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Anatomy – Structure and Function through the Neuromyofascial Web

The Belltent, one single central pole, held up only by the opposing tension of its guylines – elegantly simplistic in design, but amazingly strong in a wind. Our skeletons are much more complex, to deal with how much more movement we can achieve, but they still work on the same concept of tensegrity.

Tom Myers’ book ‘Anatomy Trains,’ written in 2001, revolutionised how we can relate anatomy to functional movement and adaption by describing a series of structural lines. By careful dissection ‘along the grain’ of connective tissues, many running the full length of the body, the interplay between movement and stabilisation becomes much clearer. A prime example of one of these long lines is the superficial back line – displayed on stretch by the well known yoga pose ‘Downward Dog.’ When these lines are studied, there’s a huge crossover with the Traditional Chinese Medicine concept of acupressure meridians in the body. Here the same line bears a striking resemblance to what is known as the Bladder Channel. Acupressure and Qigong were the methods by which they worked on blockages and imbalances which restricted the flow of ‘chi’ or energy within these meridian lines, over 4,000 years BTM (Before Tom Myers!)

Our first concepts of anatomy came from using a knife. The bicep muscle connects the shoulder to the forearm – when it works it pulls the arm into flexion… What we missed by cutting across the tendon at the bone was that the connections went further in each direction. The deep front arm line connecting the thumb, through the bicep to the trunk at the pectoral muscles, then down to the opposite leg through the front functional line. It would be stabilised by its opposite lines on the back of the arm, then the lats and the glutes, along with the deep front line. As one contracts the other controls the movement by lengthening, we can create a pre-stretch and recoil for throwing more efficiently by using the trunk and legs…

This system is game-changing for assessing posture, providing a map to work from in terms of movement and bodywork. Each person, due to the genes they start with and the life they lead, produces their own unique map which continues to adapt throughout their existence. Some bands will be pulled short, others lengthen to accomodate... We change to meet the needs of our environment, both internal and external. Time to look for some good influences and regain some equilibrium perhaps..?

The Deep Front Line

‘Core Strength’ was the watchword of 80’s and 90’s exercise approach. But we weren’t thinking deep or long enough…

Ever wondered why people ‘grit their teeth’ to try hard, lift a heavy load? The temples, jaw and neck, are part of the Myers' concept of the Deep Front Line. Ever wondered why we can get tension headaches, grind our teeth and get sore necks from being too anxious or stressed..? But we really want to lift that load, get the job done... Two deep supportive elements of this system would form the ideal launchpad for this effort. The hip flexors, especially psoas which is our only functional link from the spine, through the pelvis, to the lower limb; and the connection of the pelvic floor to the diaphragm, the primary link to breath. How well do we drive the system? If we don’t have good activity here, things will have to compensate, more activity somewhere along the chain perhaps... Habit can become the only known option and we run with it, adaption. We always find a way, it’s not always the optimum one…


Deep Front Line Ballet

Here in this dynamic moment, the deep front line is on full stretch decelerating a forward bound. The psoas muscles can easily recoil from this stretch to provide the next fluid movement in the sequence. Hopefully their activity will help prevent excessive loading into that lower back!


Spine Twist

A fantastic exercise for opening the lumbars and mobilising the shoulder. Here the hip flexors are being lightly stretched open while the hip transmits a rotation all the way into the arch of the foot. The deep front and back arm lines have been drawn in here to show an example of the balance between lines, left arm is stretching the back line from shoulder blade to little finger. Imagine the red line continuing from the left shoulder blade, down through the lats to the right glutes to decelerate this forward movement.


Spinning the Web

If we look down to a microscopic level, the structural lines are connected and defined by a multi layered ‘cake’ of collagen and elastin fibres, suspended in a gloopy gel. This same ‘Extra Cellular Matrix’ supports our nerves, blood vessels and organs. It has elastic qualities and as we’ve seen can be stretched or shortened as we move our lines through our daily lives, transferring mechanical forces. With new imaging techniques (not a knife!) we’ve seen that this is also a fluid exchange network, closely linked with the lymphatic system and the immune system.

This is the very essence of our adaptability, myofascia governs the ‘tone’ and cell nutrition of our bodies. Motion is lotion – hydrating and feeding cells, defining their strength, flexibility and dynamic state. As we’re always producing more of this tissue, inactivity can produce a thick congested material rather like felt. Injuries and surgical scars would work similarly, excessive dry collagen restricting glide and fluid exchange. It has a plastic memory to it, just like a nylon onion bag or fishing net – a sustained static load (like our posture!) can hold in the tissue. If one area works hard it will start to grow more fibres to adapt to the extra load.

This web is also acting as a superfast feedback mechanism, giving us information about our internal and external environment. It constitutes a huge surface area and could be seen as another sensory organ in itself. Overstretched or too stiff and we don’t get such a clear picture of our world; a variety of movement and loading and our web stays reactive, springy and strong…

Through manual or movement therapy we can guide adaption; shine a light on shadowy areas we don’t use very much, coax them into activity, allow overworked areas to unload. Awareness grows to become habit, repetition becomes change, variety and exploration become fun…

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