Connective Tissue & Fascia

Introduction

  • Connective tissue is a fibrous type of body tissue that connects, supports, binds, or separates other tissues or organs.
  • Some connective tissues are soft and rubbery; some are hard and rigid.
  • Connective tissue fibers contain a protein called collagen. Collagen can be stretched “like a really, really, really stiff rubber band.” (Jules Mitchell)

Types of connective tissue include

  1. Tendons
  2. Ligaments
  3. Joint capsules
  4. Fascia

See below for much more information.

Function

  1. Connective tissue supports and connects internal organs.
  2. It forms bones and the walls of blood vessels.
  3. It attaches muscles to bones.
  4. Connective tissue replaces tissues following injury (e.g. scar tissue).
  5. Fascia helps the body sense itself. (See reading in Going Deeper below.)
  6. Energy Medicine experts explain fascia as the connection between the physical and energetic body. (See reading in Going Deeper below.)

Tendons

  • Tendons attach muscle to bone.
  • “More accurately, they connect muscles to the periosteum—the connective tissue which surrounds the bone.” (Andrew Biel)
  • Tendons come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
  • Fibers of tendons are arranged in long, straight lines.
  • They are “smooth, tough” and have an “almost resilient feel to them.” (Andrew Biel) 

Ligaments

  • Ligaments connect bones together at the joint.
  • They strengthen and stabilize joints.
  • Unlike a tendon’s parallel fibers, a ligament’s fibers are more unevenly arranged.
  • Ligaments can be stretched but are not very elastic.

Joint Capsules

  • Connective tissue surrounding synovial joints is called a joint capsule.
  • It serves as a container for synovial fluid (the slippery fluid that fills most joints).
  • Joint capsules provide a tough covering of tissue where ligaments and tendons can insert.
  • “And, of special interest to us here, they and their associated ligaments provide about half the total resistance to movement.” (David Coulter)

Poses Circulate Synovial Fluid, but Don’t Stimulate Production

Any joint movement helps circulate the synovial fluid, which feeds the cartilage; practicing yoga poses therefore helps keep the cartilage well-nourished. Each synovial joint has a fibrous capsule surrounding the joint, which helps hold the bones together, along with the ligaments (which join bone to bone) and tendons (which join muscle to bone). The joint capsule is lined by the synovial membrane, which manufactures the synovial fluid. Your body automatically produces the necessary amount of this lubricating fluid. Although the idea that yoga stimulates production of synovial fluid creates a lovely image, there actually isn’t any time when the well runs dry. In fact, the only problem with the amount of synovial fluid occurs when there is too much. – Julie Gudmestad

Fascia

  • In Latin, “fascia” means “band,” “bandage,” or “bundle.”
  • Fascia is a sheet or band of fibrous tissue. It varies in thickness and density.
  • “You would be safe to think of fascia as any connective tissue that doesn’t have a more specific name.” (Bernie Clark)
  • In more technical sources, fascia is broken down into superficial fascia, deep fascia and visceral fascia. (Radiology Journal)
  • “Fascia is made up of a matrix of material, almost like a gel, that contains fewer cells in proportion to its overall structure, making it both pliable and supportive.” (Baxter Bell)
  • Fascia gives contour and structure to the body. Without connective tissue, the rest of the body “would flatten down on the floor like a hairy, lumpy pancake.
  • It “surrounds, connects and supports muscles, organs, bones, tendons, ligaments and other structures of the body. Similar to the membrane around each section of an orange, fascia both separates and connects body parts at the same time. Containing nerves, these tissues also serve as a layer of protection and body awareness.” (Allison Candelaria)
  • It is often described as a “body envelope” or “sac” that “permeates through and around every nook of the body.”
  • Baxter Bell describes it as being “like a specialized kind of plastic wrap.”
  • Because our fascial system is a major organ of proprioception, the health of our fascia is directly connected to how developed our “inner vision” is.” (Jenni Rawlings)

Fascia Connects & Organizes our Parts

Fascia connects all of our parts and organizes them into a vibrant whole. – Susi Hately Aldous

Very Fluid, Very Dynamic

A traditional anatomist might tell you that there’s no plasticity in the fascial system, but they are looking at embalmed fascia in an anatomy lab. Real fascia in real people is very fluid, very dynamic, and has these kinds of plastic or viscoelastic properties that allow us to change in ways that we haven’t thought we could open and change. – Tom Myers

Going Deeper

  • The base substance of connective tissue is called mucopolysaccharide and acts as “both a lubricant and as a glue.”
  • Collagenous connective tissue consists mostly of collagen and provides tensile strength.
  • Elastic connective tissue consists mostly of elastin and provides elasticity.
  • Superficial fascia covers the entire body. Deep fascia surrounds muscles and fills in the spaces between muscles.
  • Fascia is full of sensory nerve endings that are in constant communication with the brain about the body’s position in space.
  • In Energy Medicine, the “living matrix” or “extracellular matrix” refers to the system that physically and energetically connects all of our parts together.  The matrix is essentially our connective tissue.

See Also

Myofascia

The Term, “MyoFascia”

  • The word “myofascia” refers to muscles (myo) and surrounding tissues (fascia).
  • The word is used to help orient our thinking to the “inseparable nature” of muscle tissue and its connective tissue.

Myofascial vs. Isolated Muscle Focus

  • Thomas Myers has been a key expert communicating about this critical topic. (See Anatomy Trains.)
  • The Myofascial Meridian Theory highlights the inaccuracy of seeing muscles as isolated units, separate from one another. It helps us to envision the interconnected whole that the body is.
  • For more on application of this concept, see Flexibility & Stretching: Issues & Teaching Techniques.

From Thomas Myers

Almost every text presents muscle function by isolating an individual muscle on the skeleton, divided from its connections above and below… This ubiquitous presentation defines a muscle’s function solely by what happens in approximating the proximal and distal attachment points… This form of seeing and defining muscles, however, is simply an artifact of our method of dissection—with a knife in hand, the individual muscles are easy to separate from surrounding fascial planes. This does not mean, however that this is how the body “thinks” or is biologically assembled. One may question whether a “muscle ” is even a useful division to the body’s own kinesiology… Myofascial meridian theory does not eliminate the value of the many individual muscle-based techniques and analyses, but simply sets them in the context of the system as a whole… It has always been impossible to contact muscle tissue at any time or place without also contacting and affecting the accompanying connective or fascial tissues. – Thomas  W. Myers

Another Description

Everything is interconnected, and all the tissues work together. The deep fascia merges with all the other tissues embedded within it. Even the organs cannot be completely separated from the bed of deep fascia. The organs are continuous with the fascia. The muscles are the same. We can make only an arbitrary definition as to what is muscle tissue and what is deep fascia. They are actually one continuum. What we do to one, we do to all. For this reason some modern texts and body workers prefer to use the term “myofascial” to refer to the muscle and fascia together. After all, it is impossible to contract or stretch our muscles without also compressing or stretching our fascia… The continuity within the fascia means a small movement in one area of the body pulls on the whole web of fascia connected throughout the body… This is what makes it possible to feel the movement of the breath everywhere in the body. – Bernie Clark

See Also

Readings

A Visual

Connective tissue… binds all the other [types of tissues] together. If you were able to remove all the connective tissue from the body, what was left would flatten down on the floor like a hairy, lumpy pancake. You would have no bones, cartilage, joints, fat, or blood, and nothing would be left of your skin except the epidermis, hair and sweat glands. Muscles and nerves, without connective tissue, would have the consistency of mush. Internal organs would fall apart. – David Coulter

More Detail

Located all around the muscle and its fibers are connective tissues. Connective tissue is composed of a base substance and two kinds of protein based fiber… Collagenous connective tissue consists mostly of collagen… and provides tensile strength. Elastic connective tissue consists mostly of elastin and… provides elasticity. The base substance is called mucopolysaccharide and acts as both a lubricant (allowing the fibers to easily slide over one another), and as a glue (holding the fibers of the tissue together into bundles). The more elastic connective tissue there is around a joint, the greater the range of motion in that joint. Connective tissues are made up of tendons, ligaments, and the fascial sheaths that envelop, or bind down, muscles into separate groups… These connective tissues help provide suppleness and tone to the muscles. – Russell Bradford

Extending from Head to Toe

This fascial system forms a three-dimensional matrix of connective tissue extending throughout the body from head to toe… Superficial fascia… covers the entire body… Deep fascia… surrounds muscles bellies, holding them together and separating them into functional groups. It also fills in the spaces between muscles. – Andrew Biel

A 3-D Spider Web Holding 70 Trillion Cells All Together

Fascia is the biological fabric that holds us together. You are about 70 trillion cells all humming in relative harmony; fascia is the 3-D spider web of fibrous, gluey, and wet proteins that hold them all together in their proper placement.  – Tom Myers

Fascia & Proprioception

In addition to creating our literal interconnectedness, fascia also plays the remarkable role of helping the body to sense itself without using the eyes to see itself from the outside. Fascia is full of innumerable sensory nerve endings that are in constant communication with the brain about the body’s position in space. This ability for the body to use “inner vision” to sense itself is called proprioception, which is sometimes referred to as our “true sixth sense.”– Jenni Rawlings 

Fascia as the Connection Between Physical and Energetic Body

James L. Oschman, PhD, has spent a lifetime quantifying how Energy Medicine works. He gives us the science of how the physical body is connected seamlessly to the energetic body through our fascia. The importance of this information is that it explains how things such as acupuncture [and] acupressure work. Our bodies are completely interconnected energetically so that when you apply energy to one area of the body , it is instantaneously transmitted to the entire body…. According to Oschman, the living matrix, also called the extracellular matrix, [the system that physically and energetically connects all of the parts together] is essentially the connective tissue or collagen that runs through and around every system in the body. – Lauren Walker

Online Resources

Please see online version for links to more resources.