Fascia: It's role in health and cancer
Fascia is the biological fabric that literally holds us together. If you took away all your bones, you would still have a shape, a cobwebby outline made up of strong and flexible fascia fibres. It keeps our 70 trillion cells in order, surrounds muscles, moves through organs, creates sinews, and acts as the base layer of skin (Myers, 2018). Each muscle group, down to the smallest muscle fibre has its own layer of fascia. Proper functioning of this network greatly influences our health, movement abilities and communication of the bodily systems, resulting in quicker response time, sensory acuity and increased mental clarity.
Put simply, fascia is connective tissue, the packing material of the body. It organizes and separates body structures and joins them together creating networks within networks. The health of our fascia is integral to our overall health - when we have dense areas of fascia, inflammation occurs, as the cells cannot access the fluids and nutrients from the blood and lymphatic vessels.
And so how does fascia connect to cancer? Well, fascia, literally acting as a road map for the whole body, cannot help but be involve in the development of cancer, and therefore also, can be implicated in the prevention, and possibly an adjunctive treatment. All cancers begin from inflammation and incorrect cell signalling. Fascia itself is a cell signaller. New research is pointing to inflammation and fascia ‘denseness’ as a driving factor to tumour growth and spread (Langevin et al., 2016; Schierling, 2017).
I love how American Physicist, Andrew Still (1828-1917) and the founder of osteopathic medicine states his four basic principles: (1) The human body functions as a total biologic unit, (2) the body possesses self-healing and self-regulatory mechanisms, (3) structure and function are interrelated, and (4) abnormal pressure in one part of the body produces abnormal pressures and strains upon other parts of the body. His research was early, but even then, he linked fascia to cellular health, disease and cancer (Findley& Shalwala, 2013)
Dr Helene Langevin, a professor at Harvard medicine and University of Vermont, and author of multiple research papers investigating fascia and cancer states that connective tissue is really the home of the immune system and that cancer is not just a collection of tumour cells growing out of control - they need a base and that base is the connective tissue, which they then take hostage (Thomas, 2016). Animal studies indicate a 3 fold increase in breast tumour and tumour metastasis when there is dense breast tissue (Berrueta, Muskaj, Olenich et al., 2015; Corey, Vizzard, Bouffard, etal., 2012). Research carried out from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has also come to similar findings, stating that dense breasts and inflammation carries a poorer prognosis for breast cancer patients due to the interaction between the extra-cellular matrix, the collagen and the immune cells (Dense breasts, inflammation linked to cancer risk, 2018).
A loss of cell to cell adhesion (which occurs in densification) is often found in advanced tumours and that maintaining cell adhesion – that is the ‘slipperiness’ of fascia may be an important prevention strategy as it is crucial for normal cell physiology, organization and growth (Schierling, 2017).
Furthermore, as the lymphatic channels run through fascia, when fascia is ‘slippery’, the lymph fluid moves through easily and the immune cells within the lymph fluid are able to fight infections and subsequently, reduce inflammation. But in the case of dense fascia, the flow of lymph slows or stagnates. Hence the fluid is not effectively filtered, and waste products build up, further driving inflammation and switching on genes in the cells to mutate.
WHAT IF THERE IS ALREADY A TUMOUR?
However – it is all well and good to talk about the importance of body work for prevention, But what if one already has a malignant growth? The research is debatable, but there remains the concern that body work could potentially dislodge tumours and encourage migration (Langevin, et al., 2016). More research needs to be done in this area for any conclusive statements
HOW CAN WE IMPROVE OUR FASCIA HEALTH?
So all of this information is building up to the point of this blog – which is to STRETCH! Move your body! Do not let areas of denseness proliferate or become worse. By the time you have a pain, or even if you just wake up feeling stiff in the mornings, or unloading the dishwasher is becoming a chore you avoid, then the inflammation process has begun and needs to be reversed as soon as possible. Recent (animal) based studies have shown significant improvements in inflammatory mediators and pain in connective tissue when 10 minutes of stretching was done twice daily (Berrueta et al., 2016). Trampolining, yoga (especially yin and fascia yoga), LIGHT foam rolling and LIGHT massage are all excellent ways to get in that fascia goodness (I have capitalised LIGHT because sometimes we think that the harder the better – not true for fascia work, as anything that causes too much tension is counter-productive).
DANCE IT OFF
But my favourite way is by a good all fashioned dance off. My yoga teacher who taught the fascia yoga course said it herself – the all time best way to move fascia is to just dance – not all serious like, or having to follow choreographed moves (although if this is your thing, than its all good too) but moving your body freely, in a way that feels nice for you, because not only does fascia love to move, it likes to do so in all different directions and new ways.
I used to go for a run through the bush back in Sydney, and at the top of a hill, there was a view over the river and valley, almost hidden from the track. When I got to this point, I would stop my run, and spend 10, 15, 20 minutes just shaking and kicking and jumping around. If anyone was watching, they would have had a great laugh, but it felt amazing, and my running – and head space - ALWAYS felt better after this.
But you don’t need these sorts of stories, or even studies and scientific based research to tell you that a healthy fascia is a healthy body and a healthy mind. Most of us know that feeling of having a really good stretch, or release. That bliss feeling after a massage, yoga practise, a sense of relief or release after an adjustment, and that satisfying feeling after a hard bout of physical activity. The benefits of movement and fascia integrity are so numerous they are beyond the scope of this blog post, but I think it’s safe to say that the more we can move our fascia, consistently and freely, the more we can promote the overall health of our physical, emotional and mental well-being and perhaps help prevent inflammatory driven diseases such as certain cancers.
S O - S E E Y O U A R O U N D T O W N E V E R Y O N E - M A Y B E A T A Y O G A C L A S S , M A Y B E O U T I N T H E S U R F , O R M A Y B E H I D D E N B E H I N D S O M E B U S H E S , S H A K I N G Y O U R B O O T Y !
By Georgina Duncan
Benjamin, M. (2009), The fascia of the limbs and back – a review. Journal of Anatomy, 214: 1-18. doi:10.1111/j.1469- 7580.2008.01011.x
Berrueta L, Muskaj I, Olenich S, Butler T, Badger GJ, Colas RA, et al. Stretching impacts inflammation resolution in connective tissue. J Cell Physiol 2015;231:1621–7.
Connective tissue and inflammation with Helene Langevin (Podcast). Retrieved from https://www.liberatedbody.com/pod cast/helene-langevin-lbp-049
Corey SM, Vizzard MA, Bouffard NA, Badger GJ, Langevin HM. Stretching of the back improves gait, mechanical sensitivity and connective tissue inflammation in a rodent model. PLoS One 2012;7:e29831.
Dense breasts, inflammation linked to cancer risk. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.med.wisc.edu/newsand-events/2018/february/densebreasts-inflammation-linked-tocancer-risk/
Findley, T., & Shalwala, M. (2013). Fascia Research Congress Evidence from the 100 year perspective of Andrew Taylor Still. Journal Of Bodywork And Movement Therapies, 17(3), 356-364. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2013.05.015
Langevin, H., Keely, P., Mao, J., Hodge, L., Schleip, R., & Deng, G. et al. (2016). Connecting (T)issues: How Research in Fascia Biology Can Impact Integrative Oncology. Cancer Research, 76(21), 6159-6162. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.can-16-0753
Myers, T. Anatomy Trains and Myofascial Meridians | HFE Blog. Retrieved from https://www.hfe.co.uk/blog/tommyers-anatomy-trains/
Schierling, R. (2017). Fascia and Cancer. Retrieved from http://www.doctorschierling.com/bl og/fascia-and-cancer Thomas, B. (2016).