What is Connective Tissue?

Defining connective tissue

connective tissue

As a movement-based teacher or therapist, part of being able to communicate with other practitioners as well as clients, is knowing specifically what you’re talking about. Terms like muscles, connective tissue, and fascia are all part of the conversation among those practicing movement-based therapies. But what do they mean and how are they related to one another?

The interrelated human body

In our body, nothing works alone. Structures, tissues and systems are all interrelated. We can start to understand the arrangement of interrelation by moving from broader components to more narrow components.

For example, we could start with an organism, a human. Within a single organism, there are many interrelated systems. We’re generally familiar with the existence of our circulatory system, as one of the systems in our body, for example. There are organs doing work to keep each system functioning. Within our circulatory system, one organ supporting the function of that system is the heart. Individual organs, like the heart, are composed of tissues.

Organism (for example, a human)

System (for example, the circulatory system)

Organ (for example, the heart)

Tissue

Dissecting connective tissue

A tissue is a group of similar cells that together perform a common function. There are four types of tissue in the body:

  • Epithelial tissue
  • Muscle tissue
  • Nervous tissue
  • Connective tissue

What makes connective tissue connective tissue and not another type of tissue is its components. All types of connective tissue have:

  • Protein fibers
  • A ground substance in which the protein fibers are found
  • Cells

Connective tissue is the most abundant type of tissue in the body and also the most varied. The combination of the type of ground substance, types of protein fibers, and types of cells, result in the wide diversity of connective tissue types. Different types of connective tissue include:

  • cartilage
  • bone
  • blood
  • other types
  • AND “connective tissue proper”

This can get confusing because the category of tissue type and one specific example of that tissue type share a similar name! Connective tissue proper is also referred to as fascia.

Why is connective tissue important?

Connective tissue is important because it does what its name suggests. It connects other tissues, organs, and structures together. In our skin, for example, the surface layer of tissue, the epidermis, is connected to deeper layers of tissue with connective tissue. Ligaments are a type of connective tissue that connect one bone to another at a joint. Tendons are a type of connective tissue that connect muscle to bone.

This thread of integration and connection in the body is important to our understanding of how function happens in the body, particularly movement. By starting from the big picture of organism and then zooming in to examine tissue types, we can start to gain more understanding of how integrated the body really is.

As movement-based teachers and therapists it’s important to add an understanding of connective tissue to our big picture of how complex movement can be. When we pick up our foot to take a step, it’s not only the action, tension, and flexibility of muscle tissue that impacts our step. Our connective tissue is also part of the action.

Want to find out more?

You can continue to follow this body trail a little deeper in our related post What is muscle fascia? Find out how connective tissue proper, or fascia, interacts with muscles.