Why the dynamic collagen matrix matters so much

When it comes to movement and defining function most of the research and science is focused on the muscles and motor nerves. With all of the study that’s gone into the arenas of fitness, function, posture, and movement, it’s no wonder we still can’t figure out why so many people who engage in fitness get injured or suffer with chronic pain. It is a simple matter of looking at the wrong matter in the body.

When you define muscle force, contraction, or function, doing so without understanding the dynamic collagen system called connective tissue or fascia, it limits us in figuring out how to move and function without pain.

Over the past 40 years or so, more and more research has been focused on this collagen matrix. Therefore we are now understanding the missing link to pain-free living. Understanding how to maintain or restore the gliding surfaces fascia provides is a key ingredient in restoring dynamic, functional patterns in a human body.

There was a time when science was convinced that tendons were merely ropes running in disconnected tubes or sheaths and muscles and ligaments were entirely separate structures. Yet, we now scientifically know neither idea is true at all.

Tendons have specific connections between them and these connections are what allow the sliding and gliding to occur so tendons react and respond appropriately to our movement potential. Jaap van der Wal observed that ligaments and muscles fuse into a single complex around the elbow and other joints. What’s compelling is how vastly tissue structures vary with the amount of motion required in the tissue when we move. Each “layer” responds and reacts in a unique way—all of which occurs without us having to think about any of it.

Fascia for centuries was considered a mere packing material.

This is simply not true. Fascia, first of all, is everywhere. It’s the most abundant material yet the least researched. There is no separation in this collagen matrix. From the epidermis, dermis, hypodermis, superficial fascia, subcutaneous tissue, deep fascia, muscle, tendons, periosteum… all the way down to every bone. Fascia can be found in every nook and cranny of the body. As you dive deep from layer to layer you find blood vessels, nerves, and cells along the way that all rely on this extracellular matrix to sustain their integrity, function, and efficiency.

In 2007 I had the distinct pleasure to be introduced to Dr. , French hand surgeon who created the DVD, “Strolling Under The Skin.” In this first video JC allowed us all to see this dynamic system using high powered micron-microscopes. My jaw hit the floor the first time I saw his work. Since that year, he’s developed four more DVDs and with his new book, “Architecture of Living Human Fascia,” he has become one of the primary teachers in the field of fascial research.

With his insight and that of other researchers, we now recognize that cells don’t connect cell to cell, side by side or touch cell wall to cell wall, or integrin to integrin, rather the extracellular matrix and it’s collagen fibrils span the molecular distance between them allowing cell-to-cell communication to exist. These fibrils don’t just connect cells, by the way, they entirely form the extracellular matrix that is our structural stability infrastructure on a macro and micro level.

Anatomically, it’s often times difficult for those who have spent their entire existence contemplating cells and molecules to give into the notion that much of the traditional confines of anatomy merely limit us from understanding how all of the elements form a complete, whole, human body. It’s amazing to see how fascia can change instantaneously before our eyes and in its ability to morph and adapt, our understanding of how movement occurs must then change.

Stepping out of the comfort box of basic anatomy can be a struggle—especially for those in the collegiate world.

I recall speaking in front of the kinesiology department at Penn State a number of years ago and the anatomy professor was the one person having the hardest time allowing new ideas into his brain.

“What she’s talking about is irrelevant and a fallacy. There’s no science behind her information,” he barked at me five minutes into my presentation.

Yet he was so wrong. There was growing research and science to back my lecture and today a mere seven years later, there’s so much more science proving the discussion as entirely true I think that professor should be fired. Cutting up the body without recognizing that before the blade defined a part it was all connected is what anatomists do. I get why he would be so reluctant to have an open mind. A professor with tenure can become complacent and teach outdated material simply because to learn more means changing tests, curriculum outlines, and actually working to educate students on what really is, not just what really is in a book from 1950. The understanding of fascia is not covered in traditional anatomy or medical study or training. Yet this information is critical to understand for future anatomists, scientists, doctors, and clinicians in the fields of fitness, wellness, healthy, and longevity to comprehend.

The surgical cutting can become a disaster because scar tissue replaces the ideal supportive matrix causing damage to its orienting fibers of connection. This tissue creates the connecting pathways, provides blood vessels and cells corridors and compartments so neurovascular bundles can find passage to other regions of the body. The unrecognized role of connective tissue limits our very understanding of the human organism, its function, and how it is to withstand the test of time, and sustain its efficiency. If a surgeon added this research to their toolbox, they may reconsider how the create their incisions entirely.

Gil Hedley coined the term Somanaut in my mind and instilled the idea that just as vast and complex as the universe, so is the internal universe of my body. The dark matter that we now understand is the fabric that holds our universe together is similar in complexity and bewilderment as our own connecting fabric under our skin. How amazing an opportunity we have to delve into this dynamic system, learn more about it and ultimately ourselves.

So this blog post is merely paying homage to my teachers in the fascial community who have allowed and encouraged me to continuously think out of the box of traditional science. People like Tom Findley, JC Guimberteau, Gil Hedley, Robert Schleip, Jaap van der Wal, and the many other researchers I follow and learn from each day.

Today I dive into JC’s new book to explore more deeply his teaching and further my knowledge of this vast system of connection. Once I’m done with a chapter, I’ll do my best to simplify the learning so all of you curious minds with less time and desire to learn science can understand how to apply this science to your daily life and live a healthy, active, pain-free existence no matter how old you are today.

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