Neurokinetic therapy address the root reason behind chronic aches and pains
June 19, 2017
If you go …
What: Neurokinetic therapy.
Where: Concierge Physical Therapy Colorado is located in Edwards, but sessions can be conducted in a patient’s home.
When I was 3 years old, I fell down the stairs in my childhood home. There was a bathroom at the top of the staircase, and my mom was in there bathing my baby sister. I was pulling on the doorknob, trying to open the door. When my mom opened it, I let go was sent somersaulting down the hardwood staircase and crashed into the wall at the bottom.
While all my bones remained intact, I suffered a severe concussion. I temporarily lost my vision and spent the night in the hospital. In the end, though, my parents were far more traumatized by the accident than I was, and I suffered no long-term issues because of the accident. Or so I thought.
In a recent neurokinetic therapy session with Julie Peterson, licensed physical therapist and owner of Concierge Physical Therapy Colorado, I discovered there's a good chance that my childhood head trauma is the reason why the right side of my body tends to be stronger than my left.
I also learned that my right side is stronger likely because I use it more than my left, which, in turn, has led to more aches and pains on my right side than my left.
"At its simplest, the role of a physical therapist is to restore the physics of function," Peterson said. "We have to look at the full body to do this. Knee pain may stem from a hit to the head, and neck pain may stem from a stubbed toe. I use neurokinetic therapy to clean up software problems."
My session was an hour long and took place in Peterson's Edwards home. Her practice is mobile, though, so while she's set up for sessions in her home, she can also meet clients at their homes or hotel rooms.
Peterson also offers services such as in-home personalized rehabilitation and dry needling. She discovered neurokinetic therapy after her own knee surgery a few years ago, when she realized she was experiencing the same pain after the surgery as she had before.
"I thought, 'Something else must be going on here,'" she said. "There had to be something else going on somewhere else in my body that was contributing to the injury."
Neurokinetic therapy was the answer to her pain, and so, she became licensed in the practice to help others in similar situations, including those who want to try to avoid surgery.
Reprogramming the brain
According to the NeuroKinetic Therapy website, which is run by David Weinstock, who developed the NeuroKinetic Therapy bodywork system in 1985 in collaboration with several peers, the neurokinetic therapy corrective movement system is a sophisticated bodywork modality that can be used as both an assessment and a rehabilitative technique for low-back pain, neck pain, carpal tunnel and other injuries.
The system works by employing a system of precise muscle tests and can change the programming of the motor-control center in the cerebellum, according to the NeuroKinetic Therapy website. The motor-control center coordinates all movement patterns in the body. It learns through muscle failure.
"The premise of neurokinetic therapy is that injury, repetition and altered mechanics can create compensations in the body," Peterson said. "If muscles or tissues become weak, or inhibited, others will become forced to work overtime, or facilitated, to make up for the shortcomings.
"Neurokinetic therapy is an assessment and treatment technique that identifies and corrects these dysfunctional pairs. By calming what is overworked and waking up what is underperforming, we are able to correct faulty movement patterns stored in the brain."
Take, for example, a whiplash accident in which the posterior — located in the back — neck muscles brace for the anterior — located in the front — neck muscles. This pattern can subsequently endure forever unless there is some intervention.
When a neurokinetic therapy practitioner tests the weak anterior neck muscles, they fail, which opens the motor-control center to new learning. After balance is restored, the motor-control center is reprogrammed and recognizes the anterior neck muscles. To complete the reprogramming, the practitioner may assign specific rehab exercises to reiterate the new functional pattern.
"Neurokinetic therapy is particularly powerful for people who have hit road blocks in their recovery," Peterson said. "The person who's had multiple knee surgeries, yet still has knee pain. Or the person with severe back pain who has undergone every test under the sun only to hear their back is fine. In many cases, we look for a structural problem to be the source of the pain, like ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), meniscus, disc. I call these hardware problems. Neurokinetic therapy helps address the software, the motor-control system in the brain."
Reinstating the link
My session started with a conversation with Peterson about my own past injuries and chronic aches and pains. My right knee, I told her, has given me trouble since I was a teenager. I estimated it started during my high school tennis career and explained that the knee is now the most susceptible to aching during or after a long hike or run.
Throughout the session, I was either standing or lying on the therapy table while Peterson moved one of my arms or legs into a position and then told me to hold it in place while she applied pressure to the limb. In some cases, I was able to keep the limb in its assigned position. Other times, however, I struggled and my limb collapsed under the pressure.
When that happened, Peterson would scan my body, like she was reading my muscles, and then apply pressure to a muscle, often on the side of my body opposite from that of the limb that was being tested, while going through the process of positioning an arm or leg and applying pressure again.
My reaction — whether I could keep the limb in position or not — gave her the feedback she needed to find the missing link, the muscle that was not being activated. She would then massage that muscle to wake it up, essentially reinstating the link and reminding my brain to use that muscle again.
Peterson also asked me if I'd ever had surgery and if I had any resulting scars. I told her about the umbilical and bilateral inguinal hernias I had repaired through a laparoscopic surgery three years ago and the small scars that remain on my abdomen as a result. I didn't understand if or why the tiny, almost indecipherable, scars were important to note.
Peterson explained that even though I have no memory of my abdomen being cut during the surgery, my brain recorded the event and, as a result, may not be firing the muscles around my scars since the surgery.
"Anything receiving communication from the brain is fair game in neurokinetic therapy," Peterson said. "It boils down to how much signal the brain wants to send to that structure. The options are: normal, too much and too little. Even though you were not conscious during surgery, your brain was recording, like a black box.
"The incision was closed physically, but the brain recorded danger and may continue to send a signal to 'close the hole.' An abdominal muscle may have been cut in the surgery. So, the scar has too much signal and the abdominal muscle too little. By massaging the scar tissue and then activating the abdominal muscle we can correct the dysfunction."
'A global pattern'
The session was nearing its conclusion when Peterson commented that the right side of my body was by far more dominant than my left side. This is often the sort of thing seen in a patient who's suffered some sort of head or brain injury, she explained. Which is when I told her about my tumble down the stairs as a child.
While I don't recall which side of my head I landed on (and neither could my mom when I asked her later), the subsequent test showed the trauma was likely to the left side of my head.
"In our work together we found that you heavily favor your right side," Peterson said. "In testing different muscles, we found a host of failed tests on your left side. A light bulb went off and you mentioned a falling on your head, likely the left side, when you were 3 years old. To the brain, a hit to the head on left equals 'danger, don't go left.'
"We were able to test a suture, or joint, on the left side of your skull and found this spot turned on just about every muscle downstream. This is an example of a more global pattern. A portion of your skull was inhibiting your ability to load your left side."
While most of my issues were directly addressed during the session, Peterson gave me one exercise, involving my feet, to do at home to help retrain the way my body distributes pressures throughout my left foot when I'm standing.
Typically, Peterson only assigns exercises (two to three at a time maximum) in cases where the exercise will change pain and/or improve function. The number of sessions a person needs to see results and the length of each session varies by client, though most sessions are 1 ½ hours long.