IMPLICATIONS OF FASCIA'S ABILITY TO CONTRACT
Although it's not a totally new concept (I've spoken of it on several occasions --- HERE, HERE, and HERE), a brand new study shed even more light on fascia's ability to act as a contractile tissue. DR. ROBERT SCHLEIP led a team of 10 researchers from Europe and Australia that published a study on this topic (Fascia Is Able to Actively Contract and May Thereby Influence Musculoskeletal Dynamics: A Histochemical and Mechanographic Investigation) in this month's issue of Frontiers in Physiology.
Despite the recent work on this subject (not to mention the fact that physiologists are well aware of its ability to transmit mechanical forces), FASCIA is still largely believed to be "inert" --- a tissue of biomechanical importance, but "only serving a passive role". Take a look at this, however. For the better part of three decades, studies --- numerous studies --- have shown that certain types of connective tissues can, in similar fashion to muscles (but on a much smaller scale) contract.....
"In contrast to this common assumption there have been sporadic indications of a more active role of fascia due to an inherent ability to actively contract. These indications include the reported phenomenon of 'ligament contraction' of human lumbar fascia in response to repeated isometric strain application in vitro (Yahia et al., 1993), the documented presence of interspersed cells with smooth muscle-like appearance in the human fascia cruris (Staubesand and Li, 1996; Staubesand et al., 1997; Bhattacharya et al., 2010), and the clinical experience of seemingly animated fascial tonus changes in response to fascia manipulation treatments frequently reported by manual therapists (Minasny, 2009) and acupuncturists (Langevin et al., 2001)."
While these authors spoke of the tissue shortening and constricture that occurs in FIBROTIC PROCESSES and microscopic "SCAR TISSUE," the sort of contractile ability (contractility) we are going to discuss today is not only that which is functionally pathological, but that which is considered normal. While we will certainly deal with the former, please realize that depending on context, fascial 'contraction' is a normal part of the physiological process of FASCIA BIOMECHANICS. How did these scientists prove this once and for all?
The researchers took tissue slides of fascia from human cadavers that had no known pathologies, from the right FASCIA LATA, PLANTAR FASCIA, and the THORACOLUMBAR FASCIA lateral to L3 for comparisons. The thoracolumbar fascia was then dissected out of 40 rats and hooked up to sensitive force-measuring devices in baths of a type of Ringer's solution to see what would happen (contraction or not) when exposed to certain chemical stimulus added to the bath.
"Our immunohistochemical plus mechanographic findings and related force calculations suggest... active cellular contractility of fascial tissues may be able to impact musculoskeletal dynamics. Our findings suggest that, due to the contractile behavior of inherent myofibroblasts, human lumbar fascia may be able to change its stiffness in a time frame of minutes to hours and thereby possibly affect motoneuronal coordination."
That was a mouthful, but allow me to break it down for you. It's known that MYOFIBROBLASTS (a special kind of FIBROBLAST --- cells that create both COLLAGEN and the EXTRACELLULAR MATRIX) have contractile properties. These authors discovered that when the thoracolumbar fascia is exposed to certain types of inflammatory mediators (although there were many, TGF-BETA was the most important of these, while caffeine was the most well known), it "contracts". Where are myofibroblasts found in the greatest numbers? Not surprisingly, the thoracolumbar fascia (see earlier link). This is one more reason that the "disc" model of low back pain, while certainly not going away entirely, is slowly but surely being relegated to second fiddle (HERE). Some of the features of thoracolumbar-induced low back pain include....
Listen to the author's final conclusions....
"Our findings question the common clear distinction between active tissues and passive tissues in musculoskeletal dynamics. While the contraction forces observed in our study do not support a significant contribution of active fascial contractility in time frames of seconds (as are frequently considered, e.g., for locomotor dynamics), they suggest that active changes of fascial stiffness might play contributory roles to the motoneuronal coordination aspect of low back stability and other musculoskeletal parameters when viewed in a time-window of several minutes and longer. As some chronic disorders develop asymptomatically over a large time frame and are characterized by increased tissue stiffness, the potential contribution of fascial MFB activity merits further investigation."
This last sentence is critical to grasp --- that chronic disorders can, and frequently do, develop slowly and asymptomatically over time. Until they are no longer asymptomatic. This is part of what leads people into the world of CHRONIC PAIN and even CENTRAL SENSITIZATION. It's also why taking care of your body biomechanically and living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle are of such importance.
Fortunately for you, I have provided a NICE LIST of things you can be doing to help accomplish this --- or at least start the process. How else do you really expect to get better? WITH DRUGS? And as always, if you appreciate what we're doing here, be sure and spread the wealth by sharing this with the people you love and value most (just like, share, or follow on FACEBOOK!).
Dr. Schierling completed four years of Kansas State University's five-year Nutrition / Exercise Physiology Program before deciding on a career in Chiropractic. He graduated from Logan Chiropractic College in 1991, and has run a busy clinic in Mountain View, Missouri ever since. He and his wife Amy have four children (three daughters and a son).