Connective Tissue Adaptation

Adaptation can be defined as the processes of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment. As we have discussed in previous posts, bones adapt and become stronger when subjected to stress. This stress makes bones become stronger and as a result able to tolerate more force, decreasing the potential of breaking. Additionally, other types connective tissue also show these same characteristics.

What is connective tissue?

Connective is a type of tissue that provides support holding the bodies tissues together. It is composed of a cellular component and an extracellular matrix that give it its unique characteristics. The extracellular matrix has a fibrillar component that contains collagen and elastin. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body which is responsible for the functional integrity of connective tissues providing it a tensile strength approaching that of steel (1). Elastin makes up a smaller portion of the fibrous component in extracellular matrix but allows fibers to deform under applied force (1).

What are types of connective tissue?

The various connective tissues in human body include cartilage, bone, tendons, capsules, ligaments, adipose, blood, lymphatic, elastic, fibrous etc.

    • Ligaments connect bones to other bones and are comprised of a small number of cells (about 20%) and a large extracellular matrix (80-90%).
    • Tendons connect muscle to bones and are also comprised of a small cellular component and large extracellular matrix
    • Cartilage is a connective tissue that can be found throughout the human body. There are 3 main types: hyaline cartilage which helps reduce friction and absorbs shock, elastic cartilage which provides shape and support, and fibrous cartilage which provides rigidity and absorbs shock that is transmitted between joints

How does connective tissue adapt?

Other types of connective tissues adapt similarly to bone. In fact, connective tissue can change their structure and function in response to external or internal applied forces (1). Connective tissue can do so through altering the composition of the extracellular matrix, which as stated, is comprised of collagen and elastin. This dynamic behavior of connective tissue gives it unique properties allowing it to adapt to in order to tolerate more stress.

How can we prevent connective tissue strains, ruptures and overuse?

Micro-progression. Connective tissue adapts slower than muscles. This is because many types of connective tissue lack the blood supply that muscles do and as a consequence leads to increased recovery rates. It is important to understand this fact. We want stronger connective tissue but must induce the adequate amount of stress for adaptation. Too much stress and to frequently will lead to injury, while not enough stress and proper progression will not produce the necessary change for increased fitness.


  1. Levangie, P. K., & Norkin, C. C. (2001). Joint Structure and Function: A comprehensive Analysis. Philidelphia: F. A. Davis Company

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