Soft tissue is the collective term commonly used to refer to the ‘softer’ materials of the external parts of the body that exclude bones and joints.
Your body consists of 70% soft tissue such as muscles, tendons, fascia, ligaments and nerves that connect, support or surround other structures and organs.
The body’s soft tissues are particularly susceptible to injury that can result in anything from minor to very serious depending on the type of injury sustained. Even though athletes and non-athletes alike can experience soft tissue injuries, it is more prevalent in sport.
Anatomy of The Body’s Soft Tissue
Muscles are constructed of interwoven fibrous materials that are attached to the bones via tendons. They are arranged in pairs that contract and relax in a specific sequence allowing the joints to move and ultimately create movement throughout the body.
Tendons are the tough, slightly elastic bands of fibres that anchor and connect the muscles to the bones and enable movement in areas of the body such as the hips, knees, shoulders, heels and elbows.
Ligaments are strong bands of inelastic connective tissue that join bone to bone and act like a shock absorber when the bones are involved in motion activities.
Fasciae are the links between all the components of the body that distribute nerves, blood and lymphatic vessels throughout. Fasciae also help distribute body weight during motion.
Nerves are the communication links from the brain to and from the body. The brain coordinates the movements of muscles and joints as well as healing responses based on the nerve signals it receives.
Soft Tissue Injury
Any number of activities, particularly sports-related, may result in soft tissue damage. The dysfunction can manifest as pain, swelling or bruising that result from sprains, strains or direct blows to muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and fascia.
Tennis or Golf Elbow is a common injury in sports where repetitive motions of the elbow occur. It can result in the deterioration of the tendons in the elbow and cause chronic inflammatory and pain responses on both sides of the elbow.
Sprains are caused when the joint such as knee, ankle or wrist is wrenched or twisted and forced beyond its normal range of motion. This overstretches or can tear the supporting joint’s ligaments and result in swelling, loss of weight bearing capability, bruising and pain.
Tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon around the joints as a result of overuse that can include repetitive friction, pulling, twisting or compression that are habitually occurring motions. The tendon can be torn and become inflamed from too much use. Tendons take a long time to heal as they have less blood supply to bring healing oxygen to the injury site.
Bursitis is the inflammation of the fluid sacs that cushion the bones, muscles or tendons caused by overuse or direct trauma to a joint.
Contusion (bruise) is the result of a kick, fall or other direct contact with another player (sport) to the soft tissue that causes bleeding into the tissue itself (hematoma) along with pain, swelling and discolouration of the skin.
Strains are small tears to the muscle or tendons caused by over-stretching or sudden contraction to muscles. This causes pain with motion and swelling or bruising at the affected area. Such afflictions as groin strains can result from the sudden stops and starts of competitive sport such as basketball, soccer and hockey.
How Sports Massage Can Heal Soft Tissue Injury
Myofascial release, Swedish massage and deep tissue massage offer a range of techniques that vary in depth, pressure and duration to help heal inflammation, provide pain relief and reduce the inevitable build-up of scar tissue from soft tissue injury. Such massage protocols can support the release of tension and open up any constricted areas in adjacent muscles that are overcompensating for the pain from the injury site.
Soft tissue massage can be a healthy way to deal with Inflammation from damage to soft tissues by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the damaged areas thus increasing the amount of white blood cells that are available to heal the injury.
In addition to incorporating preventative measures such as warming up and cooling down during exercise or sports activities, assuring that training programs are gradual and meet the capability of the body, adding stretching and strengthening exercises to any regimen, and allowing adequate recovery time between training sessions, sports massage can be a highly effective protocol to incorporate. Sports massage can maintain the health and wellbeing of soft tissue as well as the overall robustness and resilience of the body during any sports or exercise regimen.