Soft Tissue and Your Back Pain

What role do your muscles play in your level of back pain?

Image of muscular system of man waving.
Muscles and fascia create your form.. design36

Soft tissue is a term that refers to a group of cells working together to connect, envelope, support and/or move the structures around it. The accurate use of this term spans several tissue types and body systems including muscle, connective, skin (integumentary system,) nervous system and circulatory system (blood vessels.)  

While any one of the above listed body systems or tissue types may play a role in your back pain and the healing of it, for spinal rehab (and also for understanding what happens in a surgery) you’ll mainly be concerned with just a few.

In general, “soft tissue” is used when describing muscles, tendons, ligaments and/or fascia.


The goal of therapy is usually to get muscles strong enough to support your back and flexible enough to allow you to easily move in all possible directions. 

Also, in a neck or back surgery your doctor may have to disrupt certain muscles in order to reach the particular structure on which she intends to operate.  If the surgery is a traditional type, i.e., it is not minimally invasive spine surgery (MAST), this may greatly impact your healing time.


Another important type of soft tissue for back and neck therapy is fascia.  Fascia is a covering that surrounds muscles at every level, from the microscopic cell, to the fiber bundles that comprise individual muscles to the muscles themselves, plus muscle groups and the entire musculoskeletal system. 

The purpose of fascia is to support the integrity and movement of muscles.

 Ideally, fascial fibers glide smoothly but when you’re injured, or you have posture issues, it can get stuck.  Because the fascia wraps around muscles, when it gets stuck, it can be mistaken for tight muscles.  

A technique called myofascial release can be employed to remedy this.  (It's often given as a treatment by massage therapists and other qualified practitioners.) If you're not in treatment, consider using tennis balls or a foam roller to work out the fascial “kinks” and “glitches” as you feel them.

  Warning this process may be painful!  But it's when used appropriately, it can result in improved movement freedom as well as pain relief.

Fascial fitness systems are gaining popularity, too.  Most involve myofascial release (as described above) plus bouncy movements to help restore the natural elasticity of the fascial covering. 

Ideas from the fascial fitness field have begun to permeate into more established systems such as yoga and Pilates.

Ligaments and Tendons

Having a bit of general working knowledge about the types of connective tissue that keep your bones together and your joints congruent can be useful for designing and carrying out your exercise experiences.  My point of view is that it’s good to know what you’re working with when you move, exercise or otherwise take part in your therapy. 

Ligaments connect the bones of a joint together to help prevent excessive (and harmful) movement in that joint.  Tendons connect muscles to bones.  And synovial fluid, found in synovial joints (for example, your facet joints), helps keep movement smooth and pain free by lubricating the space between the bones.

In the spine, synovial fluid is found in the facet joints.

The Role of Soft Tissue in Back Injury and Pain

Soft tissue neck and back injuries are pretty common.    If you injure a muscle, it’s called a strain; injury to a ligament is called a sprain. The severity of a soft tissue injury depends on its Grade. There are 3 Grades from 1 which is mild (such as a pulled muscle or tendon after a day of intense gardening) through 3 which represents a complete rupture (a very serious injury that requires emergency first aid and immediate medical attention.)

The condition or quality of your soft tissue can also influence your pain levels when they are deconditioned, tight and/or imbalanced (in terms of strength and flexibility.)

Soft Tissue Quick Fixes for Back Tension

Many times people complain of back pain when what they really have is tight hip muscles.  To possibly remedy this type of backache, consider stretching the following muscles. 

But if your low back pain really is due to tight low back muscles, consider trying this quick and easy tension tamer: Quick Back Muscle Release Program.

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