Specialty Program - Youth

Review of soft tissue mobility tools: best uses and biggest myths

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stretch affect
July 25, 2022

With so many mobility tools on the market, it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Choosing the correct mobility tool based on your issue(s) is crucial to improving faster without causing any unnecessary damage.

Decreased mobility does not all stem from the same issue AND someone can have more than one issue at a time.

Decreased mobility issues are either:

1. soft tissue: tendon, muscle, skin, fat, and fascia that typically connects, supports, or surrounds bone and internal organs
2. joint: the connection between bones in the body which link the skeletal system
3. neural: nerve tension rather than muscle tension. Eg. sciatica
4. motor control: control of muscles around each joint.

There are mobility tools that should be used specifically based on which category you fall into.

This article will focus on the various soft tissue mobility tools, but first let’s understand mobility and why it is important.

What is mobility and why is it important?

Mobility is defined as the ability to move or be moved freely and easily.

Each body segment has a minimal requirement of range to be deemed as normal and functional. If some body parts cannot meet these minimal requirements, this may lead to compensatory movements and increased risk of injury.

Having good mobility for each body part/segment requires good joint mobility, muscular flexibility and muscular control/coordination. If any one of these components are limited, they can prevent your mobility from reaching its full potential.

Soft tissue mobility issues and choosing the right mobility tools

Scar Tissue! Adhesions! Restrictions!

Have you ever been told your mobility or pain is caused by these?

There are altering schools of thought around these phenomena and how they appear or present in our soft tissues. Whether there are physical, mechanical, or neural components, a decrease in your soft tissue extensibility (capability of being stretched) can affect your mobility.

Your soft tissue quality can be impaired for many factors including:

  • Incorrect movements
  • Lack of movement
  • Repetitive injury
  • Direct trauma
  • Diet
  • Hydration
  • Medications

If soft tissue IS the problem we utilize various skilled manual therapies, mobility tools, and soft tissue mobilization techniques in order to help improve tissue quality, decrease tone, improve proprioceptive awareness, improve tissue perfusion, or even decompress the tissues.

These techniques and mobility tools include:

ART – Active Release Technique

Through manual manipulation and movement, active release technique entails identifying, isolating, and targeting the affected area to break up scar tissue. Relieving tissue tension and removing adhesions promotes blood flow and faster healing of injuries.

NOTE: You need access to a certified professional in ART to perform this properly.

Best use: break up fascial adhesions between two soft tissue structures.
Biggest myth: It’s a cure-all for all soft tissue dysfunction.

man lying on table getting active release
Active Release Technique

FM – Fascial Manipulation

Fascia work is not recommended if you’re using blood-thinning medications because the fascia manipulation can potentially release dangerous blood clots in your body.

Best use: Influences slide and glide of fascial tissue with manipulation of specific points of fascial overlap.
Biggest myth: It is only effective if it is painful.

IASTM – Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization

As opposed to ART, where a therapist uses manual manipulation to achieve results, IASTM uses specially designed instruments to search for areas of fascial and muscle restrictions. Once restrictions are found in the fascia the mobility tool is used to scrape over the skin. It’s theorized that scraping your tissues causes microtrauma to the affected area, thus sparking your body’s natural inflammatory response.

One of the most popular IASTM mobility tools is called Graston technique.

Graston has different stainless steel instruments with unique treatment edges and angles to deliver an effective means of manual therapy.

We have been getting great results from the STRIG mobility tool. STRIG is a newer player in the IASTM industry that uses advanced micro vibration and microcurrent technology to flush out lactic acid and untie deep knots.

Micro vibration stimulates your muscles directly to make them contract and relax faster. The microcurrent technology sends low-level electrical currents into your skin and fat layers, so it properly stimulates the deepest layers of muscle tissue.

Best use: Influences fascial tissue mobility to increase range of motion, neuromuscular re-education, and increase blood flow.
Biggest myth: Skin needs to turn red to have a beneficial affect.


MFD – Myofascial Decompression – Cupping

Luigi Stecco states: fascia is the only tissue that modifies its consistency when under stress and is capable of regaining its elasticity when subjected to manipulation.

By using suction, the cups have the ability to grab and lift the fascia increasing blood circulation; relieving muscle tension, and promoting cell repair.

The myofascial decompression approach is the only one of its kind that works in the lifting of adhesions with movement instead of compressing on tissues. The effectiveness of this technique is most evident with scar tissue. Scar tissue is formed in part by a decrease in blood flow, so it makes much more physiologic sense to pull on these structures instead of pressing down on them, which creates space for blood to flow.

Best use: Combines negative pressure to influence fascial mobility and neuromuscular re-education.
Biggest myth: It helps release toxins from the deeper tissues.

man with cupping on back

CFM – Cross Friction Massage

The biggest difference with cross friction massage as compared to regular massage is it is applied transversely (crosswise) to the specific tissue involved unlike a typical massage given in the longitudinal direction.

In order to get deeper friction, a practitioner using this method will use their knuckles or fingers to pinpoint the problem area.

Because friction massage causes a transverse movement of the collagen fibers, it helps in preventing adhesion formation.

Best use: Aids in alignment and healing of ligament and tendon injuries and tissue alignment.
Biggest myth: Breaks down scar tissue after an injury.

cross friction massage example
Cross Friction Massage


Massage helps with mobility by increasing the temperature of soft tissues promoting elasticity and reduces problems that adhesion’s and scar tissue can cause. It promotes the removal of waste products from the muscles which reduces swelling and relieves pain and inflammation. Massage relaxes muscles, stimulates blood and oxygen flow throughout your body so you can keep you moving and stay flexible.

Best use: General muscle tone reduction and encourages parasympathetic metabolic state (rest and digest)
Biggest myth: Equivalent to physical therapy soft tissue assessment and techniques

Self Myofascial Release

Self myofascial release includes various mobility tools you can use on your own to work out various trigger points that are causing issues. In simple terms, a trigger point is a small muscle knot that is very sensitive to the touch and is often associated with a decreased range of motion in the affected area. Self myofascial release is a practice that uses tools to target the fascia within your body. When applied, we can begin to unwind areas of holding, tension, and stress. We can improve blood flow and circulation, range of motion, and enhance mobility. We can become more relaxed and at ease within the body.

A variety of self mobility tools are available, some of the more popular ones are:

Foam Roller

The ubiquitous foam roller. The OG of mobility tools.

Foam rollers let you to do your own deep-tissue massage, hence “self” myofascial release. The process lets you use your own body weight to work out those myofascial adhesions.

There are so many types of foam rollers on the market now—basic foam, to hard plastic, knobbed ones, grooved ones, sticks, balls, and even vibrating ones.

How do you choose?

Smooth foam rollers are less likely to cause pain or bruising than their textured counterparts.

The more textured the foam roller, the more intense the feeling, these are good to target any knots in your muscles before your workout. The texture helps to stimulate blood flow in order to soothe muscles more quickly than the smooth rollers do, while also relieving tightness.

The traditional foam rollers are good for larger muscles like your quads and calves.

Balls are good If you need to target smaller muscles, like your chest and feet.

Sticks are good for on-the-go or when you aren’t going to lie on the ground.

Vibration rollers are great when your muscles need some extra attention. The combination of the rolling and vibration can help curb the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness.

Ultimately choose the one you will use and the one that fits into your budget.

Best use: reduces excessive muscle tone that’s built up over time from exercise or static posture.
Biggest myth: reduces delayed onset muscle soreness.

Massage Guns

Massage guns are all the rage, and for a good reason—they work! Even just 5 minutes!

A 2020 study showed that even for just 5 minutes, range of motion increases without losing any muscle performance. You can use these for both a warm-up regimen, to optimize and your loosen muscles, and increase flexibility prior to starting an event, and after as a recovery tool.

Best use: when you don’t have a lot of time to warm-up. Use prior to working out to increase flexibility
Biggest myth: you have to use a lot of pressure to get results.

One of the great things about these mobility tools is they allow you to work on yourself on your own time, which can keep you mobile, prevent injury and aid in recovery.

When it comes to choosing a mobility tool, it’s important to know which issue you need addressing so you can use the appropriate tool. Getting evaluated by a movement health professional is the best way to do this.

At Stretch Affect, we start with a full body movement assessment to assess mobility to truly determine what areas of your body require more mobility and which areas don’t so you won’t be left guessing!

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