New Perspectives in Fascia Research – A Video Interview with Dr. Robert Schleip
Robert Schleip Ph.D. is a long-time Rolfer, an expert in fascia, and an international teacher in fascia anatomy. He directs the fascia research program at Ulm University and spearheaded the Fascia Research Congress.
Dr. Schleip originally studied psychology at Heidelberg University because he wanted to help people on an emotional level. However, when he realized that including the body offered him an even greater ability to positively affect people and change their perspectives, he went into body therapy. Dr. Schleip has been a Rolfing practitioner for thirty-eight years and has a background in several other body-oriented therapies as well.
Dr. Schleip is a mediator between alternative practitioners who work with the body-wide fibrous network and Harvard Medical School/Oxford University researchers. It’s from his research and work with both demographics that he – together with Dr. Thomas Findley and others – founded the Fascia Research Congress, a convention that fosters a meeting between hard cold science and people who are studying fascia by closing their eyes and feeling their body from the inside.
Interview with Dr. Robert Schleip About Fascia
YogaU Online: Surgeon and fascia researcher Jean Claude Guimberteau recently said that the fascia should not be called the connective tissue; it should be called constituent tissue. Could you talk about that?
Robert Schleip: Yes, I recommend everybody looks at the images in Guimberteau’s new book. It’s a must-have for everybody, because once you see what he’s shown, you will move differently. You will touch differently after seeing this fibrous network that connects everything. Of course, fascia is a connecting tissue, but for Guimberteau to describe it as a constitutive connective tissue emphasizes our understanding that every organ is embedded into this tissue network. And how well your heart is pumping, how well your lungs and liver are functioning, and how well your biceps are contracting not only depends on the organ in question but on the meshwork in which it hangs.
YogaU Online: I imagine that brings up some interesting questions in light of the aging process.
Robert Schleip: Yes. In fact, fascia becomes fibrotic as we age. In old age, although we can still strengthen our muscles, the network will no longer respond. So, when we look at this fibrous network and ask how can we ease the stiffness that happens with aging, we are thinking not only biochemically but, more importantly, biomechanically.
YogaU Online: It seems like when we learn anatomy today, we still learn anatomy in terms of the individual muscles and the actions of those muscles. But the vision Guimberteau was painting was one of, in a sense, one fascial network where the muscles are embedded within pockets in that network. And one of the things that was interesting was, they had looked at what happens when you increase the flexibility in the lower limbs by stretching them, and they found that you actually get an effect on the cervical spine.
Robert Schleip: Isn’t that beautiful?
YogaU Online: It’s amazing.
Robert Schleip: But it makes sense. Take the plantar fascia: we actually have some studies in Germany that look at the heel pad. And as you become a grumpy German who always lands with your heels as if in a military march, the heel pad doesn’t slide as much anymore. And then, the network of your plantar fascia does not transmit the tension into the Achilles tendon, into your hamstring muscles, and into your lumbodorsal fascia. But as you get the heel pad to slide again (two to three millimeters), as you do a foot massage on a roller or something like that on the plantar fascia, then you can get your head further upwards.
So, it’s very nice to look at this body-wide network and find out in which areas you have an increased adherence that you then maybe have to work on.
YogaU Online: So we’re not just conceptualizing musculoskeletal health in terms of the flexibility and strength of an individual muscle; we’re also looking at adhesion and the ability of the fascia and the muscle fibers within the fascia to slide effortlessly.
Robert Schleip: Sliding would fit perfectly if you have two membranes that have no connection with each other. But with our bodies, it’s a shearing motion because there is a network in between. So the parts are not sliding in the traditional sense. They are doing a shearing motion in relationship to each other because everything is connected with each other. So nothing can slide in relationship, rather it’s a network allowing shear forces.
Yoga is not a sliding practice. It’s a shearing practice. In yoga you train your fibrous network from your galea aponeurotica (the connective tissue up on your scalp) all the way to your plantar fascia. And as the research has shown, in low back pain patients, the fascia of the low back doesn’t shear.
It’s as if we have this tiny suit under our subcutaneous connective tissue that’s covering our whole body. And in low back pain patients, it doesn’t shear in the lower back. Take, for example, my jacket: if you pin it here, then I suddenly cannot lift my arm. If you take the pins out, I have my mobility again.
YogaU Online: So does this mean that everything we thought about movement and exercise science up until now is basically wrong?
Robert Schleip: No. But most of the time, we have tried to explain things by compartmentalizing the body, saying this muscle is short; this muscle is doing that…
Almost everything that we have in musculoskeletal textbooks everything looking at muscles and joints, and ligaments, will need significant rewriting once you include the muscular connective tissues. For example, the muscle almost never pulls equally on the origin and insertion together, as the textbooks say.
And now, we know at least a third of the force never makes it from the origin to the insertion: it goes in the neighboring tissues. For example, take the gluteus maximus: what I’d learned was that it was a one-joint hip extensor and external rotator. But since a third of the fibers (in some people, fifty percent of the fibers) are continuous, they do not go into the femur. They go in the IT band that goes below the knee. So it turns out your gluteus maximus is also a knee joint stabilizer.
So yes: almost every chapter will need to be rewritten, not completely, but enough to clarify what happens as a result of this force transmission into the connective tissue. And there are other things like that as well.