Strain-Counterstrain Technique

The Strain-counterstrain Technique is a manual therapy that involves treating muscular imbalances, muscle spasms, and muscle tightness by various adjustments of a patient's body position. The therapists, including chiropractors, osteopaths, massage therapists and others, determine the muscles causing the patient's pain, and ease the patient into positions that causes a relaxation of the muscles. This relaxation of the spasming or tense muscles inhibits the firing of neurons which initiated the muscle contractions and resets the muscles to their natural positions. The positions that the operators of the therapy put the patients in are held from 90 seconds to five minutes at a time. Once the muscle spasms have been inhibited by these manual positioning techniques, further work may be done on the muscles to reduce tension in the muscle fibers, and small knotted areas of the muscles that are especially tight. These small areas of tightness in the muscle and muscle fascia are known as trigger points. These areas of tightness may be treated with massage therapy and other types of manipulation of the muscle. Once these muscle spasms have been inhibited and the trigger points have been resolved, the patient may experience lasting back pain and muscle pain relief.

The Strain-Counterstrain Technique was originally developed by the Osteopathic physician Lawrence Jones, FAAO, DO, to treat muscle spasms throughout the body. Unlike chiropractic adjustments that involve jarring, powerful manual adjustments of the joints, the Strain-Counterstrain Technique involves very slow and gentle movements of the body. These techniques involve:
  1. identifying the muscles that are spasming
  2. Moving the body into positions which will ease the strain of the muscle
  3. Holding these positions as the muscle resets itself. The cause of the muscle strain is the continued firing of the nerves associated with that muscle, which continue in response to a chronic injury or as the result of the misfiring of these nerves in the absence of any injury at all. As the muscle is eased into a position that inhibits this rapid firing of the nerves, the muscle spasms is reduced, and the neurologic mechanism is changed to the point that it's firing returns to a normal rate. This reset of the nerve to now fire at a normal rate prevents future muscle spasms or trigger points in the muscle.

The biggest advantage of this technique is how gentle and un-invasive it is to the patient. In fact, the treatment may be occurring and working while the patient is sitting, waiting for something to happen! Here is a brief overview of the science behind this treatment technique.

Form and Function (Physiology) of the muscles: All muscles have a point where they originate in one bone and insert into another bone. These two points where the muscles attach are known as the origin and the insertion. One the ends of both sides of the muscles, there are tendons that attach directly to the bones. By knowing where the tendons are, they will know known the points of origin and insertion into these muscles. This will be essential for the manual therapist to known as the will treat the patient by stretching and shortening the muscles.

Sensory and Motor Output: The muscles are attached to the tendons, and the tendons are attached to the bones. The muscles themselves are affected by the bones, as they move in the direction of bone movement, and by nerves that supply those bones. The muscles have a direct connection to the brain via the golgi tendon organs and muscle spindle fibers, which are located in the tendons. Neurologic signals travel back and forth between these structures in the tendons, telling the muscles to contract and relax. They also communicate with the muscle telling them how forcefully to contract and relax when the muscle is at rest. Due to a variety of reasons, the mechanisms in the golgi tendon organs and muscle spindle fibers may be distorted causing abnormal tension levels in the muscles while they are at rest, and inappropriate neurologic functioning of the muscles when they are in use.

The strain-counterstrain technique is designed to bring the mechanisms of these sensory structures in the tendons back into balance, so that they fire appropriately when at rest and when we are consciously using these skeletal muscles.