The way our bodies develop muscle memory is a fascinating process. Think about how you learnt to ride a bike as a child. At first, the movements didn’t come naturally. You would have difficulty maintaining balance, working the pedals, and steering at the same time. Over time, however, these things became second nature.
This process occurs because of nerves which send signals between the muscles and the brain to control movement. Over time, repeated movements reinforce these signals to create stored neurological patterns. Unfortunately, these patterns can be affected when the nerves or muscle tissue experience damage or injury.
Neuromuscular reeducation is the process of retraining the neuromuscular system to re-establish normal movement patterns, and can be extremely effective for massage therapists dealing with a range of injuries.
When a muscle or joint experiences trauma, it can cause damage to the nerve synapses in that area too. When the body’s nerve synapses don’t fire properly, it stops the muscles in that area from responding to stimuli the way they usually would, resulting in previous neuromuscular patterns breaking down.
In addition, the body will often develop irregular movement patterns to compensate for the muscles that aren’t functioning properly. These compensatory patterns often continue even after the injury has healed.
A massage therapist diploma graduate assessing a patient’s need for neuromuscular reeducation will often do some form of muscle testing, in which a small amount of pressure is applied to an area so that the therapist can observe how the muscles respond and identify dysfunctional patterns.
A number of massage modalities can play a part in neuromuscular reeducation. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), in which the muscles are stretched in a series of diagonal movement patterns, can be used to stimulate the proprioceptors in a joint, which communicate with the body’s nervous system.
Muscle energy technique, which can help strengthen connective tissue and increase range of motion, can also be very beneficial, as can other active techniques such as joint mobilization. Integrated exercises, such as core stabilization work, may also be included in the treatment.
Neuromuscular reeducation can be used to aid patients recovering from a range of physical injuries, as well as those with chronic conditions like arthritis. It can be particularly helpful to patients, such as athletes, who have suffered repeated injury to a particular area, which often causes dysfunctional movement patterns to develop.
The treatment can also play a vital role in the rehabilitation of patients who have suffered neurological trauma, such as stroke and brain injury, helping them to retrain their body to complete basic movements.
Massage therapy training students should keep in mind that a patient does not need to suffer a serious injury for neuromuscular patterns to be disrupted. Normal everyday activities can accumulate over time and cause muscles, tendons, and ligaments to shorten, which also leads to nerve damage and the development of unnatural compensatory patterns. As a result, neuromuscular reeducation can often hold the key to treating a complaint when other techniques have not been effective.
Interested in studying at a school of massage therapy? Contact OVCMT for more details.