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What is Myoskeletal Alignment Technique?

Created by erik dalton

What is Myoskeletal Alignment Technique?

From low-back and neck pain to stiff hips and headaches, a wide range of painful issues bring clients to the bodywork table in search of lasting relief. These clients, especially the ones who have crossed into chronic pain want someone to resolve the root cause of their suffering. This is the mission of Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques (MAT), a form of manual therapy that uses scientific evidence about the body and brain to inform the practitioner’s approach to solving musculoskeletal problems. As modality steeped in science, MAT continues to evolve along with the latest research on pain.

In general, MAT relies heavily on strategic deep tissue, joint stretching and muscle activation techniques for posture correction and pain relief. MAT training teaches manual therapists how the musculoskeletal and nervous systems work together, what problems lead to pain, and how to restore optimal balance and performance using guided assisted stretches and manual hands-on techniques. With a thorough understanding of the physiological and psychological mechanisms of pain, MAT therapists evaluate and address root causes rather than simply soothing symptoms.

Origins of MAT

For a better understanding of MAT, it may help to begin with a quick look at my own bodywork background and the circumstances that led me to develop MAT in the first place. I met Ida Rolf at Esalen the 1970s and was inspired to start my manual therapy career in the early ’80s as a Certified Rolfer®. A decade later, I became interested in osteopathic bodywork following a clumsy judo fall that resulted in a traumatic cervical spine fracture. In an attempt to better understand the spinal biomechanics of my own injury, I began a deep dive into the neurologic relationship of muscles and joints.

This eventually led me to post-graduate studies at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine with legendary researcher and professor Philip Greenman, D.O. In my private practice, I began to blend the joint neurology principles I was learning from Dr. Greenman with the deep tissue work I had learned from Ida Rolf. The success of this combination was remarkable, and I was motivated to share it with my colleagues and other professionals interested in noninvasive pain management.

In 1998, the world at large was introduced to MAT with the release of my first home-study course, “Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques.” Overwhelmed by the positive response, I opened a MAT training facility called the Freedom From Pain Institute and also hit the road teaching anywhere I was invited. Since that time, I have written three bestselling bodywork textbooks, created a full slate of online continuing education courses and held countless MAT workshops all around the world.

How does MAT work?

As pain is the body’s call for attention, MAT practitioners learn to listen before they treat. For starters, this means learning to conduct thorough and insightful intake interviews. It also means learning to perform appropriate postural and movement assessments. Catching strain patterns before they become chronic pain patterns is a key component of MAT, and proper assessment helps practitioners pinpoint where a brain-body disconnect may be leading to strain or pain.

For many clients, chronic pain arises from common imbalances and dysfunctional patterns in the musculoskeletal system and can be relieved with a combination of skilled manual therapy and intelligent corrective exercises. However, in order to select the right techniques and exercises, the therapist must have a full-picture understanding of the various body systems and how they are interconnected.

Without a true understanding of how these brain and body systems work together, most common musculoskeletal complaints are incorrectly assessed and treated. From the anatomy of bones, connective tissues and nerves to the neural signals that trigger muscular contraction, MAT training gives practitioners the wide perspective necessary to effectively treat pain.

At its foundation, MAT uses contract-relax techniques to help the nervous system feel less threatened by what has been identified as a painful movement. Active pain-free therapy signals the brain that the previously painful movement is now safe. By doing this repeatedly, the nervous system will often start to disassociate the movement from the pain. In essence, the MAT goal is to bring as much “good news” to the nervous system as possible.

Although various MAT techniques are typically interwoven during a session, the MAT trained therapist might choose to use one more than another according to an individual’s needs. For example, a rotator cuff injury might require a combination of nerve flossing and tendinopathy techniques in addition to specific home retraining exercises.

In every session, the goal is to address the client’s condition based on their immediate physical and emotional state, never pushing beyond where their bodies or minds want to go. The process is always fluid, creative and interactive. By offering assistance to the body’s natural healing process, MAT therapists help the client’s brain correct the underlying causes of pain and discomfort.

What MAT does for clients

  • Relieves chronic pain contributing to weak posture
  • Releases trapped nerves from tight muscles, joints and ligaments
  • Corrects atrophy, weakness and muscle amnesia in head-forward postures
  • Addresses breathing disorders caused by a drooping ribcage
  • Lessens pain sensitivity through graded-exposure assisted stretching techniques
  • Eliminates protective muscle guarding due to joint fixations
  • Improves sleep by lowering sympathetic nervous system tone
  • Creates dynamic, confident posture
  • Corrects sports-related tendon and joint injuries
  • Enhances athletic performance through hands-on proprioceptive training
  • Changes the brain’s mind about pain through targeted home exercise advice

About Erik Dalton

Erik Dalton is a lifetime member of the International Association for the Study of Pain and an affiliate faculty member at Indiana State University Department of Applied Medicine and Rehabilitation. In 2012, Indiana State became the first major university in America to offer Dalton’s Advanced Myoskeletal Massage Therapy program as a minor degree in massage. That same year, Dalton received the One Concept Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007, he was inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame. In addition to writing and teaching, Dalton has maintained a private manual therapy practice in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for more than 40 years.

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