Kelley Southard - August 01, 2022

What are Muscle Energy Techniques?

For many people suffering from chronic muscle pain, such as acute lower back and neck pain, muscle energy techniques (METs) may be just what the doctor ordered.

Muscle Energy Techniques: Type of Manual Therapy

Muscle energy techniques are a type of manual physical therapy based on the concept of reciprocal inhibition, described below. The muscle energy technique uses the theory that a joint is only effective when it is used to its full range of motion. These techniques are very effective and noninvasive. These are also an effective way to strengthen weak muscles.

Manual Therapy, Muscle Energy Techniques

Manual techniques are often used to treat injuries. By activating the muscles and joints, they help a patient get back to normal activity and improve their range of motion. The technique is safe enough to use on any joint in the body, including the joints in the neck and shoulders. They are also regularly used by athletes as preventative care.

Reciprocal Inhibition

Reciprocal inhibition is a process of relaxing the muscles on one side of a joint to accommodate the contraction of opposing muscles on the other side which reduces the length and tension of the muscle after an isometric contraction. In other words, this technique involves the contraction of an agonist muscle and the relaxation of its antagonist. It is based on the principle that muscles on one side of a joint will always relax to allow a contraction of the opposite muscle. The patient contracts a muscle and relaxes with an exhalation while the therapist applies a passive stretch to the opposite muscle.

Reciprocal inhibition also involves the stretching of a muscle after a contraction. This technique is especially useful for acute injury and chronic conditions that affect muscle and joint movement. It reduces pain by lengthening the muscle fibers and minimizing aggravation of the injured muscle. Further, it does not involve any pain medication or surgery.

Muscle energy techniques are similar to proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching (PNF) but are applied at lower forces. While PNF recruits phasic muscle fibers, MET activates tonic muscle fibers. The PNF contraction occurs at approximately 25% of a person’s maximum force, while a MET contraction is at the initial barrier of tissue resistance.

The techniques may be direct or indirect, depending on the indication. The MET method can be illustrated with an example. A flexed or tightened biceps muscle limits motion in the elbow joint. Similarly, pain in the elbow joint limits motion in a tightened biceps muscle.

Noninvasive Treatment

The use of muscle energy techniques is a popular method of noninvasive treatment for people suffering from chronic muscle pain. This type of therapy involves active participation in stretching and lengthening muscles. This technique has been found very effective at relieving muscle pain and spasms. This technique is also useful for patients who suffer from post-surgical stiffness and muscle tightness.

The technique uses indirect pressure, or muscle energy against anti-force to stretch the affected muscle. It improves musculoskeletal function, increases circulation, and improves lymphatic flow and structural alignment. Various researches have shown that muscle energy techniques can help with pain, edema, and joint problems.

Effectiveness of Muscle Energy Techniques

The results from several studies have found that muscle energy techniques can be more effective in treating latent trigger points than other, more traditional, treatments like ischemic compression.

Muscle energy techniques have a proven track record for improving pain in patients with acute and chronic low back pain. Researchers compared the MET group to a control group and found that the METs had a greater positive effect on the pain and disability scores than the spinal mobilization group. Low back pain is one of the most common conditions in the medical field and accounts for a high percentage of emergency room visits. The Muscle Energy Technique is one of several techniques used in osteopathic manipulative medicine.

They also found that MET is effective for patients suffering from plantar fasciitis and other muscle pain. The researchers analyzed the effects of the technique on ROM, a foot functional index, and pain through a numerical pain rating scale.

Muscle energy techniques are generally well tolerated by most patients and effective in treating many different conditions.

  • Chronic muscle tightness or stiffness due to injury or surgery
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Edema
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Trichorhinophalangeal syndrome type I (TRPS Type1 is a condition that causes bone and joint malformations)
  • Increasing range of motion, joint mobility
  • Strengthening weak muscles
  • Injury prevention

While muscle energy techniques can be used effectively for a wide range of conditions, it is important to note that this technique may not be not appropriate for everyone. Therefore, it is best to seek help and guidance from a physical therapist to determine if it will benefit your condition. You may benefit from exercises you can do at home, with a physical therapist’s guidance.

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