Neuromuscular therapy (sometimes called trigger point myotherapy) is a form of massage that focuses on relieving pain and dysfunction originating from specific areas in the soft tissues (aka trigger points). Several distinct methods have been derived from neuromuscular therapy, and while these may vary widely in overall structure, they have in common the use of prolonged pressure on soft tissues to address an anomaly, such as a knot, that may be causing pain and other symptoms.
What Is Neuromuscular Therapy?
This approach is largely concerned with areas of muscle strain, called trigger points, and massage therapists focus on these spots as they use carefully guided pressure and motion to redistribute localized stress. Recipients of neuromuscular therapy usually experience some pain at the beginning of the massage (and possibly throughout), but this pain is described by most as well within their limit of tolerance. Excessive pain is an indication that something may not be right.
The practice of neuromuscular therapy was developed in Europe in the 1920s by Stanley Lief, a Latvian healer. The first publication was released in 1952 by Janet Travell, who eventually co-authored the main reference work on the approach with David Simons.
A number of methods based on neuromuscular therapy have been patented by different individuals. Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy, which aims to diffuse trigger points by applying pressure with fingers, knuckles and elbows, is one of these. Another, NeuroMuscular Therapy American Version, emphasizes the need for assessments and examinations in a multidimensional approach to individualized treatment that goes far beyond massage alone. Each of these methods requires structured therapist training that ensures the safety of the recipient while also maximizing positive outcomes.
How Can Neuromuscular Therapy Help?
A wide variety of soft tissue problems, such as weakness, pain, and diminished flexibility, can be addressed by neuromuscular therapy.
More specifically, headaches, back or joint pain, tendonitis, and cramps may all be relieved by this approach. People experiencing symptoms of sciatica, carpal tunnel, jaw pain related to temporomandibular disorder (TMD or TMJ), and motor control problems related to Parkinson’s disease are also likely to see improvement with this approach. Neuromuscular therapy might also be helpful in the treatment of chronic pain even when the cause is not readily apparent, as well as impaired function or movement when walking.
Some individuals also seek this type of therapy to help improve their performance in athletic activities such as dance.
Trigger Points and Referral Pain
An important concept in neuromuscular therapy is the trigger point, or discrete muscle area that has become hypersensitive due to constriction, strain, impeded blood flow, nerve constriction and/or another reason. A properly trained therapist will typically be able to use pressure to induce relaxation and realignment the area, easing the symptoms arising from the trigger point.
Referral pain, or referred pain, is a phenomenon that describes the experience of pain that has been generated in one part of the body but is felt elsewhere. In other words, the trigger point is not located where the symptoms seem to be located. Referred pain may include tingling and numbness in addition to pain.
When symptoms are the result of referral pain, the trigger point will be difficult to identify by the area of discomfort alone. Carpal tunnel symptoms, which are felt in the wrist but caused by issues elsewhere in the arm, are referred pain. Sciatic symptoms, which are felt in a person’s leg even though the area in question is in the back, serve as another example of referred pain. Tension headaches, which are caused by muscle tightness in the neck, are also referred pain.
Neuromuscular Therapy Precautions
The main precaution necessary for those seeking this type of massage therapy is to ensure their massage therapist is sufficiently trained in the provision of neuromuscular massage. Improperly performed techniques may cause unreasonable discomfort for the recipient and can also, in some cases, lead to tissue damage.
Any soreness experienced during or immediately after a neuromuscular therapy massage should fade in no more than 36 hours. If pain lingers beyond this point, or increases, individuals may wish to seek medical advice.
- Craig, L. H., Svircev, A., Haber, M., & Juncos, J. L. (2006). Controlled pilot study of the effects of neuromuscular therapy in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Movement Disorders, 21(12), 2127-2133. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mds.21132/full
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