The function of connective tissue is to bind, and create a space for, every structure in the body, down to the individual cell.
The connective tissue is made up of ground substance, varying from gel-like to bone hard (mineralized ground substance), as well as collagen, elastic, and reticular fibers. It also contains the cells that make the fibers (fibroblasts, chondroblasts, and osteoblasts), and fat cells. Blood vessels, nerves, and lymph vessels, as well as meridians, move through this world of connective tissue.
The function of connective tissue is to bind cells together to form tissues, tissues together to form organs, and muscles and bones together to form the musculoskeletal system. Moreover, connective tissue is the attachment site for our skin.
The connective tissue commonly called fascia envelops and weaves through every structure of the body. Anyone who has skinned a chicken breast will have noticed the filmy substance overlying the meat right underneath the layer of fat. That is fascia. Fascia can be light and filmy, or very dense and thick, and, of course, anything in between.
Connective tissue also facilitates tissue healing by depositing fibrous tissue in the form of scars.
Earlier, I wrote about the three-layered membrane system, the meninges, that envelops the brain and spinal cord as one unit. The meninges are connective tissue that holds the brain and spinal cord together and attaches them to the inside of the skull, the first two neck vertebrae, and the bottom of the sacrum. Of the three layers, the pia mater, a thin and transparent but tough membrane, adheres to the brain and the spinal cord like a tightly fitting stocking.
Finally, connective tissue in the form of blood serves as a transport system for bringing oxygen and nutrients to all the cells, and for taking toxins from the cells back to the liver and kidneys for cleansing of the body. Except for the red blood cells, most other constituents of the blood (oxygen, white blood cells, nutrients, most proteins, toxins) move from the blood to the tissue cells and back to the blood through this connective tissue, which can vary in its consistency from gel-like to bone. Bone, cartilage, and blood are considered specialized forms of connective tissue.
Because everything in the body is intertwined and connected via the connective tissue, any disturbance in one corner of the body is registered, and responded to, everywhere else in the body as well. We may not notice all the ripple effects from this one disturbance, but the body does and remembers it.
Examples of connective tissue.
We all are familiar with the connective tissue to some degree. Below are some examples:
Muscles attach to bones via TENDONS.
Bones are held together by LIGAMENTS.
Nerves: as with muscles, there are nerve fibers (axons), bundles of nerve fibers (fascicles, or fasciculi), and the entire “package”, the nerve. The axons are covered by ENDONEURIUM, the fascicles by PERINEURIUM, and the nerve by EPINEURIUM. The endoneurium, perineurium, and epineurium are a form of connective tissue.
Muscles are made up of muscle bundles (fasciculi). These fasciculi are themselves bundles of muscle fiber. The muscle fibers are individually wrapped by ENDOMYSIUM, the muscle bundles by the PERIMYSIUM, and the entire muscle by the EPIMYSIUM. Each wrapping is a form of connective tissue. It is the connective tissue that holds the muscle fibers together to form muscle bundles, and the muscle bundles together to form the entire muscle.
Blood vessels are covered on the outside with CONNECTIVE TISSUE, as well as on the inside right below the endothelium.
BLOOD is a specialized form of connective tissue, providing a medium of transport for all its constituents, such as red and white blood cells, various proteins, nutrients, as well as metabolic and foreign toxins.
The PERITONEUM is a double-layered membranous sac — a serous membrane with underlying connective tissue — that contains most of the abdominal organs. Its outer layer, the parietal peritoneum, attaches to the inside of the abdominal wall and is fused with the diaphragm above the liver and the stomach. The inner layer, the visceral peritoneum, covers most of the abdominal organs, including the intestines. Thus, the connective tissue (lined with the serous membrane, called mesothelium) helps to hold the abdominal organs in place and provides a protective covering for these organs.
The peritoneum separates the abdominal organs (within the abdominal cavity) from the bladder, rectum, and reproductive organs, such as the uterus, prostate, seminal vessels, and the vagina. These latter structures are contained within the pelvic cavity. The ovaries are an exception. They are located within the abdominal cavity.
The lungs are covered by the pleura, a double layered serous membranes supported by a thin connective tissue, analogous to the peritoneum. The parietal pleura lines the rib cage, and the visceral pleura adheres to the lungs. The pleura protects and holds together the lungs, as well as creates a connection to the rib cage to facilitate the expansion of the lungs for inhalation.
The pericardium is a double-layered membranous sac (connective tissue with an overlying serous membrane) that contains the heart. As with the lungs and abdominal organs, the pericardium protects the heart and keeps it in its place within the chest cavity.
Trauma to connective tissues can cause pain literally anywhere.
The connective tissue provides protection and support to all the structures of the body. Moreover, it creates compartments within the body (abdominal cavity, chest cavity, and cranium, for example), thus creating order within the body as the closet does for our clothes and the kitchen cupboard for the dishes, pots, and pans.
However, due to the continuity of the connective tissue — i.e., there are no separations (or breaks) between the various types of connective tissue, trauma to the body may create distortion within the connective tissue not only at the point of impact, but also in neighboring or even distant structures. Even longterm muscle tension due to poor posture, asymmetrical activities, as well as emotional distress will create such a distortion in the connective tissue. The consequences are discomfort, dysfunction, and pain, locally and potentially anywhere else in the body.
In my next post, we’ll look at the many ways in which tissue distortion affects the functioning of the body, and hence your health and sense of well-being.