Muscle Activation Articles

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Muscle Activation Techniques™ (MAT) in conjunction with other forms of therapy and exercise

What is Muscle Activation Techniques™?
 
Whereas in most practices tightness and restriction in the body are treated as the cause of problems; Muscle Activation Techniques™ differs by viewing muscle tightness as secondary to muscle inhibition and weakness*.  If muscles become inhibited the body loses support and can cause surrounding muscles to tighten and compensate (much like the way we tighten up when on an unstable surface such as ice but the problem is in internal issue rather than external).  If these weaknesses are not addressed it may prevent the body from full recovery from injury, day to day activity, training and performance and pre-dispose the body to further compensation and breakdown.  MAT activates the inhibited muscles to restore function at the joint thereby increasing stability, strength and mobility.

*The weakness tested for in MAT is ‘can the muscle contract on demand’ to regulate support across a joint, not how hard can it contract or for how long traditionally tested for in rehabilitation and exercise.

Purpose of the article

The aim of this article is to gain an insight to the answer of what course of action is most suitable for who and when; with regards to a persons current state of health and what they would like to achieve in terms of recovery from injury, day to day living and or physical performance.  Please note that this is not an analysis of why or how one form of therapy, treatment or course of action over another is better or worse. 

As an MAT specialist there is a bias to raising awareness of this new approach.  An approach that has come about due to gaps in existing treatments and exercise where some people have not achieved what they would have liked in terms of pain relief, muscle tightness, mobility or physical performance. 

Muscle Activation Techniques™ like any of the other forms of treatment / exercise can stand alone in its course of action to improve peoples’ health and physical performance.  It can provide an alternative for those that have gone from one thing to another but perhaps will work best when used in conjunction with other therapies for the right purpose at the right time.

Quick comparison table of primary purpose and course of action.

Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT)

Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Physiotherapy

Focuses on:

Focuses on:

Facilitating the body’s ability to recover, heal and adapt to stress for general wellbeing and health.

Facilitating the body’s ability to recover heal and adapt to stress for general wellbeing and health.

Views tightness in the body as a protective mechanism and secondary to muscle inhibition and weakness.

Views tightness and restriction in the body as a cause of the problem

Addressing muscle weakness, underlying muscle imbalances and compensations for increased strength and mobility (Proactive treatment)

Diagnosis of and symptom relief focusing on mobilising tightness and restriction in the body for pain relief (Reactive treatment)

Developing and training muscular support and stability offering the body the opportunity to produce mobility

Achieving mobility by moving the body into positions it should be able to move in

Based solely on biomechanics and the muscular system for treatment and development of mobility and strength.

Covers a wide range of ailments

For improving performance, every day mobility and the next course of action after treatment of major symptoms to add stability and support to the body for faster and more effective recovery.

First course of action for acute injury or bout of pain from chronic injury to reduce major inflammation, structural and soft tissue damage.

MAT

Exercise

Addresses weakness in terms of can a muscle ‘contract on demand’ and regulate tension across a joint to provide stability.

Improves the ability of the body to produce force in terms of endurance and strength in holding or repetitive movements.


 

Chiropractic, Osteopathy and Muscle Activation Techniques™

Chiropractic is a healthcare discipline that emphasizes the inherent recuperative power of the body to heal itself without the use of drugs or surgery. The practice of chiropractic focuses on the relationship between structure (primarily the spine) and function (as coordinated by the nervous system) and how that relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health. In addition, doctors of chiropractic recognize the value and responsibility of working in cooperation with other health care practitioners when in the best interest of the patient.
The ACC definition, Association of Chiropractic Colleges, 1996 

Osteopathy is an established recognised system of diagnosis and treatment, which lays its main emphasis on the structural and functional integrity of the body. It is distinctive by the fact that it recognises that much of the pain and disability which we suffer stems from abnormalities in the function of the body structure as well as damage caused to it by disease.
Definition provided by the General Osteopathic Council (2001)

Although there are variations between the two practices; primarily by definition they look at the relationship between the structure of the spine and health of the nervous system in terms of its influence on the function of the rest of the body.

A number of techniques depending on the practitioners’ specialty are available in both practices but they are best known for the adjustments to the spine to restore alignment.  Although regular check ups are advised for the benefit of your health most people will use the service as a reactive one ‘to be put back into place’ for an acute injury or a flare up of chronic pain

A Muscle Activation Techniques™ Specialist will not be able to diagnose your pain.  If you are unsure whether your problem is more than a muscular one then you would be advised to seek normal medical attention e.g. your Dr or your chiropractor or osteopath.   If muscle tightness, lack of mobility and weakness is part of the problem then this is what the MAT specialist will focus on and improve.

An MAT specialist is a muscular specialist and will identify and address muscle imbalances throughout the body that either directly pull on the spine or indirectly pull through related joints. This is with the aim of making a treatment more effective and last longer or developing support further so that your body can handle higher levels of stress.  Stress in this case is relative to you, whether it is sitting down to work, lifting, walking up stairs or being able to participate to your best in sport.    

Muscle Activation Techniques will be of benefit in conjunction with Chiropractic and Osteopathy when:

Physiotherapy and Muscle Activation Techniques™

Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession with a science foundation.  The range of work is very broad and varied and involves working with people to promote their own health and well being.

Physiotherapy helps restore movement and function to as near normal as possible when someone is affected by injury, illness or by developmental or other disability.

Taken from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy website August 2009

As stated by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy the role can be varied dealing in a wide range of illness, disability and injury.  A physiotherapist will often be the first port of call after being treated by a Dr although many people seek immediate help from a physiotherapist for treatment of muscular injuries.

As mentioned with the chiropractic and osteopathy practices, MAT does not treat pain or damaged structures and tissues.  This will definitely be in the realm of a physiotherapist who has a range of treatments at their disposal.   Muscle Activation Techniques™ helps restore function and movement at a joint by re-activating inhibited muscles. 

Muscle inhibition can occur for a number of reasons e.g. fatigue, injury, illness.  If muscles become inhibited it can cause surrounding muscles to over work and tighten to add stability. With injury this is accompanied by inflammation and swelling which will also block movement to stop further damage.  It is at this point with pain that the course of action is rest, recovery, medical treatment and physiotherapy.  As pain desists and mobility starts to return MAT will test for inhibition and treat the surrounding muscles.

A key aspect of MAT is to assess the body for muscle imbalances that can occur through compensating from fatigue / injury.  If we take the example of a rolled ankle, you will immediately start to compensate by limping.  This will take the stress off of the injured ankle but place it on other areas of the body that may now overwork.  The effects of this may vary depending on how long it takes to recover from the initial injury but they can be long lasting.  The flip side is that an underlying imbalance and weakness may have been the initial problem e.g. you may have rolled the ankle due to a muscle weakness and lack of stability through the hip which may have tipped you off balance?  MAT can there benefit directly with the recovery of an injured site and other involved muscular imbalances throughout the body.                   

Muscle Activation Techniques will be of benefit in conjunction with physiotherapy when:

Exercise and Muscle Activation Techniques™

Most people would agree that exercise is healthy and good for you!  It comes in an umbrella of different forms and has a different meaning to different people in terms of it being fun, hard work, enjoyable or necessary.

Whether it be yoga, pilates, gym, classes or some kind of sport your body adapts because it is stressed by the activity and then recovers and responds in terms of muscular endurance or strength.  It is important to understand the demands of the exercise because this will determine whether it is going to be of benefit to the body or over stress it.

If the demand is low then little adaptation occurs, if it is too high you will tire quickly, perhaps suffer from muscle soreness or in worst case scenario have an injury.  In these terms no exercise is good or bad for you, it is merely a case of can your body meet the demands and recover.

This can be why when people are often prescribed corrective exercises for an injury, ongoing chronic problems or to support normal training, even the simplest exercises may still be too much stress for the weak link in the chain.  Additionally even when you do become stronger you may only be strengthening compensation in the body; whereby the already strong muscles become stronger whilst the inhibited muscles remain weak.  This may mean falling short of a full, strength, recovery or moving the stress on the body to a different area.

The ‘weak’ muscles may remain so because conventional exercise is based on how much force a muscle can produce and for how long.  In Muscle Activation Techniques™ the muscle testing is to find out can a muscle contract on demand and regulate tension across a joint, to provide stability?   If this is not possible then other muscles will have to overwork to compensate.  This compensation will lead to altered movement patterns meaning the entire chain of the body can be affected.  This is a natural occurrence in the body and is part of the aging process but leads to muscle tightness and aches and pains reduced strength, mobility and reduced rates of recovery.

When your MAT Specialist activates the inhibited muscles, the added stability means that you have more support and therefore activities are less stressful to the body and you can recover quicker.  You have more muscle working for you meaning you can get more out of your chosen exercise or sport and perform to a higher level.

Muscle Activation Techniques will be of benefit in conjunction with exercise when:

Massage therapy, stretching and Muscle Activation Techniques™

Massage therapy has in some form been practiced for centuries and uses a variety of hands on techniques applied to muscle and other soft tissue such as pressing, kneading, and stroking.  The benefits are a reduction in stress, feelings, of well-being and a reduction in muscle tension.

Stretching also comes in a variety of forms e.g. passive, active, ballistic, contract-relax with the aim of increasing range of motion at a joint.  These are used with the intention of improving range of motion for sports or to reduce general tightness or to improve the range of motion at a joint after injury.

Massage therapy has additional benefits of improving general well being through affects on the lymphatic, vascular and nervous system but alongside stretching especially in a therapeutic or sports setting both practices have the aim of reducing muscle tension by inhibition.   This is because in traditional approaches muscle tightness and lack of mobility are viewed as ‘the problem’.    

Muscle tightness is associated with poor range of motion, poor posture and with aches pains and injuries.  Its not often you will find someone saying ‘thank heavens for my muscles tightness!’   However if we look at how the body reacts to an unstable surface i.e. tightens up to gain more support and control; and If we also look at how the body reacts to injury i.e. tightens up to restrict movement and create support.  We can see how if instability is an internal problem at a joint the body may use muscle tightness as a method of support and control to benefit us.

This is the view in Muscle Activation Techniques™.  So how can MAT, massage and stretching work together when two of the methods use inhibition as a therapeutic method and one uses activation?  Here is how!  Taking the notion that the body will respond to application of force on it, (whether weights, running / impact, or indeed being stretched or palpated through massage techniques) we can see that the body may respond positively by recovering and adapting or negatively by breaking down with further muscle tightness or injury.   

As a simple rule, if your body responds negatively then the stress of the exercise / treatment or compensation caused by it is too much.  If your body responds positively with increased strength, endurance and mobility then this is usually regarded as a good thing, the stress was the right amount or type of stimulation for your body and you. 

Where MAT is applicable is when in reducing the tension and muscle tightness the body reacts negatively.  This may be because the body had a job for those muscles in providing stability so it is not until other muscles are activated to add support that it will reduce that tension.  It is important to note that the tightness experienced in one area of the body may be a compensation for weakness in another area e.g. this is a common problem with rotator cuff injuries where there can be a symptomatic issue due to the impingement of the supraspinatus tendon but the underlying cause is lack of mobility and stability of the scapula (shoulder blade).  This means that even when the symptomatic tightness is initially resolved, the underlying imbalances may remain.  This is what MAT checks for even when there is a positive reaction and mobility has been achieved through other treatments.  

Muscle Activation Techniques will be of benefit in conjunction with massage and stretching when:

Alternative medicines e.g. reflexology, acupuncture/pressure and Muscle Activation Techniques™

These types of therapy view the function of the body as a whole.  In the case of reflexology it is the relation of points on the feet and hands to glands, organs and parts of the body and with acupuncture and acupressure it is the relationship of points around the body to energy pathways called meridians.  When the body is stressed and becomes out of balance then these therapies re-address that balance for the improved health of the body.  Although it appears to be uncertain exactly how this works the benefits of these treatments are widely recognised.

Perhaps more alike to osteopathy and chiropractic that treat the system as a whole via the relationship of the spine and nervous system these alternative therapies are used to treat a wide range of ailments.

People who have experienced Muscle Activation Techniques™ may comment on how their sleep, headaches, digestion, asthma or alike improve but these are not proposed benefits of MAT.  MAT specialists are muscle specialists and can improve the way people move through addressing muscle imbalances and adding muscular stability to the body.  This is achieved through an understanding of joint mechanics and the relationships of muscles.  Stability and support may relate to other health issues by improving the general well being and function of the body as a whole.  However specific treatments of this are the realm of your Dr or should you choose; alternative therapies.

Regarding the specific techniques used, both MAT and other therapies discussed in this article use hands on techniques with the inclusion of needles in acupuncture.   These techniques may be aimed indirectly or directly at the area but with the aim of influencing the workings of the body as a whole.   MAT specifically uses two techniques; a palpation technique or a low level isometric contraction (where you contract the muscle but it neither lengthens or shortens).  This is designed to jumpstart inhibited muscles and improve communication between the nervous system and the muscle.  This is much like a battery in a car, if the connections are loose, its will stall or not go.  The increased communication allows the muscles to regulate tension around the joint and add immediate support.       

As with any other stimulation to the body you may find the techniques used in alternative therapies to be positive or negative or short lived.  In any case if mobility is achieved MAT can be used in conjunction to ensure stability and more effective results. 

Muscle Activation Techniques will be of benefit in conjunction with alternative therapies such as reflexology, acupuncture, acupressure etc when:

Summary and conclusion

Choice of treatment
There are a variety of therapies and treatments available for improving health and general well being.  They all have unique methods and the success they have (beyond the skill of the practitioner) may come down to the requirements of the individual and what they need and when e.g. are there muscular, structural, energy imbalance, acute, chronic issues etc.  Additionally the clients’ belief and cooperation in the treatment can be a factor as well as their overall aim e.g. do they want a quick fix or develop their overall health and well being?

Injury
When you do have an acute injury or flare up of a chronic one and you need to be out of pain and fixed then other therapies and treatments will be your first port of call.  As mobility returns MAT will be your next stop to ensure that you also have stability in order to recover faster and also to address imbalances that may have preceded the injury or result from it.

Everyday living
From an MAT standpoint many health issues are reflected in the billboard of the muscular system.  As the body adapts to everyday activities, habits, posture, injuries etc it compensates and this can lead to further issues that are part of the normal aging process.  In day to day living it appears to be the norm to feel tired, niggley and achy because everyone else does but doe this need to be the case?  You can directly influence this through Muscle Activation Techniques™ restoring joint and muscle function and regaining your freedom of movement and wellbeing.

Sport and exercise           
In exercise and sport and you are aiming to improve or stay in the game; MAT can take you further with your training, performance and recovery.  Is muscle tightness the problem or is it the muscle inhibition that causes the tightness?  Remember the weakness addressed in MAT is different from the weakness addressed in conventional training.  MAT tests and treats whether a muscle can ‘contract on demand’ not how much force can you generate.  MAT addresses underlying muscle imbalances that may be causing you to, compensate and not perform optimally, fatigue quicker, inhibiting your recovery or predisposing you to injury.