Some screws are made of soft material (plastics, soft metals, wood, etc); some are made of hard material (e.g. hardened steel). Some screw-removal devices (screwdrivers, drills) have tips made of soft materials, and some — you guessed it — hard materials.

Use a hard material (like a metal bit) or an aggressive technique (full power drill) on a very soft material (like a wooden or plastic screw) or even a not-so-hard metal screw (e.g. cheap IKEA hardware), you will likely strip the screw.

If you’ve ever used a drill or screwdriver on a screw that won’t budge, only to strip away some of the grooves that give the screw-head it’s turn-ability, you know what a headache this can be.

Similarly, some of our body parts are hard (bones); some are soft (muscles, connective tissue, organs, skin, etc). Some massage instruments are hard (e.g. lacrosse ball); some are soft (e.g. Roll Model® Therapy Ball).

If you use a soft object without enough pressure (the topic I discussed in my last post), the worst that happens is…not much of anything; it is ineffective and you learn that you need a harder object or a technique that creates more leverage.

Our soft tissues include the parts labeled above, among others.

But press too hard on soft parts, whether by technique or the mere density of the tool, and the worst case is a lot worse – you can create pain, stimulate the nervous system in a counterproductive manner, and even cause damage to your tissues.

In body terms, stripping a screw, so to speak, equates to common self-massage injuries such as pinching or impinging a nerve, causing inflammation (we want to reduce inflammation with massage, not create more), or bruising a tissue. These are all counterproductive to the intention of massage, and thus should be avoided.

Stripping a screw (aka injuring a body part) is not only bad because the screw itself is damaged (and unlike building materials, we can’t just go pick up new body parts at the hardware store), but because this causes complications to the other parts of the system as well.

Pinch a nerve in your back, for example, and you are likely to feel it elsewhere, like say your foot (this is why people with a pinched sciatic nerve often feel pain all the way down their legs as well, as is evident from the yellow nerve lines in ’soft tissue’ image above).

Bruise your foot, and you are likely to walk differently than you normally would, which has an effect on other parts of your body as well. It’s all connected.

Fortunately, some of our injuries go away with time, since our bodies have the amazing ability to self-heal, unlike your kitchen cabinet, but this doesn’t justify injuring oneself unnecessarily.

Note: This is an imperfect analogy. Yes, the aim of massage is largely our connective tissue; and screws are fasteners that connect various parts of a larger system, as do human connective tissues, but to equate the two requires greatly oversimplifying our bodies. Mechanically, our bodies are much more complicated than woodworking projects. Plus, we have intricate nervous systems, complicated biological systems, and interplay between these systems (eg. biomechanics), that add elements that don’t have an equivalent in the strictly mechanical world of wood and fasteners.

The point of this analogy s to say: err on the side of caution. If you start with a softer tool and a more gentle technique, and it doesn’t do the trick, you can always increase how hard a tool you use or how hard you use it, but if you go too hard too fast, you may injure yourself or do something counterproductive to your health and mobility.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll explain why soft tools are not only safer, but can be surprisingly effective, even on stiff tissues or bony muscle attachment points.

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