Anybody who has had surgery or had an injury that needed mending may have heard this term. But what does this term mean and what is that important to the discussion of health?
Tissue has a general meaning in science, a grouping of cells that have shared or similar function. Blood and bone are tissues in this regard. When doctors say soft tissue, they are normally referring to the muscle, joints, and ligaments. When these “tissues” are damaged they may tear, rip, be bruised by contusion and so may begin to swell, redden, and emit pain signals. This is normally where I give my “muscle is a sausage” analogy so I might as well explain it proper (the body is not a simple machine, so to explain its inner workings doctors use layers and layers of models and analogies to help them understand what’s going on. A doctor’s job is understanding how these models are correct but also how they are flawed).
Muscles are bundled fibers programmed to pull in one direction. Because they have a common job they are grouped together by what biologists call fascia. Think of the fascia as the casein skin of a sausage. The muscle inside is bothgrouped and directed by the casing, but the muscle fibers move independently of the skin so that there is a level of friction going on between the skin casing (fascia) and the muscle inside. But what happens when the fascia gets stuck to the muscle, then we have what in medical terms is called an adhesion. The adhesion doesn’t permit the muscle to fully contract or relax and acts as a point of inflammation.
Scar tissue is formed in similar ways. When you are injured, the body’s immediate reaction is inflammation. This inflammatory reaction is what causes the swelling, redness, and pain. After the swelling and inflammatory phase has settled, the muscle fibers need to be repaired. But as the body repairs the damaged tissue it also forms scar tissue. Ever scratched your arm and watched a small scar form only to disappear slowly after a month? Same thing happens inside your body except the result of the scar is not an unsightly blemish, but an area of tightness. This represents itself to the patient as muscle tightness and soreness.
Ok hope you aren’t too nerded out after that boring description, but suffice it to say that muscles are like living sausages the function of which are hampered by injury that forms scar tissue and adhesions creating pain and dysfunction of the muscle group.