Clients receiving deep tissue massage techniques are almost always curious about how they work and are applied, so this week i’m writing about Soft Tissue Release or STR as it is sometimes shortened to. STR, as the name implies, works on the soft tissue of the body. This includes muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. The latter is the soft tissue that surrounds and connects every muscle fibre, bundle and whole muscle. It also connnects muscles to form a network, enabling them to work together.
When the soft tissue becomes injured and dysfunctional, small adhesions form as a result of micro tears in the muscle fibres, creating internal scar tissue. Left untreated these adhesions and scar tissue will eventually make it difficult for the muscle to perform as it should. You may not initailly notice this dysfunction, but it will probably bring you discomfort and pain in time.
One of the reasons for the dysfunction is that the adhesions and scar tissue prevent the body’s circulation systems – blood and lymphatic – from flowing properly through the muscle. Soft Tissue Release works on adhesions and scar tissue to break them down and allow the body’s fluids to flow again through the soft tissue again.
How STR is applied
Musles attach to bones via tendons. Between the 2 attachment points of the bone, the muscle will either contract (move the bones closer together) or stretch (move the bones further apart).
After exploring (or palpating) the soft tissue to locate the adhesion, the therapist will shorten the affected muscle in a passive movement and apply a lock on the tissue fibres close to the nearest attachment point. The lock is maintained whilst the muscle is then stretched away from the lock, before returning the muscle to the starting point.
STR is a powerful and effective technique. When it is applied it can create some discomfort at the point of the lock. However, it is a single application technique, with the lock moving to a new location after each stretch. Very often a client can begin to feel the release of tension, making the discomfort an almost welcome relief.
Active and Passive movement
STR can be performed both passively and actively. Passively, the therapist will apply the palm of their hand, using the other hand to perform the stretch. In effect, they are doing the work for the muscle, which remains passive during the movement. Actively, the muscle must perform the movement itself. The client will take control over how much movement they want to create. The lock is acheived by using the fingers, knuckles or elbow.
To feel the difference between active and passive, get someone to move your arm for you. Whilst they perform the movement, you don’t have to think about it and your brain doesn’t need to send a message to that muscle via your nerves to move it. Now move your arm by yourself. To do this your brain, nerves and muscles must work together to perform the action.
Because STR is a powerful and effective technique, it is performed through a towel or clothing. The lock is rarely applied directly on skin. This means it can be applied in lots of different positions – lying or seated on the massage couch and standing – and circumstances. It can be applied fully clothed, on the sports field or even half way up a mountain side!