Fascial Tensegrity and Movement

(This is the second installment of a 3-part post.  The initial post was Fascia. Fascia. Fascia.)

Why does fascia work?

The answer in one word is tensegrity.  The term tensegrity was first used by architect and inventor Buckminister Fuller from the phrase “tension integrity” to describe a principle for designing lightweight integrated structures that deliver great stability with minimal material.  Without knowing it, Fuller was describing many naturally occurring structures, not the least of which is the human body.

It is a common misperception that our bones hold us up.  There is no way scientifically speaking that bones could hold the body up without a tensegrity structure.  The tensegrity model posits that a single force in one part of the body will have an effect throughout the body. In the body, fascia serves to maintain appropriate special relationships between anatomical elements.  This no better demonstrated than in looking at a tent.

Remember last time you went camping and you put up a tent. You started with all the structures (ropes, straps, poles and the fabric of the tent itself).  Individually, they were all laying flat on the ground.  Then you began to create some tension and compression (tensegrity) as you slide the poles into the sleeves of the tent.  And voilà!  You have a structure up from the ground.

What make fascia unhappy?

Two key elements to fascial health are hydration and movement.  We have already talked about the role water plays in fascial glide.  So what role does movement have in fascia health?

Here is the A&P:  Muscles are designed to contract and relax.  Fascia is designed to create structure.

Now say you are busy sitting at your desk all day looking at the computer.  Over the course of the day, you start to slouch as your erector spinea (the back muscles that hold up you spine become fatigued).  Your head moves closer to the monitor as your eyes get tired.  Soon the muscles designed to lift your shoulder blades when you shrug are holding up you head.  Those levator scapulae are not designed to hold up your twelve-pound bowling ball of a head.

If you only did this once—no big deal.  But who sits at a computer only once.  The problem is when you go back the next day and the next and your body falls into a forward head posture.  Your poor little levator scapulae can’t keep holding up your head.  So collagen steps in to help.

Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables. -Spanish Proverb

The body is constantly laying down new collagen fibers—which add stiffness to our structure.  This thickening of fascia naturally reinforces whatever daily patterns of use that you are engaged in.  Movement is critical in making sure that muscles can continue to contract and relax instead of becoming thickened with additional fascia.

The following video does a great job showing you this exact process.  Gil Headley, anatomist, shows you the collagen fibers (what he calls “the fuzz”) on actual cadavers and demonstrates how it affects motion.

Now that you have watched Gil’s video, GET UP AND STRETCH! The last post on fascia will be here soon.  Make the most with your movement between now and then.

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