What is Soft Tissue Occupational Therapy Treatment?

Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment focuses on treating musculoskeletal pain and injury through diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. Treatment may also involve prevention and performance enhancement as to improve the resilience and functioning of the musculoskeletal system. The overall aim of therapy is to heal and restore function to injured and weakened body parts, as well as to aid and promote wellbeing. 

What exactly is “soft tissue”? 

The soft tissue of the body involves the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and fascia, all which allow us to freely move and participate in activities. These soft tissues provide us the strength and flexibility to maintain our posture, and to support our movement. Unfortunately, the soft tissues of our body are prone to injuries such as: muscle tears, sprains, postural misalignments and other trauma and injury, all of which require soft tissue occupational therapy treatment.  All of these injuries can occur during our day-to-day lives, from work, exercise, hobbies, and even sleep may result in soft tissue issues. Alongside these injuries, as we age, our soft tissues begin to deteriorate. This reduction in our soft tissue function often leads to disability and other negative consequences to our health and quality of life – if our body doesn’t allow us the function to do the things we love, this will then reduce our mental wellbeing. Therefore, it is important to look after our soft tissues and to maintain optimal strength throughout our lifespan. 

What is occupational therapy? 

Occupational therapy is a widely varied profession. At its core, occupational therapy is interested in what people ‘do’ in their daily lives. This is to allow people to ‘do’ what they need to do independently, despite any injury, disability or other factors a person may have that would cause difficulty with tasks. Everything you ‘do’ – activities such as eating, self-care, working, sleeping, socialising, and cleaning are what we occupational therapists refer to as “occupations” (it’s not just your job!). Participating within these daily occupations can become difficult when we are experiencing pain or fatigue from soft tissue injuries or disorders. A soft tissue occupational therapist specifically specialises within musculoskeletal conditions – we assess and provide treatment to allow you to optimally function and live the best quality of life possible. Occupational therapists work with people from all age groups – from children, to teenagers, to young adults, to working adults, to parents, to older adults, and all other ages in between. Soft tissue occupational therapists work across all conditions (related to soft tissue) – from sprains and strains to conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic pain.  

Occupational therapists are: 

  • Holistic. This means that the therapy is person-centred. We focus on your needs and prescribe personalised treatment that will work best for you. Everyone is different and therefore not all treatment approaches will be the same, and therefore treatment will be effective.   

How does a soft tissue occupational therapist compare to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist? 

Occupational therapist: A soft tissue occupational therapist is very ‘hands on’ with treatments. You will never attend a soft tissue occupational therapy appointment where you aren’t treated with trigger point therapy, myofascial release, dry needling or other neuromuscular treatments. Because we are experts in occupational analysis, we review each individual and consider how your injury/musculoskeletal disorder/pain is impacting on your life. We look at your daily occupations such as work or your role in caring for kids and consider how these habits and routines may be contributing to your pain. We also review your mental health and how stress may be impacting on your pain experience. In doing so, we are searching for the root cause and provide appropriate treatment to allow you to become pain-free as to allow you perform the daily activities you need to do.  

Physiotherapist: A physiotherapist will help reduce pain by treating the muscles accordingly to improve the ability of your body to perform movements. The goal of physiotherapy is to restore normal movement and reduce symptoms.

Exercise physiologist: An exercise physiologist will assist with preventing injury, managing injury, and improving physical functioning. Exercise Physiologists are experts in exercise prescription for the rehabilitation of injury. An exercise physiologist has a ‘hands off’ approach to therapy, which consists of physical exercises and stretching to treat your injury.  

What does soft tissue occupational therapy treatment involve? 

Our body may experience all kinds of traumas, injuries and pain throughout its lifespan. Common conditions and symptoms of musculoskeletal dysfunction may include:  

Headaches, migraines, back pain, muscle spasms, muscle pain, referred pain, chronic pain, unexplained pain, frozen shoulder, fatigue, joint aches, rotator cuff issues, whiplash, overuse injuries, occupational strain, tendinosis, sciatic pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, sporting injuries and so on.  

Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment can assist with all these conditions and symptoms, through the usage of multiple techniques to relieve pain: 

Postural assessment: Occupational therapists will assess your posture to determine if any of your muscle tightness has contracted (shortened) your muscles enough to cause postural changes within your body – which can lead to other pain and imbalance within your muscles. By assessing your posture, we can determine what muscles are tense and what muscles are over-stretched, as to treat accordingly.  

Trigger point release therapy: Trigger point therapy involves finding the trigger points within your muscles and applying massage to reduce the pain. Trigger points are hypersensitive or painful spots found within your muscles – they are essentially the knots within your muscles that are associated with tightness and pain. Pressing on these points may be painful and refer pain to elsewhere in your body (headaches are a great example of referred pain). Trigger points may disappear on their own, or exist until they are treated through a trigger point ‘release’. Trigger points reduce your muscle ‘length’, meaning that your muscle may have difficulty with contracting (tensing) and extending (stretching). When your muscle does not have full length, blood and lymph flow is reduced within the area, causing the body to heal slower and accumulate more waste products within the area, maintaining pain.  

Myofascial release: This involves hands-on massage treatment, moving through your muscles and fascia to allow them to ‘release’, improving blood flow and lymphatic circulation. Fascia is a web-like covering every muscle, allowing them to stay in place within your body. When the fascia is tight, this results in poor blood circulation, reduced oxygen supply, and reduced removal of waste products and toxins that cause inflammation. Over time, this means that pain becomes chronic, our muscles and joints stiffen, and this causes premature ageing. Trigger point therapy and myofascial release go hand in hand.  

Dry needling therapy: This therapy involves the placement needles within the trigger points of your body. Needles are commonly used to treat deeper muscles that are difficult to palpate by hand. The needle is inserted within the trigger point as to release the knot and relieve any spasms.  

Exercise/stretching prescriptions: Soft tissue occupational therapists prescribe basic stretching and strengthening program. nThis is to assist with reducing pain at home, and to assist with strengthening a newly healed muscle to prevent the recurrence of an injury. Exercise physiologists are experts in exercise prescription. If your condition is requires a greater level of stretching and strengthening then we can refer you to our expert exercise physiologists who will provide the appropriate exercises for you.  

Self-management techniques: Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment involves your active involvement – you are in control of what happens to your body! Your soft tissue occupational therapist may recommend equipment and provide education to allow you to best manage your pain outside the clinic and prevent it from recurring in the future.  

In conclusion,  

After receiving soft tissue therapy, you can: 

  • Reduce your pain (no more headaches, no more lower back pain, no more tightness), which will allow you to participate in doing the things that are most important to you: doing activities with your family, working, participating in your hobbies, socialising with friends. 
  • You will also receive health benefits such as increased muscle strength and overall increased wellbeing – mentally and physically without the burden of chronic pain. Focusing on your health now will provide benefit far into the future. 

At Urban Health HQ our highly trained Soft Tissue Occupational Therapists will use hands on approaches to help treat your injuries, conditions or any concerns you may have. You can make an appointment today or contact us by calling 0411 563 391 or email kristen@urbanhealthhq.com.au 

Published by Urban Health HQ

We are a health and fitness centre offering Occupational Therapy, Exercise Physiology, Personal Training and Group Fitness classes.

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