Clinical, Biomechanical, and Physiological Translational Interpretations of Human Resting Myofascial Tone or Tension

  • Alfonse T. Masi, MD, DrPH University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria
  • Kalyani Nair, PhD
  • Tyler Evans, BS
  • Yousef Ghandour, PT, MOMT, FAAOMPT
Keywords: Resting muscle, tone, tension, stiffness, passive, elasticity, fascia, myofascia, cross-bridge theory, sarcomere


Background: Myofascial tissues generate integrated webs and networks of passive and active tensional forces that provide stabilizing support and that control movement in the body. Passive [central nervous system (CNS)–independent] resting myofascial tension is present in the body and provides a low-level stabilizing component to help maintain balanced postures. This property was recently called “human resting myofascial tone” (HRMT). The HRMT model evolved from electromyography (EMG) research in the 1950s that showed lumbar muscles usually to be EMG-silent in relaxed gravity-neutral upright postures. Methods: Biomechanical, clinical, and physiological studies were reviewed to interpret the passive stiffness properties of HRMT that help to stabilize various relaxed functions such as quiet balanced standing. Biomechanical analyses and experimental studies of the lumbar multifidus were reviewed to interpret its passive stiffness properties. The lumbar multifidus was illustrated as the major core stabilizing muscle of the spine, serving an important passive biomechanical role in the body. Results: Research into muscle physiology suggests that passive resting tension (CNS-independent) is generated in sarcomeres by the molecular elasticity of low-level cycling cross-bridges between the actomyosin filaments. In turn, tension is complexly transmitted to intimately enveloping fascial matrix fibrils and other molecular elements in connective tissue, which, collectively, constitute the myofascial unit. Postural myofascial tonus varies with age and sex. Also, individuals in the population are proposed to vary in a polymorphism of postural HRMT. A few people are expected to have outlier degrees of innate postural hypotonicity or hypertonicity. Such biomechanical variations likely predispose to greater risk of related musculoskeletal disorders, a situation that deserves greater attention in clinical practice and research. Axial myofascial hypertonicity was hypothesized to predispose to ankylosing spondylitis. This often-progressive deforming condition of vertebrae and sacroiliac joints is characterized by stiffness features and particular localization of bony lesions at entheseal sites. Such unique features imply concentrations and transmissions of excessive force, leading to tissue micro-injury and maladaptive repair reactions. Conclusions: The HRMT model is now expanded and translated for clinical relevance to therapists. Its passive role in helping to maintain balanced postures is supported by biomechanical principles of myofascial elasticity, tension, stress, stiffness, and tensegrity. Further research is needed to determine the molecular basis of HRMT in sarcomeres, the transmission of tension by the enveloping fascial elements, and the means by which the myofascia helps to maintain efficient passive postural balance in the body. Significant deficiencies or excesses of postural HRMT may predispose to symptomatic or pathologic musculoskeletal disorders whose mechanisms are currently unexplained.

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How to Cite
Masi, MD, DrPH, A. T., Nair, PhD, K., Evans, BS, T., & Ghandour, PT, MOMT, FAAOMPT, Y. (2010). Clinical, Biomechanical, and Physiological Translational Interpretations of Human Resting Myofascial Tone or Tension. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Research Education &Amp; Practice, 3(4), 16–28.