A (very) Basic Guide to Understanding Soft Tissue:
First, let’s clarify what I mean by the term, “soft tissue.” I am referring to the connective tissue such as ligaments, tendons, and muscle that make up our structure, and ALSO…. the fascial envelope and our skin, that wrap us like the skin of a balloon.
So, what is fascia? Fascia is a network of layered connective tissue that surrounds muscles, bones and joints.
A joint capsule is also a connective tissue structure that surrounds joints and is involved in optimizing the mechanical function of the joint as well as giving it nutrients.
When the fascia and joint capsules are restricted it can cause:
- Decreased joint space which can lead to degenerative joint diseases and osteoarthritis.
- Increased muscle tone which can lead to trigger points, strains, tendonitis and tears.
- Increased nervous tissue tone which can lead to headaches, trigger points and muscle tightness.
- Decreased blood flow and energy levels, and much more.
- And of course, the aforementioned increased scar tissue formation.
The first word in that phrase, “soft,” is actually a key to our basic understanding.
- Unhealthy connective tissue isn’t “soft,” it’s stiff.
- Scar tissue, which develops in response to injury and trauma, forms into a material that is much more like mat fiberglass than supple muscle tissue.
Scar tissue forms in an irregular shape that ends up looking just like fiberglass.
When scar tissue is forced to stretch through movement, tearing often ensues. Tiny trigger points of unhealthy bundled-up tissue form and create an ideal environment for a future injury.
On the other hand, HEALTHY connective tissue moves freely.
It slides easily within the layers of skin, fascia, muscle, tendon, ligament. It’s organized and aligned, to allow for everything from natural elastic rebound…. to complete skeletal alignment and support.
Can you improve passive flexibility or improve hip joint range of motion, if the soft tissues surrounding the joints are rock hard or stiff?
The answer is, NO, it’s not likely. At the very least, you’ll spend a lot more time frustrated, trying to create real change.
- My work as a Fascial Stretch Therapist has helped reinforce the idea that we’re truly “connected” – linked from one body part to another, from top to bottom, in more ways than we might think.
- My many years as a coach and runner/triathlete has helped reinforce the fact that no amount of static stretching or mobility work is EVER going to create permanent change …if the soft tissue is severely compromised.
As you look closely at this mobility training and consider what else you might be able to do to help you progress, you NEED TO ALSO consider the health of the tissue.
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me whether or not THEY would benefit from a deep tissue massage or some Graston, I’d be suffocating under dollar bills. My standard reply is usually, “maybe.” Or…”I have no idea, honestly.”
What follows is that quizzical look – or even a little panic.
They assume I know as much or more about THEIR body, as they do.
We each need to know and recognize our own tendencies, and thus our limitations.
After all, the Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself”, is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the pronaos of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek writer Pausanias. I think the ancient Greeks knew that this was important. You should too!
So what to do? Start with trusting your intuition. What’s it telling you? If you have been experiencing “tight,” sore or achy muscles, you are probably sensing that perhaps… some help from a therapist might be in order.
Our bodies are amazing in their ability to heal, but very often it needs a little help from a friendly, knowledgeable, experienced set of hands.
Even with the best of care, soft tissue does not change overnight. Sometimes real changes in fascia take 2 or more years to realize.
Positive changes take time.