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Fascial Fitness - How to be Resilient, Elegant and Dynamic in Everyday Life and Sport

by Robert Schleip

listed in bodywork

[Image: Fascial Fitness - How to be Resilient, Elegant and Dynamic in Everyday Life and Sport]

Translated from the original German publication of 2014 (Riva Virlag), this book is published by the admirable Lotus Publishing of Chichester, who specialize in bodywork publications.

Fascia has become the popular study over the past few years, as witnessed by the proliferating number of courses and workshops on ‘fascial release’. This book is written to meet that need - and does it very well. It is aimed at the practical physical therapist and bodyworker who mainly treat sports and soft tissue lesions in their everyday work; a thorough description of fascia is followed with excellent chapters on the maintenance and improvement of fascial tone. I found the description of fascia, as opposed to the exercises, more fascinating and revealing. To those of us who have been practising more years than we care to remember, knew what ‘connective tissue’ was, where it was and what it did. We thought that we knew everything there was to know on the topic - how wrong we were.

Fascia is regarded as a specialist organ that pervades the whole body. Yes, it is still called connective tissue (CT) by most authorities except that some believe that osseous tissue is also CT. Schleip very nicely describes the various types of fascia in the following way:

Loose fibrous fascia - that surrounds the internal organs, where it stabilizes and cushions them;

Elastic fascia - containing elastin, that surrounds some organs such as the bladder, gall bladder, aorta and pulmonary system;

Parallel dense fascia - with a high percentage of collagen that forms tendons, ligaments and surrounds and pervades muscles with fibres parallel to each other so that stress on the muscles is coped with better mechanical advantage;

Irregular dense fascia - which is multidirectional and lines the brain and dermis so it can withstand forces from many different directions;

Reticular fascia - that surround and pervades the spleen, lymph nodes. Kit is also found in freshly healing scars;

Special fascia - that supports adipose tissue and the umbilical cord.

Schleip tells us that in ageing, the proportion of water in fascia decreases and the collagen fibres become matted, hence the need to hydrate regularly. Each person has between 18 and 23 kilograms of fascia and it stores one quarter of the body’s water. As with most tissues in the body, it is constantly renewing itself.

I found the next section, on the basic functions of fascia, fascinating and well written in an easy to understand way. The four functions of fascia are: -

  • Shaping: wrap, cushion, protect, support and give structure;
  • Movement: transfer and store power, maintain tension and stretch;
  • Communication: receive and forward stimuli and information;
  • Supply: metabolize, transport fluid and carry food.

The first two have been known by anatomists and physiologists for centuries, but physiologists nowadays consider the general metabolic function of fascia as one of its central tasks; since the loose connective tissue runs like a network under the skin throughout the body, researchers see it as a communication phenomenon. If the supply network is disturbed or damaged, there will be body wide responses, as well as stress responses in the connective tissue. Fascia contains receptors that send and receive information between the brain and muscles. Pain, essentially, arises primarily in fascial tissue and the common complaint of low back pain could be initiated with fascial imbalance.

Before the ‘practical’ chapters, Schleip describes the pioneers of fascial knowledge, notably the embryologist Alfred Pischinger (1899-1983), Elisabeth Dicke (1884-1952) who was a physiotherapist and worked with connective tissue massage, Ida Rolf (1896-1979) the biochemist-come-bodyworker who invented Rolfing, and Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917), the physician who pioneered the use of osteopathy. It is the knowledge of fascia and using it with various forms of massage that will appeal to bodyworkers reading this book. Schleip describes his own personal journey into the field and the research performed by himself and colleagues whilst at the University of Ulm since 2003. They include: -

  • The fascia of the lower back in humans is densely populated with specialized pain receptors and is the location in which back pain frequently starts to develop;
  • Fascia forms a body wide signalling network, as described by the neurophysiologist and professor of complementary therapies Helene Langevin. Her research in acupuncture, yoga and other methods has led her to prove a correlation of fascial densification lines with the so- called meridians of traditional Chinese medicine;
  • Scar adhesions in the fascia can be influenced by gentle massage as shown by physiotherapist Susan Chapelle and physiologist Geoffrey Bove. Their contention was that only gentle massage was required and not the heavy form of massage of Rolfing. (On a personal level, I have been treating scar tissue with subtle forms of massage for over 30 years and had excellent results).

One glaring omission of pioneers in this chapter is that of Maria Ebner, an Austrian physiotherapist who became head of the Leeds physiotherapy school as well as being superintendent at St. James’ Leeds. She pioneered Connective Tissue Massage (CTM), wrote a brilliant book on the subject and taught many workshops in the 1970s on the subject. I met her on several occasions and was privileged to do a course of study with her.

The practical chapters of the book commence with the phrase “A New Concept of the Body”. He states (quite obviously) that nowhere in the body do bones directly touch each other and that they are flexibly interconnected by fascia. Thinking in this light, the concept of the spine also changes from being a central pillar to one of 33 individual vertebrae that are aligned like many pieces of cork connected by an elastic rope. The topic of the interactions between the human gait, the elastic storage capacity of healthy lumbo-dorsal fascia and a potential link with the development of pain is ongoing at the Ulm university where he works.

Mention is made of the fascial chains of the body where the chain superimposes itself both in structure and communication, with another chain. He cites the work of Thomas Myers, the founder of “anatomy trains”, but I was surprised that his work wasn’t given more prominence.

The goals of fascia training include Optimum energy storage capacity, Ideal elastic extensibility and tension, Smooth functioning of the long fascial chains, Youthful wave structure of the fascia and Rapid regeneration of muscle fascia after strain. He mentions the latest scientific research in the correct stretching techniques and what the fascia requires for optimum performance.

For training, he uses the same words as per the functions - namely Shaping, Movement, Communication and Supply. These colour coded words are then put alongside the four training methods - namely Stretch - with Shaping; Spring - with Movement, Feel - with Communication and Revive - with Supply. He neatly describes these four aspects to training with fascia and gives many practical examples. Some of these are with aids such as cushions, sponge, balloons, chairs and stairs. He insists that fascia should be specifically targeted by exercise and that 10 minutes twice a week is all you need. The illustrations for all the exercises are clear and concise.

The penultimate chapter describes a few therapies that may be used to enhance the movement and wellbeing of fascia. These include Physiotherapy, Massage, Yoga, Acupuncture, Rolfing and Osteopathy. I was surprised that there wasn’t a mention for the subtler methods such as acupressure, reflexology (feet and body) and the many forms of contact healing.

 The final chapter discusses healthy lifestyles that we should comply with to keep our newly found facial wellness. He discusses correct weight management, hydration, correct eating regimes, vitamin and minerals intake - simple but sound advice.

Overall, I found this book to be extremely well researched and written and deserves its place on the practitioner’s bookshelf.

Further Information

Available from Lotus Publishing and Amazon


John R Cross
Lotus Publishing
978 1 905367 71 9

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