Mobilization (soft tissue mobilization)

March 22, 2017


Mobilization (soft tissue mobilization)

Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Manual therapy, physical therapy, range of motion, soft tissue mobilization.


  • Mobilization is a type of manual therapy, or hands on physical therapy usually practiced by chiropractors and physical therapists. The term "mobilization" deals with the manipulation of soft tissue encapsulating a joint, called fascia, and muscles over joints that have restricted range of motion. Fascia, muscles, and ligaments may tighten after an injury. Advocates, such as the Somatics System Institute, claim that these soft tissues around the bone need to be stretched in order to improve or restore range of motion. Tightness in joints, advocates claim, may also restrict the flow of blood, lymph nodes, and nerve signals in the area. Manual therapy may also promote proper restoration of joint function after an injury.

  • Range of motion is the ability to move a joint, such as the elbow, at the normal extent without pain. So, in the case of the elbow, you would be able to totally extend your forearm and then bend the elbow all the way. If you are unable to perform this task easily and without pain, you have restricted range of motion. Range of motion problems typically develop after injury. Ligaments may be torn, bursa may move out of place, or a bone may be broken or displaced. Range of motion is closely related to quality of life. If an elbow does not bend properly, it would be difficult to perform daily tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, and opening doors.

  • Patients seek soft tissue mobilization therapy for any number of joint complications, including those in the hands, feet, elbows, hips, neck, and spine.


  • Although available research proving the usefulness of mobilization is sparse, this therapy has been integrated into most physical therapy textbooks.


  • Typically, the therapist has the patient lie on a massage table or sit in a chair. The therapist will check most of the patient's joints for restricted range of motion. The therapist moves the joint at an angle or in a way that is difficult and/or painful for the patient to move on their own. The therapist relaxes the joint before applying more pressure. The intended goal is to increase range of motion without further stressing joints.

  • Soft tissue mobilization focuses on such range of motion difficulties.


  • Patients are advised to communicate with their manual therapists if their joints begin to feel uncomfortable in the process of receiving mobilization therapy. Open, honest communication with a practitioner is encouraged to receive maximum benefit from this treatment. A manual therapist does not want to bend joints in unusual positions, and every person has restrictions of what feels like a comfortable range of motion for them.

Author Information

  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Hunter G. Specific soft tissue mobilization in the management of soft tissue dysfunction. Man Ther. 1998 Feb;3(1):2-11. View Abstract

  2. Pretence WE, Voight ML. Techniques in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2001.

  3. The Somatics System Institute. 12 May 2006. http://www.somatics.org/

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017