Looking at techniques: Soft Tissue Manipulation

One of the key techniques employed by Osteopaths is soft tissue manipulation (STM) or more commonly recognised as massage. Used for centuries to treat muscular and joint issues worldwide, this is a hands-on approach to create a change in the tissues. It is a very popular form of treatment with 87% of physical/manual therapists using this on a daily basis.

There are many different types of STM used by practitioners, some of the most common are:

  • Effleurage – gliding or sliding movement over the skin
  • Petrissage – lifting, wringing, or squeezing in a kneading motion or pressing or rolling the tissues
  • Friction – penetrating pressure applied through the fingertips
  • Tapotement – striking of the tissues
  • Vibration

Looking at the benefits and why we are using STM is vital to understanding what we try to achieve when we use the techniques and which techniques are suitable for your treatment. When discussing soft tissue, this doesn’t just include the muscles but also the connective tissues such as fascia, tendons and ligaments, blood vessels, lymphatic system and even nerves.

All of these different tissues are made up of cells and all cells need fluids to survive as this  supples nutrients and removes waste. These cells can then help keep the body working on a stable playing field (homeostasis), promoting tissue growth and regeneration, and supporting healing and repair.

These cells are fed through the blood vessels which, can be enhanced through STM. It can improve blood flow which will have a positive effect on the quality and speed of healing. Alongside this in the lymphatic system which also benefits from the increased lymph flow and can boost the immune system.

Muscles can benefit from STM through decreased recovery time after exercise, increasing muscle strength, counteracting the effects of ageing and improving healing after an injury. These techniques have also been shown to improve outcomes such as increasing the range of motion of a joint.

STM can have an effect temporarily reducing or eliminating pain. Through increasing levels of mood hormones such as serotonin and endorphin, there is the possibility of reducing anxiety, depression and pain. There is also a positive noted effect on the vagus nerve resulting in a decrease in stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate.

For more information on how you can benefit from STM at your osteopathy appointment please get in touch.

M T Loghmani and M Whitted, 2016, Soft Tissue Manipulation: A powerful form of Mechanotherapy, Vol 1, Issue 4, Journal of Physiotherapy and Physical Rehabilitation

D Bervoets et al, 2015, Massage therapy has short-term benefits for people with common MSK disorders compared to no treatment: a systematic review. Vol 61 Issue 3 P106-116 Journal of Physiotherapy

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