INTRODUCTION TO SOFT TISSUE THERAPY
Kyle Grimshaw-Jones ND, RT www.conscioushealing.com.au
Soft Tissue Therapy (STT) encompasses many relatively gentle and some not-so-gentle techniques of physical balancing of the human body, some of which are borrowed from recent advances in Osteopathic medicine. These include Neuro-Muscular Technique, Functional Technique, Respiratory Assisted Technique, Muscle Energy Technique, Jones' Strain-Counterstrain, Myofascial Release, and several others. All of these are aimed at restoring freedom and symmetry of motion and structure to the body. The flow of blood, lymph, and cerebrospinal fluid are enhanced, and nerve supply is restored to areas where it was previously restricted.
Many people who feel some aversion towards the harder styles of physical bodily adjustment are pleasantly relieved with the use of soft tissue therapy techniques. At the same time, because many of the techniques are very subtle, many people feel very sceptical of their effectiveness. The palpation skills required for the enactment of Soft Tissue Therapy are quite advanced. The practitioner must be able to feel very slight imbalances in the soft tissues of the body and adjust them accordingly.
Generally STT begins with the correction of the four transverse fascial diaphragms located at hip, lower rib cage border, upper thoracic collar (shoulder-height), and base of skull heights. These four diaphragms are ringlets of connective tissue which affect the alignment of many other connective tissues to which they attach. These are often twisted out of correct position, contributing to much postural distortion, bone malpositioning, restricted motion, and incorrect muscular proprioceptive response, resulting in tension, pain, and dysfunction.
Neck axial rotation is then corrected, and symmetry and freedom is assessed on many angles of joint motion from the feet towards the head, with the initial object being to secure proper alignment of the hips and sacrum resulting in even hips and even leg lengths. These are misaligned in most people due to poor postural and movement habits, old injuries, recent injuries, pain-avoidant adaptive movement patterns, stimulus-response-conditioned-reflexes, muscle reactivities, etc.
The period of physical manipulation in STT is only 50% of the conceptual effectiveness of the treatment. The other 50% is the integration period after each round of techniques, which usually lasts for a few minutes. During this time period the person must stand tall with their spine long and relaxed, and breathe gently and deeply while walking up and down the room. It is important to avoid fiddling or testing during this time period, as everything is definitely on the move.
During the first 30 seconds to 1 minute there is often felt a great difficulty balancing, as the brain's idea of where the muscles and bones are is slightly different from where they actually are, as the soft tissues have been repositioned. The resulting neurological confusion often produces dizziness and difficulty balancing. During the next 30 seconds to 1 minute the brain and nervous system overcompensate and attempt to tone up or tighten everything excessively. This can result in a temporary stiff tense feeling. During the next 30 seconds to 1 minute the brain, nerves, and muscles usually find a good balance.
The whole treatment and the walking-in process is best done with the client's clothes on. Clothes should therefore be reasonably loose fitting, with a closed-in crotch area, to respect client modesty. Dresses, skirts, tight jeans and other clothes that do not allow free leg and hip movement, or have an open crotch area, are somewhat inconvenient. Clothes that are too tight-fitting and need to be removed to accurately assess ranges of joint motion then need to be replaced to preserve client modesty during the walking-in period. This can result in the process being much less time-efficient, as there can be many walking-in periods during a treatment session. The movements involved in replacing clothing are also probably better avoided during the special brain re-learning time of the walking-in period.
At this point the hips and certain soft tissue symmetries can be reassessed, and if necessary readjusted and re-walked in until the corrections hold properly, at which time the brain, nerves, and muscles have learned the new symmetrical positions and motions.
Sometimes, though rarely, the walking in process can be dramatic and accompanied by pains, aches, emotional releases, and regressions through anaesthetic and other experiences. Often if this occurs, nerve supply is restored to the extremities of the body, and the person can experience tingling, pulsing, heat, numbness, and many other sensations in different parts of the body as they wake up from comparative numbness which they may have had for many years previously. Often the day after a set of soft tissue adjustments an individual can feel very sore, or like they have been hit by a truck. This is a sign of old pain and old injured feelings waking up and being re-experienced and released.
To maintain the corrections in posture that have occurred, good postural and movement habits need to be developed. This means learning to stand evenly weighted on both feet, to sit evenly weighted on both buttock cheeks, and preferably to not cross the legs, or definitely not above the ankles (unless done within the context of a a specific conscious physical discipline, and even then should be appropriate to your current body alignment, or balanced by a reverse crossing for an equal period of time). It is also best to avoid having anything in your back pocket while sitting.
Corrective exercises can be learned and practised at home. Tao Yin exercise instruction is available. These are ancient Chinese floor exercises from the Taoist tradition, which pre-date Tai Chi and Qi Gong. They are also the basis for these other excellent systems of exercise, and dramatically improve their enactment and proper performance.
Prospective clients may also appreciate the option of dividing their session time into first soft tissue therapy (for ½ of an hour for example), and then another style of bodywork (shiatsu or an oil-based massage for ½ of an hour for example).