Many years ago I had a friend in the Nursing school at St. Scholastica. I remember going up to visit her and going to her cadaver lab. Horrible smells aside, I thought it was interesting to see what lies beneath our skin. Sure, in high school, we did our share of dissections in biology, but I don't remember ever looking at the muscular anatomy until visiting my friend.
I grew up in a city with a family — like many, if not most urban families — disconnected from our food and our bodies. It is uncomfortable to think about and admit that sometimes I still buy chemical-laden meat from animals that grew up in a warehouse far away, eating genetically modified (and perhaps rancid) grain. At the right time, it's processed and wrapped in foam and plastic which ultimately ends up in the landfill, and is trucked here. But don’t get me started on petroleum consumption. In the end, we know our food is good and safe, because it bears the USDA Inspected sticker. Right? Comforted, we consume.
But forgive my tangent. I'm writing about anatomy. Like most people around me it was, and still sometimes is, hard to imagine what the package means when it’s labeled "shoulder" or "neck roast." The thing in the package certainly doesn't look like my shoulder. Or does it?
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to help cut up some venison. I recalled my trip to the cadaver lab, but this somehow seemed more real. No preservatives had been added. After the skin was removed there was a layer of "insulation" and then the connective tissue and fascia that surrounds the muscles. My friend started to cut. I found the shoulder and could feel the familiar bony landmarks under the meat. I grabbed the portion just above the spine of the scapula and asked, "Do you think this is supraspinatus or upper trapezius?" It was hard to differentiate.
I palpated for trigger points and tried to see areas of thickened fascia. While I cut, I wondered about muscle pain in wild animals. Do they, too, ever have poor posture? Do they, too, get overuse injuries? I wondered if any scientist or naturalist has observed a behavior that would suggest the deer is rubbing his or her sore muscles. This deer was pretty young. I'll bet a bigger, older buck would have much thicker fascia and tighter shoulders.
I wanted to dissect the entire animal muscle by muscle, but pressures like time and needing to get the deer in the freezer prevented me from doing so. Once I finally did get all the meat off, I was struck by the scapula and how the deer shoulder blade is so similar to ours-- triangular in shape, with a vertebral border, a spine, a superior and inferior angle. The shoulder joint and the hip joint are similar too.
By this time, we were all starting to feel the muscle strain in our own backs and shoulders from skinning, cutting, grinding and wrapping all day. If I were the scientist or naturalist, I would have observed our stretching and shoulder rolling behavior and wondered about our pain too. My friend held up the back strap for us to inspect. We all agreed that our own back straps were tired and could use some attention. If we had four legs instead of two, our back straps wouldn't feel so weak from trying to hold us up. I wrapped it up and stuck my own label on it, thankful to be filling our freezer with local, organic, free range venison.
Gina McCafferty is a licensed massage therapist, and heath coach who works with women in their peri and menopausal years who have 30 or more pounds to lose.