Maintaining integrity (structural that is)

How does a body sustain its structural integrity for a lifetime?

There are so many factors — from genetics and the environment, to daily lifestyle and personal choices — it’s hard to really give a simple answer.

One element of the body that has a lifetime influence to both our structure and function is the fascial continuum or connective tissue system and the demand daily life affects its integrity. Recent science is defining fascia far differently than it is depicted in anatomy book. Once considered more of a packing material, the organizing principle of fascia on an intercellular level called tensegrity has shed light on how fascia plays its role in our longevity of form and movement. How we both transmit and absorb force or energy through our body is reliant on the fascial interfaces throughout the entire body.

Many people think muscles and now the buzzword myofascia (same thing, just a more truthful wording) are the most important things to focus on if what you want to do is keep your posture and performance optimal while living pain-free.

I beg to differ.

The idea that muscle contraction is the driving force of transmission is incomplete. Mind you, it’s not wrong – it’s just incomplete. Let me explain. Even the way most people think about the nervous system, the brain as the dictator of all things is also just incomplete. What do you miss if you only think of performance and posture as being a component of the brain telling the muscles what to do?

Bottom line, it’s a linear model and the body is three-dimensional and living.

If you only think of the body in north/south connections to define postural alignment, you fail to recognize just how complex and intertwined everything is and what’s keeping things both connected yet separate. It also doesn’t give way to the truth of stability because the system that provides us structural stability and allows force to be transmitted to all the body parts so no one body part has to yield all of the demand of the movement we perform is the connective tissue system.

Perhaps because of a scalpel we have been able to cut a body up to see its parts we seem to have an idea that what we see after cutting is how the body “sees” itself. Does the body think in terms of individual muscles or did we just invent the parts with the blade?

Tom Myers proposed a great question in the last Fascia Society workshop, “What happens if you turn the scalpel sideways?”

You certainly get an entirely new perspective on what is connecting things rather than seeing the parts. Tom developed a phenomenal model to define not only the north/south continuity of myofascial meridians, but the spiraling, dynamic continuity the living form possesses. He too is an open minded teacher who sees the body beyond its parts – and even these linear models he’s developed to define how the body works to sustain upright posture and efficient joint motion don’t completely define how the human body sustains a lifetime of good health or function. It is simply a model after all. A damn good model I might add, but still, it’s a way to learn about movement more than longevity. Remember this: when it comes to trying to explain how the human body stays well over a lifetime – we aren’t really sure how it all works and most of the things we say are models to help us make sense of parts. If we really knew how it all worked there would be no disease and we would cure all pain symptoms in all humans!

It’s a tough thing to propose a way to help a body live better, with less pain, and more enjoyment – I have no idea why I keep trying to do it but hey, someone has to start trying to explain things to the general public so they get up and learn that we aren’t really taught how to take care of ourselves for the long haul of life. I mean really, ask yourself this question, “How long do you want to live or think you will live. How good do you want those years to be?” I’d rather live 50 more phenomenal years than live 25 good ones and 25 that leave me unable to move well or do the things I want to do. Don’t we all?

When it comes to defining how to live a better life, there’s no way to really tell. I mean, you would have to live your life, die, come back and do it different to really tell if one thing made you live longer or better for that matter, right? So instead, what if you could actively partake in simply making everyday a great day for yourself? But I digress…

track athlete

So back to transmitting force

How do we transmit force or energy through our body efficiently? Dr. Ingber argues that mechanical forces – the combination of push, pull, tension, and compression - are important regulators of cell development and behavior. Tensegrity provides the structure - the stable architecture if you will - that determines how these physical forces are distributed inside a cell or tissue, and how and where they exert their influence. We are just beginning to understand the profound environment the connective tissue provides and how it influences the structures it supports. The gliding interfaces between structures on the macro and micro level rely on the supple, yet stable, environment connective tissue provides. Efficient force transmission occurs in the connecting tissues. It’s the only inseparable structure in the body that’s able to absorb force throughout every cell instantaneously. People who are satisfied with what they already know limit their potential to learn anything at all.

Continue to think outside the box or dare I say the cell to learn how to stay healthy and well for a long lifetime. There’s more to say on the topic of how we absorb, manage, and utilize forces from outside our body but one thing is for sure. The system that transmits force the most efficiently and globally in a human form is the connective tissue. 

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