seen the forest through the trees, he had missed the beautiful meadow that we in the FRC were playing in for years. He said that unless you are a surgeon, most doctors in the states don’t even know what fascia is. I spoke to him one on one and he was truly humbled and said he is excited to bring back all he has learned to his colleagues in New York and students at NYU.
The Fascia Research Congress was first held at Harvard Medical School in 2007. The intention was to bring together the world’s top fascial scientists to present their research to those of us in the field – those of us working with the client – whether it be a doctor, a massage therapist or a movement specialist. FRC has been held in international cities every 2-3 years since then and the research and knowledge has expanded significantly.
Your approach to movement is through fascia. Say more about that.
I believe fascia health is key to overall health and I take all that I learn from the research and apply it to my work. Fascia is the largest sensory organ in the body. It permeates and envelopes all tissues and organs. It is a body system that affects and is affected by all other body systems and running right there with it is the interstitual fluid – our superhighway in the body. All systems touch and are touched by the fascia. Think of the nervous system that is embedded in it. If you're stressed out and primarily functioning on a ramped up sympathetic system, you better believe, your fascia is tight. Trauma, surgery, stress, and repetitive patterns of movement or non-movement shape our fascial web. I have observed live surgeries to see live fascia and better understand the implications for movement and breath therapy both pre and post surgery. Imagine this beautiful internal web connecting us head to toe. Healthy fascia is freely moving and gliding, whereas unhealthy fascia is tight and restricted. Movement is key to healthy fascia whether you are a serious athlete or someone wanting to be pain free. And I can say much more about that though that would make this article very long.
So, is it about the whole body?
Yes. Imagine a spider web with morning dew on it freely blowing in the wind. Along comes a fly that gets caught in the web, pulling it to one side and creating a tightness throughout the whole web. Think of this as fascia. When there is a restriction in your fascia, it can manifest itself as problems in other places in the body. For example, plantar fasciitis is focused on the foot, yet may be caused from a trigger point or tightness in the calves, hamstrings or even imbalance in the hips. Or that mysterious back pain is most likely coming from somewhere else in the body. I have a saying in my work 'wiggle often'. Through my work, I facilitate people to explore all the places their bodies can go, to become aware of all the possible movements their bodies are capable of, and most importantly, to move in new ways. Through movement, we make all kinds of discoveries. Often people are holding their bodies or moving the same way – even in their workouts. We have also become so sedentary and our bodies are suffering. I approach my work through whole body movement and awareness. It's all connected through fascia! And it begins with the breath.
The breath is the most important. Unfortunately, we are most often stingy breathers with our breath inhibited because of holding patterns or stress. Trillions of cells throughout the body want to be fed. That alone is a reason to breath well. Equally important, breath is movement! Focus on your breath for a moment. See if you can feel your breath three dimensionally with ribs and body opening to sides, to front, to back, and shoulders and neck muscles moving as well. Imagine the fascia (or connective web) all around the upper body, chest, heart, back and pelvis moving and opening with the movement of the breath alone. Breath alone can create a huge shift in the body.
Your clients say you focus so much on the feet?
Yes. If I could only teach one thing, it would be breath. If I could only teach two, it would be breath and feet. Our feet are highly innervated with sensory receptors and most of our myofascial connections begin and run through our feet. Unfortunately, we wear deprivation chambers (shoes) all day long and we rarely move our feet. I see so many people heading to the gym to exercise every part of their body except their feet and I am amazed! The feet might be the most important part of our bodies yet we neglect them and wonder why we have feet problems or hip problems or other discomforts and pains in our bodies. If there is one thing you can do right this moment, take time to focus on your breath and breathe with intention. Next, kick off your shoes and scrunch your toes and wiggle your feet. Through breath and footwork alone, you can do wonders to your fascia, to your body.
©AnneLloydWillett April 2019