Neuromuscular re-education.  What a mouthful and what is it, really?  Massage Therapists and chiropractors frequently use it with their clients but most people, unless you have studied it or have had an injury and have been treated with it, are probably not familiar with it. 

Neuromuscular re-education shows your stiff arm that you actually can REACH HIGHER than you realized.  Neuromuscular re-education shows your painful back muscles that they CAN RELAX and feel something other than pain.  Neuromuscular re-education shows your spasmed neck muscles that you CAN turn your head to look over your shoulder while driving.   With all of these scenarios your body  is maintaining a pattern that (for a brief time may have served for your protection) now is no longer needed.  When your body behaves in undesired ways, using some simple yet specific techniques can quickly bring your body to a comfortable and functional way of being.   

Neuro, refers to nerve, the bundle of fibers sending signals to and from the brain and body via the spinal cord, and muscular, you guessed it, refers to muscle, the tissue that contracts and relaxes creating the movement in your body.  Neuromuscular refers to the relationship and communication that takes place in your body which facilitates pretty much every single movement and response from the blink of your eye, to your fingers typing on the keyboard.  Whether the movement is a quick response or a slow precise gesture, a dialogue between the muscles and nerves is taking place.

The dialogue in the conversation, however, does differ related to each unique set of circumstances. If you touch something hot, what type of conversation would you want?   If I were answering, I would want this relationship to be in good standing with effective communication skills.  This scenario and conversation may go something like this.  Hand touches hot flame.  Nerve sensor perceives intense heat then sends a 911 call along the sensory nerve line to The Center (central nervous system).   The Center receives this information and upon determining there is a threat, issues an immediate response out the motor nerve line to have the whole squad of muscle fibers in the arm and shoulder use 100% force to pull hand away RIGHT NOW!  That would be the ideal conversation for those circumstances.  Now imagine that same conversation and urgent response taking place when you pick up a glass of orange juice.  If that same intensity happened you would have a huge sticky mess.  Picking up a glass of orange juice without spilling it requires perhaps only 10% of the muscle fibers firing at a slow, smooth rate.   

Now here lies a curious thing.  You know from relationships in life, perhaps with a spouse or friend, that communication can be a tricky subject.  Sometimes what is perceived by one is not necessarily what was going on with the other.   Well, this also happens in the tissues.   Misperception.  Misperception happens when the proprioceptors (nerve sensors that perceive movement, muscle tension, and position) read or perceive the situation at hand incorrectly.  If the sensor perceives the situation incorrectly and communicates accordingly then the following output will be an undesirable response.  An example of this might be your previously injured, but now healed, neck muscles perceive a potential threat.  Because they have been injured before they are now particularly sensitive to the possibility or slightest hint of threat.  Even though this time there is no threat, they spasm again as if that scenario has happened again, all because the sensor perceived, or misperceived, the situation.  

When recognized, this situation is really very simple to correct.  A good conversation explaining the misunderstanding (via doing a few specific movements and/or a session with a neuromuscular massage therapist) will reeducate the tightened and forshortened muscles. Unfortunately, when not recognized, the new modus operandi, becomes a "facilitated pathway" (a habit that becomes harder and harder to break as time goes on.)  Just like you train your body to ride a bike, drive a car, or any other trained task, your body trains itself to respond to situations, and the habit, or neuromuscular patterning, begins.  Whether it is a desired habit or an undesired habit, what is learned, gets repeated, until you become conscious of it and re-educate.

Common undesired patterns, or habits, begin from injuries, compensations from injuries, long held postures, or repetitive movements.  Frequently it starts from the everyday postures and activities you do.  Sitting at the computer, holding a purse on one shoulder, sitting on a wallet in the back pocket, etc. are common daily activities that feel completely normal, set deep patterns and can go unnoticed for years.

As you relate with your spouse or friend regarding a misperception, tensions are relieved the sooner the issue is addressed.   If it's early on, it's not a big deal, and all is well.  The longer it goes unresolved, the further the damage to follow suit.  With your tissues, undesired habits not only lead to pain and loss of range of motion but over time can lead to permanent tissue changes, atrophy, and joint problems.    Going into more detail about those issues will need to take place in another article, so for now, remember, healthy dialogue, supports desirable patterns and the sooner you can address those misperceptions the more favorable to all.

Written by Kelly Moore