After becoming a massage therapist, I soon grew frustrated over persistent symptoms of tension and reduced function my clients presented on my table. I wanted to “fix” them, so it was time to return to school to see if I could learn what caused these patterns. Fortunately, our school offered a course in what became the precursor to the Nemerov Method.
Work-related stress, trauma, and the repetitive motions in many jobs often lead to areas of persistent tension and discomfort. For example, working long hours in today’s tech-saturated world can result in neck and upper back tension, along with weakness and pain in the wrists and hands, all from typing on a keyboard. Change that to a laptop, tablet, or smart-phone, and these symptoms begin to multiply.
Persistent patterns that resist more straightforward manual therapy are usually symptoms of compensation—over-recruiting some muscles in order to help other muscles fatigued from overuse. In the computer example above, it’s common for people to over-recruit their neck and upper back muscles as their hand and finger muscles tire from repeated computer use.
The Motor Control Center (MCC) comprises brain functions governing movement. The two primary functions are Motor Learning and Motor Memory. Learning to walk is an example of Motor Learning. As the MCC combines individual muscle functions into a sequence of actions, it becomes more adept at keeping the body balanced in gravity while moving forward. Once this process attains a certain skill level, the MCC compiles these sequences into motor programs and stores it in Motor Memory. Motor Memory enables us to perform daily tasks with ease, because we don’t have to keep relearning them. Rather, the MCC initiates stored motor programs just like clicking on a computer icon activates a software program.
When injured, muscles overload like an overloaded electrical circuit. The MCC immediately initiates Motor Learning to create a compensatory motor program, recruiting the remaining available muscles, thus providing enough structural integrity to keep functioning as well as possible. This creates new motor programs which get stored in Motor Memory, overwriting the original programs.
After musculoskeletal injuries physically heal, the compensatory programs remain in Motor Memory, resulting in persistent tension, lost range of motion, weakness, and pain. The Nemerov Method addresses these problems by utilizing the MCC’s natural processes of Motor Learning and Motor Memory. Muscle testing performs a necessary function for the MCC, giving it an opportunity to experience if it remembers how to isolate and activate muscle fibers designed to perform a specific movement. If the MCC no longer has that programming in Motor Memory, the muscle tests “weak.”
At this point, the MCC realizes it has forgotten how to activate a muscle, because it didn’t get the results it expected. This “failure” initiates Motor Learning, as if the MCC says “well, that didn’t work, so how do I do it?”
While Motor Learning is active, the manual therapist performs a gentle relaxation/mobilization of the tight compensating muscle, and then tests the weak muscle function again. As the previously weak function strengthens, the MCC compares the new results to the previous test, showing the MCC that it can activate a muscle, rather than compensating with another muscle. The MCC then effectively says “that’s better than the last attempt, so I want to remember how to do it this way.” It encodes the new activation sequence and stores it in Motor Memory, overwriting the old, biomechanically inefficient programming.
By incorporating the basic functional principles of Motor Control Theory into manual therapy, the practitioner can attain accelerated results and resolution. Over 90% of my clients have symptom resolution with an average stay of 4 treatments per client.
The Computer Metaphor
Motor control functions like a computer system. The hardware resides in the motor control functions of the brain and nervous system. The software is the motor programming which decides what muscles to activate, and in what sequence to activate them, for any given movement. When you click on an icon on your computer desktop, a program initiates and runs from off the hard drive. (Motor memory functions like the hard drive). If the program was compiled and installed correctly, it performs the functions you desire in the proper manner. (You move naturally and easily.)
When the program has “bugs” it does things you don’t want, like messing up formatting of a document or locking up your system. (A compensation pattern is a motor program with “bugs”.) A computer program is made up of subroutines, each of which works with information and then passes the results on to the next subroutine. (Individual muscles are considered subroutines in motor control theory.)
To fix a misbehaving program, a software engineer must find which subroutines are not performing correctly and revise the code. (This occurs during motor learning, when the motor control center learns to activate different muscles in a new sequence that is more natural and efficient.) After completing this process, the entire program is recompiled and saved to the hard drive. (A new motor program gets “compiled” and stored in motor memory.) The next time you click on the icon, the updated program activates and you get the results you expect from the software. (You remember how to move more efficiently, and it happens naturally without having to think about it.)