Updated: May 29, 2020
UPDATE: Special Offer on Soft Tissue Therapy consultations. Receive 1x 60m consultation for $99, or 2x 60m consultations for $169. Bookings available here.
There are plenty of different ways to injure yourself out there. When you injure yourself, whether it is your neck, your back or your left little toe, odds are that there will be at least some irritation to the soft tissues. And when that irritation occurs, if your therapist is worth their salt, at some point in your treatment they will offer you soft tissue therapy. But what exactly is that? In this blog post I thought that I might write up a bit of information on this type of therapy to share the type of benefits a person may get from it, and why it is so useful.
What is soft tissue therapy?
Soft tissue therapy is a little like remedial massage, and the differences are hard to spot unless you have been around the block a few times and experienced both. Essentially, soft tissue therapy is hands on therapy to target stiffness, tightness or pain into the soft tissues of the body. Muscles are a common example of a soft tissue, but other examples include fascia (the “cling wrap” that covers and blends through the muscles) ligaments (the connections between bones) and tendons (the tough, cord like connections between bone and muscle). Following an injury, these tissues have a tendency to tighten up, and this in turn can impact your range of movement, exacerbate your pain and even indirectly affect your strength. Soft tissue therapy is like really targeted and specific remedial massage that is aimed at reducing this tightness.
It is also important to remember that this tightness can occur even without a person ever having an injury. A lot of people have tightness into the muscles or fascia without even realizing it. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I’ve started to treat a person in an area where they felt they “weren’t so bad”, and have had them exclaim to me how sore and tight the area feels when I push into it. In physiotherapy (and in other hands on therapies) there is a saying that is quite common. The saying is “it isn’t the criminals who cry out for help, it is the victims”. This is extremely important to consider, as often when a person injures themselves, they will focus on where the pain is, not realizing that their pain may be actually caused by soft tissue tightness elsewhere.
So who can benefit from this type of treatment?
The short answer is…pretty much anyone. But there are a few honourable mentions. The most common injuries that I typically see in the clinic are neck pain and low back pain. In both cases I will use a mixture of hands on techniques and exercise therapy, but I will almost always use soft tissue therapy at some point or another, simply because it works so well. In particular, I have treated a lot of people with headache pain generated by the tightness and stiffness of the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Many people do not realize that the nagging, dull headache pain they get in their temple after a few hours in the office might be related to how tight their shoulders are.
Of course, there are some instances where soft tissue therapy is not the best course of action. An example might be if someone had a known blood clot in a part of their body (never a good idea to push on these). Another example might be if a person rolls their ankle badly, and shows up for treatment on the same day it happened. In this case, I would avoid soft tissue therapy into that ankle, because the injury is still so fresh and recent. But even then, while it might not be appropriate at that time, it will likely become so soon. A few days or weeks down the track you better believe I’ll be pushing into those tissues. But if you are in doubt, ask your therapist. We are trained to determine when it is appropriate and inappropriate to attempt hands on treatments, and we will always do our best to ensure your safety.
In summary, when a person injures themselves a lot of different things can help them out. The truth is that there is no one magic bullet that will work for everyone. But in my experience, a combination of exercise and hands on treatment is often what is needed to get back into functioning normally. And soft tissue therapy is one of the best types of hands on treatment that a person can get. It is simple, it is effective and it is a great way to facilitate or improve your level of function. I cannot recommend it enough!