This is just what is sounds like: a massage focused on the deep structures of the body. In many ways it will be similar to Swedish, but with more focused, penetrating pressure. Passive stretching and shaking lubricates joints and improves range of motion. This type of massage will be beneficial for treating old injuries, scar tissue, and specific problem areas where chronic pain is experienced. It should be used in conjunction with exercises prescribed by your physical therapist that you do at home. Deep structural imbalances cannot be fixed with massage alone; strength training and exercises that improve balance and posture are also required.
I think this is what most people imagine when they think of massage. It is rhythmic, flowing and gentle. It brings warmth and circulation to the skin and fascia, and is deeply soothing even for the most sensitive recipients. Kneading and percussion are interspersed with long flowing strokes to cleanse the soft tissue and calm the nervous system.
Neuromuscular Therapy, or NMT, deeply retrains the muscular-nervous system through the use of “trigger points.” Every individual muscle fiber is innervated by a motor neuron, which keeps the muscle at a certain tension, even while you are resting. This resting muscle “tone” is normal and necessary, but often times a single fiber becomes excessively taut, radiating pain and tension to a larger area (sometimes called myofascial pain). I can usually feel these trouble-makers with my finger-tips and have affectionately called them “shitty little stringy things.” It feels like a tiny metal wire embedded in the healthily-squishy surrounding muscle. These trouble-maker fibers may be pulling on tendons and ligaments and causing pain within joints.
There has been scientific research into the causes of these trigger points, and many theories amount to biochemical feedback loops that may be broken by increasing blood-flow through massage. Hardened by a build-up of cellular waste and debris, a hyper-contracted fiber may receiving less blood-flow and be deprived of oxygen, which is a bad thing in any part of the body. The suffocating fiber releases stress chemicals in response, which ultimately causes even more contraction. Bottom line: a vicious cycle creating a perpetually tight fiber may be broken by massage techniques. (M. Saleet Jafri, “Mechanisms of Myofascial Pain,” International Scholarly Research Notices, vol. 2014, Article ID 523924, 16 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/523924)
The flesh will first be warmed and softened with gentle kneading. Then, with lots of communication between client and practitioner, a trigger point is found and held under the thumb while the client breathes and consciously relaxes. At this point, the client’s awareness and active participation are crucial to reset the trigger point (interrupt the feedback loop). When the trigger point is pressed, a shining sensation is produced and begins to emanate from the point. It may be sharp and bright or dull and aching. It should feel like a “good pain.” The client may observe this sensation spreading like a tree toward other referred areas of tension. Breathe! I will remind the client to relax all these areas -- when he does, it can feel like incredible waves of relief spreading throughout the whole body. Sometimes a tiny spasm of that cranky little fiber is felt by one or both of us. Oh so satisfying... We can work on one trigger point for about 30 seconds to a few minutes, then gently knead out the surrounding area and move on to find another trigger point.
NMT can be quite intense, so I recommend it for the braver clients who are seeking awareness of their deeply held tension patterns, and who are able to communicate clearly while on the table. Releasing trigger points is easiest when we are working together to find them, and when the client feels some control in the process. You must feel comfortable tolerating a bit of a strange, if not painful sensation. But oh the rewards if you can! If you know what is meant by “the good pain,” you will probably love it.