The purpose of a body is to serve the desires of the mind, when injuries happen it becomes the mind’s top priority to restore homeostasis. Muscle Activation Technique is an effective method to aid a musical/skeletal injury.
I injured myself a couple of years ago, let’s call it a neck sprain; though I saw many doctors, I was never given definitive diagnoses other than certain syndromes. It’s important to know that whenever diagnosed with a “Syndrome” this is a blanket term for “we don’t know what’s wrong with you, but here are some expensive drugs that may help”. I’ve had chronic pain since my neck trauma and what began as a neck injury trickled into chronic pain for my entire body, the pain is manageable most of the times, but occasional flare-ups reminded me I was not better.
From this neck injury, I was unable to be my active self for years. I couldn’t run, go to the gym, or participate in the sports and activities I dearly enjoy. I tried to carefully reintegrate these activities back into my life, but every time I tried I would aggravate my body even more. When I exercised I could tell the pain was going to be triggering because it felt my body was working incorrectly. I had suspicions the neuromuscular junction that is supposed to utilize my muscles was turned off since due to it being a neck injury; and other signals, like fasciculations and feeling off-balance. After triggering pain, I’d see an orthopedic doctor who would direct me to physical therapy, which didn’t really do any long-term good.
I’ve been to many doctors and physical therapists and I can say from experience there are some who are better and some who are worse. But if a treatment isn’t working its time to try something new, so I took to the Internet. Finally, after reading through piles of the same information, I found on a forum a treatment called Muscle Activation Technique. The post I read was somebody advocating for MAT, saying that this technique strengthened his body which put less stress on weaker muscles and nerves. To me, this sounded like something I could benefit from so I began more research.
Muscle Activation Technique’s main website describes it as “a specific and unique process for evaluating an individual’s ability to produce efficient muscle contraction.” But what exactly does this mean, and how is this different from physical therapy? After watching many YouTube videos and reading more articles and forums I figured, I’d have to give it a try to truly understand how it would affect me; so I signed up for an appointment.
My MAT Therapist made it very clear on the first day his purpose is not to solve pain, MAT works to isolate weaker muscles and strengthen them directly with certain exercises, there are correlations between MAT and pain relief, but using MAT as a tool to eliminate pain is not entirely its function. I wasn’t expecting this however, I was committing to trying this new treatment. The way I looked at it, MAT goes through three stages, testing, light exercise, and regular exercise. I’ll review my experiences with these three “phases”.
The first session, there is little to no exercise, it is testing day. On this day the MAT therapist looks to understand my body’s limits. I lay down on the table and he gives instructions on unnatural positions he needs me in, and then he applies light force with his hands on certain muscles, approximately 5 pounds worth. For me common positions were different variations of “hip hike”, which is lying face-up and pulling each side of my ilium toward my torso and “side bend”, which lying face-up and dragging my body side-to-side. We worked different variations of these positions as well, where I would try it raising or twisting an arm or a leg, etc. What he’s doing is isolating muscles and then would apply pressure toward them to see where the root weakness is. What determined if the muscle was week was if it couldn’t hold the force being applied by my therapist, there were some obvious differences; for example, my left side bend right was much weaker than my right side bend left.
Part of my therapist’s diagnoses was I very weak in my hips and core, so strengthen them might help restore weakness and misalignment in my neck, which will hopefully alleviate pain. He also said my mobility was that of a 60 year old main, (I was 22 at the time).
In the next batch of sessions, we began light exercise. The routine of these light exercises is to do the tests I’ve just mentioned and rep them out, then see if the muscle still seems weak by testing again. And when I say light exercise, I mean light exercise! Rather than lifting weights in full motion, I was in awkward positions applying 3 – 10lbs of resistance to force being created by my therapist or a machine. A crucial part of this stage is seeing if the strength building holds from week to week. Personally, my body reacted very well to this technique, but on certain retests, it was apparent the strength wouldn’t hold up so we’d conduct certain light exercises more than once to “activate” or “re-fire my” muscle fibers.
It was during the light exercise stage where I noticed the biggest differences between MAT and PT. In all of the sessions I’ve had with PT there was never any muscle isolation to this extent or testing strength at the precision that MAT does. Below, I’ve broken the differences between MAT and PT into a Venn diagram.
So far in my MAT treatment, I have felt relief, the claim I read from the forum that strengthening inactive muscles in this fashion will bring pain relief was true for me, I also had a noticeable improvement of joint motion. After my body was consistently staying strong doing light exercises, it was time to get off the table and into the gym. My therapist customized a workout for me, which we put to work in the gym downstairs. As I am exercising he is closely monitoring me, looking at my form and paying attention to signs of weakness. This was the first time I worked out seriously in about two years, I was nervous if all this work would pay off. We finished the hour session and I went home to carry on with my day. The next day an anomaly happened like I said earlier I was an active guy, who regularly exercised and played sports, but a day after my first real workout, I was never sorer in my entire life. It was an incomparable soreness where every inch of muscle in my body was screaming and felt like jello. But it was not pain! It was soreness, and I felt stronger and more flexible and amazed with what was happening to me. But the effects didn’t stop there; I was also exhausted and felt sick; opening my eyes was even hard due to soreness. When I woke up I was limping down the stairs, ate breakfast and immediately slept on the closest couch for the rest of the day. That day I slept for 16 hours and could feel the soreness in my sleep.
In my next MAT session, I told my therapist what happened. He said he’s never heard of anything like this before, but tried to make an explanation saying since my body was so “turned off” jumpstarting it as we did could have side effects. We had about two more sessions of regular exercise and then I felt comfortable going to the gym on my own.
Professional athletes, actors, celebrities, and everyday people use MAT. Even though it is not as well known as physical therapy it has a loyal fan base. Some professional athletes who use MAT are Frank Gore, Peyton Manning, and Shannon Sharpe, as well as many others. I’ve heard that some athletes like to keep MAT low-key because it is a secret weapon to staying in such great shape throughout the season.
As somebody who has been through MAT’s treatment, I can say I endorse it for back pain. MAT is an interesting method; it could be used for athletic training and treatment of certain conditions like chronic pain, whiplash, scoliosis, disk herniation, other types of back pain and more. Because of the high praise MAT gets, I hope to see it become more popular and picked up under insurance, researchers, and practitioners.