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  • Nociceptors, Proprioceptors and SMRT


    The most difficult thing for me to do with Spontaneous Muscle Release Technique (SMRT) is describe it verbally.  I have said many times that the principles of SMRT are the same as those for Strain/Counterstrain.  With SMRT we create a specific conversation with the proprioceptors, as well as the nociceptors, mechanoreceptors, and baroreceptors.  We do this by duplicating the tension patterns that already exist in the client’s tissues.  Where Strain/Counterstrain and SMRT differ is in application.  With SMRT we use minute movements to communicate with the client’s nervous system, whereas with Strain/Counterstrain the movements are large and many times require props.  Many times in classes I have explained that by using the minute movements of SMRT we are engaging and speaking to the nervous system through the proprioception.

    When writing about Strain/Counterstrain, Brian Tuckey, PT said this, “Today it’s believed that Counterstrain works via decompression of pain and movement receptors which exist in the body’s main connective tissue called fascia. Once slackened, these receptors are silenced (shut off) alleviating pain, relaxing tissue and allowing trapped metabolites to dissipate. Thus, the musculoskeletal version of fascial counterstrain can directly relax skeletal muscle spasm and “unlock” restricted joints through reflex mechanisms. No aggressive manipulation or “thrust” techniques are needed.”

    When receiving an SMRT treatment, I feel first that whatever mechanism in my body feels the need to hold the area tight and protect it is able to let go.  This sounds simplistic, but, as any client of SMRT can tell you, it is amazingly complex when you feel it in your body.  Next, I feel my tissues realigning themselves.  Yes, unwinding, but also lengthening, and that word that we use so often when talking about SMRT, releasing.  Is it possible that when we do an SMRT treatment we are decompressing and shutting down the nociceptors while engaging and making more active the proprioceptors?  Nociceptors sense pain in the body, while proprioceptors provide information about where a body part is in space.  It seems to me that my initial feeling is one of the pain receptors being “shut off” and no longer creating tension in order to protect, while my latter sensation is all about the proprioceptors reorienting that body part in time and space.

    Furthermore, the body part in question could be one muscle fiber, a fascial sheath, a ligament, or a joint (as suggested by Brian Tuckey).  All of us who practice SMRT are aware of the amazing effects it has on the joints.  But, as a massage therapist, I must walk around the language of what we are actually doing.  In attempting to teach within the scope of practice of many states, I am unable to fully explain SMRT and its benefits to the human body.  But anyone who has ever experienced SMRT is astonished by the thorough effect it has on their body, yet we all have a difficult time verbalizing what we are feeling, even those of us with an understanding of the human body have difficulty putting language to what we feel after an SMRT treatment.

    This may just be because by “shutting off” the nociceptors and engaging the proprioceptors, we create deep changes that it takes clients a while to figure out.  I believe that our video classes are well made and a wonderful source of instruction, but I would encourage all of you to come to a class and experience SMRT in your own body.  There really is nothing else quite like it.

    SMRT is a positional release modality that interrupts pain signals in the body, painlessly resolves trigger points, has an incredibly calming effect on the nervous system, and is highly stimulating to the lymphatic system. By working with all tissues in any given area, SMRT easily and quickly allows the tissues to balance and the joints to realign effortlessly, re-establishing correct posture.