Muscle Activation Techniques: A Key Tool for Pain Relief

By: Richard M. Beaubien DC, CSCS, CKTP

Athletes often experience setbacks due to weak, strained, and over-used joints. When joint stress becomes oppressive, the body will compensate by over-using surrounding muscles, which results in pain and stiffness. Utilizing Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) is key to minimizing pain and enabling a quick return to your active, outdoor lifestyle.

Pain often occurs when there is a lack of stability. This is why everyone should strengthen his or her core; those core muscles stabilize the joints in your lower back and help to prevent and treat low back pain. The body only offers the range of motion that it can stabilize, which contributes to the decreased flexibility experienced around an area of injury. When all the muscles are “doing their job,” there is increased stability at and around the joint and, therefore, less pain. Force production further enhances stability across the joint when the muscles are working together properly.

What is MAT and How Can it Help?

MAT is the process of waking up muscles that are not doing their “job.”  Vladimir Janda first described this concept long before Greg Roskopf popularized it in the personal training field. MAT is a form of neuromuscular education that allows the nervous system to reintegrate a muscle or muscles that have been “by-passed” or inhibited in normal muscle recruitment patterns.  When a muscle is inhibited, other muscles tighten to protect the unstable joint

Let’s look at an example of how MAT works with a common running injury like iliotibial band syndrome, or ITB syndrome.  ITB syndrome is a common running injury that causes knee pain.  Current medical research states that this injury is due to overuse that causes inflammation of the IT band and tightness.  ITB syndrome can be reduced and even cured by massaging a foam roller over the infected area(s), then performing some exercises when the pain has decreased.  Be aware that although foam rolling sounds soothing, it is really quite painful over an inflamed ITB! Foam rolling can actually increase the pain before helping repair. Now let’s look at how MAT approaches this problem.

Muscle Testing

First, the cause of a joint’s instability needs to be identified by a discrepancy in range of motion. For example, instability could be a result of your right hamstring having a smaller range of motion than your left. Instability is then confirmed with a muscle test.  Muscle testing is used to determine if the affected area has adequate strength at that specific range of motion.  Results of a muscle test are positive when the athlete is unable to generate any useful force for a specific movement.

Muscle Treatment

Once inhibited muscles are identified, they are reintegrated into the muscle firing patterns related to that joint through the practice of specific exercises or soft tissue work. The exercises used consist of isometric contractions that activate the muscle spindle fibers. Muscles can also be reactivated by engaging them in exercises from where they attach to the muscle.  Although painful, this technique is very effective.  Once the muscles are working, they need to be trained with eccentric contractions. Eccentric contractions allow you to build strength more quickly and to gain better control of the movement around the joint. Training eccentric contractions is also beneficial in injury prevention, as most injuries happen during an eccentric contraction.

Who Can Provide MAT?

MAT is not a standard treatment in any professional health or wellness field.  Your doctor may not have heard of it. Health professionals must receive additional education to be trained in MAT. The most easily recognizable organization that provides this training is Greg Roskopf’s Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT).

To locate a MAT specialist near you, please visit www.muscleactivation.com.  Your first visit to a MAT certified professional should consist of basic paper work and a biomechanical assessment.

Dr. Beaubien completed his undergraduate degree in Physical Education and Exercise Science from Michigan State University and his Doctor of Chiropractic from The National University of Health Sciences. His background as a personal trainer coupled with his chiropractic and post-graduate education, allows him to specialize in treating athletes and patients with chronic pain. He is a certified Kinesiotaping Practitioner, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and an Integrated Flexibility Specialist. 

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