soft tissue manipulation
muscle energy technique
strain and counterstrain
I take a gentle approach to the treatment of pain and injury. I’ve discovered the body can be healed and trained to exceptional levels of health, strength, and performance without painful therapy. It’s done with a subtle understanding of body mechanics and correct technique.
I was introduced to this method in 1981 at the College of Osteopathic Medicine, Michigan State University. The College held two weeks of master classes in theory and technique with the leading teachers and practitioners of Osteopathic Manipulation and Manual Medicine. For the next ten years, I sought out the finest teachers in the field to continue my education in this wonderful art. One of the greatest gifts the American Osteopaths have given to the world of rehabilitation is sharing their tradition with massage therapists, physiotherapists, and chiropractors. Many of the most important osteopathic manipulation techniques have become part of the repertoire of other professions in the healing arts.
Treating pain and injury with gentle techniques has important benefits:
1. There is little risk of injury from the treatment itself.
2. The body remains calm and relaxed throughout the treatment.
My clients are often amazed at how gentle techniques can have such profound and lasting effects. I explain it like this: If I use deep pressure, for example, especially on someone who’s already in pain, the body is going to tense against my pressure. In order for me to have an effect, I’m compelled to use even more pressure – to overcome the resistance I’ve created by my original deep pressure. In addition to the fact that deep pressure exposes the client to the risk of injury, deep pressure and the resistance to it has created a mini-war between the therapist’s technique and the client’s tissues. This is not a healing scenario. Many clients endure this type of treatment because they think it is has to be this way. They believe that unless a treatment hurts it can’t be really therapeutic.
Now, it must be said that for people who haven’t been injured a deep and rigorous treatment can be invigorating and relaxing. But it is quite the opposite for anyone who is in pain or requires therapy.
By contrast, when I use a light touch and gentle technique, a whole new relationship begins between the client and the therapist. Once the client realizes the treatment will not be painful, her/his body relaxes. The tissues realize they don’t have to defend themselves and become open to the technique. With this level of receptiveness, the lightest touch can penetrate deep into the body. Therapeutic changes can be made with movements that are barely even felt by the client.
How can such light therapeutic movements have a lasting effect? Because the brain is assured that nothing in the treatment will cause pain or injury, it can devote its full attention to the technique. And what is actually happening in the technique?
Firstly, the therapist is gently palpating to determine areas where there is distress. An example of common distress is muscle spasm. The therapist palpates to discover where the spasm is occurring, and at what depth in the body. Having identified the tissues in question, the therapist gently nudges the tissues to exaggerate the distress. In other words, if a muscle is in spasm so that it is pulling to the right of the client’s body, the therapist would nudge it just a little bit further in that direction to slightly exaggerate the tightening.
The nudging here would be so light that the client is often totally unaware of it. But everything that touches your body is reported through the central nervous system to your brain – even the slightest nudge! So when the tightness is exaggerated, the brain notices and can begin to organize the chemistry to correct it. In this way, the therapeutic technique becomes part of the client’s unconscious thinking process. Long after the treatment is over, the client’s brain can continue working on the problem. In this way, very gentle movements can have long lasting effects.
I can’t overemphasize how light the actual touch is. This is why these techniques are so helpful in cases of severe injury or pain. There are conditions so painful or precarious (like neck injuries, whiplash) that manipulation of any other kind would be contraindicated. And yet, this light touch therapy, by engaging the central nervous system and the brain in an atmosphere of calm, creates wondrous results.
Even athletes respond to this kind of therapy. You would think athletes would best be served with the kind of rough and tumble therapy you see in the movies. Not so. These techniques are just as effective on large, highly developed muscles. They are as effective on a massively knotted back as they are on a tiny wrist. The reason: because the work is being done by the client’s own brain, in response to light touch directed in just the right way by the therapist.
The therapist isn’t using his technique to manually change the condition of the client’s tissues; rather, the therapist is using his techniques to draw the client’s brain into awareness of a physical condition. Ultimately, through the therapist’s direction, the client heals her/his self.