What is Soft Tissue Manipulation?

Instructor: Veronika Polozkova

Masters in International Health. Lesson development experience on different levels from basic alimentary school to academic master level. Languages: English, Dutch, Russian

Soft Tissue Manipulation (STM) sounds complicated but is more often applied than you might think. Do you know what kinds of STMs there are? Find it out in this lesson.

Explaining the Definitions

Soft tissues are body tissues that connect, support or surround organs and hard tissues. For instance, muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, fat, vessels and nerves are all soft tissues. Soft Tissue Manipulation (STM) is a treatment method that covers a range of interventions that all aim to improve the health condition of a soft tissue. STM treatment technique can improve poor fluid circulation or oxygen supply, relieve pain, reduce swelling, increase or release tension in the soft tissue or mobilize scar tissue.

Soft Tissue Manipulation Methods

Soft Tissue Manipulation techniques date back to the ancient ages and are still widely used as effective treatments in both traditional and modern medicine. STM varies in methods and purposes. Many of the STM methods that we use today are inspired by the ancient knowledge. However now you can also apply new techniques like electric impulse therapy to stimulate the above described processes. The most commonly applied STMs in practice are massage therapy, manual therapy and acupuncture. They are often used to release tension and stiffness by applying pressure on specific points and/or soft tissues. Often STM is performed with hands, but at times massage tools are used like stones, rollers, needles, oils and creams. Deep tissue massage therapy is also common.

STM is often used for therapeutic purposes but can also be relaxing

Joint manipulation is also a form of STM. It is a passive movement of a joint that goes beyond its limit of motion. The procedure is characterized by a 'click' sound that results from the movement. Joint manipulation usually aims to restore the motion of a joint after prolonged motion loss or to reposition subluxation. There are risks that are associated with joint manipulation, especially when performed on the spinal joint. Symptoms like local discomfort, headache and tiredness can occur. But also more severe problems like strokes and rib fractures can result from joint manipulation. Therefore it is important that joint manipulation is performed by an expert.

Joint manipulation is a type of STM that includes moving joints which can be dangerous
joint manipulation

Who Can Perform Manipulation Practices?

All kinds of soft tissue manipulations can be performed by physical therapists that have a paramedical degree. But there are also separate certifications for different types of STM. For instance, a certified beautician or massage therapist can perform several types of massages as well. Deep tissue massage therapy can be performed by any professional with this certificate. For more advanced STM practices, like acupuncture or manual therapy, separate certifications are needed, in addition to the massage certification. This has to do with the fact that those are more invasive and can activate many processes in the body.

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