Physical Therapy and Muscle Activation Techniques

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is an umbrella profession which encompasses many different aspects of health in regards to the musculoskeletal and ligamentous systems of a human. A physical therapist may specialize in one technique or modality to achieve a desired goal of a client/patient. These tools used can be in the rehabilitation of surgeries, preventative care and injury recovery. The tools employed by one physical therapist to the next Physical Therapist can be VASTLY different, even though a patient may be suffering from the same ailment, one physical therapist may choose massage and stretching while the other may choose exercise.

Usually when an injury or chronic pain is incurred, a Primary Care Physician may refer the patient out to the Physical Therapist. Secondly, if a patient is needing surgery a prior authorization by an insurance company will require the patient to go through a period of physical therapy to meet requirements. It can be a bit of a cat and mouse game between the insurer and the Physician.

As physical therapy can be effective, it also depends on a few factors. One being the physical therapist who practices one approach over the next. Generally, you are not sure what you might get when arriving at the physical therapy office for the first time.

A physical therapist might prescribe exercise or acupuncture, dry needling, massage, facial abrasion, cold laser, heat therapy, cold therapy, myofascial release, stretching techniques etc., depending what area the Physical Therapist is trained in. When receiving one treatment to the next by visiting one or multiple physical therapists you begin to run into a quagmire. As the intentions of the Physical Therapist are indeed in your best interest, the variables being received by multiple treatments possibly by multiple physical therapists under one roof can cause confusion on what modality is helping and which may be hindering.

It’s reasonably accepted that at some point in time every form of physical therapy has genuinely helped people far beyond placebo, so this is not to undermine physical therapy, but to highlight that it’s not all one and the same beyond the diploma a Physical Therapist receives after two years of postgraduate study.

In all actuality, MAT is a form of physical therapy. Many Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Kinesiologists and Athletic Trainers have been through the 10-month MAT internship program. The practiced techniques themselves are utilized for many people who have recently acquired an injury or have been dealing with a chronic musculoskeletal dysfunction for years.

However, don’t be misled that if a physical therapist or trainer claims they are “ACTIVATING YOUR MUSCLES” that you are receiving a trademarked modality known as Muscle Activation Techniques. If said the physical therapist or trainer has not been through the formal education process and qualified through multiple examinations you are NOT receiving MAT.

Unfortunately, the notion of “activating muscles” has become so widespread over the years and a thrown around in casual physical therapy, rehab and exercise jargon. This jargon is not a substitute for a secondary or tertiary education in Muscle Activation Techniques and nervous system Function.

MAT targets the muscular system far differently than many other forms of physical therapy. While most physical therapy modalities directly treat tight muscles as the direct problem, through stretching, massaging, needling and electric stimulation. MAT has a reversal on the current thought process of directly treating a symptom. MAT looks at the nervous system as an incredibly intelligent system of the body which is programmed to recognize instability in a joint or movement. When instability is recognized as a protective mechanism, it tightens up muscles. This is not a new concept and has been around for decades now. The MAT hypothesis bases itself on many theories in which it concludes that the muscle tightness or joint dysfunction is secondary to underlying mechanical and/or structural weaknesses. When this tightness is directly addressed there is a potential to be violating the body’s naturally occurring protective mechanism.

For the physical therapist or kinesiologist who practices MAT, a direct recognition of this is a well understood fact which will lead them down the path of correcting underlying weaknesses before assuming tightness is the direct cause and problem.

How are weakness identified?

A Muscle Activation Techniques Specialist utilizes a specific form of muscle testing which has the ability to target specific positional muscular weaknesses.

Don’t be confused between what your local Chiropractor or Physical Therapist does when muscle testing. They are using general testing which is not geared towards specific motor function of muscle positions. A MAT specialist has undergone rigorous training in positional muscle testing to a point where it is our bread and butter an MAT practitioner is considered the gold standard in Muscle Testing.

Why is this important compared to what another therapist might do?

Muscle testing can be inherently unreliable if practiced poorly. If data is to be obtained through muscle testing, the practitioner needs to be highly efficient in the techniques observations which are required for accurate readings. If an untrained Physical Therapist or chiropractor hasn’t undergone multiple years of education in biomechanics related to muscle testing, the likelihood of reliable testing is low.

Why is all of this important?

If a Physical Therapist, Chiropractor or trainer has been said to Activate your muscles, how do we even know if the muscles require Activation to begin with if the techniques and approaches used by an untrained therapist are unreliable in assessing proper motor function? All of this being said, MAT and Physical Therapy are excellent adjuncts to each other. Where a typical physical therapist may target improving gross strength or the mobility, MAT can provide specific positional strength for small divisions of muscles which could be truly weak from a neurological perspective. If your tightness is due to a specific neuromuscular weakness in a section of muscle surrounding a joint, MAT has the tools to identify these small weaknesses and correct them by restoring motor function of said tissues, therefore decreasing persistent tightness through the root cause of it, underlying specific tissue weakness.