Monday, 03 January 2011 14:58

Soft Tissue

Why do I bang on so much about tight muscle and the soft tissue?

Much of our work, both medically (allopathic) and therapeutic (complementary), has been based on an essentially mechanistic model of anatomy. This model has been (and continues to be) a good approach to teaching of anatomy and physiology but it is of rather less value for the average body therapist.

That is because this model separates each movement into discrete actions of muscle-bone-joint. And fails to demonstrate or describe the flowing integration of a living person (or animal). In practice, when any one part moves, it all moves. Not only that, you do it without having to think about it – your brain gives the directions but it all happens synchronistically and, generally, perfectly.

An exercise I like doing in class is to close your eyes and then touch your nose with either index finger. Try it now, before reading on. Most people do this without any problem or difficulty. And yet, just for a moment, think what this ‘simple’ exercise involves.

When a compressive structure, eg a building, is damaged it is often confined to a point of impact; the damage is local and other parts of the structure are often unaffected. Who among older readers remembers seeing pictures of that block of flats with one corner completely collapsed but the rest of the structure valiantly standing put?

This has been the predominant opinion for the structure of the human form. A pile of bones standing upright against gravity, moved by the muscle.

We are not built like a standard building, we are essentially a tensegrity* structure. The bones act as spacers to hold the muscles apart and act as levers when we move. It is not so much that the bones are the structure upon which the muscles hang but rather that the muscles support the bones, hold them in place and move them about. This also illustrates the conflicting functions of the soft tissue; form and movement.

In this approach pain or injury can appear at a distance from the ‘impact’, often a place of weakness or previous injury. So, simply to work on ‘where the pain is’ will not resolve the problem.

I can best illustrate the wonder of the human being in its totality (not just the human body) by some examples:

Snooker – yes, we could look at the positions of the balls, calculate angles, allow for the weight of the ball and the coefficient of friction on the ‘green baize’ and side cushions and predict the result of a given thrust in a specific direction. But a good snooker player can work it all out in his mind and make the precise thrust in a precise direction to get the precise result (within a tolerance) – and all without writing down a single calculation.

Darts – most of us can throw a dart at a dart-board and most of us can hit the board most of the time. A professional can hit the treble-twenty most of the time. Think what this entails. A thorough knowledge of where the person is in space (feet, body and hand), a certain grip on the dart, knowledge of the flight characteristics of the dart, correct amount of force to ensure the missile sticks in the board and doesn’t just drop out (or fall short, or go right through the board). Balance, poise, accuracy of hand-eye co-ordination and all at about 8 feet distance.

And what of the pianist or, for that matter, the player of any musical instrument? S/he often plays at speed complex patterns of notes, reading at the same time. With some instruments there is not even a mark or key to help find the note (strings, trombone for example) so it is all ‘guesswork’.

We need to appreciate two important facts about soft tissue:

  1. Each muscle is not simply connected to bone in an isolated way. Often two or more muscles share a bony attachment and often muscles inter-digitate together at their junctions.
  2. In addition, all tissue is encased in fascia (or connective tissue) which is a continuous sheath surrounding and supporting muscles and organs. In effect, it is all hanging around in pockets in this continuous fascia. Even bone has fascia around it.

Tom Myers (Anatomy Trains) wrote “… muscles [also] operate along functionally integrated body-wide continuities …. “ In his video he demonstrates this by basically filleting a body and leaving continuous sheets of muscle and connective tissue. He is looking at anatomy in a particular way to draw out main lines of tension in the body and he highlights seven “lines” as he calls them. The attachments to the bones are merely ‘stations’ on the way. At the same time he recognises that there are other influences across and between the lines.

This, then, is why I consider that the soft tissue is of prime importance in all illness as well as in the more obvious physical pains.

In this view of the human being, the ideas of symptom shows problem defines treatment fall down. We have to take a wider look at the complete person, mental and emotional as well as physical. It also twists around any system that works from position of the bones as a primary diagnostic and then seeks to put it where it ‘should’ be. Simply moving a bone will not restore tissue function.

In my approach I am more interested in freedom of the form, of pain free movement, than I am in simple structural alignment. It has been noted by various medics that a person with severe low-back pain can have a perfectly aligned spine in x-ray; and someone with seemingly dire spinal misalignments can be pain free and moving freely. In my own treatments I have noted that there is no direct relationship between the severity of spinal curves and the level of pain.

Whichever way you look to interpret this information, the message is, whatever the problem or pain, if you don’t release the soft tissue you are wasting your time (and the client’s money).

* coined in architecture by Buckminster Fuller, and characterised by continuous tension and local compression.

PS I can recommend the Anatomy Trains book and video from Tom Myers. (Don’t get the video if you are squeamish about dead bodies – it’s horrid, but excellent learning.)

Related Video

Add comment