Muscle Monitoring is a bio-feedback technique used to find the presence of stress in the body. Most imbalances in the body - physical pain, illness, depression, anxiety or learning problems - are caused by stress. Indeed, one of the things that makes muscle monitoring so useful is that its response to a stressor is not specific, but rather general, allowing the muscle to “indicate” a wide range of stresses.
Not only does muscle monitoring let us know stressors are present, it also tells us how to assist the body in letting go of those stressors to achieve whole body/mind balance.
How does it work?
By monitoring the body’s neurological information flow between muscles and the central nervous system.
What does that mean?
When a physical, emotional and/or mental stressor is present, it can disrupt the electrical/chemical signals your brain/body uses to communicate with itself. This communication disruption can be detected by monitoring muscle responses. It’s important to note that we are measuring the muscle’s response to a specific stimuli - we are not measuring the strength of the muscle itself.
How is it done?
Muscles are isolated and put into their most contracted position - where the muscle is shortest. Then, very light pressure is applied to move the muscle through its range of motion - to where the muscle is its longest. If the muscle gives during this gentle test, it is considered to be an indicator that there is a stressor in the body. As most of our physical, emotional and mental processing happens outside of our awareness, this is a great way to dive deep and see what’s happening at an unconscious level.
How do you interpret the results?
If it’s easy to keep the muscle in its contracted position while the pressure is being applied, it is considered “locked” and not affected by a stressor. But, if it’s difficult to keep the muscle in position, it is considered “unlocked” and means there is a stressor in the body affecting the communication between the central nervous system and that specific muscle.
What’s a muscle monitoring session like?
It typically involves hands-on exploration, using gentle pushing and pulling of various large, accessible muscles. For example: the person being tested might be asked to extend an arm to the side while the tester applies pressure to lower the arm. Muscle monitoring can be done seated, standing, or laying down. Most often it is a combination of these, depending on which muscles are being monitored.
Once the monitoring is completed, a variety of techniques can be used to improve the neurological information flow between the affected muscles and the central nervous system.
How do muscles normally work?
Muscles turning on (“locked”) and turning off (“unlocked”) is the basis of all movement and happens millions of times a day as you move about. All muscles in the body, with only a few exceptions (e.g. diaphragm) are arranged in antagonistic pairs of muscles that oppose each other’s action. This arrangement of muscles is called reciprocal facilitation/inhibition because whenever one of the pair is facilitated (turned on), it antagonist muscles are automatically inhibited (turned off). Therefore, turning on (or “locking”) and turning off (or “unlocking”) are both normal states of muscle function that happen all the time.
Muscle monitoring helps you keep the pairs of antagonistic muscles in balance with each other. When unbalanced, some muscles have to work harder than they should, while other muscles don’t work hard enough. Over a period of time these unbalanced muscles can lose function resulting in decreased range of motion, increased discomfort, etc.
What happens when a muscle “locks” during muscle monitoring?
Neurologically, signals are sent to the “prime mover” (PM) to hold the position the body part was placed in by facilitating (“turning on”) the PM. Then as the pressure on the body part (e.g. arm held horizontal) is increased during the muscle monitoring, the muscle sensors (called spindle cells) in the PM respond to increase the degree of PM contraction, while at the same time inhibiting their antagonist and facilitating synergists. Synergists are muscles that help the PM in holding the arm up, but are not in their position of optimal mechanical advantage, so they contribute much less than the PM to establishing and maintaining this position.
Information on this response is also sent to subconscious parts of the brain (e.g. the cerebellum, thalamus and Basal Ganglia where comparisons of intended response and actual response are made. If the intended action was to keep the arm horizontal, but it is now actually moving downward due to the increasing pressure of the test, these brain centres will order additional contraction of the PM to offset movement and the arm will remain horizontal. As long as this flow of information from muscle sensors to and from the brain and central nervous system remains "clear" with no interruptions (stressors), the muscle will "lock" and maintain its "lock" under continued loading till it reaches its full power of contraction. This locking indicates a muscle “in balance” with its neurological circuitry.
What happens when a muscle “unlocks” during muscle monitoring?
If a stressor disrupts or interferes with the free flow of information between the muscle and the central nervous system, the muscle will not be able to co-ordinate and match its degree of facilitation to the increasing loading taking place during muscle monitoring. The arm will then move downward appearing to give under the monitoring pressure, resulting in an "unlocked" muscle. Thus, a muscle that is monitored and found to "unlock" is "under facilitated" relative to the pressure being applied.
A muscle may "unlock" whenever a "stressor" is present in this interrelated system. Importantly, the muscle response is a general one not dependent upon the nature of the "stressor" Any "stressor" of sufficient magnitude in any of the related systems, organ, gland, meridian or muscle, will interrupt the neurological flow between the muscle and the central nervous system resulting in an "unlocked" muscle.