One of the benefits of sports massage and soft tissue therapy is the normalisation of fluid movement in the body. Our bodies are made up of soft tissues, bones and fluids including blood and lymph. For the body to work at its best all of these interconnected aspects need to move, flow or glide at their optimum. In the case of blood, it needs to flow around the network of arteries, veins and compartments without being impeded. Normal flow is essential for homeostasis, transportation of oxygen and nutrients and the removal of toxins and metabolic waste products.
If blood flow is blocked in some way then the fluid becomes stagnant; the good stuff doesn’t get delivered and the bad stuff isn’t removed. It is the stagnant fluids in and around tissues which can lead to muscles or soft tissues becoming fibrotic – i.e.stuck together. You may experience pain because sensory receptors are aggravated by the increase in pressure on them. Movements can become restricted because of fibrotic adhesions, meaning you don’t get full range of movement and can feel stiff.
Blood plays a vital role in the repair of tissues. The first phase of injury repair is inflammation – if you want to read more about the processes involved in healing a muscle strain read this post. It explains the role of blood and blood vessels during the various healing stages. There is also the immune function of blood to keep in mind. Circulating within blood are white blood cells which defend against disease and the antibodies within blood seek out and eradicate bacteria and viruses. Without good blood flow these processes won’t function properly.
With soft tissue therapy areas of tightness and reduced movement can be addressed. Techniques used by the therapist increase the flow of blood which is especially important because venous flow (that which is returning to the heart in the veins) is not under pressure from the heart. Venous flow relies on compression of veins (such as occurs during muscle contraction) to increase pressure and force the fluid in the right direction. We’ve written about lymphatic drainage elsewhere; that post gives more details on this aspect of the circulatory system.