Soft Tissues, What Are They?
Soft tissues can be found throughout the body and serve several functions depending on their location. These tissues include fat, muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels and each serves a distinct purpose within the body.
Together, these tissues help to:
- Support organs and bone tissue
- Give structure to the body
- Defend neighboring tissues from impact
- Store energy
- Deliver pain and other sensation to the brain
Even the lightest trauma to these tissues can have severe consequences if left untreated. Overtime, as these tissues break down, they can induce pain, decrease flexibility, and reduce a patient’s energy level.
How Do Soft Tissues Break Down?
Due to their relatively flexible structure, soft tissues can withstand several types of moderate injury. These tissues can take light impacts and recover almost completely thereafter. What truly hurts these tissues is sustained use after an injury or acute damage.
Neglecting soreness in a muscle after an intense workout or continuing to use a joint after an acute injury can spell disaster for the structures around these tissues. As the physical dynamics of an injured body part change and as a person continues to use these body parts as if nothing was the matter, the soft tissues within begin to break down.
Cartilage wears away and the once cushioned bones begins to grind against their neighbors. Tendons rupture and disrupt the natural rhythm of a person’s movements. Muscles wane and ligaments break. All of these issues can stem from external inciting events, like an impact or repetitive strain, or some type of abnormality within a person’s body.
Once the natural foundation of the structures in our body’s change – be it through strain, injury, or abnormalities – it can be difficult for them to recover.
How Does a Workout Break Down Soft Tissues?
By definition, a workout involves a session of guided tissue damage. During a workout, muscle fibers tear. As the body works to repair this damage, it adds mass to the muscle tissues, fortifying them against further harm. If these muscles aren’t allowed to heal properly or if a person doesn’t incorporate the proper form into their workout, the surrounding network of tissues suffer.
Improper technique in a workout can cause irreparable damage to the structures which allow us to be dexterous and our motions to be fluid. By putting strain where it shouldn’t be placed during a workout, we damage the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments which support the extra strain. Overtime, these structures break down and cause further instability when working out.
If an individual keeps working out with improper form and has injured the structures surrounding the muscles, they will begin to experience a host of symptoms which could indicate a more extensive issue.
What are the Signs to Watch Out For?
Soft tissue degeneration in any part of the body leads to many of the same symptoms. These can range from mild discomfort to complete loss of feeling if the problem is left unchecked. Some of the most common signs to look out for are:
- Pain, especially acute pain in a single area
- Reduced range of motion
- Sensitivity at far end of motion
- Popping or cracking sensations
It should be noted that if these problems are chronic, there may be a deeper issue and you may want to consult a physician for an examination. The earlier an issue is detected, the more likely a person will be to recover full functionality of the inured area.
How is Soft Tissue Damage Diagnosed?
If the symptoms of soft tissue damage have already developed into an acute issue, something that occurs almost daily. This may be enough to indicate a deeper soft-tissue related injury. For issues which are just beginning, it may be a little more difficult to determine the inciting factor.
In the beginning of a consultation for probable soft tissue damage, doctors will rely on tested physical examination methods. Palpation of the effected area along with extension to the limits of it’s outer motion will allow doctors to access the condition of the underlying tissues near the site of pain.
By applying these methods, doctors attempt to recreate the pain in their patients. The less a person can move and the more acute their pain, the more developed a doctor will believe that their soft tissue injury is.
A likely follow up to these physical examinations will be the implementation of medical imaging technologies. For soft tissue related injuries, doctors may use X-rays, MRIs, and CAT scans.
X-rays will give doctors an idea of the bone structures near the site of pain. They will be on the lookout for abnormalities in these structures and use these to determine if they may be causing tissues to break down.
MRIs and CAT scans go further by examining the actual state of the soft tissues. Arteries, tendons, ligaments, muscles, fat tissue, and cartilage can all be shown through the use of such technologies.
If the doctor determines that a patient has suffered soft tissue damage. They will develop an action plan to help the patient recover and talk to them about their functional goals and whether or not these can be achieved given the condition of the broken-down soft tissues.
How Can You Recover After Soft Tissue Injuries?
There are a number of methods at a patient’s disposal when treating soft tissue injuries. If pain management is their number one priority. Noninvasive treatments such as physical therapy and over-the-counter medication may be all they need. If pain is acute, more extreme measures may be taken such as prescription medication or surgical intervention.
One method which has recently gained notoriety in the field of treatment for soft tissue deterioration is regenerative therapy. Treatments such as stem cell and platelet rich plasma therapy are among some of the most popular in this field of medicine.
These methods use tissues extracted from a patient in order to amplify the body’s own repair mechanisms. Once extracted and processed. The tissues used in these treatments are injected back into a patient at the site of their injury. These injections cling to an injury and send out chemical impulses which attract growth factors to heal broken-down tissues.
In addition to boosting the body’s repair mechanisms, these treatments are gaining popularity due to their unobtrusiveness – most procedures are done in a day and have minimal side effects which include light swelling.
Soft tissue damage may put a strain on your physical endeavors, but there are solutions. Make sure that you are aware of the symptoms before these issues get out of hand. And if they do manage to become bothersome, take the time to get the issues checked out and treated before returning to your regular activity.