Common causes, signs and symptoms of soft tissue dysfunction described

In order to create effective and efficient movement, it is essential that the soft tissues are functioning properly.

Any impairment of the soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage, will directly affect the quality and efficiency of movement.

Impairment of soft tissue is mainly caused by two factors which are dysfunction and injury.

At level 3, a sports massage therapist must understand that their role is to treat dysfunctional tissue to reduce the likelihood of injury occurrence. Injury recognition is a key part of a Level 3 SMT’s role, but only so that they can refer a client to a more qualified professional where necessary. Diagnosis and treatment of injury is not appropriate at this level. Only an acute or chronic injury has been treated by an appropriately qualified professional, a level 3 SMT may be called upon to treat the ongoing dysfunction, again to reduce the likelihood of any future injury occurrence.


Common causes of soft tissue dysfunction are as follows:

– Body composition.

– Lifestyle imbalances – movements, psychological stress etc

– Repetitive occupational movements.

– Occupational stress.

– Hobbies – repetitive movements, physical demands.

– Resting positions (sleeping position/relaxing position).

– Poor/imbalanced posture.

– Altered/poor movement technique (walking/exercise).

– Synergistic dominance.

– Altered joint mechanics.


During a client assessment many of the potential causes, signs and symptoms may be highlighted, and often there is no clear historic incident which caused the dysfunction. The truth is that one or all of these factors could be causing the problem, and the SMT may not be able to identify the specific cause of a specific dysfunction. The SMT, therefore, has to be able to prioritise effectively.

Reported (subjective) causes, signs or symptoms can be discussed with the client and actions can be agreed to minimise the negative effects (e.g. a firmer pillow could be recommended for someone who is showing signs and/or reporting symptoms of dysfunction at the neck and shoulders).

Objective causes, signs or symptoms can be considered whilst planning treatment options for the client. Should there be signs of many objective causes, the SMT may have to focus on the biggest issues in the first instance and plan to move onto other potential causes later in the programme of treatment.


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