Tissue Tolerance before Soft Tissue Injury

Tissue Tolerance before Soft Tissue Injury


  • What do our tissues do?
  • How much work they are designed for?
  • How much work is too much?
  • How do we overdo the limits of our tissues?
  • What consequences can overdoing have?

Those are the questions I want to at least partially answer.

Understanding the idea behind tissue tolerances is key to the whole process of getting things done without suffering pain or disability. And key to injury recovery and pain management.

We’re all superbly designed for our daily activities so we can achieve the things we want or need to do. Our bodily tissues cope with the demands of moving our heavy bodies about and with any jobs we perform. We don’t usually think about it at all, we just get on with the stuff we are doing.

Until, that is, suddenly we have to do something different, something heavier or for a much longer period of time. Then we notice. Even then, it may not be much. Just a feeling of muscle soreness or an ache in a joint which settles in hours or days.

But sometimes it’s much worse than that, we get severe stiffness or pain after doing something, or even a soft tissue injury.

Body Building

I love the documentary programmes showing how the world’s biggest ship or the world’s most advanced aircraft engines are made. The complexity and attention to detail are staggering.

The engineers choose the designs and the materials to suit the stresses and strains the various parts of the machines must cope with to do their job best without failing.

Our bodies’ tissues are exactly the same. Each part of our body is “designed” to do a particular job and cope with a range of stresses and strains. Bone supports us and takes compressions strains, ligaments hold our joints together, muscles move us about, tendons transfer forces from our muscles to our bones, cartilage makes our joints easy to move under load.

Each tissue has its job. And each tissue has its “breaking point” in terms of the amount of force that we can apply and not suffer any effects. Luckily we don’t test our tissues to their actual breaking points all that often. Soft tissue injuries are common however.

This idea of our tissues having a tolerance for physical stresses is logical but quite difficult to grasp as it mostly just doesn’t occur to us.

Do and Overdo

As we do things our tissues change and react to the forces involved in a way that machines don’t.

  • Imagine cleaning a window. That was ok wasn’t it? No after effects, no aches and pains.
  • Imagine cleaning five windows. How are things now? Perhaps next day you have a bit of muscle soreness, a bit of shoulder or neck pain.
  • Imagine cleaning fifty windows. How’s that? I’m betting you’re in a lot of pain and having difficulty moving your neck and arm properly for several days after.

Those muscles that contract and relax hundreds of times, those joints which bend and stretch, those tendons which slide back and forth and those lubrication sacs which reduce friction are all under stress with this kind of activity. Too much stress and they become inflamed and painful. This doesn’t happen to the window cleaner as he’s had years of training and his tissues are used to it.

Overdoing means any activity done often enough or long enough to cause an inflammatory reaction in the tissues, indicated by pain and stiffness. This is a soft tissue injury.


Exercise is a very common way that we overdo activities in daily life.

When we exercise, we cause what we call micro-trauma to the muscles concerned. This is good as it forces our muscles to repair, which they do and then respond by getting bigger and stronger.

Our tendons move back and forwards rapidly which can lead to the inflammation of acute tendonitis. Lubricating sacs help reduce the friction of our body parts against one another and can become inflamed with too much repetition. Anyone who has developed housemaid’s knee after kneeling too much will know what I mean.

So it’s fine if you don’t overdo it. I did once in particular. I caused so much micro-trauma that it wasn’t micro any more! The normal process of inflammation occurred at a much greater degree than I’d anticipated. This gave me widespread soft tissue injury and a high level of pain for a few days.

I had overstepped the tolerance of my tissues to physical stress. So I paid for it.

We all have tissue tolerances and it’s ok if we mostly don’t push our luck. But when we do push our luck it can have unpleasant consequences such as soft tissue injury or more and I’ll get onto that in another post.

Speak Your Mind