What is Connective Tissue and how does it relate to Exercise?
By Donna Gianniotis
When we watch little children play, it is easy to feel a lightness or ease in their way of moving. Their bodies are agile, movements free and there is a natural freedom that they reflect from their bodies. What happens to that lightness, freedom and agility as we get older?
We often hear people say that they feel stiff as they get old. So what is actually happening to the body as we age and why is it that we lose the lightness that we knew as a child? Furthermore, is this stiffness a natural process of ageing or is there anything we can do to reduce the loss of flexibility?
The connective tissue is a system of tissues that runs throughout the entire body. It is everywhere and runs throughout all the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. It overlaps and envelops soft tissue structures like cling film. Every part of our body is connected to the others through this fascinating interconnected web of tissue.
The fluidity and moistness of the connective tissue allows for friction free movements and supports all our body’s systems from the inside out. Energy flows through our connective tissue and in its ideal state, the connective tissue supports our natural elongated posture and our organ systems to work together harmoniously. We can picture our connective tissue like a river that flows throughout our entire body.
The way we treat our bodies through the quality of our everyday movements and holding onto our emotions all affect the state of our connective tissue and hence how we feel in our bodies. As children, the properties of our connective tissue are free, flowing and hasn’t yet become hardened or stiff like it often is in adults.
The status of our connective tissue has a direct relationship with our levels of health and wellbeing.
So what happens to our connective tissue as we age and why is it that the older we get, often for many people we feel stiffer and equate it to old age? Could it be because we are not moving or living in a way that supports the structure and flow of the connective tissue in our body?
Let’s consider the following possibilities
- Is it possible that when we sit or hold a set posture for prolonged times (i.e at a computer), that our connective tissue can tighten and will restrict our open, rotational or dynamic movements.
- Is it just to do with lack of movement that tightens the connective tissue, or is it also associated with the quality of HOW we hold ourselves when we are stationary?
- Is it possible that when we get stiff and sore (i.e. a sore lower back or hips) from too much movement (a day of cleaning) but it’s not actually the movement that is the problem, but the quality of HOW we move?
Is it possible that the fragile and refined nature of our connective tissue requires very gentle, delicate and refined movement?
When we move or exercise in a very gentle way, the connective tissue is gently stretched, creating more space and length. This is different to moving or exercising in a way that is rushed, fast or pushed or done in a stressful or pressured way, where the connective tissue is put under strain and tension, resulting in pain or stiffness.
This example includes sitting at a desk; we can either sit with tension, with our shoulders shrugged up and our head leaning forward at the screen in a frantic or stressed manner to get the task done. Or we can sit back, with our shoulders back and chest open, spine lengthened and head completely on our shoulders and not stretched forward.
The connective tissue is very delicate and responsive, therefore when force is applied in our natural everyday movement, the connective tissue responds by hardening. If we move or exercise in a way that is hard or harsh, there is tension and hardness in the connective tissue and in the muscles, which makes it difficult for the muscles to contract and relax easily, and can cause pain and poor function.
The connective tissue responds when we offer ourselves a way of being in our body where we are gentle and tender.
So could the answer to feeling free and light like children be in considering our relationship with our bodies in our everyday movements, such as walking, sitting and exercise – feeling if we are holding ourselves in a way that is in line with and honoring the natural flow of the connective tissue in the body.