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Q&A: Embalmed or Unembalmed Tissue. What's the difference?

dissection Dec 22, 2023

Coming to a dissection lab is not your everyday experience. And it can be a big investment of time and money. Not surprisingly, we get a lot of questions about what it's like. Here's one of the questions we get a lot:

QUESTION: Do your labs use embalmed tissue? ANSWER: No.

In many dissection labs, the cadaver tissue has been chemically "fixed" or "preserved." This has its advantages, particularly if you are working on these forms for a semester-long course. The tissue can be easier to dissect and is more stable.

But this chemical "fixing" stiffens the tissue, leaches it of color, and often releases chemical gases that smell bad and are not exactly healthy for you to breathe. Thin membranes can become thicker, tougher, and lose their translucent qualities. Muscles become more rigid and lack the suppleness you feel in the muscles of your living clients. 

In our lab workshops, we use tissue that is not embalmed. That means no chemicals. The tissue in our lab is only being preserved through refrigeration, a process called fresh-frozen.

We love working with unpreserved tissue because of the softer textures, the rich colors, and the lack of chemical odors. Unpreserved tissue is a more realistic (but not exact!) reflection of our own bodies and the bodies of our patients and clients. This can provide a powerful experience for hands-on therapists.

All our lab experiences are designed by hands-on therapists for hands-on therapists. Check out what that looks like here. 

If you want to read more about the different types of chemical embalming (that we don't use!), check out this review:

Kaliappan A, Motwani R, Gupta T, Chandrupatla M. Innovative Cadaver Preservation Techniques: a Systematic Review. Maedica (Bucur). 2023 Mar;18(1):127-135. doi: 10.26574/maedica.2023.18.1.127. PMID: 37266469; PMCID: PMC10231151.