Dr Robert Schleip directs the Fascia Research Project at Ulm University, Germany, and is also Research Director of the European Rolfing Association. He has an MA in psychology and a PhD in human biology. Robert has been a professional bodyworker since 1978 and is a certified Rolfing instructor as well as Feldenkrais teacher, plus author of several books and numerous other publications. His recent discovery of active contractile properties in fascial tissues was awarded the prestigious Vladimir Janda Award for Musculoskeletal Medicine. Robert’s enthusiasm for fascia related academic research served as driving factor behind the 1st Fascia Research Congress (Harvard Medical School, Boston, 2007) as well as the three subsequent international congresses. Besides his research activities he still maintains a private practice as a manual practitioner in Munich, Germany.
Robert Schleip will be giving two lectures over the weekend. His Keynote speech will be in the main auditorium on Saturday, given to all delegates. His Specialist Lecture will be open to all again, but as an option on the Sunday afternoon. (Hands-on and movement workshops will be running on Saturday and Sunday afternoons with Specialist Lectures as alternative options, all included in the ticket price).
Fascia as a sensory organ
While classical musculoskeletal medicine regarded fascia mostly as an inert packing organ, new histological investigations revealed that it is one of our richest sensory organs. In fact, it can be seen as our most important organ for experiencing our own body. This includes the high density of most fascial tissues with potential nociceptors, which tend to be involved in many contemporary soft tissue pain syndromes.
In addition, our fascial network serves also as a major source for proprioception. Recent research contributed several surprising discoveries regarding this property. These are helpful to know for both manual as well as movement therapists. An intriguing aspect of more recent investigations is the high density of sympathetic receptors in fasciae. While some of these small receptors are apparently related to vasodilation, a significant portion of them seems to serve hitherto unknown functions. Could they serve as neurotrophic agents, providing a bridge between the autonomic nervous system and the biochemical milieu in the tissue?
Last but not least, there are the recently rediscovered telocytes in fascia. While not being classified as neuronal cells anymore, their super-long prolongations enable them to serve a signalling function. Their dysregulation has been shown to be involved in several fibrotic pathologies.
What do we know about our ability to foster proprioceptive perception? And what about inhibiting fascia-generated nociception? Can fascia-oriented manual mobilization or movement therapy induce a different branching/sprouting of neuronal endings or influence the stimulation threshold of their receptors? If we ask these intriguing questions, it works well to differentiate clear scientific findings from plausible assumptions and from well-informed but brave speculations. Welcome to one of the most exciting fields in connective tissue research!
Fascia and interoception
Probably the most interesting sensory function of fascia is its role in interoception. Interoception encompasses not only the afferents of our so-called enteric brain (‘gut brain’), but also many other perceptions that sense our internal milieu and compare these somatic sensations with the physiological and emotional needs as perceived by our brain. In contrast to proprioceptive stimuli, these sensations do net get projected primarily to the somatomotor cortex of the forebrain, but rather to the cortical insula.
Interestingly many common somatic dysfunctions which clinicians encounter in their practices are less associated with diminished proprioception, but rather with an impaired interoception. These include post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and alexithymia (emotional dumbness). Treatment of these disorders may therefore profit from a more interoceptive stimulation compared with the treatment of other musculoskeletal pathologies which are associated with a proprioceptive impairment (such as chronic low back pain, whiplash injury, complex regional pain syndrome or scoliosis).
What do we know about ‘interoceptive mindfulness’, about its trainability and effect on body functions? Is it different from proprioceptive attention? How can we orchestrate manual myofascial therapy around interoceptive stimulation? How important are warmth and temperature or the length of listening pauses for this process? What do we presently know about the influence of specific touch styles, of meditation and of exercise on interoception? How is interoceptive yoga different from a proprioceptive yoga style? And could this apply also for movement therapies, and possibly also to manual therapists?