Study of connective tissue is shedding light on pain

It seems like researchers are discovering that plain, unglamorous, non-specialized collagen plays a much more important role in more places than previously known. This could certainly explain many of our strange symptoms. I think it’s helpful for those of us with chronic pain from EDS that this lowly connective tissue has been proven to sense pain – something EDS’ers have known all along.

Why does the medical establishment always assume that body tissues (or infants) don’t feel pain until explicitly proven otherwise?


…researchers are now beginning to demonstrate just how many systems of the body may be affected by mechanical changes in connective tissue

Nonspecialized connective tissues, which form what’s known as the fasciae and envelop all muscles, nerves, bones, and blood vessels

fibroblasts—the cells that are responsible for synthesizing all the proteins that make up the extracellular matrix. These cells reside within the matrix they create, responding to mechanical stimulation by regulating the amount of collagen and other matrix proteins produced, and by secreting matrix-degrading enzymes in response to chronic changes in tissue forces

Indeed, researchers at the University of Heidelberg found in 2008 that connective tissues contain sensory nerve endings that can transmit pain when these tissues are stretched in the presence of inflammation.

…the connective tissues that surround the muscles of the back are, on average, thicker in people with chronic low back pain.

… people with low-back pain show a decreased gliding motion of dense layers, suggesting that a fibrotic process could cause the decreased mobility.

What we saw under the microscope was quite striking: when acupuncture needles were rotated, the loose connective tissue under the skin became mechanically attached to the needle. Even a small amount of rotation caused the connective tissue to wrap around the needle, like spaghetti winding around a fork. This winding caused the surrounding connective tissue to become stretched as it was pulled by the needle’s motion.

After dissecting some of the tissue we had manipulated, we saw that the fibroblasts residing in the connective tissue as far as several centimeters away from the needle began to reorganize their internal cytoskeleton and change shape, becoming large and flat. We also found that the same reorganization response could be elicited by simply stretching a piece of connective tissue between two grips and holding the tissue in the stretched position for about 30 minutes

…suggested that the cells are able to reduce the tissue tension by adjusting how strongly and where they are gripping the surrounding connective tissue or muscle

The possibility that connective tissue dynamically regulates its level of tension is intriguing, as it could dampen fluctuations in tissue tension. Connective tissue surrounds nerves, blood vessels, and lymphatics, and reducing changes in tissue tension could affect how these structures function.

a variety of alternative manual and movement-based therapies work under the collective assumption that connective-tissue pathology lies at the source of musculoskeletal pain, and that this can be ameliorated with manual treatments.

We have found that more than 80 percent of acupuncture points in the arm are located along connective-tissue planes.13 This makes sense, since loose connective tissue houses blood vessels and nerves, suggesting that mechanical stimulation of connective tissue generated by needle manipulation could transmit a mechanical signal to sensory nerves, as well as intrinsic sensory afferents directly innervating connective tissue.

(Re-post from 8/25/13)

2 thoughts on “Study of connective tissue is shedding light on pain

  1. Pingback: Fascia: the most critically ignored part of the body? | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome)

  2. Pingback: Management of chronic pain in EDS – part 1 | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

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