Fascia, Anatomy, & Canada!

I was thrilled to recently attend the 6th International Fascia Research Congress held in Montreal, Canada. This was my second time attending this event, which is held every three years in different parts of the world. I had been to one prior Congress held in Reston, Virginia in 2015. Considering I live only 1.5 hours away from Reston it seemed like a must to at least try. So glad I did! I found the people, topics, energy, and events were perfectly aligned with my philosophy and personality. Practically every country in the world was present, as well as all health care disciplines – not just physical therapists – which I find stimulating. I returned home and couldn’t stop talking about it to my tolerant and supportive husband, Bill. I knew I had to go again, so I did!

Gross anatomy class McGill University
The gross anatomy dissection class at historic McGill University was part of the programming I attended for the 2022 Fascia Research Congress. People came from all over the world including Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, all parts of Canada, as well as all over the US. Disciplines represented included physical therapists, authors, researchers, physicians, osteopaths, chiropractors, massage therapists, body workers, and acupuncturists. Our instructors (front step in blue), Dr. Carla Stecco and Dr. Gabriel Venne, demonstrated incredible knowledge, skill, and respect for the connective tissues that are so often disregarded. Thanks to all my classmates and teachers for an incredible weekend! Photo by a kind passerby that we snagged.

A highlight for me this Congress was attending a gross dissection anatomy course held at McGill University, a beautiful 200+ year old institution in the heart of French-speaking Montreal. This was certainly not my first time in an anatomy lab: I have done similar courses multiple times since PT school. But this time was different, and I have long wanted to attend such a course! All of the anatomy courses that I have ever attended in the past focused on muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, nerves, bones, organs, and all that “important” stuff. Not that these structures lack relevance, but focus primarily on them often accompanies a disregard for the other connective tissues, such as the fascia. Typical dissections do not demonstrate knowledge or respect for the vital role of the fascia, but rather move it out of the way to access structures perceived as being more important. Such a mistake.

An example of the striking architecture painstakingly maintained at historic McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Photo by Colleen Whiteford.

What’s sad is that in all these years since I first took anatomy in 1983 and with all the studies that point to the importance of the fascia, there still is a predominant tendency to ignore it. Our course was taught by two highly regarded anatomists in the field who have tremendous knowledge and respect for the fascia: Dr. Carla Stecco from the University of Padova in Italy, and Dr. Gabriel Venne from McGill University, who was also our gracious host. Dr. Venne was understandably proud of the school both in terms of programs, research, as well as the beauty of the campus.

Scenes from 2022 Fascia Research Congress in Montreal, Canada: Hotel, speakers
Scenes from 2022 Fascia Research Congress in Montreal, Canada. The downtown Sheraton was our venue, with world renowned speakers such as Dr. Gabriel Venne (top left), Dr. Dr Jean-Claude Guimberteau (bottom left), Dr. Carla Stecco (top right), and yours truly on a walk to the anatomy lab with Dr. Stecco (bottom right). Photos by Colleen Whiteford.

The Fascia Research Congress programming was intense, incredible, and impressive. My only disappointment arose from trying to choose between the options which were offered simultaneously. But what I was able to absorb validated my conviction that an amazing array of conditions can be successfully helped by considering the fascia as a viable source of both problem and solution. This truly is the most vibrant, energetic, informative, and FUN conference I attend!

Scenes from 2022 Fascia Research Congress: Fascia enlarged, fascia characters, exhibit area
Scenes from the 2022 Fascia Research Congress in Montreal Canada. Upper left and cascading down to right are images from one presentation showing gradually increasing magnifications of the fascia surrounding each muscle fiber. There were two Spiderman-like fascia figures lurking around the main ballroom on opening morning. On the right is the exhibit hall complete with fascia, and a pouring rainstorm event outside. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.

Even though I grew up in Michigan and have been to Canada several times, this first trip to French-speaking Montreal felt like a very different country to me! Montreal is a beautiful historic city with much to see and do. I wished I had more free time to explore it, but made the most of my touring moments. I stumbled on the cathedral just down the street from the hotel, and was thrilled to find it open to tourists! I love touring historic churches, and this one was spectacular. The sound of a choir singing Renaissance-style music echoed softly throughout the sanctuary and added the perfect ethereal touch.

Montreal cathedral
The Archevêché De Montréal, otherwise known as the cathedral. I had spare time one morning before my anatomy class began, and I was so thankful this beautiful cathedral was open. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.

I heard about a hike behind McGill University up the mountain with an overlook of Montreal. Although I was pushed for time, I determined I had to do this while there. What a climb! I opted for the more direct route to the top using what felt like the stairway to heaven, and had to pause to catch my breath a few times ( I wasn’t alone in that). It was a bit crowded for my taste in hiking, but it was neat to see so many people out and active. The view at the top was incredible as well! Another highlight was a dinner cruise on the St. Lawrence River, complete with a full moon to mesmerize us.

Montreal skyline, park, popcorn
Scenes from Montreal Canada. On the left is the view of the city skyline from Mount Royal, a steep hike in Montreal. I took the the photo on the right on my walk to the anatomy lab. It was the palest squirrel I have ever seen (between the post and yellow mum). In the middle is my bag of French Canadian dill popcorn! Photos by Colleen Whiteford.

It was a great trip, a great conference, a great course, and a wonderful time connecting with old friends and making new ones. Can’t wait for the next time! Jusque-là (until then….)

Wishing you health and joy,


Published by Colleen Murphy Whiteford

I am a physiotherapist, graduate of Saint Louis University Class of 1984. I married my best friend and business partner, Bill, who is also a physiotherapist, in 1988. We have worked together all these years - an example of God's grace! Together we started Appalachian Physical Therapy which continues to thrive. I am a big believer in the power of touch, the manual therapies, and treating holistically. There are many alternatives to medications, surgeries, and testing, but people are often uninformed. My perspective emphasizes the role of the connective tissues including the fascia. Lack of attention to this structure is the source of many physical ailments - our bodies are truly fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)! I am passionate about helping people of all ages and diagnoses maximize their health, and empowering them to understand their role in management and prevention of problems.

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