Updated: Dec 4, 2020
First, let’s do a quick recap on what is connective tissue. Connective tissue is composed of two basic ingredients: Cells and extracellular matrix. It is everywhere in our body. If we were to take away from our body everything that is not connective tissue, we would be left with a human shape formed of connective tissue.
Let’s learn a bit more about this amazing thing we call connective tissue.
Like I said, connective tissue is found everywhere in the body. Literally. It connects every cell to every other cell. It covers, surrounds, suspends and supports every part of our body. From individual cells, to entire muscles, to organs, to bones, etc… you get the picture.
Fascia, cartilage, ligaments and tendons are all connective tissue. It is an amazing thing. Connective tissue is THE element that keeps the entire body together. Let’s talk more about fascia, cartilage, ligaments and tendons.
Fascia is a stretchy connective tissue that forms a protective, collagen-rich, uninterrupted, three-dimensional web around our body. It is multi-layered and envelops every part of our body, from microscopic cells, to entire muscle groups, to organs and bones. Yes, even your heart, your brain and your intestines. Fascia is gives and keeps the shape of all that is you. Isn’t that amazing?
Heathy fascia is truly important. It is essential for us to be able to move, run, walk, dance… When healthy, it has the capability to slide and to respond to change in muscle movement. It is what helps muscles transmit and convert force into movement. If the fascia around a muscle is tight, the muscle bundle inside the fascia won’t be able to stretch beyond the limits of the tight fascia.
What causes fascia damage?
Immobility of any kind causes the fascial layers to solidify, which glues the fascia layers together, hindering movement. I like to use the example of coconut oil. When you rub coconut oil between your fingers, it slides and remains liquid. Yet if you keep the coconut oil in a dish without manipulating it in any way, it will solidify. Immobility causes tight fascia, which causes pain and can be very dangerous for the overall health of your entire muscle structure. Once the pain is there, many people stop using the muscle, which then leads to atrophy, more pain and rapid aging. Rapid movement can also damage fascia by tearing it, leading to scar tissue, immobility and rapid aging.
The best way to “melt” the fascia is with slow and gentle rotational movements. Think Essentrics® sequences. Once the fascia “melts”, it will return to its healthy sliding form. Yes!
Picture a thick capsule of connective tissue at the head of every bone in your body. A cushion for the joints in our body that allow movement. A cushion that prevents wear and tear by giving a glass-like frictionless surface between the bones. That is cartilage. It allows for smooth movements while protecting the heads of the bones from rubbing, or pounding, against one another.
What causes cartilage damage?
I say it again, a sedentary lifestyle leads to muscle atrophy. Muscle atrophy will cause tightening of the joints, which can lead to arthritis. Another cause for cartilage damage is regular high-impact activities like running. The pounding from these activities lead to joint compacting and cartilage damage.
Ligaments have very limited flexibility, around 4% to 6%. They have a long recovery time from injury. Anywhere from months to years. This is because they have a very limited blood flow. Blood gives our muscles, tendons and ligaments the nutrients required for healing.
Ligaments play two roles in our bodies: attach bone to bone, protect and stabilize joints. We need strong ligaments to connect and stabilize our joints. To prevent torsion, to prevent joint damage, and to support clean alignment. (My Essentrics® participants know all about clean alignment, I mention it all the time in class.)
What causes ligament damage?
You guessed it… a sedentary lifestyle leads to the hardening or the ligaments. We have 360 joints in our body that need to move in all the ways they were designed to move. And this on a regular basis. Coconut oil anyone?
Another cause is twisting or wrenching of a joint causing over stretching or tearing of the ligaments. Better known as a sprain. An overstretched ligament is too loose to stabilize the joint. It is only a matter of time before damage happens to the unstable joint. At this point surgery could be an option. They will either shorten the ligament back to its original length, or replace it with an artificial ligament. Another option is to exercise, strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint. Training the muscles to act as stabilizers and protectors of the joint.
Tendons are similar to ligaments in the sense that they have very limited flexibility, around 4% to 6%., and have a very limited blood flow. They also take a long time to heal. Anywhere from months to years.
Tendon tissue is rich in nerve endings. This makes injured tendons extremely painful and sensitive. However, being in tune with this sensitivity is a good way to avoid injury when stretching. Pay attention to your body when you stretch. When you feel the tugging, know that it is your tendon telling you it has reached its flexibility limit.
What causes tendon damage?
I know I am repeating myself…. Atrophy caused by lack of movement. You see, the tendons attach your muscle to the bone. The shrinking of the muscle (atrophy) causes a pulling on the attaching tendons. High-impact sports can also cause damage. For example, the speed and force of an accident can cause the muscle to pull so hard and fast that the attaching tendon will rip or tear. Repetitive weight training can also cause damage as it shortens the muscles and places stress on the attaching tendons.
Fluids and movement.
Did you know that, as adults, we are 60% water? Fluid in our bodies transmit messages (throughout our bodies) helping us maintain a state of stable and steady internal environment. Fluids are in all connective tissue, fascia, cartilage, ligament and tendons. It is the synovial fluid that acts as cushions in the joints. It acts as lubricant between the many layers of fascia for easy and smooth movement.
When we live a sedentary lifestyle, these fluids harden like the coconut oil I talked about earlier. Then comes stiffness and premature aging. EVERY cell in your body depends on you moving so that there is a constant flow of fluids for cleansing, lubricating and nourishing of the cells. As Miranda Esmonde-White says: “When we don’t move, we become prone to chronic pain, injury and disease.”
The powers of connective tissue.
Let me quote word for word what Miranda Esmonde-White has written:
“The fascia and ligaments attaching, surrounding and separating muscle tissue have an inherent elastic storage quality that is reflected in the pattern of its collagen fibers. Healthy tissue has a two-dimensional weave that looks rather like a fishnet stocking. If you looked at that weave through a microscope, you’d see undulation called “crimps”. That elastic storage – the natural bounce we see most often in young, active, healthy people – can be lost over time, often through inactivity. The good news is that with time, and regular correct exercise, the natural crimp can be restored. And with it, a return to a youthful bounce in your step. This is because correct alignment exercises help reorganize connective tissue into its optimal structure. – Tendons and ligaments have a similar kinetic energy storage capacity which we engage when we jump, dance, run and even walk.”
I hope that you are convinced of the importance of movement. We must use it or loose it. But use it, don’t abuse it. Move as you are meant to move and find joy in doing so.
If you have any questions, comments or tips, feel free to message me privately or leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours in health, happiness and success, Nancy Shimmy
This post was inspired by Miranda Esmonde-White’s Essentrics Academy Instructor’s Training. Miranda is the co-founder of Essentrics of which I am a, at the time of this post, a certified Level 3 Instructor. I look up to this amazing woman and all the things that she has gone through in her life. I am thankful that she was able to heal her body and to create the Esmonde technique as a result.