Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Muscle Activation Technique: 2nd Session

Sunday I went in for my second appointment with a MAT Muscle Activation Technique therapist. I had my first appointment a week earlier and I am more than enthusiatic with the results. Every day since that first appointment my hips felt loose and stable and I can get up out of a chair quickly instead of slowly getting up like an old man. I expected the feeling to go away, but every day it stayed the same. I did get some tight muscles in the my legs at times, but simply walking around or resting seemed to snap them back after awhile. My hips felt great, but I did not do any exercise as instructed. Each day I was itching to just try out my looser feeling hips with a run or even a sprint, but I don't want to mess things up by running when I had been instructed not to. The only exercise I did was moving some cut up logs from some trees we cut down. Some of them were about 1 1/2 feet thick and about 2-3 feet long and I was able to carry them 50 feet, while stepping over a rock wall, before throwing them into the woods. My hips remained stable and strong with no stumbling, giving out, or weakness. I was very impressed with the results after just one therapy session.

During the session on Sunday, I had more work done on my hips (primarily the left one), as well as the muscles around my knee (again mostly the left), and then some work on the muscles above my hips and back. Some of the muscles needing work were the usual culprits: the poplitius behind the knee, the QL (quadratus lumburon) on the left side (tight and weak), the TVA (transverse abdominus), and the TFL (tensor fasciae latae). The TFL seems to be the one that is tight and inhibited. As soon as we get it working, it wants to shut down again. I think the sessions are spot on and all the conversations about the muscles make complete sense to me and give me some answers to the things I have been sensing for years. I wish I had a transcript of all the things we talk about concerning the muscles and how they work as well as how MAT attempts to work with these muscles. To me, this seems like the most scientific and muscle specific approach I have yet undertaken to fix my imbalances and my running stride. Each muscle is tested in different directions and positions, then if it is inhibited, we do some isometric contractions, then he palpates the origins and insertions of the muscle before it is retested again. I am amazed by how a muscle that was weak, just minutes earlier suddenly feels solid and strong. He retests certain muscles again after treating surrounding muscles and sometimes they have held their strength and sometimes not, and we go back to fixing that muscle again. It is a very active therapy, as I am moving muscles and turning over on my front, back, or side multiple times. It was also a long therapy session and while my money is very tight, I think that I am certainly getting my money's worth out of these sessions due to the therapists time and expertise and the fact that I am noticing changes and how it makes complete senses to me. I am going back again this weekend. I am still cautioned not to run or exercise in ways that may reinforce my bad patterns and compensations, so I am still on the running retirement list!

That being said, as good as I felt after the first session, I returned home after the second one and started feeling stiff from my toes to my head. Partway through the session, I noticed I had a stiff neck, but didn't say anything. I may have had it earlier in the day. I don't recall. By Sunday evening, my whole left side felt like it usually does on my worst days. All the nice looseness of the previous week was gone. My toe joint hurt, my ankle, my lower leg felt rotated off my knee, my outside hip was tight as well as my glutes and lower back and I felt like a had a kink in my upper back and neck. All of this on my left side. Maybe the therapy was too aggressive, maybe we did too much work on one side, maybe my upper back or neck had something to do with it, or maybe it was just my body readjusting in another way to all the changes. It lasted for two nights and then last night I got up and shifted my hips a bit and there was a loud thunk in my pelvis (or hips) and things started calming down. I guess some muscles let go or something shifted back into position. The muscles in my legs are still tight like I have done some heavy exercise, but I haven't, however I still feel more balanced and can walk up and down stairs without lurching, holding on to the railing, or shifting to one side. My upper back and neck still are stiff so maybe that is something else, but I am writing it all down so I can remember when I go in for the next session.

Here is a new article on Muscle Activation Technique as found on the Hugo Anywhere blog. It looks like it was written for older people with mobility problems that may be more obvious (using canes and walkers), but if I don't get myself taken care of soon, that could be me in a few years. The article stresses a couple key points about MAT therapy very clearly. If your are interested in learning about the working of MAT, read these highlights from the article.

According to Greg Roskopf who began developing MAT twenty-five years ago, the key to building strength is through reducing tightness and increasing range of motion.
Roskopf posits that tightness is a symptom of muscle weakness, and it’s actually caused by faulty wiring of the neuromuscular system preventing information from getting to the muscle from the brain. Without the proper signals, muscles tighten up as a defensive mechanism, resulting in pain, inflammation and limited mobility. MAT aims to restore those neuromuscular pathways in order to slow, or even reverse the progression of muscular dysfunction that causes weakness and muscular imbalances...“As we age, this instability becomes an internal issue, maybe part of the muscular system itself becoming dysfunctional, causing the same neurological response as walking on ice, to take shorter strides and limit their range of motion. The goal of MAT is to melt the ice, provide a sense of stability. If you do that the body will provide all the mobility in the world.” ...While other therapies treat tightness directly using stretching or massage, MAT treats the muscular dysfunction as a neurological disorder. Using digital manipulation of the muscle (manually pressing and palpating) MAT trains the muscles and brain to work as a connected system. Imagine trying to start a car without a battery. Much the same way, MAT aims to restore the electrical pathways between the muscle and the brain. By patching that channel of communication between the muscle and the nervous system the chance of injury is reduced.

This technique involves palpating the muscle where it attaches to bone, called the points of origin and insertion, and retraining the brain to fire the muscle and connecting muscles...

Unlike movement-based therapy therapies such as yoga or Qi Gong, MAT is an isolate-based technique. Similar to the way mechanics works on cars, MATs examine the body in stasis as an integrated system and isolate the dysfunction. MAT practitioners want to know what you can’t do. When a movement is activating a muscle that is weak, other stronger, synergistic muscles will compensate. MAT aims to resolve the perpetuation of strong muscles getting stronger and weak muscles staying weak.

You can find out more about Muscle Activation Technique at the MAT site here (which I note has been recently updated from the earlier archaic design). This video gives a bit of a picture of a what a MAT assessment and treatment looks like.


danimal said...

hi just wanted to know your thoughts on Guy Voyer's method and if you ever plan on going back working with a real practioner instead of relying on the still pictures from ming chew's book

Jim Hansen said...

I have tried the fascial stretches in Ming Chew's book and others online related to Guy Voyer's Method. Have you found a list of practioners for these stretches? If it is like anything else I try. I usually push too hard instead of doing things lightly. Those stretches are for the fascial system and right now I am working on activating muscles through MAT. I would be curious to find out what connection inhibited muscles have to the job of the fascia.

danimal said...

Hi Jim,
I haven't found a list of practioners. I'm just a curious wonderer of all these different modalities. Maybe Voyer's methods are best marketed but that's what's been interesting me most recently and i just stumbled to your blog posts from 2008. I'm sure every leader of a modalitiy would claim his is most likely the right for the job esp Voyer since the claim could always be made that the fascia is connected to everything in the body and so it needs to be corrected.

Just wondering why you didn't consider looking for a practioner in Voyer's methods a few years ago and how you decided on MAT

Jim Hansen said...

I wish I could try all these different therapies with a practitioner. The limiting factor is the cost involved. Too bad health care insurance doesn't pay for these alternative treatments.

I decided on MAT for a couple of reasons. I was trying to decide between more rolfing or Somatics and trying to save some money before deciding. I had done the whole rolfing thing before and it didn't hold, so I am thinking that unless I can keep going back every month, things will keep falling apart after every session. It is a good therapy, but it wasn't fixing an underlying issue. Somatics intrigues me, but it seems so gentle and I can't help thinking that the forces of my running might pull it all apart again, although I wonder how close some of somatics is to MAT. I wish I could try it with a practitioner to see what would really happen. I had a massage therapist many years ago who threw in some MAT or MET moves that seemed to really help me. I had a friend tell me that MAT may be just what could help my muscles a couple months ago, so I put it on my radar and read more. The idea of inhibited muscles seemed to match the way I was describing myself and I got their cd, which is very limited compared to what goes on in a session. Practicing the cd a few times seemed to bring some real benefit, so I chose that therapy. I hope it is the right choice!

Luke Summers said...

Hi Guys

Interesting thoughts here. I am a practitioner trained in Muscle Activation, although slightly different to MAT, we use the Be Activated method, taught be Doug Heel, and is heavily influenced by Applied Kinesiology. I am also trained in ART, CORE Myofascial Therapy, acupuncture, kinesio taping, SFMA and ELDOA stretching.

Most of the changes to normal muscle activation sequencing have occurred through habitual patterns, too much sitting etc, changes to fundamental movement patterns and stress!

The link between the diaphragm and PSOAS is well documented (Ida Rolf), when your stressed, on in a sympathetic nervous state, your breathing pattern change. This can changes PSOAS function / activation, which through reciprocal inhibition effects the gluts. Glutes not activating cause tightening of the hamstrings and lower back, and the compensation pattern carries on... If your CORE (PSOAS and glutes) aren't activated, the smaller muscles take over and guess what, change function, tighten up, become weak, develop scar tissue, the list goes on. Normalising the parasympathetic nervous system will often improve muscle activation. This can be done through te stimulation of neurolymphatic defence points. (Applied kinesiology).

We teach much of the Muscle Activation points so they can be self administered. Means you can quick fire up a muscle before exercises, in the morning before work etc, probably not the best business model, but hey, we're about helping people. The problem with the strength testing used for muscle activation, is they are done lying of a couch. When was the last time you went for a run lying down? Everything changes with movement, so functional screening becomes extremely important.

I would suggest you get an SFMA screening if you have a problem, it will identify what fundamental movements you can and cannot do. The correction of fundamental movement patters often resets many of the inhibition and muscle imbalance you may have. (The Janda approach) You would be surprised how many people have forgotten how to roll over... even though it is one of the first movement patterns we learn!

Ultimately all these therapies and techniques have their uses. But In reality, each person is different, and each technique has its value when used correctly. My advise is to find someone who knows the limitations of each therapy.

Also for what it's worth, Guy Voyar is probably the best therapist around (in my opinion) but many of Ming's stretches actually improve on the original ELDOA's hip flexor for instance. Do keep up with them, with out a doubt the best stretches around. Runners should all do 'holding a small globe' before a session!

Active Release London

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks for your great comments. I came across Doug Heel's pages a few weeks ago. I was wondering about the connection to MAT. I will look at them again.

Jason said...

Hi Jim,
I'm not sure how I came across your blog, but I did. I'm a multi- and master-certified fitness trainer, raw food educator, and i have a holistic fitness training business. I think it's interesting to compare methods and outcomes. Just wanted to chime in and share a deeply held belief in MAT. I am not a MAT specialist, but I often utilize a "jump start" version of MAT, utilizing low-level isometrics to activate--which you have experienced a bit in your sessions--rather than manual palpation. In my 13-year professional experience, I view MAT as one of the most fundamentally sound and real-world successful modalities available. What Luke said above is interesting, but I don't think the fact that MAT is done on a table has any reduction in carryover to real-world scenarios, or compound upright movements. This is simply because all MAT is doing is testing for specific neuro-muscular inhibihitions and reactivating them. In my experience, those inhibitions are there no matter your kinesthenic position--whether you are standing or lying--and the activations are active no matter what position or movement you are in as well... Unless it is a stress-inducing movement which you are entering which is inducing an inhibition. From everything I have seen, functional movement type screens involving integrated movements automatically correct once the involved musculature has been activated.
When I was in L.A. full-time, I always referred issues extending outside of my own ability to an MAT Master Therapist, and the results were great.

Anyway, one more thing to keep in mind is that inhibitions can also be helped along and/or caused by dehydration, poor nutrition or intolerable foods, and mental stress. Some of these, especially food-related, can be tricky to notice or pinpoint, but I've found this fact to be integral even in my own personal fitness.


Jim Hansen said...

That is good to hear, Jason. Thanks for your comments and for noting success with MAT.

Skip said...

Thank you Jason for saving the day.

-an MAT Specialist