Seamless Synergy: An Insightful Look at Fascia, Kinetic Chains, and Tensegrity
The human body is a remarkable, living, adaptive, and self-regulating entity that surpasses even our most sophisticated technological marvels. Regrettably, traditional anatomy classes often fail to convey this complexity.
In medical education, we typically learn about individual parts instead of fully integrated systems. This approach compartmentalizes various components, as if they were not part of a unified whole. In essence, our educational system simplifies the intricacies of the human body to facilitate teaching students.
As a specialist in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions, I too once viewed the body from this constrained perspective when I began my practice over 20 years ago. Thankfully, my understanding has since transformed significantly.
Three key areas of knowledge have profoundly shifted my perception of how our entire body operates as a synergistic, interconnected system: the myofascial system, the body's kinetic web, and the concept of tensegrity.
The Myofascial System
The term 'myofascial' combines 'myo,' which pertains to muscle, and 'fascia,' the connective tissue that pervades the entire human body. Fascia is ubiquitous, weaving through and connecting every element of the body. It forms a continuous web of connective tissue that links, supports, and integrates tendons, organs, muscles, tissues, and bones.
To truly comprehend our interconnectedness, we must first grasp the significance of fascia. Recent discoveries over the past few decades have revealed that fascia plays a crucial role beyond merely acting as padding around muscles and organs. It is intimately involved in the regulation of movement patterns and neurological control mechanisms throughout the body. Fascia is a vital component of a comprehensive signaling system. Intriguingly, research has shown that fascia contains numerous neurological receptors, even more so than muscle tissue. This is particularly remarkable, especially considering that most physicians do not take into account the critical role fascia plays.
Consider the image to the right, which showcases a dissection of the elbow (proximal lateral elbow region). What sets this dissection apart is that the muscles are removed from the body, leaving the fascia intact. The strands you see illustrate the convergence of connective tissue, linking all structures surrounding the lateral elbow (lateral epicondyle).
This example demonstrates how the convergence of multiple strands of connective tissue can form a cohesive functional matrix. If we were to employ the same dissection technique in other areas of the body (such as shoulders, hips, and knees), we would find a strikingly similar pattern. Multiple strands of connective tissue, in perfect continuity, with no discernible separation from each other.
Traditional anatomical illustrations bear little resemblance to this reality. The anatomist's scalpel often removes all fascia, leaving the impression of isolated muscles, each performing their individual actions. Conventional anatomy, in this sense, is more of an oversimplified fantasy than an accurate representation.
Image from "The Architecture of the Connective Tissue in the Musculoskeletal System—An Often Overlooked Functional Parameter as to Proprioception in the Locomotor Apparatus - Jaap van der Wal, MD, PhD, University Maastricht, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Department of Anatomy and Embryology, Maastricht, Netherlands"
Muscle Contraction - A Holistic Perspective
Traditional anatomy and biomechanics textbooks teach us that motion is generated by muscle contractions. Muscles have tendons at each end that attach directly to bones. When a muscle contracts, both ends (origin and insertion) are pulled towards each other, creating movement.
While this explanation is accurate to some extent, it oversimplifies the true nature of what occurs within the body. By incorporating an understanding of fascia, we can develop a more comprehensive perspective on how the body executes its actions. This broader view can help us address complex musculoskeletal conditions more effectively.
First, it is important to consider that muscle fibers originate from and insert into both the surrounding fascial fibers and the bone. These fascial fibers, in turn, attach to multiple regions of other bones and even adjacent muscles. These additional points of contact grant muscles the capacity to generate force in multiple directions, resulting in a three-dimensional model of movement.
Discovering these numerous points of fascial attachment, all operating across three dimensions, revolutionized my comprehension of muscle action biomechanics. It also offered me a more functional understanding of muscle contraction. Now, when I examine and analyze muscle contractions, I recognize that only specific portions of the muscle contract to perform an action, rather than the entire muscle.
In reality, groups of muscles often collaborate as functional units to execute any given action. For instance, some muscles may serve as primary movers (agonists) for a specific movement, while others act as antagonists; still, others function as synergists or stabilizers. Fascia is the vital component that enables these muscles to operate collectively as functional units, assisting in coordinating their actions across multiple joints.
The degree of motion and the amount of force required determine which specific areas of each muscle will contract, rather than the entire muscle. These highly precise movements are largely coordinated by the neurological receptors embedded within the fascia and are not solely controlled by the brain.
The Kinetic Web
Your body consists of an extraordinary series of kinetically connected systems which, when functioning efficiently, store and release substantial amounts of energy without injury.
In essence, each body operates as a single, large, three-dimensional Kinetic Web, in which force or tension from one area directly impacts multiple structures in both local and distant regions.
The Kinetic Web can be conceptualized as a linked series of kinetic chains. Each kinetic chain comprises individual links (various components of your musculoskeletal, nervous, and cardiovascular systems) connected to each other to form a three-dimensional Kinetic Web. When changes occur in one area of your body, cascading effects take place throughout the entire body, affecting multiple structures in your kinetic web.
Any weak link in this chain not only creates its own set of issues but also generates problems and compensations elsewhere in the body. For instance, when a structure in your hip, groin, or pelvis is injured or restricted, it becomes incapable of effectively carrying out normal functions such as walking, climbing stairs, or engaging in intimate activities with your partner.
Kinetic Lines (whole body fascial interconnections) are actual physical structures that have been mapped out and dissected. These tangible structures connect our bodies together. Researchers and clinicians, including Thomas Myers (Anatomy Trains) and Luigi, Carla, and Antonio Stecco (Fascial Manipulation), have spent decades investigating these interconnections.
Consider these Kinetic Lines as vectors for force transmission; they are not just connections, but also continuous lines of tension. In Thomas Myers' case, he has identified seven primary lines of fascial connection throughout the body. These include the (Images below from Anatomy Trains):
Superficial Back Line (SBL).
Superficial Front Line (SFL).
Lateral Line (LL).
Spiral Line (SL).
Deep Front Line (DFL).
Many standard anatomy texts are just starting to acknowledge the importance of these connections
Tensegrity - Tension And Integrity
A crucial concept in understanding your body as an interconnected kinetic web is known as 'Tensegrity.' Tensegrity is a structural principle that defines the integrity of a structure based on the balance of tensional forces, rather than solely on its compressive nature.
A bit of history: the term 'Tensegrity' gained popularity in the 1960s, thanks to neo-futuristic architect Richard Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller (1895-1983). Fuller coined this term while examining the innovative sculptures of Kenneth Snelson. Snelson's sculptural works consist of both flexible and rigid components. Instead of 'tensegrity,' Snelson uses the term 'floating compression' to describe his sculptures.
The geodesic dome is an excellent example of an architectural structure that employs the concepts of tensegrity. Due to its design, the geodesic dome is an incredibly stable construction, as all the pressure is distributed throughout the entire framework. I recall my sense of awe and wonder when I first saw a geodesic dome as a child at the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal (The Biosphere). Even then, I and many others knew that we were witnessing something exceptional!
In terms of how tensegrity relates to the human body, I will reference an analogy used by Thomas Myers of Anatomy Trains. Conventional anatomical perspectives teach that our skeleton provides a robust, stable framework to support the various soft tissue structures attached to it. This concept of 'continuous compression' is where the body's osseous structure offers structural integrity.
This same concept is used in building skyscrapers, where each layer of the building supports the next layer and is built on a solid foundation of stability (a Linear Model). The issue with applying this concept to the human body is that it represents a static model (not reality). While "continuous compression" works well in building construction, it falls short in explaining the structural integrity of dynamic human bodies that are in constant motion.
Consider this: without the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue, the framework (our skeleton) would simply collapse. Thomas Meyers uses the analogy of a sailboat to describe this concept. He compares the mast of the boat to our skeletal system and its rigging to our myofascial system. When the wind catches the sail of a boat, it directs an incredible force into the mast, yet the mast does not topple down because of the tensional balance of its rigging.
When one side of the rigging becomes tight and contracted, the rigging on the other side of the boat becomes loose and flexible. This continues until the wind changes and the sail starts pushing in another direction, requiring the line of tension to shift to the other side. This illustrates a dynamic system where a rigid structure (the mast) can exhibit dynamic qualities due to its tensional system (its rigging).
Similarly, our skeletal system maintains its integrity thanks to the balance of tensional forces provided by our myofascial system. We can run, jump, move, contort our bodies into countless positions, and return to a state of balance, all because of this concept of tensegrity.
TENSEGRITY AND INJURY RESOLUTION
Understanding the interconnectedness of our body is tremendously helpful in resolving even chronic injuries. Consider this analogy:
Think about how a soft, pliable ball reacts to compressive forces. When we take a ball about seven inches in diameter (like the ones used for myofascial release of the abdomen) and compress it with our hands, an interesting phenomenon occurs.
As we grasp the ball and squeeze firmly, the area being squeezed contracts, while the rest of the ball expands. If we then use a mechanical device to apply even more pressure until the ball bursts, we would find that the rupture occurs at the weakest part of the material. Intriguingly, the point of rupture is often located far from the point of applied force.
The same thing happens in the human body. Previous injuries, muscle imbalances, lack of exercise, mental stress (anxiety), poor nutrition, and various other factors create weak links in your body's kinetic chain. These are areas where the body is most vulnerable to injury. When increased stress is applied to the body, the entire body tries to compensate. If the weakest link cannot withstand this additional stress, an injury occurs at that point.
This tells us that we not only need to consider the areas where the body has developed weak links but also the non-symptomatic areas that are creating this increased stress. Often, these are areas that the patient (or doctor) may not even realize there is a problem.
In conclusion, understanding the human body as an interconnected, dynamic system is crucial for addressing and resolving complex musculoskeletal issues. By recognizing the significance of the myofascial system, the kinetic web, and the concept of tensegrity, we can develop a more holistic approach to treating injuries and restoring optimal function. This perspective allows us to identify and address not only the weak links in the kinetic chain but also the non-symptomatic areas that contribute to increased stress on the body.
As we continue to explore the intricate relationships between the various components of our bodies, we will be better equipped to develop innovative treatment methods and promote a more comprehensive understanding of human anatomy. By shifting our focus from isolated parts to an integrated system, we can empower healthcare professionals, patients, and individuals to maintain and improve their overall health and well-being.
DR. BRIAN ABELSON DC. - The Author
Dr. Abelson is committed to running an evidence-based practice (EBP) incorporating the most up-to-date research evidence. He combines his clinical expertise with each patient's specific values and needs to deliver effective, patient-centred personalized care.
As the Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems developer, Dr. Abelson operates a clinical practice in Calgary, Alberta, under Kinetic Health. He has authored ten publications and continues offering online courses and his live programs to healthcare professionals seeking to expand their knowledge and skills in treating musculoskeletal conditions. By staying current with the latest research and offering innovative treatment options, Dr. Abelson is dedicated to helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness.
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