There’s a New Body Part!

THERE’S A NEW BODY PART! It’s been there the whole time, of course, this ligament in the knee, but we didn’t know about it until now!

Those who do not run in the same social media circles as me may not have been inundated with posts on this a couple of weeks ago. But  some of you have probably seen the news. It was all over my feeds for a day or two. A new body part! The anterolateral ligament had gone undetected despite years of surgeries and scans and dissections, and some knee surgeons in Belgium have documented it, and the word is out!

OK, OK, so sticklers will note that mention was made of this ligament back in the nineteenth century, and that it’s been called other things over time. But even those who exercise restraint and don’t yell in all caps that a new body part has been discovered admit that there’s some new understanding. Knee surgeon Robert LaPrade, in explaining why the anterolateral ligament is more a rediscovery than a brand new thing, notes that “to date, we [knee surgeons] as a profession have not completely defined what all the structures around the knee do in providing stability to the knee.”

And that right there is the part I love.

Sometimes, in massage, I have difficulty answering very simple questions. “Why does that hurt?” “What is a muscle knot?” Things that should be well within my domain as a thinking massage therapist, but I tend to answer with some form of “I wish I could tell you,” or I tell a pretty story that starts with “I think of it as…” because “I dunno” sounds pretty lazy and not very smart. I really do think about these questions and wish that I could answer them with any kind of authority, but there’s just so much we don’t know about the body.

Even the muscle knot, the pinnacle of a massage therapist’s purview, isn’t easily explained. I was taught that muscle knots are trigger points, a widely accepted explanation. But trigger points themselves are murky in definition and a subject of doubt these days. I’ve heard some people question whether knots are even real.

More often than not, I think of a “knot” as a place where tissues get stuck, a snag in a figurative sweater. I like this imagery, but it’s really just that — imagery, as opposed cold hard fact. But it’s what I’ve got for now.

I started this post with excitement about the new body part because I tend to think of surgery as something that’s heavily scrutinized and documented, and knowing that there’s been ambiguity about about something both palpable and visible puts my hazy understanding of fascia into a new perspective,  makes me comfortable with my metaphors, my lofty ways of looking at the body. If surgeons don’t know, after years of physically cutting open and examining the knee, where and what all the ligaments are, then it makes sense that we who simply touch might not be able to say with conviction what a muscle knot is, and I think that’s OK for now. I am all for discovery and excitement, all-caps yelling about mysteries revealed and new things named. With so much unknown about the body, there’s always room for revelation.

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