As I go through my explanation of Neurokinetic Therapy™ and how the motor control center in the brain orchestrates movement and the protective strategies it uses that result in the injuries and pain I work on, inevitably I see a question pop up on their face. If it’s so common for people’s core muscles to not work, how can I have a six pack? The thing is, just because a muscle is inhibited doesn’t mean it’s weak; the brain just isn’t allowing it to work because in some kind of functional relationship with the rest of your anatomy, it believes it would create instability around a joint or organ, so shuts it off. The problem is even 50 years after an injury your body may still be using the same protective mechanism as if the injury were still present, so in that particular role, if not every role, it turns that muscle off.

Let’s go with an example and a metaphor. Two previous people I’ve worked on come to mind. One is a slender ~80-90 pound woman, and the other is a 240 pound athletic male. Both of them had glutes that weren’t firing. The glute is one of the mechanically strongest muscles we have. I turned the glutes on for both of them and naturally I couldn’t shift the guy’s leg during the test, it was just too strong, but with his size it isn’t surprising. But the thing is, I couldn’t shift hers either. Despite the fact that they couldn’t use their glutes, they were still really strong, I just had to ‘plug them back in.’ For our metaphor, imagine you’re a lawyer making embarrassingly large amounts of money, so that each month a mountain of money is being put in your account. You think one day, I need a Porsche and go to purchase one, but you forgot your debit card and checkbook at home. You have all the money in the world but you can’t access it. Strength can be the same thing; the brain is our access point to that strength and it determines if we can use it or not.

glute max

Sometimes a muscle is so inhibited for long enough that it does atrophy to a degree and has to get its strength and endurance back in order to regain the confidence of the brain to complete tasks, but this is definitely not always the case. In the gym you may be able to work out your abs, but be unable to use them in the functional roles for which it was intended. The abs themselves were meant to be used to stabilize the core more than actually move us, so it makes sense that it may work in the gym and become strong and chiseled, but be useless in its stabilizing role. The same is the case for so many other muscles, which contribute to instability and pain, and we just have to find the right light switch to flip to get them back on.

On the other side of things, we have a sports and fitness culture that loves to stretch. Lengthening tight muscles and working on general flexibility is a big goal for many people, but we rarely broach the question ‘why is it tight?’ The vast majority of the time the brain is telling a muscle to become tight as a way to limit the range of motion around a joint it feels is not stable enough to allow unrestricted movement, or because the muscle does not actually feel strong enough to have confidence that it will be safe stretching all the way in dynamic motion and having the ability to keep itself from stretching too far and ripping itself or other tissues. There are other mechanisms, but tight muscles are tight as a protective mechanism for themselves, or for something else. Stretching a tight muscle often leads to it tightening further to try to protect itself from what it sees as an obvious threat, or it may actually cause damage to what it was protecting if the issue is still present. Hamstrings in particular should rarely be stretched as they are tight for a reason, and when you stretch it is generally non-specific, so you stretch parts of the hamstring that really shouldn’t be stretched at all, even if some of the hamstring could use it.

Muscles and tissue can be tight, inflexible, painful, and even somewhat rigid, but we always have to ask; ‘why is it this way?’ The answer is almost invariably “to protect itself or something else.” The same question goes for why something won’t work, or why it seems ‘weak’ even when you exercise it. It’s time to ask why, and then search out the cause. Neurokinetic Therapy can figure out what and why, and set it right.