Soft Tissue Types and Examples

What role do your muscles, fascia and ligaments play in your level of back pain?

Soft tissue describes the type of cells that work together to connect, envelope, support and/or move surrounding structures. In general, “soft tissue” is commonly used to describe muscles, tendons, ligaments and/or fascia. But several other tissue types and body systems contain soft tissue as well, including fat, skin, nerves, and blood vessels.

While all soft tissue plays a role in your back pain and its healing, a few are consistently involved in spinal rehabilitation.

Massaging Lower Back with Foam Roller
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Muscles 

Muscles are the engines of movement. They surround joints, protecting them, and working together to provide motion.

Muscles contract and relax, a process that is directed by the nervous system.

Building enough muscle strength to support your back while providing the flexibility to easily move in all possible directions is among the goals of spinal physical therapy.

If you've has spine surgery, your surgeon may have made incisions into certain muscles for access to structures during surgery—whether you've had an open surgical repair or a minimally invasive spine surgery (MAST). The healing process after surgical incision into your muscles can be optimized with physical therapy.

Soft Tissue Quick Fixes for Back Tension

Muscles and other types of soft tissue play an important role in your low back health. For example, tight hip muscles can place pressure on your spine muscles, causing soreness or pain.

To remedy backaches that are caused by tight hip muscles, consider the following stretches: 

If your low back pain is caused by tightness of your low back muscles, consider trying a quick back muscle release program.

Fascia

Fascia is another important type of soft tissue that comes into play during back and neck therapy. Fascia is a covering that surrounds small muscle fiber bundles and large muscle groups.

Fascia helps support the integrity and movement of muscles. Ideally, fascia fibers glide smoothly. But when you’re injured or develop chronic posture issues, the fascia can thicken. Because the fascia wraps around muscles, it can be mistaken for muscle tension when it thickens. 

A technique called myofascial release is often employed by manual therapists to remedy this.

If your healthcare provider has diagnosed you with inflammation of the fascia and you're not in a formal treatment program, consider using tennis balls or a foam roller to work out the fascial kinks. Self-myofascial techniques may result in pain relief and increased range of motion due to the release.

Fascial fitness systems are gaining popularity, too. Most involve myofascial release, as described above, combined with bouncy movements to help restore the natural elasticity of the fascia. Ideas from the fascial fitness field have begun to permeate into more established systems such as yoga and Pilates.

Ligaments and Tendons

Ligaments are tough bands of connective tissue that strap the bones of a joint together. Because they cross joints, they help prevent excessive, potentially harmful, movement.

Tendons, made of a similar type of connective tissue, attach your muscles to your bones. When a muscle contracts, it tugs on the tendon that arises from it, and the tendon moves the bone to which it is attached.

The Role of Muscle and Other Types of Soft Tissue in Back Injury and Pain

Mild neck and back soft tissue injuries are pretty common. Such injuries are graded according to type and severity.

If you injure a muscle or tendon, it’s called a strain; injury to a ligament is called a sprain.

  • Grade 1 is mild: an example is a pulled muscle or tendon after a day of gardening or yard work. Fibers may be slightly damaged.
  • Grade 2 is moderate: there is partial tearing of fibers, and if near a joint, movement may be loose when it is moved in some directions.
  • Grade 3 is severe: represents a complete tear or rupture. It is a very serious injury that requires emergency first aid and immediate medical attention. 

The overall condition of your soft tissue can also influence your pain levels, especially when they are out of shape, too tight, or overstretched. An exercise program that emphasizes alignment and balance through the body may contribute to the health and stability of your muscles and fascia, and prevent strain or sprain of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

 

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3 Sources
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  2. Schroeder AN, Best TM. Is self myofascial release an effective preexercise and recovery strategy? A literature reviewCurrent Sports Medicine Reports. 2015;14(3):200-208. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000148

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