The strain counterstrain massage technique is a gentle and remarkably effective method for dealing with muscle spasm. This system, originally called “positional release technique,” was developed by osteopath Dr. Lawrence Jones in 1955.
Your muscles and joints are always providing sensory feedback to your nervous system about stretch and position. This feedback is provided by Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindle fibres. A spasm is a strong involuntary contraction of the muscle. Although painful, spams serve a purpose. When the nervous system senses that a joint is in danger, it instructs the muscle to heavily contract to stop a movement that would damage the joint. Typically, the strong contraction will only last a minute or two. However, sometimes it can become stuck in a vicious cycle. The muscle sends strong signals about stretch to the nervous system, and the nervous system sends strong contraction commands right back to the muscle.
As the muscle contracts, it shortens. Spasms can be identified visually or by the presence of tenderness. To perform the strain counterstrain technique, the massage therapist passively positions the muscle into a shorter state. To be done passively mean that the patient does not use his or her own muscle to do so. Using their hands, the massage therapist does all of the movement, without any assistance from the patient. The patient may guide the therapist, letting them know what motions are reducing the pain. Once the muscle is passively positioned in a shortened state, it is held in position for at least 90 seconds, but it may be be held for over five minutes. It must be held until the spasm starts to relax.
When the massage therapist holds the muscle in a pain free position, the muscle no longer sends the message of joint danger to the nervous system. In return, the nervous system instructs the muscle to switch from muscle spam to normal muscle contraction. The aberrant reflex is stopped, muscle tone is returned to normal, and pain is almost immediately reduced.