Neuromuscular Therapy – What it is and Why it is Used

Written by: Massage Therapy Blog Date of published: .

Neuromuscular therapist
doing soft-tissue
massage therapy on patient’s leg muscle
trigger points to relieve pain


The most effective type of massage therapy for lower back pain is neuromuscular therapy.

Neuromuscular therapy is also called trigger point therapy,  myotherapy, and myofascial therapy. The American Academy of Pain Management recognizes this form of massage therapy as an effective treatment for back pain caused by soft tissue injury.  

Neuromuscular therapy (NMT) is a type of bodywork that focuses on muscles, ligaments and tendons which are known as the “soft tissues of the body”.  NMT therapy session begins with a thorough examination of areas of pain. Any area can be painful, such as Neck Pain, Low Back Pain and even Hips, Shoulders, Elbows and Knees.  NMT has been around for over 100 years, and has science-based foundational guidelines backed by clinical studies. NMT is becoming much more popular, and doctors are recommending this type of massage even more than chiropractic care.  NMT goes along with alternative health lifestyle and also works well with Western medicine. 

Neuromuscular therapy is the application of varying levels of focused pressure on muscles in spasm and surrounding areas. The massage therapy pressure is usually applied with the fingers, knuckles, or elbow. Once applied to a muscle spasm, the pressure the muscle can relax and the pain may be alleviated.

Muscles that are in spasm will be painful to the touch. However, NMT does not have to hurt to be helpful.  Proper application results in a comfortable treatment that only causes minor levels of discomfort.

NMT practitioner treating back muscle strain
neuromuscular massage therapy


During your session, it is very important to communicate with your massage therapist regarding the pressure – whether the pressure is too much, too little, getting better, getting worse. The therapist should listen and respond accordingly. The massage therapy pressure should never be overly painful. In fact, most people describe the pressure as “good pain”  

Most muscle spasms sometimes require multiple treatments.  A common program is four massage sessions, usually over the course of two-six weeks, to achieve the best effect. If muscle spasms do not begin to respond to neuromuscular therapy within two massages, neuromuscular massage therapy may not be the best treatment option.   

NMT not only tries to immediately address pain that is current, but also attempts to get at the root of the problem by considering perpetuating factors that may be preventing the pain from resolving.

For a comprehensive approach that gives long term relief, NMT therapists are trained to analyze postural function,and help revise poor habits. Your therapist will look at the movement of your joints and muscles nearby the painful area to find if there are other problems that you are not aware of which are contributing to the problem.  The way you sit, stand, sleep and go through your day affects how tight and sore your muscles get.  NMT therapists can recommend exercises and stretches that can re-balance muscle tensions, and retrain poor habits for a long-term approach to resolving myofascial pain and dysfunction.

Applying neuromuscular massage hitting trigger
points to treat chronic pain from
foot tendonitis


According to the NMT Center, typical assessments and examinations primarily address

  • ischemia (tight tissue with reduced blood flow)
  • myofascial trigger points (hypersensitive points within muscles that give rise to referred phenomena, including pain)
  • neural entrapment (pressure on nerves by muscles and other soft tissues), and nerve compression (pressure on nerves by osseous and other bonelike tissues, such as cartilage or discs).
  • postural assessment (assessment of the position of the body as a whole)
  • and dysfunctional gait patterns (manner of movement when walking)
  • with constant consideration for many other perpetuating factors, such as hydration, nutrition, breathing patterns, and psychological stress.

NMT is highly effective for clients who present with chronic pain from overuse injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, or plantar fasciitis, and rotator cuff tendonitis.  NMT is often successful in reducing or eliminating even longstanding myofascial pain and other painful conditions. Some of the techniques can also be applied to acute injuries and for post-surgical care; many help to improve performance in sport or dance and to prevent injuries due to these activities.
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