When Wellness Is Your Business
By Marie-José Blom
Coming unglued, a New Years resolution to whole body health for 2016 or…for life?
A “fascianated” introspective of the ecosystem of our body – the fascial system.
Providing a deeper understanding and awareness will give us a better platform to influence balance or restore its delicate infrastructure, which determines our overall health and longevity.
So much consciousness has been raised about the endangered ecosystem of the earth, an endangerment thru the effects of global warming by:
Hi-tech over dependent economy
In comparison, the human fascial system operates very much as a biological ecosystem of our body, and we can therefore draw close parallels between the global ecosystem endangerment and our own body health:
Pollution/toxicity – lifestyle, diet, smoking
Densification (of tissue) – diet, stress, medication, hormones
Lack of hydration – stiffness, matting, pain, lack of movement
Hi-tech driven economy – less motivation to movement/sedentary lifestyle
In the first column, the effects of global warming, takes a “global” intervention that involves a multitude of decision makers.
The second column refers to the improvement of our own biological ecosystem, which only takes you to make the necessary changes, the efficiency of the power of one.
Then Where Do We Start? Is It Movement, Bodywork, Or Nutrition?
Being a movement educator, it would be obvious to consider movement and movement alone as the first choice to begin the change for improvement. Movement, however important, is only a component in the greater picture of wellness. If we seriously aim for overall health, the focus first needs to address improving or restoring the building blocks that affect the quality of the fascial structures that as an indispensable organ drives and supports our very being. In restoring the building blocks, it is essential to consider the building materials, and yes, then we have to take a good look at nutrition. The more I learn about it, the more I realize that the body needs a triad approach to wellness – nutrition, bodywork, as well as movement. The more I learn about the fascial system and how it is functioning as an organ, the more I value the importance and power of healthy food for healthy tissues. Therefore, we must first look more closely at the structures that are playing a prominent in supporting our overall health and wellness – the fascial system as a whole body dynamic network.
The Importance Of Understanding The Fascial System As A True Organ
The definition of an organ is: any part of the body that exercises a specific function.
Considering the multitude of specific functions, the human fascial network certainly qualifies.
Introducing A Global Description Of The Fascia
Fascia forms a body wide, continuous, viscoelastic, tensional network. A network that connects everything to everything, from deep to superficial with a continuity of it’s fibrils from the extra cellular matrix (ECM) via the integrin receptor that connects via the cell membrane to the cell nucleus. The same continuous network that permeates muscles, bones as well as the neural system. The word “fascia” itself has a Latin root and means to unify, to connect, or to bundle. Therefore, the fascia is considered a connective tissue.
Lets Look At The Important Fascial Functions
- To provide optimal internal support and tensional equilibrium
- To unite the body in function as a whole organism
- A connecting element to unite as well as separate myofascial units
- A connecting element to unite and coordinate myofascial sequences while mitigating its contractions
- Performs as a self-regulating hydrostatic system
- An intramuscular support system with a force transmitting function
- A body wide communication system through its nervous system as well as through its tensegrity via the extra cellular matrix
A More Detailed Look At The Fascial Infrastructure, The Relationship Of The Fascial Pull And Tensegrity That Determines The Programming Of A Cell Via The Extra Cellular Matrix (ECM)
The ECM (outer cellular environment) represents more or less an adaptive scaffolding, which intimately relates to the cytoplasm (the inner cellular environment) via the connecting integrin receptor cells. Integrins are molecules that link the ECM to the cytoskeleton (the inside of the cell). The integrin tests the tension and tastes the environment and transmits this mechanical stress (tension) across the cell membrane thereby signaling the inner cell to motivate growth, remodeling, or cell death. This process of mechanical stress has immediate effect on altering the organization and composition of the molecules in the cytoplasm and the cell nucleus. This explains how the fascial pull and tensegrity influences the programming or the altering of a cell, for the good or the bad of it. That also means that intelligent and strategic touch (external stimulation), as in massage and body work as well as movement, can affect the underlying cells by altering tension and can motivate change in the nucleus and it’s DNA transcription within minutes. The composition of the muscular ECM consists of non-collagenous glycoproteins reinforced by stiffer more fibrous proteins. This supramolecular matrix can transmit contractile muscle forces while maintaining its tissue integrity. It also provides the continuations of the neuromuscular tracts deep within the muscles in which nerve branches and blood vessels are embedded. These are affected in function (altered function) and are depended on the viscoelasticity (or the lack there of) of the fascial tissues.
Navigating The Organization Of The Various Fascial Layers
The pannicular fascia:
This comprises the loose (aereolar) connective tissue, (referred to in the past as the superficial fascia) surrounding the entire body as a whole. It also interfaces the deep fascia and underlying muscles to promote the necessary glide.
The deep musculoskeletal fascia:
Axial – referring in the thorax
Appendicular – referring to the extremities
The meningeal fascia:
Investing the central nervous system
The splanchnic fascia:
The fascial system that covers and invest into the internal organs
Together this fascial system reflects an interconnecting system of concentric tubes, sleeves, as well as flattened sheets.
The Significant And Specific Function Of The Loose (Areolar) Connective Tissue
The loose connective tissue contains the vast majority (15 liters) of the interstitial fluids in the body. The interstitial fluid is the solution that bathes and surrounds the tissue cells. It is found in the spaces between the cells (interstices). This fluid provides the cells of the body with nutrients and is involved with waste removal. This interstitial fluid flows thru the ECM, which contains the various specific cells such as: fibroblast cells, fasciacytes (HA producing cells), immune cells, adiposites as well as tumor cells. The interstitial fluid flow, with its conductive property, can have important effects on tissue change (change in viscosity/density), function, cell migration (fibroblasts), and tissue remodeling (myofibroblasts). The slightest change in fluid flow may alter the viscosity of the surrounding tissues and thereby affect the pull or shear stress on a cell surface. This will then change the biochemical environment of the cell. The fibroblast cell, abundantly present in the ECM, responds by contraction to begin a remodel on the surrounding tissues. The aforementioned changes will first affect the loose connective fascial tissues.
The loose connective fascia provides for necessary glide and yield between the deeper fascial layers. Only with a low viscosity (low density) can the adjacent, denser, and deep fascial layers be allowed to be stretched and glide without interference with one another.
The loose connective tissue also plays an important role in allowing the deep (inter muscular fascia) to adapt to volume change (expansion) of the underlying contracting muscles.
Additional Important Components Of The Loose Connective Tissue
The main components of the loose connective tissues are: water, ions, glucosamine glycans and hyaloronan (HA). HA is also present in the dense layers of the deep fascia as well as its underlying muscle. This hyaloronan is considered a lubricant and is secreted by specific cells in the fascia called fasciacytes which are fibroblast-like cells. A stiffening (densification) of the loose connective tissues may be caused by an overproduction of HA leading to a more viscous (denser) environment sabotaging the necessary glide between the layers of collagen fibers of the deep fascia. This may be perceived as muscular or fascial tightness (a feeling of swollen tissues) because the interfacing fascia is not yielding with the need of muscle lengthening. Over time this loose connective tissue change may be referred to as fascial densification.
What Conditions Could Cause Densification?
- Densification may be the result of altered PH levels
- Fluctuating PH levels under the influence of poor diet/nutrition (a diet rich in sugars and alcohol)
- Side effects of medication and drug use
- Diabetes, as a result of non-enzymatic glycation, this is where glucose molecules are binding with collagen molecules resulting in a stiffer and stickier environment. This is what I like to refer to as “gluing.”
- Overuse syndrome caused by intensive or high load exercise
This kind of densification may be remedied by modifying the ECM mechanical properties. Manual therapy, massage, and bodywork may contribute to a normalization of the viscosity. The addition of heat during the treatment will optimize the result. A specific program, such as “Fascial Fitness” designed by Robert Schleip, will take care of tissue maintenance. When densification persists it could possibly progress to another kind of fascial stiffening referred to as fibrosis, this also affects the deeper fascial tissues.
Fibrosis often follows a state of chronic inflammation, which causes the formation of a type of scar tissue. The process of fibrosis happens due to excessive production of ECM components such as collagen and fibronectin by the fibroblast cell. The fibroblast cell has contractile properties (smooth muscle actin), which creates the pull within the tissue matrix. This process is a normal process set in action with regular wound healing (inflammation, mechanical stress, tissue pull, scar formation). With the presence of the Transforming Growth Factor β1, the fibroblast cell in this process converts into the myofibroblast cell. This myofibroblast is programmed to promote wound healing and when the process is completed the myofibroblast is supposed to die. If for some reason this cell continues to “repair” beyond this stage, deformation into fibrosis may occur. For cardiac or lung tissues this would be detrimental.
What Conditions Could Cause Fibrosis?
Fibrosis may be the result of chronic inflammation. Some causes of chronic inflammation are:
- Chronic stress
Reversing the process of fibrosis is very challenging, only early intervention by tissue mobilization may avoid the formation of tissue fibrosis. Some of the conditions we are able to control that preclude inflammation are stress, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Fascia And The Connection To Cancer Research
Fibrosis and chronic tightness of the connecting tissue matrix, has been linked to the progression of cancer in the current research (see Fascial Research Society). The changes in the fascial tissue matrix are believed to be originated in the dynamic and metabolic environment of the fascia, the ECM, which is the environment where tissue change is motivated.
From Curiosity To Focus On A More Integrated Approach To Health And Fitness
To use the fascia as a platform for a whole body wellness model, was motivated by the
Fourth Fascial Research Conference in Washington, D.C. mid September 2015. This intention was reinforced by the Joint Conference of Fascia, Acupuncture and Oncology in Boston at Harvard. For many years in my work as movement educator, I strongly believed that there has to be a state of wellness before there can be a state of fitness. This belief has been validated strongly through the many outstanding studies and research presented at both aforementioned conferences. The joint conference in Boston particularly focused on the research of cancer biology and fascia, or more specifically, oncology and fascia. This important day addressed and explained the role of the connective tissue matrix in tumor growth and metastasis.
A Beautiful Expression Of A Triad Focus And Interconnection Model
Presented At The Boston Conference
The Path To Coming “Unglued,” A Proactive Fascia Related Wellness Approach
One of the roads that lead to a stiffening of the fascia, densification, fibrosis, and possible tumor formation is a state of chronic inflammation. Inflammation caused by biomechanical or biochemical imbalances that may lead to excessive tissue remodeling. Movement is an essential strategy in healing and prevention. However, movement alone cannot be the first line of defense. Based on the preceding information, I believe the first line of defense is actually to look at nutrition. No, not a diet, but rather the tools and education to guide and support healthy eating habits with a vested interest in culinary arts. The model that I found (see below), written by Mary T. Hankinson and Elizabeth A. Hankinson, is very impressive and detailed. It is titled “Nutritional Model To Reduce Inflammation In Musculoskeletal and Joint Diseases” and is available in “Fascia: The Tensional Network Of The Human Body” by R. Schleip, T. W. Findley, L. Chaitow, and P. A. Huijing. The focus of the entire chapter is controlling and eliminating the inflammation process in the body. It also details the many benefits of the anti-inflammatory properties of the right fatty acids and supplements. In addition, the chapter discusses the culinary arts approach to including and learning about the anti-inflammatory and healing properties of spices and herbs, fruits and vegetables, beverages, and more. It is illustrated with detailed charts that make it easy to design your own program for eating for healthy fascia.
Other Essential Anti-Inflammatory Strategies To Focus On
- Stress management
- Sleep management/the circadian rhythm
- Exercise/fascial fitness
Last but not least, the importance of movement!
Exercise should be inclusive of a fascial health and fitness focus. Working up to a wellness-focused program in support of a “life style” should include the following:
- Posture and alignment in support of respiratory efficiency
- Up training to “core ability,” leading to a strengthening program
- Manual therapy or bodywork reinforced with warmth