Soft Fix Embalming. The way forwards

Whilst visiting Newcastle University in 2016, I was introduced to a remarkable new breakthrough in the world of embalming, the ‘Super Soft Fix’, which became the format for my classes since that time.

Traditionally, embalmed cadavers found in medical schools have always been somewhat stiff and immobile.  The classical embalming technique uses formaldehyde and other chemicals, which are pumped around the circulatory system to ‘fix’ the cadaver and prevent decay.

The advantages of this technique is a cadaver which can be made available to students for an extended period of time and which will not deteriorate.  The drawbacks are that for physical and movement therapists, the cadaver does not move well through the joints and the feel of the embalmed body is one of it being quite unyielding.  In addition some people have concerns about the use of formaldehyde in terms of safety, particularly in the USA, although the end user risk is tiny.

Other Approaches

Over the years other approaches have been used, including the Thiel Method which is indeed a useful addition, but relatively complex and is inferior in every sense to the new soft fix techniques,  Other formulas to produce a softer technique have been proposed with some reasonable results, but they tend to be somewhat mixed.

The other only viable option and one which has been touted as ‘the best’, has been to use fresh or fresh frozen, referred to as ‘unfixed’ cadavers. This is useful for surgical practice, but the drawbacks are obvious as nature takes over and makes a more leisurely dissection more challenging.  I discuss these challenges on this page.

The technique being used in Newcastle was pioneered by Ben Whitworth from Dodge Company Ltd a leading funeral supplies company.  The embalming process uses a small amount of formaldehyde as well as other elements, but the end result is the most incredibly ‘lifelike’ and well preserved cadaver that I have ever seen.

Major Advantages

There is little odour and the deeper areas of the viscera, brain and spinal cord are perfectly preserved, yet soft and pliable.  I have been championing this approach since I saw it and am delighted that some of the universities I work with have been open enough to trial this technique.

As a measure of my own commitment to the technique, I undertook embalming training and purchased an embalming machine with which to perform my own embalming in areas where it is not available and now all Functional Fascia classes will be using this method.  

I am incredibly excited by this development which will enable a greater understanding of the pliable nature of connective tissues and how they really operate.