I never dreamed that I would bestow scientific respectability on this ancient/new age practice. But here we are. Last October, the first Congress of Fascia Research convened at Harvard. No, it has nothing to do with Fascism or anything political.


What is fascia?

Fascia is the soft part of the body’s connective tissue system. It underlies the skin, envelopes our organs in a lacy blanket, connects in a thousand strands one muscle fiber to another, forms a sheath around bones and tendons—in short, it is present throughout the body.

Given such ubiquitous distribution, it is quite surprising how neglected this organ system (yes, it can be viewed as such) is in biology and medicine. In research, scientists study the mechanical properties of the collagen fibers that are major constituents of fascia, or the fibroblasts, cells that populate fascial tissues. But they never talk to each other, they rarely collaborate—which is a crying shame.


The Congress

The reports are fun to read. In addition to the usual suspects of biomechanic engineers, cell biologists, and connective tissue biochemists, there was a strong contingent of chiropractors, Rolfers, and people of indeterminate affiliation speaking of “aura”. But the serious stuff predominated, and it was truly interesting.

For instance, it was shown that repetitive movement along a given plane kills the fibroblasts, whereas alternating or circular motion (in other words, simulating massage) spares the fibroblasts. Stretching of the fibers causes the fibroblasts to secrete more collagen, which is important in rejuvenating tissues and healing of injuries. A trove of information, too much to cover in a short posting, has been uncovered. Fibromyalgia has been discussed, and more research on this vexing condition has been initiated as a result of the networking that took place. Other areas, that haven’t been discussed, are bound to surface at the nest Congress in Amsterdam, in 2009. For instance, the effect of fascial manipulation on the brain, specifically the reward circuits. Or the effect of manipulation on the immune response. I think we are witnessing the birth of a new branch of biomedicine that may one day give legitimacy to the belief that deep tissue massage is more than skin deep.

In the meantime, it is now OK to visit your favorite masseur/masseuse in broad daylight. It’s legit.

Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD
Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD loves to write about the brain and human behavior as well as translate complicated basic science concepts into entertainment for the rest of us. He was a professor at the University of California San Francisco before leaving to enter the world of biotech. He served as the Chief Medical Officer of biotech companies, including Aphton Corporation. He also founded and served as the CEO of Madah Medica, an early stage biotech company developing products to improve post-surgical pain control. He is now retired and enjoys working out, following the stock market, travelling the world, and, of course, writing for TDWI.


  1. This research is joke.I contacted Prof Findely about my own case , a prime candidate for the supposed research , and at no cost to themselves given their interest in this.He would not consider me .He did not even ask one question regarding my claims , which it itself implies something.Im so tired of this I am contemplating the media because I can not get any one who claim to be interested to take me up on this.

  2. When I was in massage school, I was stunned by the prevalence and importance of this tissue throughout the body that I had never even previously heard of. They told us that the fascia around the skull can be up to ten times as strong as anywhere else in the body, and if the tissue becomes too tight, it can exert an inward pressure on the skull, potentially causing loss of mobility and difficult to diagnose headaches. They taught us hair pulling techniques to address it. I realize my expertise or body of knowledge is not nearly as complete as a doctor’s, but as a massage therapist I have encountered fibromyalgia a great many times, and given the nature of the ailment as I have encountered it, I think the fascia is a more compelling potential cause than virtually any other theory I have heard. I have even wondered the same thing to myself in the past. I think the question deserves real research.

  3. One of the reasons yoga is a healing modality is that it works like deep tissue massage on the bodies fascia structure. It heals and it nurtures. The best part is you can do it for yourself and its free.

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