First International Fascia Research Congress Held at Harvard

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB
May 29, 2009

First International Fascia Research Congress Held at Harvard

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB
May 29, 2009

The Fascia Research Congress (FRC), held this year from Oct. 4-5 at Harvard Medical School in Boston, was the first international conference dedicated to fascia in all its forms and functions. This landmark event was conceived and organized by a multidisciplinary committee of science researchers and practicing health care professionals, whose respective fields share a common focus and interest in the human body's soft-connective-tissue matrix.

The First International Fascia Research Congress was intended to be a catalyst. Its emphasis and centerpiece was the presentation of the latest and best scientific fascia research. (For oral and poster presentation abstracts, see

Professionals from the separate domains of basic research and clinical practice had an unprecedented opportunity to learn from one another and gain insights that informed and enriched their respective areas of work and led to new areas of scientific inquiry and improvements in applied methods.

Interest has increased in the therapeutic communities for the fascial role in musculoskeletal strain disorders such as low back instability, fibromyalgia, pelvic pain and respiratory dysfunction, as well as in wound healing, trauma recovery/repair and postural strain patterns of all types. Thus, the FRC sought to present new findings that point to fascia's biomechanical and adaptive properties that can account for clinical observations in health and dysfunction.

The expanding worldwide scientific research on human fascial tissues forms a body of knowledge pertinent to a wide range of professionals engaged in conventional and CAM modalities who serve individuals afflicted with specific pathologies or injuries of fascial tissue. The latest research proved to be valuable in advancing practical understanding and supporting validation of the therapeutic mechanisms. (These mechanisms were hypothesized to be operating factors in the many manual therapies and CAM modalities which contact, mechanically manipulate, penetrate or otherwise involve fascial tissues.)

New scientific findings were presented at the conference in the following categories:

  • The presence of contractile cells (myofibroblasts) within the fascial fabric. Clinicians are interested in their role in creating contractile tonus in the fascial fabric, how they form, what "turns them on," and their influence on passive muscle tonus.
  • Biomechanical properties of fascial tissues: creep, relaxation, histeresis, effect of sustained spinal flexion on lumbar tissues, strain-induced hydration changes, myofascial release manipulation and fascial viscoelastic deformation, etc.
  • Mechanotransduction between the cytoskeletal structure within the cell and the extracellular matrix and its implications for health and disease.
  • Forms of communication within the fascial matrix, such as the tugging in the ucopolysaccharides created by twisting acupuncture needles.
  • How fascia is innervated and how proprioception and pain are created, detected and modulated by the spinal cord and the rest of the nervous system.
  • Other new findings and significant hypotheses in the realms of biochemistry and biomechanics of fascial deformation and reformation.

While presentations of some of this research and theory have occurred in conferences sponsored by organizations and federal agencies, there has been no previous conference devoted entirely to this specific topic or two, which includes and reaches across several of the major manual medicine and CAM modalities. Also, scientific conferences on connective tissue in general do not focus particularly on the theory, therapeutic mechanisms or clinical concerns of manual medicine or CAM practitioners.

The congress was sponsored by the A. T. Still Research Institute; Department of Anesthesiology, University of Ulm, Germany; Elsevier Health Sciences; International Association of Structural Integrators; Massage Therapy Foundation; Rolf Institute of Structural Integration; University of Westminster and Veteran's Biomedical Research Institute. This project was made possible by a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

The congress was further supported by the American Massage Therapy Association; Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals; Australian Association of Massage Therapists; Brazilian Rolfing Association; Canadian Massage Therapy Research Network; CORE Institute School of Massage and Structural Bodywork; Department of Veterans Affairs, New Jersey Health Care System; European Rolfing Association; Feldenkrais Educational Foundation of North America; FIMM International Academy of Manual/Musculoskeletal Medicine; Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research; Healthy Tao, Center for Well Being; Hellerwork International; Institute for Fundamental and Clinical Human Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Holland; Institute of Applied Physiology, University of Ulm, Germany; The Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; Institute of Orthopaedic Research and Biomechanics, University of Ulm, Germany; Istituto Terapie Cranio Sacrali; Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies; Journal of Electro-Myography and Kinesiology; Neuromuscular Therapy Center; New England School of Acupuncture; New Jersey Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Association, Inc.; Ontario Association of Osteopaths; Palmer Center for Chiropractic Research; School of Integrated Health, University of Westminster, London; Society for Acupuncture Research; Soft Tissue Therapy; Spine and Joint Centre, Rotterdam and Utah Osteopathic Medical Association.

Of the 700 registrants to the FRC, about two-thirds were from the field of massage therapy, bodywork and structural integration. While the scientists expressed a lack of knowledge in the day-to-day challenges of the clinicians present, the conference went a long way to bridging that gap and facilitating information exchange.

The FRC provided a unique opportunity to unite our efforts. The field of fascia research has been expanding internationally, generating a large body of knowledge important to both researchers and a diverse audience of health care professionals. It was an appropriate time to bring together all the latest and best scientific research findings on the human fascia from around the world and to present this important work in a conference forum where professionals from various perspectives and practices related to fascia came to learn and exchange. It generated a network of scientists, practitioners and students who will inform and support future conferences on the same theme. The next Fascia Research Congress will convene in Amsterdam in 2009.