Have you ever wondered why an Osteopathic stretch is so effective at stretching your muscles?

An Osteopath uses a very specific stretching technique called Muscle Energy Technique (MET).  This is a very safe and effective treatment technique, which can be used to treat almost any joint in the body.

How does the technique work?

First, Practitioners find a tight or restricted joint.  They stretch this joint to its movement barrier, then instructs the client to contract the muscles across this joint in a controlled position against the practitioner’s counterforce (refer to video link).  The muscle contracts.  Then the practitioner asks the client to relax this muscle which results in a relaxation and loosing of the tight muscles and a lengthening of the joint.  This process is usually repeated 3 times and the joint is gradually, in a pain free gentle manner, loosened to a better functioning state.  The aim of this technique is primarily to normalise joint motion and restore symmetry to the effected muscle.

What is the science behind this technique? 

MET uses two specific neurological reflex mechanisms.

  1. Reciprocal Inhibition Reflex – this is a fancy name for a simple process. If I told you to move your elbow what would happen. You would see my bicep muscle contract tighten) but what about the muscle on the other side of my arm, the tricep?  It would have to relax to allow the same movement.  Thus, when you contract one muscle the opposite muscle has to automatically relax to allow this.  That process happens in all apposing muscles in the body.  Reciprocal Inhibition Reflex.
  2. Golgi Tendon Organ and Muscle Spindle Nerve Ends – these are also fancy names for a simple process. They provide feedback to the brain about the tension and length of your muscle.  When muscles in a stretch are tightened the Golgi Tendon or muscle spindle alters the brain to this increase in muscular tension.  The brain responds by saying to that whole muscle you need to loosen.  This results in a more permanent change in the muscle and joint length.  The result for you is that your muscles loosen, which increase the joint motion restoring symmetry of joint movement throughout the body.  So, MET essentially tricks this feedback system by stretching muscles on tension.

It is important to understand that Osteopaths undergo 5 years of training to understand and perform such treatment and this should not be attempted by anyone who isn’t qualified.

Through these two mechanisms, MET is used to move a joint through a restrictive barrier, assisting in lengthening a shortened muscle, strengthening a weakened muscle, reducing local oedema, and/or mobilizing a restricted joint by taking it through its full range of motion.

As with all manual treatment there are risks involved, most commonly patient’s report experiencing post treatment soreness, but this is transient, and usually only lasts 24-48hrs.


Written by Noah Malka

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