In 1954, Californian osteopath Dr. Lawrence Jones had been treating a patient with persistent back pain for six weeks, but nothing seemed to be working. After one particular session in which he had experimented with trying to find a more comfortable position for the patient, Lawrence was amazed at the improvement shown, and began experimenting with a new technique he called ‘Spontaneous Release by Positioning.’
Today, Lawrence’s early work has evolved into what is now known as positional release technique (PRT), a very beneficial and non-invasive pain relief method, which is commonly utilized by massage therapists, physical therapists, and osteopaths alike.;
With their potential for instant response and the relative ease of their application, employing positional release methods can be enormously beneficial for RMTs dealing with a variety of patients.
Positional release technique works under the theory that, by placing the body in the most comfortable position possible, therapists can reset the proprioceptors in a patient’s joints and musculature, which act as sensors governing the brain’s perception of the position of neighbouring parts of the body. By stimulating the proprioceptors, the musculoskeletal system can be brought back into balance, relieving pain and restoring range of motion by causing shortened muscles to relax.
During therapeutic massage training, students are introduced to a number of methods of positional release technique. One of the most common is strain and counter strain (SCS), where tissues are guided into the optimal position based on the patient’s response to applied pressure.
In this process, the RMT tries to guide the patient towards the position of ease using gentle compression and movement. They will usually ask the patient to rate their pain level on a scale from one to ten, and adjust the position based on their feedback. Once they can find a position where the pain level is 3 or less, the position of ease will be held for anywhere from 90 seconds to 3 minutes before being gently released.
A RMT may also choose to determine the preferred direction of movement of the tissue themselves, which is known as functional technique. Both functional technique and SCS can also be performed with added load for shorter periods, which is known as Facilitated PRT.
Positional release can be particularly effective in providing instant relief in cases of acute pain or muscle spasm, and can be integrated into treatment plans for many soft tissue and joint complaints. The technique has been shown to be effective in helping to treat conditions such as whiplash and chronic back pain, and can also reduce stress levels and aid more restful sleep. Because of its gentle non-invasive nature, PRT is safe to apply to patients with severely damaged or inflamed tissue, and massage therapy college students may find it very useful when treating patients who are sensitive to other massage techniques, such as fibromyalgia.
Want to learn more about positional release and other techniques?
Contact OVCMT for more information about our massage therapist program.