This blog follows on from part one and describes in more detail a dissection day for massage therapists – an advanced anatomy day held at a teaching hospital in London.

Before entering the dissection room we were given gowns and gloves and a quick talk. Caroline, our Anatomist for the day, introduced us to the team working in the room and there was an opportunity to ask questions. We started on a serious note by being told that anyone that was disrespectful or behaved inappropriately would be asked to leave immediately. There was then a brief question and answer session.

On entering the room we could see a metal table on which were body parts and another table where a whole covered cadaver was in the initial stages of dissection. The first slightly disturbing thought that came to my mind was how you could see how, in days gone by, we would have been part of the food chain. Dead and preserved in formaldehyde we don’t look that dissimilar to other large mammals you might see at a butchers and as a meat eater this did feel uncomfortable. The second thing to strike me was the smell, or lack of it. These body parts had been out of the formaldehyde for some time and didn’t have the potent smell you hear of. The final thing to strike me was that we weren’t going to see dissection taking place but rather this was an opportunity to see and touch body parts that had been dissected already and this wasn’t as gruesome. That said there were a group of anatomy students performing a dissection on a trolley in the corner of the room and watching their painfully slow methodical progress gave some insight into the amount of careful work that was required.(note: the smell of formaldehyde in this corner of the room was far more potent and the students worked for short periods at a time taking frequent breaks).

So how did this training day help my understanding of anatomy and therefore my work as a massage therapist? Just seeing the muscles exposed in 3 dimensions helped me to better understand how applying pressure to the body effects the structures under the skin in a way that a 2 dimensional diagram struggles to do. Also anatomy books show distinct structures to aid learning whilst seeing the cadavers showed how everything is linked by fascia, the connective tissue that forms a web throughout our bodies. The relative size of different muscles was also interesting and whilst these will obviously vary according to the individual it was still fascinating e.g. Subscapularis (not easily accessible to a massage therapist) for instance was thicker and more developed than Infraspinatus (easily treated) – showing the importance of trying to access this muscle when treating the rotator cuff. Some structures were hard to identify and looked like muscle but by touching them you could feel were hard and had to be cartilage. For people with knee problems it was fascinating actually seeing the cruciate ligaments. These were tiny (compared to the diagrams in books) and you could really appreciate how once damaged could cause re-occurring problems. The Iliotibial Band on the lateral thigh is incredibly thin but strong and taught and it’s role in stabalising the knee was really evident. There was so much to take in and too much to document here but I will finish by saying if any body workers get the opportunity to attend a cadaver study …don’t hesitate.

Mark Alexander is an advanced massage therapist at Natural Balance Therapies in Brighton and Hove.
The one day Anatomy Dissection course was organised by Jing Advanced Massage and Training in conjunction with Caroline Barrow from the College of Body Science.