SOME BASIC NEUROMUSCULAR PRINCIPLES AND FUNCTIONAL CONCEPTS UNDERLYING “RESISTANCE-RELEASE WORK”
Range of motion is defined by several determinants:
- Anatomical limits of joint and ligament structures (both normal and as a result of injury, scarring, malformation and the like)
- Painful positions and movement
- Habituated ranges of muscle length-change established by repetitive movements and chronic positions
- Imagined limits of possibilities
“Origin” and “insertion” connecting locations of tendons to bones is a very incomplete way of visualizing the ways that muscular action creates movement; tendons merge into periostium and endostium, which merge into ligaments, which are coextensive with the connective tissue matrix as a whole.
“Agonist” and “antagonist” opposing muscles is a primitive and incomplete way of viewing muscular interactions. In addition to the emotional/conceptual baggage these terms tend to evoke, this manner of visualizing movements obscures some crucial truths about muscular coordination:
- No one muscle does any one thing in an isolated fashion, nor do any muscular movements involve singular “antagonistic” counterparts; any movement involves complex synergistic orchestrations of many muscles.
- We are not mechanical in principle; we are shape-changers; our modes of movement has more in common with amoebas than with robot engineering.
- The many vectors of lengthening and shortening involved in any movement are distributed across many muscles.
The brain does not map muscles in the way that anatomy texts do; there are no discrete “bicep,” “tricep,” “medial hamstring”–and so on–modules in the sensorimotor system; movement is generated and perceived as vectors of motion that are distributed throughout extensive “packages” of muscles.
In any given movement, some muscle cells are shortening, some are lengthening, and some are anchoring to support joint integrity and provide a stable base for the movement to organize around.
Prior to any observable movement, deep core muscles (particularly around the spine) are activated; further motor units are activated in a sequence from depth to surface, from proximal to distal
Motor learning and motor patterns–“engrams”–are recorded and recalled as streams of sensory sequences; motor memory is sensory memory.
Something like 90% of the central nervous system’s activity is devoted to motor control, most of which has to do with maintaining structural integrity in the field of gravity [Roger Sperry].
A very large percentage of organization involved in motor control occur subconsciously; the number of neuromuscular events occurring between stimulus and response, or intention and execution, is vast and takes place on molecular levels. We are normally conscious only of the end products of trillions of organized (or not) interactions.
The gamma sensorimotor system is primarily responsible for orchestrating motor control. It operates on a mostly subconscious level, organized by a hierarchy of reflex arcs and brain stem orchestration. Its primary functional units are:
- Golgi tendon organs, which register the load values generated by changing muscular lengths and the resistance encountered during the change. These load-sensitive sensors are not limited to tendons, but are distributed throughout the connective tissue matrix.
- Muscle spindle units, which have both sensory capacities (the anulospiral nerve endings coiled around their midsections) and length-changing capacities (myosin-actin sarcomeres on both ends). Sensorily they inform the brain (stem) of degrees and speed of length change; as motor units they can initiate or limit length change in the alpha motor units that immediately surround them.
- Reflex arcs, both excitatory and inhibitory, that couple gamma stimulation and alpha activity.
One of the primary defensive reflex functions of the gamma control system is to resist change imposed from the outside.
The tonal settings and length/load adjustments monitored by the gamma system–the elements of tonus and movement control–are profoundly effected by our attention and intentions, our emotional states, our conceptual frameworks, our habitual responses, our memories, and our imaginations. It is through these interactions that our mind is manifested by our bodily responses.
Resistance-Release Work is a way of interacting with gamma/alpha orchestrations, raising subconscious dimensions of their activities to conscious awareness, improving their coordination, expanding ranges of motion and eliminating pain caused by injuries and restrictions. Among the significant felt results are:
- A heightened awareness of the body and its movements
- Increased strength through improved coordination
- An accompanying sense of ease of effort through more extensive and synergistic activation of motor units
- Alleviation of pain, discomfort, stress and limitations
A TYPICAL SEQUENCE OF RESISTANCE-RELEASE INTERACTIONS BETWEEN CLIENT AND PRACTITIONER
Conscious interaction between the practitioner and the client is of the essence. Maintaining a mutually shared feedback loop of sensations, associations, observable differences that unfold in the qualities of movement (strength, weakness, coordination, ease, discomfort levels, fatigue, levels of awareness and so on) is a primary value in the work. There is no hierarchy of roles; positive progress is an equal co-creation at all times. The protocol of interaction, while structured to a degree by the practitioner, is very flexible and spontaneous, responsive to intentions and observations that are continually shifting in both partners as the developments of re-coordinated movements unfold.
That being said, a typical sequence of interactions proceeds in this way:
Initial assessment. Client shows current ranges of movement, identifies perameters of limitation, discomfort or pain. Their “story”–history of injury, problems the restrictions present and so on may be important to explore and understand, but of more importance is what is true now; we cannot fix the past, but we can liberate potentials in the present.
Gentle movement and palpation to establish the boundaries of movement restrictions and areas of discomfort and pain. The manner in which this is done–sensitive, exploratory, respecting limitations encountered and not forcing movement beyond them, is of great importance; the establishment of safety, trust and relaxation of anxious anticipation begins–or ends–in this exploratory phase.
Practitioner establishes a vector of traction or compression; it is important not to simply pull or push, but through progressive stages to coax elongation or deeper compression (remember: the client’s defensive reflexes are designed to resist change arbitrarily imposed).
Holding the traction, practitioner asks the client to breath, and with each breath increase the full volume of expansion and the completeness of emptying. Ask the client to note specific areas where the sense of pull is increased as the lungs fill and empty fully; tell them not to try to push through a pain threshold anywhere, but to stop filling or emptying at the point pain is encountered. Repetitive breaths almost always change these thresholds, and gradually fuller breathing becomes possible without pain. The practitioner will usually observe more elongation through the traction vector or shortening through the compression vector as breathing proceeds.
Rest. Ask client to focus awareness and feel the changes that have taken place. Important that they know there is no right or wrong or “score” to their assessment; just “what is” now.
Return to traction or compression vector. Tell the client that you are going to want him/her to begin pulling or pushing in the opposite direction of your force. But some things you want them to be thinking about as their action begins:
- As they think about countering your resistance, where can they feel preparatory bracing and anchoring taking place? These muscular responses will always occur prior to any overt movement; can they identify and locate them?
- Initiate movement counter to your resistance in as small an increment as they can exert. What muscle areas do they experience activating first? These are their “go to” motor units that habitually initiate movement in that direction.
- As the movement progresses, the practitioner keeps a steady traction or compression resistance for the client to work with, but allows the client to “win”–that is, to continue shortening or lengthening.
- What changes in their own sense of strength, ease, smoothness of the motion, shifts in anchoring locations.
The practitioner has some specific things to focus on as well:
- How strong is the first initiation of movement?
- Where do you observe anchoring occurring?
- Where is the range of movement strong, where does it weaken? How do I bring more strength to segments of motion that are weak?
- Where is the client generating contraction/resistance that is irrelevant to the task at hand (“parasitic contractions)?
- How can your language be specific in directing the client’s efforts?
Efforts can be concentric or eccentric–slowly shortening from traction vs. slowly lengthening from a fully contracted starting point; these are quite different in their organization, and both add something different to the client’s control of the movemen
Each movement sequence is repeated several times; the specifics of what is happening will be different each time, as the client develops more awareness and organization.
Felt observations need to be reported back and forth between the practitioner and the client steadily; this keeps both of you engaged in what is happening “now,” and “now”…..Maintaining this conscious focus is very important.
The general protocol and principles are really quite simple. The possible variations of vectors challenged are endless. The practitioner’s directing the client’s efforts, and tracking all the above variables as repetitions proceed is more of an art than a procedure, and deepening sensitivity and skill can only come through practice, and from experiencing the work yourself in the client mode.
This practice can fit into virtually any modality approach to working with the body; it need not be a separate thing. Rolfers have found it very helpful in identifying connective tissue issues and in making fascial planes more assessable to manipulation; chiropractors have found it make adjustments easier and last longer; energy workers find it raises the client’s sensibilities and energy flow; movement therapists find it quickly reinforces clients’ weak movements or fees up “stuck” areas; yoga practitioners find that it greatly accelerates the development of asanas.
As a shift in your mode of working with the body, the conscious, active, and verbal interaction between practitioner and client has a number of benefits for both you and your clients:
- It transforms a “treatment” into a mutual co-creation.
- It deepens the client’s subjective awareness of what they are experiencing.
- It empowers clients, and gives them an equally active role in their own therapeutic changes.
- It breaks down the hierarchies of therapist/client, expert/naif, doer/done to, active/passive.
- It is the end of repetitive protocol and boredom with your work. As you learn to stay present in each moment of response, from you to client and client to you, and learn to shift and adapt to whatever is happening in the next “now,” you will find yourself discovering new possibilities in each and every session, in each and every client, in each and every moment. No two sessions will ever be the same, and the excitement of novelty and discovery will continually re-vivify your work.
Copyright by Deane Juhan, May 17, 2012