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In Physical Therapy, what is Strain-Counterstrain?

Angela Crout-Mitchell
Angela Crout-Mitchell

Strain-counterstrain techniques are used in physical therapy fields, such as massage therapy, to improve muscle flexibility, relieve pain, and allow for a patient's greater range of motion. It is used to reduce muscle and joint pain. Most commonly referred to as positional release techniques, strain-counterstrain techniques are used to bring relief to patients affected by muscle strain or small knots of tissue known as trigger points. The manual therapy consists of assisting the patient into and exaggerated form of incorrect posture or positioning, allowing a 60 to 90 second rest time, and then helping the patient into a correct posture. The strain-counterstrain therapy often results in a greater range of motion motion and more comfort for the patient.

This massage technique has very specific applications and is not designed to help with every muscle or joint disorder. The physical or massage therapist will use positional release on only a select client base. People who suffer from fibromyalgia may benefit from this type of therapy. Cases of whiplash, back and neck pain, as well as some forms of post injury pain can benefit from these therapies. Overall, strain-counterstrain techniques are gentle enough to be used on both young children and elderly patients in the correct circumstances.

Individuals with whiplash injuries can often benefit from physical therapy.
Individuals with whiplash injuries can often benefit from physical therapy.

Strain-counterstrain therapy is designed to reduce the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders and spasms, along with reliving accompanying pain. Trigger points and tight muscles often result in a limited range of motion and soreness in the shortened muscle areas. With positional release, the patient is encouraged to hold and even deepen the most comfortable position for them in their present state, and then are gently guided back to a more natural and healthy position by the therapist. In many cases this technique allows the patient to return to a position closer to normal while experiencing with very little or no discomfort.

Stran-counterstrain therapy can be used to treat back spasms.
Stran-counterstrain therapy can be used to treat back spasms.

These techniques are designed to assist damaged muscles in releasing dysfunctional muscle patterns. During the treatment it isn't uncommon for the massage therapist to palpate the strained area and seek out trigger points. Often, other techniques like trigger point pressure and friction are used to break apart muscle fiber knots, which offers the patient greater pain relief and motion along with the positional release therapy. It is not unusual for several physical therapy sessions to be needed in order to provide normal or near normal range of motion for the muscle group. Range of motion improvement, along with pain relief, are the primary benefits of strain-counterstrain physical therapy techniques.

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Discussion Comments

anon964837

What about muscular leg pain?

anon275591

I am looking at this for my wife. She has major neck pain and migraines. I understand that this technique can really help this and cure the migraine problem. Please let me know what you have on this.

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    • Individuals with whiplash injuries can often benefit from physical therapy.
      By: Monkey Business
      Individuals with whiplash injuries can often benefit from physical therapy.
    • Stran-counterstrain therapy can be used to treat back spasms.
      By: WavebreakmediaMicro
      Stran-counterstrain therapy can be used to treat back spasms.
    • Strain-counterstrain exercises can help a patient regain a full range of motion.
      By: Ambrophoto
      Strain-counterstrain exercises can help a patient regain a full range of motion.
    • Strain-counterstrain is frequently used in massage therapy.
      By: Micky75
      Strain-counterstrain is frequently used in massage therapy.
    • Strain-counterstrain is designed to assist damaged muscles in releasing dysfunctional muscle patterns.
      By: goodluz
      Strain-counterstrain is designed to assist damaged muscles in releasing dysfunctional muscle patterns.
    • Pain relief and extended range of motion are the most common benefits from strain-counterstrain therapy.
      By: CandyBox Images
      Pain relief and extended range of motion are the most common benefits from strain-counterstrain therapy.
    • In some instances, strain-counterstrain therapy can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain.
      By: Yanik Chauvin
      In some instances, strain-counterstrain therapy can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain.