Massage & Bodywork

March | April 2014

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Changing Neuromuscular Patterns with Active Techniques By Mary Ann Foster Clients often ask what they can do to prolong the positive effects of massage, especially those changes that alleviate pain and improve posture. For these clients, we can use active techniques—any hands-on bodywork method that requires a client's active participation. Active techniques can range from having a client breathe a certain way, to focusing on relaxing a specific muscle, to guiding the client through a range of motion (Image 1). In a widely used active technique called postisometric relaxation (PIR), for example, we have the client contract against resistance before stretching a muscle. The resisted contraction triggers a PIR response, which enhances the subsequent stretch (Image 2). Every time we use an active technique, we have the opportunity to help clients gain better control over their muscle-use patterns, become aware of patterns that cause pain, and establish more efficient patterns that they can reinforce by practicing on their own. WHAT IS A NEUROMUSCULAR PATTERN? A neuromuscular pattern is a sequence of muscular contractions that results in a specific movement. These patterns are stored in the brain's motor cortex. The more a pattern is used, the stronger it becomes, due to the myelination of the motor nerves used in that pattern. This is why habitual patterns of posture and movement are often difficult to change. Neuromuscular patterns are under the control of the client. Without the client's active participation, no amount of bodywork can change these patterns. For example, during a bodywork session, you can help a client release chronic muscle tension by having him lightly contract the affected muscle and then actively relax it. But to transform this temporary release into a new neuromuscular pattern, the client needs to learn to consciously release his old pattern and replace it with a new pattern. He also needs to strengthen the new pattern through practice, so take him through at least three repetitions of a new pattern. Also encourage him to practice on his own. 104 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k m a r c h / a p r i l 2 0 1 4 1 2 technique THE SCIENCE OF MOVEMENT An active-assisted movement. Images courtesy of Pearson Publishing. Resisted contraction of the subscapularis.

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