Fascia Under the Microscope

I just read a great quote from Steven Pinker that I wanted to share. In case you haven’t heard of Pinker, he’s a very smart guy who writes excellent books on How the Mind Works and other stuff. Here he is describing his efforts to understand the complex system of the brain:

the reason I’m not a neurobiologist but a cognitive psychologist is that I think looking at brain tissue is often the wrong level of analysis. You have to look at a higher level of organization. For the same reason that a movie critic doesn’t focus a magnifying glass on the little microscopic pits in a DVD, even though a movie is nothing but a pattern of pits in a DVD. I think there’s a lot of insight that you’ll gain about the human mind by looking at the whole human behaving, thinking and reporting on his own consciousness.

I love the part about the pixels.

I think anyone with an interest in the science of fitness and health can sometimes get absorbed in the pixels and forget how they relate to the larger picture.

Although I could think of many examples of this problem, one that comes to mind right now is the interest that many therapists have with research into the molecular properties of fascia. For example, therapists get quite excited about whether fascia uses piezoelectric activity to remodel itself or whether it has contractile units to shorten it.

To some people this is evidence that the fascia is far more intelligent, sensitive and responsive than we have previously given it credit. While this may true, we should not forget that in comparison to the brain and nervous system, the fascia still remains almost as dumb as a piece of metal. It will eventually change shape if you beat on it hard enough, but its capacity for learning from a stimulus and creating differentiated responses is nothing compared to that of the central nervous system. (Which can do many things if you beat on it - like run away, create pain, tell you to stop, or even hit back.)

In the larger picture, fascia is not the stuff that organizes our movement and sensation- it is one of many pieces of stuff that the brain uses to organize our movement and sensation.

But many therapists forget the larger picture and focus all their energies and attentions on the fascia, which they feel is the primary cause of musculoskeletal problems and the primary target for all interventions.

While fascia is certainly an interesting piece of the puzzle, we shouldn’t forget that it is only a piece. And we should never use that one piece as a starting point to extrapolate a whole new picture of a human that is completely at odds with what can be clearly be seen when we aren't looking under the microscope.

I'm sure there's many other good examples of what happens when you look under a microscope and forget what's going on in the other 99.99999% of the body.

If you think of one, let me know in the comments.