The Three Main Properties of Connective Tissue

Connective tissue is that fabulous tissue type that holds all of our cells, and all of ourselves, together. It surrounds every neuron, myofibril, and fibroblast to the extent that one could say all those cells are inserted into the extracellular matrix of connective tissue, which holds us all together. This extracellular matrix is the combination of collagen fibers and ground substance which are produced by the fibroblasts, the cells of connective tissue.

The beauty of the collagen fibers and the ground substance of connective tissue for bodyworkers is their predictability in terms of their response to the forces acting on them. Luckily for us, there are only two forces that connective tissue receive: pressure and movement. In response to pressure, fibroblasts produce more collagen fibers for more structure, and in response to movement fibroblasts produce more ground substance to lubricate the movement. In addition, movement attracts collagenase, a protein that dissolves collagen fibers.

Appreciate how this plays out and is useful to effective bodywork: by applying pressure and movement in conscious and considered ways, a skilled bodyworker can guide the connective tissue matrix into more effective and functional, and less problematic constructions and relationships.

The cells of connective tissue proper, the fibroblasts, respond to pressure by producing a greater concentration of collagen fibers. The pressure that produces this fibroblast response must be sustained over a period of time, such as the pressure produced by muscle tone. The pressure a massage therapist applies to a client’s tissue during a session is not nearly sufficient in its duration to elicit a collagen fiber response from the associated fibroblasts.

When the pressure applied to connective tissue proper is due to hypertonicity, the collagen fiber matrix that will result will be problematic. It will build up excess structure at the cost of range of motion. Over a period of time with sustained hypertonicity, the collagen build up can be restrictive enough to cause pain and inflammation. It makes physiologic sense that chronic hypertonicity is the root of osteoarthritis.

The way to correct this situation is to use the other force that connective tissue responds to – movement. Introducing well-considered movement into a collagen heavy matrix will separate the fibers and fiber bundles, lubricate the area with synovial fluid, and attract collagenase to reduce the collagen fiber concentration.

When bodywork combines these principles with a view toward considering how hypertonicities are organized through the body as a whole, effective and long lasting results are achievable.

This is a very good link describing the dynamic of connective tissue:

4 comments on “The Three Main Properties of Connective Tissue

  1. I had one LMD 3 Lever seminar and am hoping you will define “well considered movement”? Are you referencing movement homework for the client and movement in the bodywork session?I think I understand this concept as there are some moves I learned from Shekut and LMD that do incorporate movement of the levers! Any further input will be greatly appreciated until the DVD is ready for distribution.
    Thnaks for the blog.

    • ‘Movement’ here refers to mobilizations done by the bodyworker. ‘Well considered’ for LMD is proprioceptive-guided movement combined with a massage technique. I’ll quote our tag-line, “The body is a proprioceptive neuro-reflex phenomenon directing a dynamic tensegrity structure through a connective tissue medium.” I have to keep it short here: well-considered movement – using feedback from the client’s proprioceptive sensori-motor loop (joint reflexes) to guide passive movement combined with a massage technique guided by the client’s muscle and tendon reflexes, fed into the overall structural organization. Now, that’s a mouthful, and it took me a while to write it. I’m working on an article that will go into greater detail and offer examples. The dvd is in the works. The key is that the client’s reflexes ultimately guide the massage work.

  2. Also how does a bodyworker gauge amount of pressure and length of time for this “movement” to be repeated to elicit the response from connective tissue.

    • Another terrific question, Kimosha, thanks. These are, at first, very tricky things to gauge. The good news is they actually get easy with practice and attention. The amount of pressure is guided by feeling the tissue’s response to your pressure. The broad parameters are: if nothing is happening you are too light, and if the client resists you are too heavy. Between these two, what you are seeking is the most response you can get from the tissue in terms of opening up. Another way of saying this is: what you (the therapist) create in the client’s body is guided by their response – you create what you feel. You’re starting point is based on what they present with. The length of time you spend on any aspect of your work is also a function of paying attention to the client’s response. With practice this too becomes much easier than at first. The client’s tissue will ‘talk’ to you and reveal all answers. The therapist learns to ‘listen and respond’. That right thee is one way of describing the basis of LMD’s ‘stuff’: exploring how to listen and respond. Remember, becoming proficient at this is a never-ending process. It only ends with the last massage you do (at least relative to this lifetime).

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