There are two things that I wanted to talk about today that come up a lot with new NKTers and those that have had a fair amount of time to learn the technique (just finished typing the first one up, the second one will wait for another day, sorry! This is plenty long enough though for now.). The first is a distinction between a neural lock and what I have phrased a ‘functional success.’

Part of the reason that David has kept NKT to only in-person classes is that several fundamental aspects really have to be learned by hand and feel and there is literally no substitute (especially for those like myself with minimal manual experience beforehand). A neural lock is perhaps one of the most important of these elements to learn, as if you don’t know what a neural lock feels like you don’t know whether you’ve solved the issue at hand. One of the things that cause the most confusion for people, I feel, is when a test doesn’t blow out and seems pretty good to them…but is pretty good a neural lock? This is obviously not something I can teach you through text, nor do I have the intent to, but there are a few points we can raise to perhaps make the process easier to traverse.

With time you will come to know how a lock in each muscle feels like, and obviously there is a contextual element of size and mechanical setup that will designate how ‘strong’ a muscle feels when it’s ‘plugged in’ neurologically. A few things to look for to start with (some we definitely talk about in seminar, but there’s a few extra to keep in mind): are their eyes scrolling around in their head, are their hands or toes clenching, their shoulders or head coming off the table, the jaw clenching (and the tongue pushing against the roof of their mouth or lips doing some extracurricular work! May have to ask about the first), is their breath being held or is it not being held but they keep trying to exhale forcefully or is the breath undulating/struggling instead of coming out smooth? All are pretty sure signs that the test is a fail, whether or not it shows up ‘weak’ as some tissue somewhere is clamping down to make the system feel stable enough to allow the function at hand to be carried out.

Another thing to look for that is a fantastic give away is when one side works as intended (just so we have a sample like a control group) but with the other one the patient unconsciously starts turning the limb or neck during the test. This is the MCC trying to slot a nearby muscle into place for the task that it trusts more than the one you’re trying to activate. This is a pretty surefire sign that it simply doesn’t trust the muscle you’re trying to test despite normally being the ideal and mechanically advantageous choice. The adductors are a good example, and so are the levators for rotation during the test. I’ve also found the sartorius trying to jump in on things like the post tib (adductors too), resulting in some funny movements of the leg that obviously have no business being there. Checking different ranges of motion within a given muscle will also give you more data towards this effect where the MCC’s lack of confidence becomes obvious as the patient changes the angle to try to accomplish what it thinks is the action requested.

This isn’t what I wanted to talk about tonight with this topic though, but thought I’d mention it on the way. The big confusing element are the mentioned ‘functional success’ results instead of a neural lock. So what do I mean by this? Simply put, the test seems pretty damn strong and normally you’d think it was a lock, but the truth is this isn’t always the case. The glute max test is a great example, and yes while all of our tests are for ‘functions’ and patterns, not necessarily individual muscles, obviously the role of that muscle in the pattern is important and part of what we’re looking for as if they don’t work, there’s going to be problems. The problem lies within the fact that some of the patterns we test can still functionally succeed (be technically carried out with fair strength) while the muscle(s) we may be interested in are in fact inhibited. Much of the time the hamstrings and gastrocs, or the gracilis/magnus are really what’s going on in a glute test and show up pretty strong, but the glutes aren’t doing a damn thing. Lowering the leg below the table in supine helps but in my own left glute for example, it shows up strong but its 0% glute max (literally, actually, its atrophying and we have yet to find it!).

For this reason, among others, I like to cue the person to try to use their butt, or to ask them where they feel the contraction “resistance” during the test. Looking to see what is contracting yourself also helps. Also note, though, that these muscles may or may not be what is facilitated for the glute (though they may be so don’t discount it either). The lats is another example where the forearm muscles, some of the biceps, pecs, and general adductors can be giving you a functional success but so much of the time it’s not actually the lats working for humeral adduction. Again, look to see what’s contracting (eventually you’ll get a feel for it as well if you don’t already) and ask them where the resistance is coming from. They may not be able to feel it, I’ve had people that were using their glutes but couldn’t feel it, but their knowing it’s doing its job is useful info for the patient and the practitioner.

If you aren’t sure you’ve found a neural lock check the muscle you’ve been working on as you may just not have found the right spot yet, don’t stop until you’re satisfied! One example in my experience so far is that I can take a regional crossfitter in a glute test and lift their leg straight off the table most of the time with a glute fail, and sometimes it’s still pretty functionally strong but I can shift it a couple of inches quite often. I can then take a 90 pound woman’s leg once I’ve found the lock and literally can’t lift it off the table pulling as hard as I can. If you can lift their foot more than a half inch (and even then that may be too much) and they aren’t under 10 or over 80, I’m probably calling it a functional success instead of a neural lock. Be sure and don’t make the assumption!

Filed under: The Practitioners Corner

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