Can Fascia Stretch?

I know this is just a little side article:

Article: If We Cannot Stretch Fascia, What Are We Doing?

But it provoked this response from me:

While I appreciate a contrarian view, I have to weigh in on some of the inaccuracies in this article. I have no problem with ideas changing over time, and I would have been surprised if Ida Rolf’s ideas had not been modified by time. (She was my teacher, to declare my bias.) In those days there was so little research on fascia; now we have trouble keeping up with all the results. For sure, as we learn more, Ida Rolf’s old models have proven less than adequate to explain tissue change – which for sure is going on under our fingers. But we do actually have to read the research, not just declare half-truths, Alice and Walt.

Robert Schleip – my longtime friend and mentor – did not discover myofibroblasts, which by the way are not contractile fibers but cells that manage a transitional state between fibroblasts and smooth muscle cells that inhabit (and pull on) the large fascial sheets. Gabbiani did most of the groundbreaking research here, studying the action of these cells in granulated tissue around wound healing. Hinz and others brought attention to these cells elsewhere in the body. Robert publicized the findings and did a lot of speculating on their affect on bodywork – but this is yet to be researched. In any case, myofibroblasts may be a wonderful device for ‘pre-stressing’ fascia in the engineering sense, but fail as a thorough explanation for the changes we therapists feel in the ‘neuromyofascial web’.

Ruffini receptors, detectors of shear between fascial planes, are likewise a very interesting, though inadequate to the task of explaining all the changes. The whole damn Italian family – Ruffini, Golgi, and Pacini – are very interested in whats happening in the fascia, but please remember: they grew up together, this Italian family and the fascia. They have never been separate from fertilization on. If you tell me there are neurological effects from stretching tissue, I am not surprised, and that does not get me off the hook from finding out what happens in the fascia itself.

And what is happening in the fascial tissue? Actually, the article you are quoting from Robert is quite a few years back, and we know more – Robert himself understands more – then when he wrote it. For the record, Robert and I have both done bodywork under anesthesia, with mixed results (but not ‘no results’). Trager did not do rolfing under anesthesia, he merely watched a man with a kyphoisis resume that kyphosis as he came out of anesthesia. I have spoken with other surgeons who called that idea – that all our patterning was neurological and run by muscle tension, not fascial patterning – a crock, that people retain their patterns even under total anesthesia.

While Ida Rolf’s idea of ‘muscles sliding over each other’ may not have survived the 30+ years since her death, and we certainly are not stretching collagen itself, which is stronger than steel, we are certainly still dealing with the idea of ‘fascial adhesions’, which seem to be real enough, that roughly correspond with areas of dehydration, and so are subject to change with bodywork, with muscle work – as in working out, and with the ‘squeezing the sponge’ of yoga-like stretching.

But Rolf’s central insight, which has survived Robert’s article and thrives in today’s understanding of the interaction between the hydrophobic fibers of collagen, elastin, and reticulin and the hydrophilic ground substance mucoplysacchrides like hyaluron, fibronectin, chondroitin, heparin etc (sorry, these are known as GAGs for short) – is that together they can act in a viscoelastic fashion – what Ida Rolf called, accurately in engineering, ‘plastic’. IOW, able to be deformed and to hold that deformation. This, it seems to me, is the central thesis, and the one that is undiminished by the knowledge that there is also, additionally, a report to and feedback from the neural net.

Fascia has all three properties, depending on how it is impacted – the amount of strain and the duration, the load and the speed – of being highly viscous, then elastic, and finally plastic or viscoelastic. All three of these properties can be adjusted or changed through bodywork or training, depending on the person’s genetics. Robert, my partner in ‘Fascial Fitness’, would no doubt agree.

Now, I agree that we need not be threatened if our theories are overturned, and the newer theories, such as Robert’s. The amazing films of living fascia captured by surgeon J-C Guimberteau changed my touch forever. But to suggest Ida Rolf’s raison d’etre has been overturned by Robert’s surmise is to 1) only half-read Robert’s paper, 2) ignore a raft of additional research that supports her central tenets.

IMHO, the fascial system is a self-adjusting regulatory system for mechanical forces – tension, compression, and their spin-offs – that gets and gives information to the other two huge regulatory systems – the nervous system and the vascular system. To write off the fascial system and return to neural explanations is a return to the comfortable norm – all awareness, and thus all change, is in the nervous system – that medicine has been trying to foist on us for decades. Don’t fall for this easy and comforting band-aid for your mind. Fascia is real, has definite properties, and must be dealt with.

Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains