Temple Dancer or Warrior - how the fascia affects movement

Are you a temple dancer or warrior?

web warriorHow does our connective tissue also known as fascia affect our mobility and our births? There are two distinct fascial types and they are genetic. Tom Myers, Anatomy Trains' fascia expert, describes people with looser fascia as temple dancers and those with tighter fascia as viking warriors. Viking fascia is dense, less elastic, creates a lot of friction and heat and unsurprisingly appears to be associated with northern climates. Temple dancer fascia is loose and elastic, linked to warm weather climates. 

What is fascia?

tenintegrity structureFascia is the web of connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel, as well as all of our internal organs.It plays a key role in “holding our bodies together, giving us our shape, ease of movement and the ability to stand up. Buckminster Fuller coined the word tensegrity, a conflation of the words tension and integrity. The model illustrated on the left demonstrates the concept. None of the rods (think bones) are touching yet they form a “solid” structure using tension wires (think fascia).

This shift in understanding how humans and other biological structures are built has emerged over the last 40 years. Tom Myers suggests ‘we are tension dependent structures’. He points out that, contrary to the commonly held view that humans are a continuous compression structure, the skeleton does not hold itself up; it is the push and pull effects - tensegrity- of the soft tissues and fascia that holds the skeleton upright. As illustrated in the model, the bones of the skeleton are not fused to each other; they are held in place by connective tissue. When tensegrity is applied to the human body or other biological structures it is called "biotensegrity"- a new model of biomechanics of the human body.

How do you know if you have loose or tight fascia and does it make a difference in pregnancy and birth?

unnamedHave you ever wondered why some people are more flexible than others? They have looser fascia. They are temple dancers. People like me, who are not so flexible- back bends and squatting don’t come easily, are viking warriors. Like many aspects of being human there’s a spectrum, there are some people who  are extremely flexible, known as hypermobile and some who are very tight and lots more in between. There’s a screening test called the Beighton score used to define ‘generalised joint laxity in all populations and all age groups’

temple dancerWhile it has its limitations, using one of the simple manoeuvres that form part of the test can give you an idea if you are a temple dancer or viking warrior. Flex your wrist to 90 degrees then using your other hand bend your thumb down to your forearm. If it comes close or touches, you are a Temple dancer. If it is still far away at full stretch, you are a Viking type.

While the underlying causes of pelvic girdle pain are multifactorial, understanding fascia and fascia ‘types’ may provide some explanation as to why some people suffer from PGP (Pelvic Girdle Pain) and others don’t. Of course it doesn’t mean a loose fascia type will have PGP but they have a higher chance than the tighter fascia people.

This often leads to the question, does having PGP lead to a higher chance of difficulties in labour? In short, no it doesn’t, it could mean the opposite.

Having more flexibility may increase the chance of a slightly easier, shorter labour but could lengthen the recovery time. Women who are less flexible may take a little longer in the birth process but recover more quickly. It’s not a fixed rule but on balance it seems the nature of your fascia can impact on the length of labour and birth and recovery in the postpartum period. Please note the length of the birth process varies on a spectrum, so faster or longer as mentioned here, is within the normal variation of labour length. The chances of having a complicated labour or birth don't depend on being a temple dancer or a viking warrior.