Soft-Tissue Therapy vs Massage Therapy: What is Soft Tissue Therapy?

In a nutshell, Soft tissue therapy is remedial massage on steroids. It is targeted clinical massage. It is hands on bodywork that can get you out of many kinds of painful episodes.

Soft tissue therapy reduces tensile and compressive stress on your body and can dramatically speed up the healing process.

‘Soft tissue’ refers to the type of body structures that are targeted in a treatment session.

Physiotherapy-Massage-Therapy Vertigo

These Soft Tissue structures include:

  • Muscles, tendon and ligaments,
  • Fascia (superficial and deep)
  • Fluids such as blood, lymph, interstitial fluid (between cells)
  • Arteries, veins, lymph nodes and channels.
  • Nerves and motor programs (brain maps that direct movement/ dysfunctional patterns)

Soft Tissue Therapy is not “just massage”

Canberra is the “Hub of Soft tissue Therapy” in Australia. There are movements within the ‘massage’ industry to change the professional title from Massage Therapy to Soft tissue Therapy. This is due to ‘massage’ simply not encapsulating the full scope of knowledge and treatment techniques used by fully qualified Soft Tissue Therapists.

The industry still being called massage therapy creates confusion among clients and therapists. This also contributes to a dramatic under utilisation of this powerful therapy.

‘Massage’ can mean different things to both clients and therapists alike. It is a very broad term.

Potent results in a single session

One of the strongest aspects of Soft tissue therapy is that it aims to make a big improvement in symptoms in the first treatment. Clinically we see this 95% of the time.

What is Soft tissue therapy good for?

Conditions that respond especially well to Soft tissue therapy include but are not limited too:

  • Random muscle aches and pain that move around the body
  • Neck and lumbar spine disc bulges.
  • Poor posture- rounded shoulders and sway backs
  • Functional and structural scoliosis of the spine
  • Growing pains in children and adolescents
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Muscle tears
  • Tendon and bursitis conditions
  • The need to increase range of motion for various sports eg. Shoulder and thoracic spine flexibility for snatch in olympic weight lifting.
  • Computer posture and repetitive strain injuries
  • Tennis and golfers elbow
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Whiplash
  • Many kinds of nerve conditions in the neck, lumbar spine, arms and legs
  • Tension headaches and some migraines.
  • Erasing Compensation patterns post injury and post surgery.
  • Post joint surgeries (once Surgeon/physio approval has been given)
  • Adrenal fatigue and central fatigue (nervous system burnout)
  • Unusually rigid tight muscles throughout the body.
  • Also, most conditions being over seen by a physiotherapist, podiatrist, Chiropractor or Osteopath.

But what is Soft tissue therapy?

Soft tissue therapy has been born out of remedial massage, structural bodywork, sports massage and injury rehabilitation. The assessment procedures and the techniques used are universal to Osteopathy and Physiotherapy. However many techniques are unique to Soft tissue therapy.

A fully trained Soft tissue therapist has many tools to draw from to help get you out of pain and back on with your life.

These tools can include:

  • Remedial massage and sports massage techniques
  • Trigger point therapy
  • Nerve pain release techniques
  • Myofascial Dry needling for trigger points
  • Deep Ischemic release techniques with elbows, thumbs or fingers
  • Myofascial release techniques
  • Passive tissue tensioning techniques
  • Muscle energy techniques
  • PNF pain elimination techniques
  • Active release technique
  • Positional release technique
  • Kinesiotaping for support
  • Postural taping techniques
  • First stage exercise rehabilitation
  • Breathing retraining.
  • Swedish massage techniques
  • Relaxation massage techniques to in aid recovery from central fatigue (nervous system burnout)

Why are all these techniques added to ‘massage?

If massage alone was enough to get everybody out of pain then other modalities such as Physiotherapy and Osteopathy wouldn’t be needed.

In some people and certain pathologies (such as nervous system burnout), ‘massage’ is all that is needed.
However, as soon as ‘massage’ is targeted to specific body structures it improves outcomes.

Also, when Soft tissue therapy techniques such as myofascial release, trigger point therapy or passive tissue tensioning are added to a massage session; better and longer lasting effects are shown.

Shoulder blade mobilisation is used assess which muscles need releasing to free up movement. This is also a potent way of teaching a client how to use key shoulder muscles.

The addition of Myofascial dry needling enables conditions to resolve quicker. This makes each appointment more potent. This technique is not used on those with needle phobias.

Kinesiotaping methods virtually ensure that improvement occurs between sessions. The brain ‘reads’ the injured area differently and supports the healing process. It is future technology that is here now.

A Soft tissue therapy session may involve:

A concise history of the problem area: Body reading (postural assessment) to determine degree of compensation throughout other areas of the body. The body is highly interconnected.

A quick movement assessment to identify which kind of soft tissue may be involved:  Treatment may be done in a lying face up or face down position, or laying on your side, or sitting or standing. This depends upon which muscles need to be treated.

Soft Tissue Therapy creates instant changes in pain and stiffness. 

Lower back pain and stiffness:

There are 6 common presentations of lower back pain. The problem can be due to compressed intervertebral discs, facet joints, ligaments, nerves or muscle spasms.

Soft tissue therapy specialises in lumbar spine decompression techniques. This can include specific hands on techniques to key muscle groups such as hip flexors, quadratus lumborum, gluteals and hamstrings.

In cases of disc pain, supportive kinesiotaping enables the client to sometimes walk about so pain-free and loose that I have to tell them not to go lifting or running yet!

Shoulder pain and stiffness:

I love treating shoulders. A swat team member came to me with ongoing shoulder pain three months post shoulder surgery. His shoulder muscles clearly tested both short and weak on muscle tests.

For treatment, I myofascial dry needled key muscles, creating space in the joint and kinesiotaped the weak muscles. The client was immediately able to complete full push ups and hold a gun at eyeline. Two days later, he told me he did twenty full push ups without pain. Before he saw me he could only manage five half push ups with a lot of pain.

Tauy Bridges restoring balanced motion to a shoulder by muscle testing. The latissimus Dorsi is taped for strength effect. Pain eliminated Immediately.

How many Soft-Tissue Therapy sessions are needed? 

A major strength of Soft Tissue Therapy is its ability to make an instant difference in pain levels and body comfort in the first session. This occurs 95% of the time. Further treatments continue the release process. A huge dent occurs in many problems within 3-4 treatments.

Depending upon severity of the condition, treatment may need to be twice weekly initially for one to two weeks, usually however once weekly is enough until the condition stabilises and treatment can be push put to once every two to three weeks.

Many clients find Soft Tissue Therapy so beneficial to their life that regular monthly sessions are booked.

Soft Tissue therapy work holds anywhere from 3 days to three weeks. Exercise maintains and makes the passive release work hold even longer.

When an injury is viewed from a financial perspective, most problem areas require a minimum of $400- 1000 to fix.

Doing the prescribed rehabilitation exercises until the area has stabilised, getting regular Soft Tissue Therapy to aid in pain elimination and movement management bear great results.

This combination provides the best value for time and money outlaid per session. Your Soft Tissue Therapist wants to see you succeed and fully recover. It’s why we started learning this powerful healing modality in the first place!

About Chris Radnedge

Chris has a degree in human biology from the University of Canberra in addition to an Advanced Diploma of Soft Tissue Therapy from the Canberra Institute of Technology. Chris has been working as a remedial massage therapist and soft tissue therapist since year 2000. He has a special interest in musculoskeletal conditions, such as neck and low back pain, hip pain, whiplash, headaches, and nerve injuries. He uses kinesiotaping as an effective adjunct to his massage skills. Chris also uses structural bodywork techniques for scoliosis (curvature of the spine), spinal joint dysfunctions and for minimising whole body compensation strategies. He has worked with elite athletes from the AIS and enjoys working in conjunction with our physio and podiatry team members to get the best outcome for our clients. When Chris is not providing great massages, he can be seen practicing and teaching Kung Fu. He also enjoys relaxing in coffee shops, lifting weights, practicing yoga or watching cat videos on YouTube.