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What is soft tissue work?

07/11/2016

During the course of your treatment, you may hear your chiropractor referring to “Soft Tissue Work” – but what exactly does this mean?

Your soft tissues are all the muscles, tendons and ligaments that hold your skeleton together.  It is very important that your treatment addresses any problems in these areas, as well as problems with the joints, as tension in these structures can prolong the recovery from joint problems.

So how do we go about addressing problems in the soft tissue?  The primary method that I use would be a very specific form of massage.  There is plenty of evidence to suggest that using pressure on points of tension in the muscle can help those areas to relax back to their natural state.  I therefore apply various amounts of pressure to the areas in the muscle which are tight, and effectively try to iron out any kinks that I am finding.  Let’s face it – when your shoulders are all tight from stress or tension, we all instinctively grab hold of the big muscle across the top of our shoulders and try to knead it to stop it hurting so much.  Well, as a chiropractor, I simply use a more refined technique with the same aim in mind!

Sometimes, the whole problem is centred in the muscle, and when this is the case it might be appropriate to partake of a sports massage to sort it.  This involves trying to get really deep into the muscle to ease all the tension out through the layers of muscle.  It’s generally a much firmer pressure than the soft tissue work used during a chiropractic treatment, and can be quite uncomfortable, but it is certainly extremely effective in helping a wide variety of complaints and many professional athletes have regular sports massages to keep them at peak fitness while they are competing.

Of course, massage isn’t the whole story behind soft tissue work.  There are other techniques that can be employed, such as home stretches, Post-Isometric Relaxation (PIR) and fascial release.

At some point during your treatment with me, it is quite likely I will suggest some form of stretch that you could try doing at home to help your recovery.  This has the dual advantage of giving you some control over your pain and continuing the beneficial effects of the work I do during the treatment.  I will always take you through the stretch that I need you to do during the treatment session, and then it is up to you to actually do it.  If you find you have forgotten how to do the stretch at any point, you can always ask for a refresher at your next appointment – alternatively, you can email me at laurakate.cunningham@gmail.com and I will try to help you out.

The most important thing to remember with stretching is to do it SLOWLY!  If you push yourself too far and too fast, all you are going to do is endanger the muscle and possibly cause more damage than there originally was.

Post-Isometric Relaxation, or PIR, is a form of assisted stretching that I can do with you.  It takes advantage of a phenomenon of your muscle, where it is particularly willing to stretch in the seconds following it being used.  Therefore, I will ask you to resist against my pressure to work the muscle for about 10 seconds, then relax.  I will then encourage the stretch in the muscle – and then we do it all over again!  This can give some spectacular results – for example, when lifting a straight leg to stretch the hamstrings as you’re lying down, we can often see you go from being barely able to get past 45o to being able to take your leg all the way up to 90o!

The final Soft Tissue Treatment method to mention is fascial release.  The fascia are thin sheets of connective tissue that separate out groups of muscles, and also collect separate or bind together the internal organs as well as running just under the skin.  Normally, this sheet is fairly free moving and shouldn’t be attached to the body of the muscles, but where there has been an injury adhesions can occur which then restrict movement and are sometimes responsible for a “burning” sensation in an area.  A combination of massage, passive stretching and specific “fascial release” techniques are used to address these adhesions.

So – the Soft Tissues are what holds the bones together, and Soft Tissue Work is a collection of techniques used to address problems in these areas J

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