The Architecture of the Connective Tissue in the Musculoskeletal System—An Often Overlooked Functional Parameter as to Proprioception in the Locomotor Apparatus, 2009

Topics: fascia, dissection, connective tissue, skeletal muscle, proprioception, elbow joint

Authors: Jaap van der Wal


The architecture of the connective tissue, including structures such as fasciae, sheaths, and membranes, is more important for understanding functional meaning than is more traditional anatomy, whose anatomical dissection method neglects and denies the continuity of the connective tissue as integrating matrix of the body. The connective tissue anatomy and architecture exhibits two functional tendencies that are present in all areas of the body in different ways and relationships. In body cavities, the “disconnecting” quality of shaping space enables mobility; between organs and body parts, the “connecting” dimension enables functional mechanical interactions. In the musculoskeletal system, those two features of the connective tissue are also present. They cannot be found by the usual analytic dissection procedures. An architectural description is necessary. This article uses such a methodologic approach and gives such a description for the lateral elbow region. The result is an alternative architectural view of the anatomic substrate involved in the transmission and conveyance of forces over synovial joints. An architectural description of the muscular and connective tissue organized in series with each other to enable the transmission of forces over these dynamic entities is more appropriate than is the classical concept of “passive” force-guiding structures such as ligaments organized in parallel to actively force-transmitting structures such as muscles with tendons. The discrimination between so-called joint receptors and muscle receptors is an artificial distinction when function is considered. Mechanoreceptors, also the so-called muscle receptors, are arranged in the context of force circumstances—that is, of the architecture of muscle and connective tissue rather than of the classical anatomic structures such as muscle, capsules, and ligaments. In the lateral cubital region of the rat, a spectrum of mechanosensitive substrate occurs at the transitional areas between regular dense connective tissue layers and the muscle fascicles organized in series with them. This substrate exhibits features of type and location of the mechanosensitive nerve terminals that usually are considered characteristic for “joint receptors” as well as for “muscle receptors.” The receptors for proprioception are concentrated in those areas where tensile stresses are conveyed over the elbow joint. Structures cannot be divided into either joint receptors or muscle receptors when muscular and collagenous connective tissue structures function in series to maintain joint integrity and stability. In vivo, those connective tissue structures are strained during movements of the skeletal parts, those movements in turn being induced and led by tension in muscular tissue. In principle, because of the architecture, receptors can also be stimulated by changes in muscle tension without skeletal movement, or by skeletal movement without change in muscle tension. A mutual relationship exists between structure (and function) of the mechanoreceptors and the architecture of the muscular and regular dense connective tissue. Both are instrumental in the coding of proprioceptive information to the central nervous system.

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