Fascia. This Mystery of its History

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While taking some holiday time, I have enjoyed re-visiting some articles on the fascia. As you all know, I am fascinated with fascia – in fact, the entire human body, but more so the fasciae. I’ve noticed that there are some practitioners new to MFR and fascia who think that fascia has just been discovered and that MFR is a new modality that has also been ‘discovered’ for the treatment of fascial dysfunction. Fascia and MFR are not exclusive to certain approaches. To really learn about fascia, I’ve looked at various opinions, approaches and research and compared and contrasted what they say to make me a better teacher and presenter. some of which is mentioned here. 

The fasciae have come into vogue since 2007 after the first International Fascia Congress and fascial research has grown immensely since then offering new insight into its role(s), responsibilities, features and characteristics so that we can better understand function versus dysfunction. Everyone knows that I have done a number of different types of training regarding the treatment of fascia but mostly Barnes training in the USA which I absolutely loved.

For those of you interested in fascia, there are now hundreds of books discussing the history, anatomy and pathology of the fascia. A. T. Still, the Father of Osteopathy, wrote about fascia being a connected system responsible for many pathologies in the late 1800’s. Connective tissue, fibroblasts and the ground substance have been discussed for decades and some reports mention that the CT’s were ‘discovered’ around the time of the French Revolution. The advent of biochemistry at the beginning of the 19th century led to the discovery and naming of the fibres of the CT’s and constituents of the ECM. John D. Godman, an anatomist and naturalist, presented anatomical drawings in his book called ‘Anatomical Investigations Comprising Descriptions of Various Fasciae of The Human Body’ (1824) and talked about ‘this continuous fascia’ (Joanne Avison, Yoga, Fascia Anatomy and Movement).

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The term ‘Myofascial’ came into vogue when Travell and Simons wrote about myofascial pain and dysfunction but the first description of Myofascial Pain Syndrome was published in German literature in 1843. The book ‘The Myofascial Release Manual’ by Manheim (3rd edition) suggests that the term ‘Myofascial Release’ as a technique was coined in 1981 when it was used as the title of the first soft tissue release courses taught at Michigan State University in the Autumn of that year. Ida P. Rolf also discussed fascia as a 3D matrix and biotensegrity in the 1950’s (maybe even earlier) and she went on to establish the ‘Rolfing Method’ of Structural Integration. John F. Barnes published ‘The Search for Excellence’ in 1990 where he discusses fascia and MFR. This book also has a chapter by Steven Levin on biotensegrity and all JFB practitioners learning JFB MFR have understood what biotensegrity is as soon as they start using John’s approach. I have to be honest, having learned about biotensegrity from JFB through his seminars and his books, I do think that all the recent hype about it is a bit late, especially here in the UK! Biotensegrity is obvious when we think about function and dysfunction.

MFR is a confusing title as we don’t really ‘release’ anything and the JFB MFR also treats the ground substance which is not (and more than) the myofascia. I also think there may be even earlier mentions of CT’s in anatomy, I just haven’t seen it. While fascia is very much ‘in vogue’ it is an ‘ancient tissue’ with a colourful history. MFR is also wide and

varied in its approaches. Many new books now discuss the fascia. Older books don’t go into detail on the fascia, but fascia is mentioned so if you are learning about fascia it is worthwhile looking at its history so that you can see how far the fascia ‘debate’ has been in existence.

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Ruth Duncan

Ruth Duncan

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