Fascia: The Spider Web of Life


Can you see the relation between fascia and a spider web? Think about it. If you touch one part of the web, the whole fabricated net moves (just like a tensegrity model), providing instantaneous information for the spider to act or react. Fascia acts in the same manner. It is a whole body communication system where, if stimulated, transmits a signal to every  part of the body.

Beyond Muscles and Bone!

With our most basic knowledge of biology, we learned the term “connective tissue” as a way to describe certain cell types. However, when applied to fascia, the term “connective” takes on a whole new meaning. Fascia is the connective tissue that links every tissue in the body. For example, it connects the skin to the muscle, the muscle to the bone and the organs to each other. Anatomists and surgeons, for centuries, have cut the body up to isolate and define organs, ligaments, muscles and bones; but the body is really parts and organs linked by connective tissue. There is no separation of parts when we view the body on a microscopic level. In a living human or animal being, it is all linked together by fascial connective tissue.

So, let’s discuss the role, fascia has in the horse’s body. Described for centuries as a passive structure, it is now seen as having the ability to actively contract in a smooth muscle like manner and consequently influence musculo-skeletal dynamics. At least in the human field, the influence that fascia plays on posture and movement, is now being extensively researched. Thomas Meyers, an American myofascial specialist, has shown that this connective tissue presents itself as a whole body system, and not 600 separate muscles. He describes the body as only having “one muscle, hanging out in 600 or more fascial pockets.”

Forces induced by, injury, trauma and every day stress will immediately, or over a period of time, cause imbalances in the fascial system. This tensional network may then shorten, thicken, become dehydrated, and consequently affect muscle function and joint mobility. This in turn, is typically displayed as pain, discomfort, stiffness or decreased mobility and altered movement. Under these circumstances,  fascia not only loses its ability to communicate via bio-tensegrity,  but it also loses its ability to lubricate, insulate, envelope and functionally support the all body systems. It may become excessively bound or stretched and cannot respond rapidly to required functional changes in posture or movement.
A localized area of pain or a scar might create adhesions in the fascial planes, which will become quite detrimental if not treated or at least released. Treatment through movement, bodywork, and/or other therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, etc, will ensure that fascia retains its essential and inherent qualities. “Fascia is your body’s soft tissue scaffolding” says Jill Miller, a yoga and fitness therapy expert. “It provides the matrix that your muscle cells can grow upon and it also envelopes, penetrates and surrounds all of your joints”. Leon Chaitow, a practicing naturopath, osteopath and acupuncturist in the UK, describes fascia as “the new frontier in bodywork.” Fascia is the organ of posture whether we are referring to static or dynamic posture. It will adjust to good or bad posture. When inappropriate chronic  posture is present, it will “lock” the body into that posture and cause it to function within a reduced capacity.

Kelly Starrett, a Doctor of Physical Therapy in his book “Becoming A Supple Leopard,” feels that “dysfunctional movement patterns may be at the root of your pain.” He emphasizes that a lot of the common musculo-skeletal problems and fascial restriction, that clinicians encounter, result from poor or improper movement. The first thing he addresses is correction of the individual’s dysfunctional movement patterns and bio-mechanical inadequacies.  He corrects them via correct movement therapy that results in restoration of full range of motion. Once the joints are properly aligned, the muscles and soft tissues can perform better, and typically, will resolve the initial dysfunction. This, he states, will  put the patient in a position where he can safely exercise at higher levels of intensity.

In the horse world, some of the most biomechanically aware trainers, that we know, like Manolo Mendez, Charles De Kunffy, Klaus Schöenich, Colonel Christian Carde, Dr. Gerd Heushmann, all pay special attention to balance and straightness and the role that fascia plays in the biomechanics of the ridden horse. Every day in our practice, we see the fascial constrictions, the gait aberrations and dysfunctional movement patterns. These are present whether they are backyard horses or top athletes. We have learned far too often that these fascial or soft tissue dysfunctions lead to pain and lameness.

Once we understand that the fascia of the horse and/or the rider, is going to adjust to whatever posture, or body imbalances exist, we then need to realize that the balance of the natural horse is far from being adequate for the ridden horse. Unless, the inherent crookedness is addressed,  the rider will encounter resistance, stiffness or avoidance and he or she, will be forever compensating for it. It is imperative to change the biomechanics of the horse when starting a young horse or when remedially “straightening” an older horse.  Riders must absolutely address their own faulty body posture and biomechanical inadequacies if they are not to be carried into their equitation. No wonder, riding is such an art!

So even though, the muscles and bones are definitely relevant components, we need to look deeper into the body of the horse and address its posture, gait aberrations, foot balance, living arrangements, and training if we truly want to keep our horses sound and pain free. Restoring the natural intrinsic qualities of  fascia (your horse and your own) is not only the key to  pain management and soundness,  but to unlocking the horse’s performance potential!

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