Tissue play, sometimes referred to as tissue sliding, is the idea that individual tissues — muscle bellies, tendons, and their adjacent bones and fascia — should have free and independent movement. Lack of free movement between tissues (rather than a strain within a muscle or tendon) is often the cause of myofascial pain.
The horse’s body is interconnected by layers of fascia, a very thin but strong connective tissue that covers all of their bones, muscles and other soft tissues. Fascia plays a crucial role in the mobility and function of the entire body. Each individual structure within the fascia should have some degree of freedom within its own compartment and from its neighbors.
Tissue sliding is most important for the top layer of tissue, the superficial fascia, which runs beneath the skin and above the muscles. Stiffness in this uppermost layer can result in tight, restrictive shrink wrapping of the muscles beneath it. Superficial fascial stiffness is often unresponsive to conventional muscle and joint stretching, and requires a tissue sliding strategy.
Tissue sliding helps restore this free, independent movement. It often involves freeing a specific tissue group from another adjacent group or from a bone. Tissue sliding gently follows and enhances the motion of a specific tissue layer. It’s often more effective in restoring motion and decreasing pain than direct compression and can improve tissue mobility in the whole system.