ABOUT NMT – Neuromuscular Technique
Extracts from: Leon Chaitow 2011 Modern Neuromuscular Technique, 3rd ed. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh
Chapter 12 Thai Massage and Neuromuscular Technique by Howard Evans
In his book ‘The Human Machine and Its Forces’ published in 1937, Dr. Dewanchand Varma says:
‘We have discovered that the circulation of the nervous currents, slows down occasionally because of the obstruction caused by adhesions; the muscular fibres harden and the nervous currents can no longer pass through them. We have demonstrated effective and positive methods designed to restore nervous equilibrium which promotes the healthy circulation of blood, so that new tissues begin to be built up again’ (Chaitow 2003, pp. 32-33).
Based in Paris, Dr. Varma practiced a form of soft tissue manipulation which he called ‘Pranatherapy’. This was derived from Ayur-veda, the traditional medical system of India, Dr. Varma’s homeland. His system was to become one of the sources of what we now know as Neuromuscular Technique (NMT).
Stanley Lief, who had trained in America as a chiropractor and naturopath, heard of Dr. Varma’s work and travelled to Paris to receive a series of treatments from him. Lief was so impressed by the results that he persuaded Varma to teach him his system. With the help of his cousin and assistant, Boris Chaitow, Lief further developed and refined the techniques and coined the name ‘Neuromuscular Technique’ (Chaitow 2003, pp. 32-33).
When I studied NMT in 1995 with Leon Chaitow, Boris Chaitow’s nephew, I was intrigued by the way in which aspects of Neuromuscular Technique resonated with Thai Massage, a system I had already been practicing for three years.
Around the same period I also discovered the work of Ida Rolf and experienced its practical application in the form of ten sessions of ‘Rolfing’. These two influences began to inform my understanding of Thai Massage which, back in the nineties, was taught as a practical work with very little theory.
One of the techniques included under the general heading of Neuromuscular Technique is the ‘c-bend’; recognised as one of the few ways of modifying connective tissue status and lengthening muscle through a process of ‘tension loading’.
The technique involves using the thumbs or the heel of the hand to introduce a ‘c-bend’ into the target muscle, until the first barrier of resistance is met. The barrier is engaged until the therapist feels a release in the tissue. This would typically occur between 5 and 30 seconds.
Using this technique encourages muscle lengthening without the risk of initiating a stretch reflex. Although the c-bend can be applied as a series of rapid, snapping thrusts with the intention of breaking up rigid tissue, when its aim is to lengthen muscle the process is slower and smoother (Chaitow 2003, pp. 32-33).
The c-bend enlists the help of the muscle spindles and golgi tendon receptors within the muscles. The muscle spindles detect and adjust the length of the muscle while the golgi tendon receptors detect how hard the muscle is working (Chaitow 2003, p 3). Applying a c-bend, signals to the nervous system that the muscle is under load and the nervous system lengthens the muscle to reduce the risk of overload and damage.
In Thai Massage, rhythmic manipulation of the sen is a major part of the massage. Using a myofascial approach to the sen, the massage practitioner invariably follows the border of a muscle.
As they push into the myofascial pathway they often find themselves applying a c-bend to the muscle. Although in Thai Massage it is not usual to hold the c-bend for long, the rhythmic repetition of the movement along the length of the muscle still has the desired effect of lengthening and softening the muscle.
When I studied NMT with Leon Chaitow one of the first attempts we made at applying a c-bend was to the erector spinae muscle. The movement involved using the medial border of the muscle to c-bend it away from the spine.
In Thai Massage it is more practical to use the lateral border of the erector spinae muscle to apply a c-bend toward the spine. This is the lateral back line. It works just as well. The c-bend is repeated along the length of the spine from the edge of the pelvis to the lower edge of the scapula. One hand works while the other rests.
- Chaitow L 2003 Modern Neuromuscular Techniques. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh.