Gain a Deeper Understanding of What Soft Tissue Therapy Is, and How It Can Help Different Muscle Problems
Did you know that about 3 million Americans sustain whiplash injuries every year? Of those 3 million, half of them suffer from chronic pain caused by whiplash, and about 300,000 Americans become disabled due to the pain of whiplash.
Soft tissue damage can be as simple as a sprained ankle or can be something more severe. Soft tissue damage is painful and can take up to 3 months to heal. Sometimes, soft tissue does not heal properly and can cause permanent damage.
Soft tissue therapy can help break down the issues in the muscles so that your muscles can heal correctly. Soft tissue therapy ensures that there are no long-lasting negative effects on your body.
In this article, we take a look into soft tissue therapy, the benefits of this natural treatment, and how it can benefit different muscle problems.
Soft tissue therapy techniques
There are a few different techniques that are used to manipulate soft tissue to help break it down and allow the muscle to heal. You can be certain, however, that no matter which technique is used, is will not be soft or gentle. Soft tissue therapy techniques can be aggressive and can create some discomfort.
Keep in mind: After your soft tissue therapy, you might feel a bit tender and bruised. Apply heat to the area that was treated. You should not be as uncomfortable the next day. If you are, you need to seek medical help, as something could have been damaged during your session.
- Soft Tissue Release (STR)
This technique starts with a pressure that is applied to your affected muscle, which will create a temporary attachment point. Then your therapist can move your muscle into a pain-free stretch. This technique is beneficial for targeting specific areas of tension within a muscle. The movement that is done will allow you to stretch out the muscles that you find difficult or painful to stretch on your own.
- Post Isometric Relaxation (PIR)
This technique is best used on tight hamstrings, which can result in lower back pain. The technique starts with your therapist gently stretching your hamstrings to a point of first resistance. You will then resist your therapist by pushing your leg away from your body for about 10 seconds. You then relax and your therapist will stretch your hamstrings once again. When you’re ready, the resistance level goes up by one and you repeat this 3-5 times. It is a great way for you to reduce muscle spams.
- Myofascial Release (MFR)
It can take a long time for the professional to get the muscle and the fascia warmed up enough to be able to perform this technique. Once the muscle is warm and more relaxed, pressure is applied to the problematic fascia. The pressure is sustained and a bit more gentle than the other techniques we spoke about previously. The technique is done without oil and creams. It is ideal to release fascia tension.
- Trigger Point Therapy (TPT)
This is one of the most common soft tissue therapies out there. Most people know that when a muscle is stiff and sore, they apply constant pressure to the painful area and eventually the pain goes away. A professional will determine the exact point in the muscle that is causing the spasm. They will then apply firm pressure to that point using their thumb or massage tool. Pressure is held for 30-60 seconds at a time and then released. This technique is done until the trigger point is released.
TPT is very effective but it is not that relaxing, as you will feel sharp shooting pains before the muscle relaxes into it.
There are many more techniques out there but, the four that we have spoken about are the most common ones used in treatments today.
Soft tissue manual therapy
According to The International Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative Physical Therapists, manual therapy techniques can be defined as: “Skilled hand movements intended to produce any or all of the following effects: improve tissue extensibility; increase range of motion of the joint complex; mobilize or manipulate soft tissues and joints; induce relaxation; change muscle function; modulate pain; and reduce soft tissue swelling, inflammation or movement restriction.”
Soft tissue manual therapy is a treatment that is performed by a professional where they only use their hands, forearms, and elbows, as well as their knowledge, to treat soft tissue damage or inflammation. The treatment may include moving the joints, muscle stretching, passive movements, and more to help treat the muscles and tissues that are affected.
Integrative soft tissue therapy
Integrated soft tissue therapy is a highly successful treatment that is used to assess and manage soft tissue injuries. This therapy is used mainly to optimize athletic performance. IST takes a holistic approach to assess and treat injuries and works on allowing all the elements of your body (mechanics, soft tissue, and nerve function) to heal and ensuring that they are working together to achieve optimal function.
You will find that chiropractors often use this technique on their patients because they have an understanding of the nerves as well as the mechanical function of the joints and bones in the body.
Professionals will not only use massage to help heal the muscles, but will also use shockwave therapy, acupuncture, soft tissue techniques, and tape to ensure that you get the best results.
Diversified soft tissue therapy
Diversified soft tissue therapy is a new innovative therapy that mixes pilates and soft tissue therapy. The idea is that this technique does not stick to one modality. This therapy focuses on anatomy and biomechanics, as well as overall physiology to help the body heal as a unit.
These practitioners use orthopedic massage, pilates, functional fitness, systematic strength, and health coaching to treat your body. This treatment is good for the following conditions:
- Muscle injuries
- Chronic pain
- Lack of flexibility
Soft tissue physical therapy
Soft tissue physical therapy is a mobilization form of manual physical therapy. A licensed practitioner will use hands-on techniques on your muscles, ligaments, and fascia to break adhesions or trigger points to help optimize your muscle function.
When your muscle tears or suffers any form of trauma, your body tries to heal the muscle quickly by creating new tissue to knit the muscle back together. Sometimes these new tissues pull against one another and form trigger points in the muscle. These points are very painful and can be debilitating. Your therapist will use different techniques to break down these points and help the muscle heal correctly.
Soft tissue swelling treatment
If you suffer from a muscle sprain or strain, there are a few things you can do at home to help reduce swelling. Firstly, you need to go seek medical help to ensure that nothing is broken and that there is no nerve damage.
Once you get the all-clear, go home and use R.I.C.E. :
This will help reduce swelling as well as help with pain management. Research has shown that an estimated 1 ankle sprain occurs per 10,000 people each day. Researchers also note that they cannot prove how well R.I.C.E. works because each injury is different. However, you should be proactive and use this treatment to help with swelling before you start with your soft tissue therapies. When you go to a professional, they will use the R.IC.E technique to help get your muscles ready for the soft tissue treatment, depending on what is needed. For example, for ankle injuries, research shows that intermittent pneumatic compression, which involves inflation and deflation of a device over 30 minutes, proves to reduce pain and ankle function better than if you just use a compression bandage.
Soft tissue fascia therapy
According to Healthline, Fascia is the fibrous connective tissue that protects and supports muscles and organs throughout the body. When there is inflammation across your fascia tissues, it causes extreme pain and stiffness.
Soft tissue fascia therapy is a treatment that is conducted by a trained professional. The professional will focus on this specific type of connective tissue. The technique used for this tissue is normally ART, which is the Active Release Technique. This is when the professional combines muscle manipulation and movement to help treat the issue at hand. The therapist can also use MFR, which we discussed earlier.
One of the most common fascia tissue condition is known as Plantar fasciitis. This is a condition that affects the feet.
What conditions can be treated using soft tissue therapy?
There are numerous conditions that soft tissue therapy can treat, including but not limited to:
- Lower back pain
- Chronic neck ache
- Tension headaches
- Shoulder strains
- Frozen shoulder
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Shin splints
- Sciatic nerve pain
- Plantar fasciitis
- Tennis elbow
- Golfer’s elbow
- Muscle inflammation
- Tingling, numbness or weakness in a muscle
- Strained or sprained muscles/joints
A 2016 study looked into the effectiveness of soft tissue therapy for management of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the upper and lower extremities. Localized relaxation massage provided the participants with added benefits, as well as long term benefits for people who were suffering with carpal tunnel syndrome. The myofascial release helped people who suffered from lateral epicondylitis more so than sham ultrasound treatment. They also found that myofascial release helped people with plantar fasciitis by releasing the main muscles/fascia in the feet, namely the gastrocnemius, soleus and plantar fascia.
Soft tissue therapy is not a pleasant treatment to have. It can be painful at times and other treatments that are used with it will give you more benefits.
- Discomfort is normal after a soft tissue treatment
- If your pain does not go away after 4 weeks, you need to seek a medical doctor
- Drink water after a treatment to help flush out the toxins released during your session
- Apply heat to the treated area to help soothe the muscles
- Always go to someone qualified and trained in soft tissue therapy. Do not try to release your muscle spasms yourself without a professional showing you how to do it safely first.
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