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The Myofascial System, Movement and Tensegrity

by Carmen Baier - Physiotherapist

The Myofascial System, Movement and Tensegrity

The way that fascia connects the whole body and creates movement is fascinating! In this post we explain how the myo-fascia runs throughout the body as a 3D network, its role in the movement system, and the other sub-systems in the body that work with the myo-fascia to create movement.

Tensegrity

In its purest form, tensegrity is a word that was created to explain an architectural concept.

Tensegrity, the word, is made up of ‘tension + integrity'. Tensegrity, the architectural concept, refers to a structure that relies on a net of compression to position and give shape to a structure where the rigid struts don’t join. This means that the function of the structure is totally reliant on the net of continuous tension.

Tensegrity _ Kenneth Snelson's “Needle Tower” _ Clayton Shonkwiler _ Flickr_files
Image: Tensegrity in a structure: Photo of Kenneth Snelson's “Needle Tower” by Clayton Shonkwiler.
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The ‘myo-fascial system’ in the body is similar. In fact, some people refer to the fascia in the body as a bio-tensegrity structure.

The myo-fascial system:

At its most basic level, the myo-fascia is made up of muscles, tendons that attach the muscle to bones, and a 3D net of fascia that encompasses the musculotendinous unit and blends into the borders of the bones and surrounding tissues.

The bones ‘float’ within the myo-fascia. The myo-fascia supports the body by positioning the bones, holding the body up against gravity, and exerting force on the bones to move the body through space.

The sub-systems of movement:

Let’s look at a couple specifics. The myofascial system relies on subsystems. Some are obvious, and some a little less so.

The skeleton provides shape to the body, with the bones acting as the rigid struts in a tensegrity structure and as levers for movement. To a certain extent, the bones also provide some vertical support. But without the fascial system that joins the bones, the skeleton wouldn’t hold together or remain upright against gravity.

At each interface in the body the 3D net of fascia blends from one structure into the next. The bones are embedded in the fascial network. And the joints where the bones meet are enclosed in joint capsules...which are continuations of the 3D fascial system where ligaments, tendons and muscle all blend into these capsules.

The muscles are held together and suspended in the body by the net of fascia. The 3D net of fascia not only provides support, it keeps them in position so that when a muscle generates force, it is translated into meaningful, task focussed movement!

The muscles would be totally unable to function without a supply of fuel and oxygen (thanks to the digestive system and cardio-respiratory system...). And the muscle wouldn’t know when to contract without nerve impulses, and coordination and intent from the brain (so, yes…we add in the nervous system).

The digestive system, cardio-respiratory system, and nervous system are all structured and held in place by…the 3D net of fascia. So just as in architecture, the body’s function is totally reliant on the net of continuous tension within this 3D structure. Individual subsystems, held together by fascia, and working in concert to move you intentionally through space!

Interconnected Muscles in Pull-Up_Edgar-Chaparro_Unsplash
Image: This image shows how muscles interconnect, working together to perform a function, made possible by the 3D net of fascia. It was taken by Edgar Chaparro (on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/@echaparro) during his first ever photoshoot!

What is special about fascia?

Fascia adapts to different functions depending on forces and position. It can be laid down in parallel strands to withstand tension and provide spring (like in the tendons). It can be meshed together to provide impact absorption (like in cartilage). And it can hold things together and keep the position of various organs relative to other parts of the body.

Remember tensegrity? The way that fascia functions as a form of bio-tensegrity means that it accommodates throughout the system based on force or deformation in one area. Compression at one point can cause tension at another!

Within the finest parts of the 3D net of fascia throughout the body, the accommodation / deformation gently transmits forces in all directions. This activates the nerves in adjacent and opposing parts on the body. Which means that your triceps receive a message directly from your biceps and can respond immediately, without getting your brain involved. This helps your body to function as a cohesive whole.

Check out this video to see the concept of fascial accommodation in a tensegrity model: https://vimeo.com/49052724
(See link at end of post to read more about the physiological properties of fascia.)

Tensegritys unique features_Anatomy Trains
Image: Force applied to part of a tensegrity structure affects the whole form. From https://www.anatomytrains.com/fascia/tensegrity/

Why are we telling you this now?
Fascia and the rest of the movement system are integral to pain and injuries…which are essentially problems of the movement system. A lack of balance within the 3D net of fascia and risk of injury increases.

Physiotherapy aims to restore and balance the movement system by manipulating the system with manual techniques and retraining it using specific exercise.

And…it inspired our re-brand!
The role of bio-tensegrity in the movement system, and the importance of balance throughout life, inspired our direction in rebranding our practice. Our logo is based on a simple tensegrity structure. And the whole comes together in our aim to work with you to restore health, balance the movement system, and support you as you achieve your movement goals.

CarmenPhysio_Tensegrity-Logo
You can expect to see more about our plans for CarmenPhysio…and through it your movement health…soon!

Further reading:
You can read more about fascia on the Anatomy Trains website: https://www.anatomytrains.com/fascia/

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About the author: Carmen B is fascinated by the body and the role that habitual movement and postures have on the movement system. She is curious about almost everything! And loves wildlife, travel, and people. She spent several years practicing physiotherapy while travelling abroad before coming home and joining CarmenPhysio. You can make a booking HERE to see her for pain, injuries, and any other problems of the movement system.


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