Anatomy textbooks will tell you that the musculoskeletal system consists of thousands of separate parts: a couple hundred bones held together by more than 600 muscles and a near-countless number of ligaments and tendons. But Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains assert that these divisions are artificial, created not by nature but by an anatomist’s scalpel.
The fascia links the entire muscular system, not just muscle to bone but muscle to muscle, along with all the structures in the body, like organs, ligaments and tendons. Myers contends, “You don’t have 600-some-odd muscles, as most of us have been taught. You have a single muscle with 600-odd stopping points, all linked by the fascial web.”
Far from the haphazard mesh that the first anatomists perceived, this fascial network is now described by researchers as sensitive, dynamic and extraordinarily adaptable. “There are 10 times as many more nerve endings in your fascia as there are in your muscles,” says Myers, making fascia far more susceptible to pain and sensation in general than your muscles are. “Most sports injuries are in fact failures of fascial structures, not muscle tissue.”
“We say ‘muscles attach to bones,’” he continues, “but muscle can’t attach to anything. It’s formless, like hamburger. It’s the fascia that goes over and around and through your muscles that organizes that tissue into linear pulling machines.” When you perform a biceps curl, for example, the fascia of the biceps muscle shortens, tugging on your tendons and drawing your hand closer to your shoulder. And when you perform a quick, athletic movement — a layup in basketball, for instance — it’s the whip-fast elastic action of the fascia in your legs that transfers the force of those contracting muscles into the floor and launches you off the hardwood.
Through decades of experience as a bodyworker and an extensive study of anatomy, Myers began to notice that the fascial webbing appeared to be organized into distinct meridians, or “trains” — dense bands connecting multiple muscles and spanning multiple joints, tacked down at numerous bony “stations” along the way. If you were to think of the entire fascial network as a suit of clothing, these “anatomy trains” would be a series of elastic straps, suspenders and seams that give it structure and shape. Myers has found about a dozen of these fascial superhighways, which seem especially effective in understanding human movement and treating pain and dysfunction. Some run the length of your body, head to toe; others spiral the torso, shoot over the top of your head, and run down the middle of your back.
Too much chronic tension or slack in key meridians can, however, lead to poor posture and pain — and not always in the places you expect. Trace the fascial lines through the muscles and across the skeleton, and it’s possible to see, for instance, how “tight hamstrings” might actually be caused by tension in the soles of the feet. If you want to apply this to real life give the Tennis Ball Trick a try.