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What Is Soft Tissue Mobilization?

Soft tissue mobilization uses manual manipulation to ease tightness and pain.
The body's soft tissue includes the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia.
Massage can be especially effective at loosening tight muscles in the back and neck.
Article Details
  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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Soft tissue mobilization refers to any form of treatment or therapy that attempts to loosen tightness and minimize pain issues in the body through manual manipulation. The hands apply varying amounts of pressure through different stroke patterns directly against the soft tissues. This can increase range of motion or movement, and strength by giving the muscles an opportunity to reach their full length.

The soft tissue in the body includes muscles, tendons, ligaments and their protective covering called fascia. The fascia is similar to a netting which covers all the internal structures of the body and bind muscle fibers together to allow them to work together to produce movement. When any of these areas are tight, movement can become restricted and painful. Applying soft tissue mobilization to the areas affected forces the tension to relax.

The key to effective soft tissue mobilization is a general knowledge of how the muscles are constructed. Since soft tissue mobilization requires a certain amount of pressure to be applied, care must be taken to avoid bony areas or sensitive areas. For example, when massaging the legs, the area around the knee should be avoided. Due to the close proximity of nerves and blood vessels, a decrease in pressure must also be observed when working directly behind the knee.

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The manual technique known as soft tissue mobilization is a combination of direct pressure on knots in the muscle and gliding massage strokes along the length of the muscle to coax overall relaxation. When joint mobility, or the areas of the body that connects bones together is affected, direct pressure with muscle stretching through moving the joint through its range of motion may be done in unison.

Manual techniques that apply pressure, such as soft tissue mobilization, may result in an increase in tenderness or soreness to the area. It may also produce some skin redness or bruising. Before attempting soft tissue mobilization, a consultation with a qualified medical professional such as a physician, physical therapist or massage therapist is necessary to reduce the risks of adverse effects.

Muscle tightness due to injury or stress can respond well to soft tissue mobilization. However, as with any manual techniques, results are temporary but cumulative. That means tightness issues may return but with continued treatment and a comprehensive treatment protocol limited movement, muscle tension and pain can be resolved. Scheduling a few sessions with a physical therapist or massage therapist can teach manual techniques that can be used at home to combat worsening symptoms and help promote full pain-free movement.

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