If you are like the thousands of other people in this world who have turned to massage therapy in an attempt to ease pain, then you have probably stumbled across the words “neuromuscular therapy” or “neuromuscular massage” in your research.
The two terms – therapy and massage – are interchangeable and refer to the same practice, which has been used for several hundred years. Neuromuscular massage is an intense form of bodywork that consists of focused, concentrated massage on one specific area of the body. The pressure may continue for a period of up to thirty seconds at a time, and is designed to alleviate tension that extends from a “trigger point” into an entire muscle.
The theory behind neuromuscular massage is that when a muscle spasms – due to one of any number of stimuli – it is not caused by a spasm in the entire muscle, but by a spasm in a very centralized area of the muscle, which may then reverberate to other areas of the muscle, causing pain.
This small area is called a trigger point because it is the area that “triggers” pain in another area of the muscle, sometimes called referring or transferring.
When a muscle (or trigger point) spasms in the body, blood flow to that area is severely decreased, sometimes ceasing altogether. When the blood flow is diminished, oxygen necessary for the muscle to work properly is also decreased, causing a buildup of lactic acid. This causes a sensation similar to the one felt after a long workout – muscle soreness.
The problem is that this can turn into a vicious cycle of soreness and pain because the buildup of lactic acid combined with the body’s desire to compensate for the pain will inevitably lead to less blood flow, less oxygen, and the continued production of lactic acid. This is why muscle soreness and pain can continue for years unabated.
This effect is exacerbated when a muscle spasm places pressure on a nerve or series of nerves. This causes numbness, tingling and other symptoms, which are all common side effects of muscle soreness and pain. And because nerves carry sensations throughout the body like a pulse, it is possible to feel these numbing sensations in areas of the body not associated with the original muscle spasm.
A neuromuscular therapist is trained to locate the trigger points associated with muscle pain, and then alleviate the stress using intense, concentrated pressure on that area. Pressure can be applied using the hands, elbows or a small device called a t-bar.
Some patients can be rid of pain in only one session with a neuromuscular massage therapist, while other patients will require several sessions before a noticeable change takes place. Neuromuscular massage therapists usually spend time warming up the tissue with Swedish or traditional massage before progressing into neuromuscular massage therapy. It can also take time to actually locate the trigger point(s) because the patient may be feeling pain in areas unrelated to the source of the problem.
Pain is relieved when the spasm is neutralized by pressure, and blood flow is once again restored to the area. Other benefits can include increased flexibility, wider range of motion, more balanced posture and increased energy. Neuromuscular massage is used primarily to treat the lower back, the neck and arms, repetitive motion injuries, headaches and reported numbness and tingling in the limbs.