In 2017 I had the opportunity to attend a cadaver dissection lab with Tom Myers of Anatomy Trains and Todd Garcia or Laboratories of Anatomical Enlightenment. This was a short, one day lab, and I plan to attend the longer two and five day versions in the near future.
I personally believe that anyone who is promoting themselves as being a specialist in reducing chronic pain and improving human movemnet has a responsibiliyt to their clientelle and their craft to develop a deep understanding of how human beings are put together. While there are many great resources to work on this learning process, there is no substitute for actually performing a human cadaver dissection, and I am a far better practitioner for having done this. Below are my notes.
- Muscles, in general, are much thinner than you would expect. Granted, these cadavers were in an advanced stage of life, but the pectoralis muscles, lats, biceps, etc. are very thin sheaths.
- The calcaneal tendon (commonly known as the Achilles tendon) while being incredibly strong is also not as dense as you might imagine. In addition, it does not have the “stiffness” (for lack of a better word) that you might expect, even in a fully stretched position. It is very supple and “rubbery”. This is particularly interesting when you consider that this tendon can handle a force load 7.7 times your bodyweight when running, yet somehow, we still manage to rupture it…
- The tissue quality in areas of restricted movement is very poor. Our cadaver had a right shoulder that was very restricted in flexion. While working on the posterior, as we attempted to go superficial to deep, we found that removing one layer from atop another was next to impossible. It seemed that the individual muscles had literally become one piece of tissue. The left side did not have this problem and we were easily able to separate the trapezius from the deep layers. The obvious question is: If she were still alive, would this be reversible with enough time and effort? It’s hard to say. At an earlier time in her life, perhaps. In the state she was in (bear in mind this cadaver was untreated) highly unlikely.
- I was looking directly over Tom Myers’ shoulder as he removed the brain from his cadaver. As someone with a neurological bias this was the highlight. The brain in an untreated state was FAR more liquid than I ever would have thought. It was much more liquid than it was solid, and I watched as Tom literally poured it out of the cranium. Once this was done, I was able to see that the brain was noticeably larger on one side than the other, and this was reflected in the dimensions of the cranium. We were also able to see the optic nerves and other interesting features of the cranium. How did I get such a great vantage point for this? Interestingly, not many people were very keen on watching this close up. 😛
- I was honored to be asked to break down for the class the line of dysfunction that I had observed early on in our cadaver. I had noticed that her left ankle was in negative dorsiflexion (effectively locked in plantarflexion) while the right ankle moved more normally. The left leg was also noticeably larger than the right, which seemed to indicate she was getting away from the right leg. This was further compounded by an abdominal scar that was creating drag on the right shoulder when manually moved into flexion. We could see that when we put the right shoulder into flexion it caused the head to tilt to the left, the ribs to flare and created a line of pull directly to the abdominal scar. As we began the actual dissection, we found many areas of compromised tissue quality along these lines. I removed the dermal and fascial layers superficial to the rectus on the left side and some on the right. It was as if they were from different bodies. While I observe these types of movement problems often with clients, it was invaluable to have my theories as to what is going at an anatomical level validated.
- The sciatic nerve is HUGE. It is at least the size of your index finger and has a lot of flexibility and glide to it. It is not a surprise that this often causes so many problems. It has been reported that in 25% of the population the sciatic nerve passes directly through the piriformis, which is why relaxing this muscle often improves sciatic nerve pain. This was not the case in my cadaver. Bummer.