For a few years there has been a media hype about fasciae and fascia training. In most sports, but also as a therapeutic concept, we find techniques and tools to act on the fascial tissue. For example, we use Foam Rolling for warming-up and to stimulate blood circulation or improve mobility. 1 In physiotherapy, there are techniques based on the fascial distortion model (FDM) to support the healing process after an injury. 2 Research on fasciae is still in its infancy. 3 Which concepts can we prove so far and what do we have to consider when applying them?
What are fasciae?
Fasciae are a part of our connective tissue. They envelop our muscle fibers, give our nerves and blood vessels a natural protection and are a barrier against infections. A three-dimensional network that runs through the entire body and connects it as a continuum. The fascial system thus provides a basis for the cooperation of all systems of the human body.4From a biological point of view, however, they are no more exceptional than muscles, bones or other tissues. Although fasciae are found throughout the body, this does not make them more important than other tissue types. We can find blood vessels and nerve tracts everywhere,
Currently there is no clear definition of fasciae. Thus, there are different views and classifications among experts, without a clear definition of which structures actually belong to the fascia.3,4 Until now, it has been assumed that fasciae can stick together and distortions can form. However, this model is only known as a hypothesis and could not be proven on the human body. 5, 6 And we must clearly distinguish between fascial tissue and tendons, ligaments or the joint capsule.
Unlike the tensile tendon tissue, the fascial tissue is described as rather soft and extremely stretchy. It has only 1% of the tensile strength of tendons and can be stretched up to 100% in length. 7, 8 The muscle is riddled with fascial structures that give it its shape and provide natural protection for the conduction pathways. However, due to their high elasticity, we can assume that they are only slightly involved in the transmission of force from the muscles to our skeleton.
In recent years there has been intensive research into the interaction of muscle and fascia. Thus, it was concluded that the transmission of force could take place not only from muscle to tendon but also via the fascia from muscle to muscle. 9Physiologically, however, this condition will probably never occur. 10, 11
Fascial release, fascial training and foam rolling
Especially Foam Rolling has found its place in many sports in a very short time. This should give athletes the opportunity to have a positive effect on the fascial tissue on their own. Thus, the expectation is to improve the blood flow in the warm-up program, increase performance or release the tension of the fascia. 1None of these mechanisms of action has been proven to date. Nevertheless we feel better after Foam Rolling. How can that be? Ultimately, we achieve a global regulation of the nervous system.
Especially when rolling over very pain-sensitive areas, we begin to breathe in and especially out more intensively. This brings us into a state of relaxation. This not only reduces muscle tone, but
also has a positive effect on the perception of pain. We just have to ask ourselves if we need this state before or after the training?
The mechanical pressure that would be required to structurally change fascial tissue goes far beyond what a human being can apply physiologically. 7This applies to foam rolling as well as to therapeutic concepts such as FDM. The mechanisms of action of these concepts correspond to classical stretching. Thus we have a temporary effect on the perception of pain and on the local metabolic situation. This can be a useful approach to reducing muscle soreness. We also have the possibility to improve the mobility for a short time with Foam Rolling. Whether we need this for our training, everyone must decide for himself.
Besides the positive effects, fascial training can also have negative consequences. So we must ask ourselves whether it is ethically justifiable to inflict pain on our customers if we have not yet understood the mechanisms of action. The high mechanical pressure during Foam Rolling can lead to injuries of the superficial nerves and vessels. In addition, pain is usually a warning signal from the body, which we must pay attention to in any case. We must be aware of this when we resort to fascia training.
Our body is a complex organism in which many systems work together. A reduction of the mechanisms of action of special exercises only on the fascial tissue seems too simple. If we exert a positive influence on breathing by using fascial training, this appears to be a suitable tool for warming up after training.
In the end, we have to decide whether we feel a positive effect and which tool is most effective for us. To understand the mechanisms of action we first need a clear definition. The influence on the fascial tissue is probably very small. So we have to decide for whom and when such a training form is useful. Fascial training is an option and not a must.
1) R. Schleip, D.G. Muller, Training principles for fascial connective tissues: scientific foundation and suggested practical applications, J. Bodyw. Mov. Ther. 17 (1) (2013) 103–115.
2) European Fascial Distortion Model Association (EFDMA). Das Fasziendistorsionsmodell nach Stephen Typaldos D.O. Die Typaldos-Methode. Wien: European Fascial Distortion Model Association; 2012
3) Adstrum, S., Hedley, G., Schleip, R., Stecco, C., Yucesoy, C., 2016. Defining the fascial system. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies
4) Schleip, R., Jäger, H., Klingler, W., 2012. What is ’fascia’? a review of different nomenclatures. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 16 (4), 496–502.
5) Bishop, J. H., Fox, J. R., Maple, R., Loretan, C., Badger, G. J., Henry, S. M., Vizzard, M. A., Langevin, H. M., 01 2016. Ultrasound evaluation of the combined effects of thoracolumbar fascia injury and movement restriction in a porcine model. PLOS ONE 11 (1), 1–13.
6) Langevin, H. M., Huijing, P. A., 2009. Communicating about fascia: history, pitfalls, and recommendations. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork 2 (4), 3–8.
7) Chaudhry, H., Schleip, R., Ji, Z., Bukiet, B., Maney, M., Findley, T., 2008. Three-dimensional mathematical model for deformation of human fasciae in manual therapy. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 108 (8), 379–390.
8) Henderson, E., Friend, E., Toscano, M., Parsons, K., Tarlton, J., 2015. Biomechanical comparison of canine fascia lata and thoracolumbar fascia: an in vitro evaluation of replacement tissues for body wall reconstruction (44), 126–34.
9) Huijing, P. A., van de Langenberg, R. W., Meesters, J. J., Baan, G. C., Dec 2007. Extramuscular myofascial force transmission also occurs between synergistic muscles and antagonistic muscles. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 17 (6), 680–689.
10) Ranger, T. A., Newell, N., Grant, C. A., Barker, P. J., Pearcy, M. J., 2016. The role of the middle lumbar fascia on spinal mechanics: A human biomechanical assessment. Spine.
11) Siebert, T., Leichsenring, K., Rode, C., Wick, C., Stutzig, N., Schubert, H., Blickhan, R., Böl, M., 2015. Three-dimensional muscle architecture and comprehensive dynamic properties of rabbit gastrocnemius, plantaris and soleus: Input for simulation studies. PLoS One 10 (6), e0130985.