Did you know that the human body is made up of 70% soft tissue? Soft tissue includes tendons, ligaments, fascia, skin, fat, fibrous tissues, and synovial membranes, along with muscles, nerves, and blood vessels.
Injuries to the soft tissue are common. Over 14 million outpatient visits in the U.S. each year are a result of soft tissue and skin conditions.
Soft tissue injuries often occur when muscles are abnormally tense. Muscles work by tensing, contracting and then relaxing. If they do not relax completely, problems can arise, which includes:
- Muscle weakness
- Misalignment of your skeletal system
- A restricted range of motion
Soft tissue injuries can also occur due to trauma. Stepping off a curb and rolling over your ankle is just one example of trauma. Excessive overuse or chronically fatigued structures, such as going on a long run when you are already fatigued from a previous exercise can also cause trauma.
The most common types of soft tissue injuries include:
- Stress Injuries
How to treat soft tissue injuries
First, seeing a doctor is vital as he or she will be able to determine the severity of the injury. There are three grades of severity:
- Grade 1 strain or sprain. This can be a possible minor microscopic tearing of the fibers from overstretching. Usually, this results in mild tenderness and minimal swelling.
- Grade 2 strain or sprain. This results in moderate pain, tenderness and swelling from a partial tear of fibers. If you are diagnosed with this grade, then you will be unable to apply loading to the injured area without pain.
- Grade 3 strain or sprain. This is the most severe injury in which you experience a complete rupture resulting in significant pain and swelling. If you are diagnosed with this grade, then you are unable to use the injured structure, resulting in an instability of the affected joint.
Recovery from a grade 1 soft tissue injury is typically one to two weeks and two to four weeks for a grade 2 injury. Grade 3 injuries will take much longer to recover.
Typically there are three stages of treatment and recovery from soft tissue injuries.
During the first stage – within the first 24-72 hours – it is imperative to incorporate the PRICE model (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate). It is essential to avoid heat and alcohol during this time as this can increase blood flow and swelling.
Stage two of treatment is focused on reducing the swelling and stiffness to begin regaining normal movement. And stage three is all about restoring normal function and returning to normal activities.
Treatments, such as soft tissue mobilization can help in the recovery process.
What is soft tissue mobilization?
In a nutshell, soft tissue mobilization is a form of manual therapy used to restore range of motion to joints without pain.
Soft tissue mobilization therapy aims to break down adhesions, reduce swelling, decrease pain, lengthen muscles and tendons, improve range of motion, stimulate tissue regeneration, and restore functionality. This is done by relaxing the areas of the body where tissue becomes thick, tough and knotted, also known as myofascial trigger points.
Ultimately, a soft tissue mobilization specialist will work with you to help you recover from your injury quicker without pain. The key is to find a specialist in your area who has the training and experience to help you overcome pain so you can avoid a dependence on prescription or over the counter drugs, which can result in long-term health issues.
Marge Kalfon, MSPT is the founder of PT by Marge and is a licensed physical therapist in Virginia. She graduated with her Masters of Science in Physical Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University in 1992. Since then, she has practiced in a wide variety of settings ranging from large hospitals to small private practices. She has extensive training and experience in a wide variety of manual therapy techniques as well as orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation.