What’s The “Fuzz” about Fascial Relationships?
by Gil Hedley, Ph.D.
Over the course of my career as a student and guide of what I call integral anatomy, I have been blessed with the opportunity to dissect many human forms. Literally, every body is different; every body represents a unique expression of the embodiment of the human form. That having been said, there are patterns of tissue structures, relationships, and textures that we share in large measure, while each one of us manifests variations on principal themes. Experience in the lab enables us to formulate, for different tissues, an answer to the question: “Is that supposed to be connected or not?!”
The Search for “Normal”
In the early years of my dissection studies, I was continually surprised by the myriad connections and tissues in the body that were poorly described—or not accounted for at all—by the anatomy books. At every turn, I was asking over and over: “Is that supposed to be there?” and “Is that stuck to that by accident, or is it normal for them to be like that?” And while I could differentiate from the whole a length of ensheathed muscle fibers spanning from a so-called “origin” to “insertion,” it was all the stuff I had to cut away to “make” that “muscle” that was catching my attention. Did it belong there? Why didn’t anyone draw the 18 inches of filmy fascia along “gracilis,” which demonstrated better tensile strength than steel and was fixed along its length to the other “muscles?” (Answer: there’s not enough room on the flashcard!) And why did I find a three-inch long common “head” shared by the “semitendinosis muscle” and the “long head” of the “biceps femoris muscle?” Was this union typical, or an anomaly? (Answer: typical.)
Letting cadaver after cadaver teach me which tissue presentations are common and which are uncommon was a long, slow process that involved dropping preconceptions, doctrines and dogmas. I had to start with a clean slate to discover the “normal” ways that tissues transition from one texture to another, and to discover what the “suboptimal” relationships were—the relationships that arose from particular pathologies or from limits upon movement.
What’s The Fuzz?
One of the many places in the human form where relationships may be observed is at the transition of superficial fascia to deep fascia. In some places it is relatively “loose,” meaning there is plenty of “play” between them. You can “slide” superficial fascia in numerous areas of the body over the underlying deep fascia. In other areas, the relationship has less play and is more “fixed.”
In places where there is relatively more play between superficial and deep fascia, one commonly finds what I call a “filmy fascia”. This filmy fascia is a relatively loosely woven transition zone where the two differently textured layers. If I pull the loose, areolar superficial fascia in tension up and away from the fibrous, more regularly-oriented deep fascia, the matted filmy fascia between them looks like cotton candy, which my finger easily disrupts. That is not because the fascia is intrinsically weak, but rather because I have pulled its stranding apart in a manner atypical to its normal lie and configuration. It looks like fuzz. I have made it so.
Many “muscles” often relate to each other along their length through filmy fasciae, in a manner similar to the above-described playful interfaces between superficial and deep fascia. When pulled apart, these fasciae also look like fuzzy cotton candy. This cotton candy appearance is normal for ubiquitous filmy fasciae that have been lifted from their normal positions and placed in tension.
Collagen fibers which collect after periods of stillness can also form a fuzz, which in turn leads to scarring. “Fuzz” in this scenario is just a jolly metaphor for molecular tissue production which, when aggregated to a sufficient degree, will ultimately become visible to the naked eye. That is, with enough fuzz, you can see a scar. The amount of fuzz that might accumulate from the stillness a night’s sleep brings would not be visible. But there are many circumstances in life experience that result in enough stillness happening in the tissues, that they bind in a manner that is visible to the eye, and that can be palpated manually. For example, a deeply penetrating surgery may result in the pinning of deep fascia to muscle where there might have originally been a more playful relationship, as described above. More simply, postural and emotional holding patterns literally take form in the body the longer they are practiced: what starts as a pattern of muscular contraction, if repeated habitually, will eventually be mirrored in the fascial architecture, and ultimately in the bony architecture as well.
The Quality of Relationship
Beginning to learn enough anatomy to know when something is stuck by accident, as opposed to something that belongs attached, and what is the normal quality of the relationship, beyond what “the book” says, can assist bodyworkers in meeting the tissues where they are, allowing the hands-on contact to highlight, and identify, the existing connection, whatever the state may be. The quality of the relationship is what I am always seeking to explore. For me, this exploration is ongoing with others in my dissection workshops, and many of these findings from lab are documented in the form of The Integral Anatomy Series, viewable on YouTube. I’m sharing even more from my latest work in the lab regarding these fascial relationships and movement on May 6th in my newest 4-hour lecture presentation, “What’s the Fuzz: The Amazing Stories Our Bodies Tell About Healthy Movement, Living Relationships, and Our Vast Human Potential.” I hope you’ll join me!