Myth Busters-Painful Soft Tissue Work

Q and A Time!
You ask, I answer. Here is a very common question I get and thought I would address here. Any future questions you want answered, please post them in the comments section and I will add them to the list.

You seem to be a proponent of non painful soft tissue work, but very few do this and yet they get results. How can non painful tissue work even work? I thought the point of tissue work was to get in there to break up scar tissue, adhesions, etc? Please explain.

Thanks for the question. You are absolutely correct that I am not a fan of painful soft tissue work at all as wrote in my Get Off the Foam Roller post for the reasons outlined there.

Your question about how can other get results is a good one. My thoughts are that they are simply providing a new “stimulus” to the nervous system and probably also altering the “perception” by the nervous system. This is based off of theNeuromatrix of Pain by Melzach and Wall. The premise is that pain can be from all sorts of stuff and since pain lives in the brain, our options are to alter either the stimulus or the perception of it. Even though some work is painful and I feel that this has consequences elsewhere in the body in terms of OVERALL function, it does work in some cases to change the stimulus and perception.

Biomechanical Approach
I do feel that thinking in terms of only a biomechanical approach (this muscle is tight/short, locked long, weak, etc) will eventually run into a ceiling as it is the nervous system that controls the show; so we should shift our thinking towards neurological solutions to neurological “movement problems”. I know this was a longer transition for me as I did the biomechanical route for many years and even went to graduate school for biomechanics during my first go round. Does this mean that those using a biomechanical approach can not get results? Of course not, but I don’t feel it is optimal and at some point you may be back to where you started as you chase things around the body. Remember that the body is HIGHLY INTEGRATED and complex. Physiology is messy.

Myth Busters to the Rescue!
Here is an analogy–ever watched the show Myth Busters? I love that show, and there is an episode where they put money into a very expensive safe and then proceeded to use a cutting torch to get into the safe. They got in, but found that they vaporized all the money in the process! Crap! I think painful, high force tissue work is like breaking into a safe with a cutting torch. Does it work many times? YES, of course! Does it result in OVERALL better function–sometimes yes and sometime no. I think by using the correct combination on the lock (propricoptive, visual, vestibular and even hands on work via Z Health) you can get into the safe in a much safer and effective method.

What is too Painful?
If you have to change the tone of your face (look like you were sucking on a lemon ya sourpuss or any extra tension) or change your breathing (this counts breath holding), it is too much pressure/pain. Either way, you want to test it and see if there was the desired result.

Hope that helps!

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