Soft Tissue Manipulation: An Overview of Diagnostics and Therapies

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Chapter 47 Soft Tissue Manipulation

An Overview of Diagnostics and Therapies*

image Introduction

The term “soft tissue” is a ubiquitous and, at times, vague term. Every profession that deals with the mobility, stability, and dynamic function of the neuromusculoskeletal system must embrace diagnostic and therapeutic soft tissue procedures. Medical and therapeutic systems such as those used by naturopaths, chiropractors, osteopaths, allopaths, physical therapists, massage therapists, and body-centered psychotherapists all have their own procedures for identifying and treating a variety of soft tissue dysfunction. Despite their differences, terms used, or the theories advocated by each profession, they all agree to some degree that soft tissue dysfunction can cause and/or indicate disease, injury, aberrant reflex activity, and aberrant movement patterns, the results of which can have minor or profound effects on the health of the individual. In addition, most professionals that diagnose and treat soft tissue dysfunction seem to refer to a common phenomenon: distinct, palpable, usually sensitive areas of soft tissue aberrations or lesions that are either directly or reflexively related to local or organ dysfunction and/or disease.1,2

The thoughts, ideas, and theories that are foundational to physical medicine are evolving; so too are the thoughts, ideas, and theories foundational to soft tissue diagnostics and therapeutics. One clinically relevant and interesting note is that many systems of health care delivery are moving to more encompassing and holistic ideas about the interrelation of many cells, tissues, organs, and systems to obtain and maintain optimal health and wellness. Functional or lifestyle medicine practitioners look at the various systems of the body in hierarchical fashion. Treating systems “upstream” or higher up on a hierarchical list of systems allows the practitioner to optimize the health of the individual without chasing down symptoms.3 Movement therapists and doctors who help to improve and stabilize movement are looking at movement patterns instead of single or even dual-planar movement. The idea that movement only transmits from muscle origin to insertion is long gone, clinically incomplete, and inferior to the recent, more functional theories.46 Soft tissue diagnostic and therapeutic procedures are currently evolving; this evolution is occurring as a result of clinical treatment and trials and other empirical methods.

Although the working definition of soft tissue has always included muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia, and more, each individual tissue was looked at and often treated as a separate entity, not as functional units. There has been a recent push to look at functional groups of soft tissues. Ideas like myofascial “chains,” “trains,” and units are taking the soft tissue world by storm and proving to be clinically superior to some of the incomplete, older, more reductionist ideas.79 Tension relationships are now ideas that permeate soft tissue diagnosis and therapies. Muscle coordination and perception are looked at as functions of these relationships rather than the work of a group of muscles and their respective myoneural units.711

Soft tissue therapy may be used to accomplish the following:

Of final note, professions that classically have not viewed soft tissue as the primary avenue for their treatment benefits have been evolving their paradigm. Acupuncturists specifically have been viewing soft tissue, more specifically fascia, as part of their diagnostic and treatment foundation. Various authors in the acupuncture world have noted that acupuncture points and connective tissue and soft tissue planes have a very intimate relationship and, at times, are indistinguishable.1719

image Health Implications of Soft Tissue Manipulation: The Big Picture

For every therapeutic intervention, we must first determine how best to utilize the technique and/or intervention. For soft tissue manipulation, there are localized responses that will be addressed later in this chapter; this section is devoted to how soft tissue manipulation affects overall health.