To understand function we must understand the structure performing it. Without knowledge in both areas we are left to guesswork and misnomers for dysfunction or performance plans. Structure and function go hand in hand and it goes a long way for everyone to have a basic understanding of what they are and how they do it.
A concept that should be at the forefront when it comes to soft tissue problems and dysfunctions is that of tensegrity. This theory puts a very logical and easy to understand viewpoint on how the body is whole and unified as one, from inside to out. To start we look at our skeleton, the strong girders on which we place our muscles for movement and protect our organs from injury. Without it we are basically jellyfish.
Yet how does a skeleton remain upright, or return to its upright state after lying down. The muscles, you say, pull on the bones and get it upright and moving around. Close but no cigar yet. Muscles do have the simple job of contracting and relaxing, helping to move the skeleton around but how do they communicate, transfer nutrition, waste, information, and force? Do the nervous, circulatory, lymphatic systems just lie around like cables along the muscles or is something still missing from this unified picture? What is missing is our “soft skeleton”, our unitard underneath our skin. A hollow, elastic shell that has over 600 interconnected pockets that are filled with muscle, organs, blood vessels, and envelopes the skeleton. That is the fascial system, the communication continuum that has viscous, elastic, and plastic characteristics that allow it to be resilient and bring the skeleton back to its original position by way of malleable characteristics. Even the muscles themselves rely much on the fascia as it wraps each individual muscle fiber into bundles, then bundles into whole muscles that attach to bone through tendons, which are an extension of the fascia. This fascial/tendinous/ligamentous connection to bone is to the periosteum, which just so happens to be a further extension of the fascial system.
How does this fascial system allow for movement and keeping its original shape and not lose to gravity? Through a balance of tension and compression. The fascia is already prestressed, like the cables of a suspension bridge. These pull on the bones which are the heavy girders, weighing down in the opposite direction. This oppositional balance is manipulated by the muscles contracting and pulling on the structure, enabling it to move in the environment. Once the muscle contracts the fascia transmits the force to the overall structure enabling movement and integrity as it changes position. When the contraction is over then the structure moves back to its default position.
What if this universal, tensional system of communication becomes disrupted? What if some contractions refuse to let go and create distortions in the structure. That is what we will see in the next post.