To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Dynamic Ligaments: Re-visioning the Fascia as a Body-Wide Regulatory System,” by Thomas Myers, in the March 2011 issue. Article summary: We are in the midst of a radical rethinking of how the musculoskeletal system works. It is ever more clear that “the muscle” is an outdated and un-physiological concept, and that the understanding of the fascia as a body-wide regulatory system will yield the next generation of effective hands-on interventions.

by Kerry E. McKenna

As more of our experiences as practitioners coincide and spread amongst disciplines, the need to explore how it all works grows as well. The leading edge of bodywork research is currently in the study of the myofascial system and how it behaves.

Focus has been put on science meeting clinical and anecdotal observation, so that our bodywork practices can gain support from the scientific evidence that fascia does what we know it to do. New research also integrates the areas of physiology, neurophysiology, kinesiology and a dozen related fields that are on the forefront of new information, evolving beyond simple and well-worn mechanical models. There is always more to know, but fascial research, in my opinion, seems to be one of the most direct inroads to meeting, traditionally, dissection-driven medicine with holistic therapies.

The Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration was founded on the principles of Ida Rolf, Ph.D., from her research of the fascial tissue and networks which factored into her namesake method, and crossed influence with many exercise and body-and-touch therapies, notably Feldenkrais and Pilates.

So, logically, part of the mission of the Rolf Institute is to promote research into fascia and structural integration (through the Ida P. Rolf Foundation which funds research in structural integration), and being a frontrunner in the formation of the biennial Fascia Research Congress, staging its third International meeting in 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The collective vision of these groups, and many other researchers, is to shed light on the facts of fascia, and invite practitioners and researchers from all disciplines to engage in discussions, presentations and workshops.

Robert Schleip, Ph.D., a Certified Advanced Rolfer™, Feldenkrais practitioner and faculty at the European Rolf Institute training facility in Munich, has been pursuing data regarding myofascial systems since 2006 at Ulm University in Germany, teaching his groups’ findings as they unfold. “The most promising aspects for me are the role of fascial microinjuries in many cases of low back pain, and how new imaging methods will be able to detect those cases in order to … recommend fascial treatment (rather than disc surgery or muscle training),” he says.

Within the many sources he offered was a discovery about kangaroos (and gazelles) that directly informs the world of exercise training (paraphrased): Kangaroos’ leg muscles don’t comprise most of the force of its jump, but the fascial web’s spring is the stored-energy force that maintains such great repeated performance. (Müller, Schleip) Their work can be found on the teams’ website at the Fascia Research Project, Institute of Applied Physiology, Ulm University, Germany.

Practitioners themselves can get involved with research on many levels. Helen James, a Certified Advanced Rolfer™ in California has collected more than 700 client statistics on range of motion, with support from the Rolf Institute. She has published, and will be presenting her findings this year. The institute is now also including preparation on research practices within the program for certification. The Fascia Research Project at Ulm will be accepting applications for brief fascia research internships at their laboratory (www.fasciaresearch.de. And participation at the Fascia Research Congress in 2012 will certainly update you as to the direction you might go in your curiosity

What’s new in research may not be the method, nor the findings—sometimes we’re learning what we already know—but that we are bridging the gap with data that supports what we see in our sessions. Our difficulty with terms and quantities becomes surmountable. We use the empirical data to excite our minds, find references and open our imagination to what’s possible, and yes, someday we may know how it works.

Kerry E. McKenna is a Certified Rolfer™, writer, actress and stuntwoman who currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with a full-time practice there, and part-time practice in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She attended the Second Fascia Research Congress in Amsterdam in 2009 and continues to find ways to support the Rolfing and Structural Integration communities in public relations and sits on the practice building committee at the Rolf Institute (www.rolf.org).

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