Strain and Counterstrain for Back Spasms

Strain and Counterstrain is a gentle system for easing muscle spasms into positions where they are able to heal on their own. When our muscles are functioning normally, they contract and relax as we consciously move our body and maintain healthy levels of muscle tension as our bodies are at rest. Due to acute back pain and muscle pain injuries, there is a reflexive mechanism by which the muscles maintain a continued state of contraction, and an elevated state of muscle tension even as we try to rest that part of the body associated with the affected muscles. Due to some type of injury, the nerves and muscle spindle fire nerve signals to the brain at a high rate, causing pain and continued tightness of that muscle. This tension in the muscle is an adaptive response of the body to restrict any movements which would cause a further injury. In most cases, this bout of acute pain and muscle spasms will ease up as the injured part of the body heals - ceasing the increased nerve activity in the nerves and muscle spindle. In some cases, however, the nerve activity remains elevated above normal levels even after the original injury that caused the acute pain has healed itself. This elevated activity of the nerves and other structures that cause the muscle spasms is a common cause of chronic pain. One method of treatment that specifically treats this type of activity is the Strain and Counterstrain Technique. This technique identifies positions that continue or exacerbate the chronic tightness of the muscles, followed by manual movements and treatments of the patient which release the tightness of the muscles and the nerve activity that causes elevated tension in the muscles.

This treatment is a movement therapy that involves the manual adjustments of patient's body positions with the goals of re-aligning the patient's body and bringing it back to a restoration of health and comfort. This technique was originated and developed by the Osteopath Lawrence Jones, DO, FAAO.

Anatomy, Physiology, and Therapy: People who have conditions such as myofascial pain syndrome, restless leg syndrome, and chronic lower back pain have elevated nerve activity in their muscles that cause them to contract and main tension beyond levels that are healthy and comfortable. When we are healthy, our muscles contract and relax as we direct them to when we consciously move our bodies, and maintain a baseline state of contraction when they are at rest. When we suffer from some type of muscle disorder that causes pain, these muscles may then reflexively remain in a painful sustained state of contraction against our will, and an elevated state of tension even as we try to bring them to rest. Here's some background information as to why this might occur.

All of our muscles connect from one bone to another, in one site known as the origin and another site known as the insertion. The muscles don't connect directly to the bones. Located at the both ends of each muscle are the tendons, which connect to the bones. Sensory cells and structures tell the muscles when and how forcefully to contract and relax. It is this contraction and relaxation of the muscles which causes us to move our bodies at certain rates of speed and strength. These structures in the tendons, which send feedback to, and receive information from, the brain, are known as the muscle spindle fibers and the Golgi tendon organs.

When we first sustain some type of injury that strains the muscle, or injures close by tissues, these sensory structures send information to the brain that results in muscle spasms and areas of tightness in the muscles known as trigger points. During acute injuries, these sensory structures may react appropriately, telling the muscle to spasm and stiffen, in order to protect the body from injury. In some cases, though, the elevated activity in these structures may continue even after injuries have healed, resulting in muscle spasms and muscle pain that never really goes away.

For muscle conditions such as these, Strain and Counterstrain techniques may be helpful in treating back spasms and other types of chronic muscle pain.