A full-body dissection seminar will dramatically alter and improve your understanding and appreciation of the human body.

A full-body dissection seminar will dramatically alter and improve your understanding and appreciation of the human body.

During the seminar, students become familiar with a range of pathologies; they also observe how the normal aging process affects the body. 

I will forever be grateful to my mentor, Julian Dwornik, Ph.D., for teaching me and for encouraging me to take this amazing journey into the depths of the human body.

This article will discuss just some of the benefits of participating in a dissection seminar. I encourage all massage students and veteran therapists to take part in this life-changing experience.

Dissection is the Real Deal

A dissection seminar allows you to go under the hood—skin—of the human body and visually observe the structures you affect during your therapy sessions. It also provides the opportunity for you to compare identical structures for size, shape and density in multiple cadavers at the same time.

We use bony landmarks and textbooks to identify structures, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, veins, arteries and myofascial tissues.

But it’s a whole different world under the skin. Although you might think you have a working knowledge about what everything looks like and how the tissues function as a whole, nothing compares to seeing the real deal.

It is compelling to see how the tissues intertwine with one another to form the body.

“It was fascinating to see the abdominal region, how the oblique muscles—internal, transverse and external—attach and merge with the fascia of the rectus abdominus muscle,” said massage therapist Sherry “Cher” Hunter of Westminster, Maryland, after attending a dissection workshop.

I am always awed by how thin and strong the structures are. Many structures, such as the scapulae of the shoulder or the falx and tentorium of the cranium, are so thin, we can easily shine a light on them to see the illumination passing through.

“This experience will change what you do in the treatment room; I have a clear and exact understanding of where the muscles are and the best way to affect them,” Hunter added.

“A book or video cannot allow you to appreciate how thick or thin various muscles are or feel the difference in shape between a nerve versus an artery.”

Appreciate the Body

A full-body dissection seminar will dramatically alter and improve your understanding and appreciation of the human body.

Over the years, we have seen numerous anomalies in the dissection lab. This has taught me I cannot take anything for granted, nor should I make any assumptions when evaluating or treating a client. I have seen a cadaver with an upper trapezius missing on one side. I’ve observed levator scapula muscles with fibers that continued from the superior angle of the scapula to attach onto the ribs.

Recently we found a sternocleidomastoid with two clavicular heads. It is interesting to hypothesize how an anomaly may have helped or hindered an individual, if it affected her at all.

Seeing diseased lungs, livers, kidneys, lymph vessels and associated scar tissue provides an entirely new perspective and serves as a reminder there is a lot going on inside the bodies of your clients.

Observing the effects of surgery, including knee, hip and shoulder replacements; coronary bypass; spinal fusions and laminectomies; bowel reconstructions; gallbladder removal; hernia repairs; hysterectomies; and more, is another interesting aspect of the dissection seminar.

This aspect also gives way to an interesting thought: If I don’t know what’s going on inside, I don’t know for sure what I’m working on. This is another important point to keep in mind when you are working on your clients.

Massage therapist Terry Herd of Youngsville, Louisiana, was surprised at the amount of plaque that can build up in the arterial walls, when he observed this in a dissection workshop. He removed sections of the arterial wall of the carotid and femoral arteries of a 91-year-old cadaver to reveal how the plaque formed a tube, or straw-like structure, inside the arteries.

This helped everyone in the lab understand the importance of palpating our clients with precision to avoid the potential endangerment sites in the body. Plaque could cause a stroke if it breaks free and travels to the brain.

But while seeing the inside of the body is one thing, touching the inside of the body is another.

The Power of Touch

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Edgar Moon, a blind massage therapist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when he attended one of my full-body dissection seminars at the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine in Tampa, Florida.

In addition to touching with his hands, Moon “sees” with his hands. During the workshop, he worked with a team of therapists who performed a dissection that required the use of a scalpel. He then palpated the structures layer by layer, separating the fascial planes and feeling the muscles, nerves and organs of 11 different cadavers.

It was inspiring to watch Moon move from table to table within the lab. His face and voice would light up as he palpated the structures with his hands, while often remarking, “Yes, I see it.” Following the seminar, he expressed appreciation and excitement for his newfound knowledge.

“Now I understand exactly what I am addressing during a therapy session while working on my clients,” he said. “This experience has been so enlightening.”

The sensation of touch is vital to all massage therapists. Having the ability to go under the skin and actually palpate each structure individually is an invaluable experience.

Sounds and Scents

There are various sounds that fill the air in an anatomy lab:

Students talking amongst themselves excitedly as they identify structures; students asking for guidance; an instructor explaining a concept to students tableside; the occasional snap of a surgical glove as a student puts it on; stainless steel instruments clinking against one another; the sound of students readjusting the height of their dissection stools; the hum of the electric reciprocal saw used to open the cranium, rib cage and spinal canal; water running in sinks as students wash their instruments; and the unforgettable sound fascia makes as we separate the tissues.

A common question pertains to air quality in the anatomy lab. I utilize the facilities at the University of South Florida, which have a total air exchange system.

This means multiple times per hour all the air in the lab is removed and exchanged for fresh, cooled air. This type of system definitely controls odors and air quality in the lab.

If you walked into a bakery, you would notice the odors of the breads and pastries baking.

However, if you stayed in the area for short time, your senses would become accustomed to the odor. The same concept applies when we walk into the anatomy lab. Initially, you notice a scent when you enter the lab; however, you quickly become accustomed to it.

Your Classmates

The experience and knowledge level of the attendees in a dissection seminar are very diverse and vary from students still in massage school to instructors teaching on the international level.

“There are many experts from different fields, so you are exposed to many new ideas and concepts,” explained Amber Schwalls, who as of this writing was a massage instructor in Norman Park, Georgia.

“I now have a much better understanding of the subject I have been teaching for years,” said Purdi Gadkri of Sugar Land, Texas, who teaches collage anatomy and physiology. “The opportunity to learn on human cadavers provides a level of knowledge and understanding you can’t get looking at anatomical models or textbooks.”

You will benefit most from your dissection workshop if you think about and list out the structures you want to see during the seminar and begin reviewing some anatomy daily, beginning a week or two prior to the seminar.

A full-body dissection seminar will dramatically alter and improve your understanding and appreciation of the human body.

Our Silent Teachers

Ultimately, this very special and unique learning opportunity is only available because of our silent teachers, who had the foresight to bequeath (leave by will) their bodies to science. It would be remiss not to acknowledge their unselfish act of allowing others to learn from examining their physical body.

Performing an outstanding dissection and using that knowledge to benefit our clients is the most respectful way we can honor these souls.

Former attendees will tell you taking a dissection seminar is an experience that will change your entire understanding of the human body. Your palpation skills increase with the new perspective and insights you gain, and your confidence in the treatment room increases, as well.

“Massage therapists are very visual and kinesthetic learners,” explained massage therapy instructor Tina Sorensen of Omaha, Nebraska. “So [a dissection] seminar really brings it all together for them.”

About the Author

David Kent, L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., is an international presenter, product innovator and writer. He has also developed a line of products, including the Postural Analysis Grid Chart, Trigger Point Charts, Personalized Essential Office Forms and DVD programs. Visit www.KentHealth.com for more information.


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