Muscles are the contractile units of tissue that allow the skeletal structure of vertebrate animals to move through space. This is mostly common knowledge and generally regarded as fact.
Fascia, on the other hand, is a continuous web of connective tissue that seemingly wraps around and interweaves all other tissues in the body. Think of fascia as an intricate web of collagen fibers that wrap around all major tissues beneath the skin including muscles, bones, organs, and nerves.
Fascia was originally thought to play a purely mechanical role, allowing force to be distributed across the body during movement. That being said, fascia is also very important for supporting organs, protecting nerves from damage, and even sending messages to the nervous system based on mechanical inputs (referred to as mechanotransduction).
In this article, we are going to specifically discuss how muscles and fascia are meant to work together as myofascial chains in order to support and move the body through space.
We are also going to make the case that exercising the body in relation to these myofascial chains is critical for long-term health and pain-free living.
A myofascial chain is a group of several muscles that are adjacent to one another and are linked together by webs of fascia. For example, there is clinical evidence based on dissection of the human body that suggests a connection between the latissimus dorsi and glute max muscles that also extends into the hamstrings. While the muscle fibers themselves are not physically linked together between the two, fascial webbing creates some level of mechanical continuity that allows these muscles to work in conjunction with one another.
These fascial connections allow chains of muscle to coordinate contractions together and create athletic movement. For example, some believe that the connection between the lats and glutes is one of the key factors in humans being able to run on two feet.
Other examples of movement that likely are made possible by myofascial chains include throwing, punching, kicking, and jumping. Likely any movement that involves several body parts moving simultaneously is made possible through myofascial chains.
The idea that muscles are linked together through a web of fascia is not a particularly new concept. However, there is growing evidence to support the validity of the concept.
A review published in 2016 looked at over 6000 studies relating to these myofascial chains (S).
This review supported the validity of multiple fascial chains including the superficial back line, the back functional line, and the front line (pictured below). Together these chains support movements like jumping from two feet, squatting, running, kicking, and more. There was also compelling evidence for other fascial connections that allow for rotational and lateral bending motions of the torso.
Ultimately, the authors of this review concluded that most skeletal muscles in the human body are directly linked by fascia. The authors also suggested that these linkages have strong implications for the management of pain.
At Functional Patterns we’ve been operating through the frame that the body works better when it is trained in relation to how it is designed to move. By taking into account our evolutionary history as humans, along with the emerging evidence on myofascial chains, we have developed exercise that builds strength and mobility while helping to alleviate pain. This brings us to our next talking point, isolation vs integration.
Isolation Vs. Integration
With regard to the information presented so far about myofascial chains, it seems that muscles work in a very integrated way that allows the human body to move well. Myofascial force transmission is likely what allows motions like running, throwing, and punching to happen in the first place.
Additionally, the myofascial chains are likely what allow tension to be spread throughout the body and provide a tensile force that holds the body up with good posture. As muscle tension becomes too isolated, there is a increasing probability of encountering distortions in posture, loss of mobility, increased rates of injury, and chronic pain that gets worse with time.
A question we need to ask at some point is, “What is the best way to train the body in order to improve its innate functions?”
When we take a look at traditional weight lifting and body-building exercises that have been around for decades, it is easy to observe that they tend to isolate muscles.
On the other hand, many people gravitate towards mobility-based workouts like yoga or other types of stretching.
Some modern fitness systems try to provide a combination of isolated strengthening and isolated stretching in an attempt to provide a more wholistic approach to fitness.
No matter how you spin it, most fitness practices result in isolation of body parts and do not improve posture or the ability to move athletically without pain.
While truly isolating any one muscle in the body is impossible, a question that we should consider is, “How do we maximize integration to create muscle fatigue that actually adapts the body to move better and with less discomfort.”
This is why at Functional Patterns we make a big deal about putting before and after results on display. This is our way of showing what kind of outcomes are achievable when you take a systems approach to your health a fitness.
If you are wanting to look and feel more athletic while minimizing pain and injury throughout your lifetime, taking an integrative approach with your fitness has the best probability of helping you achieve this.