An Overview of MAT
As we age, due to various forms of stresses being placed on the body, the muscular system may become less efficient in its contractile abilities. The result of this diminished muscle activity may correlate with many of the physical complaints that we relate to aging. There are many modalities out there that deal specifically with injuries or the degenerative changes that occur with aging, however, up until recently, no one has specifically dealt with the negative changes that occur relative to our neuromuscular function. This is where Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) fits in. MAT recognizes that as we age, the accumulation of stresses and traumas to the body takes its toll on our muscle function. MAT recognizes that every injury may have a negative impact on our neuromuscular function and that over time, the communication between the nervous system and the muscular system becomes negatively altered. If this altered communication is not regularly addressed, then the cumulative effect may be a progressive weakness of the muscular system as a whole, resulting in an increased susceptibility to pain, injury and/or degenerative issues. The end result is a decreased ability for the muscles to handle the physical stresses that come with everyday activity, exercise and physical performance.
MAT is a specific program designed to identify and address these altered communication pathways with the primary goal being to restore muscle contractile capabilities. MAT recognizes that through training, repetition and memory, muscles typically develop a threshold for how much physical stress they can handle. Whereas a highly conditioned individual would typically have a higher threshold and a sedentary individual would generally have a lower threshold. This threshold is regulated by the central nervous system. Regardless of the threshold level, when this threshold has been exceeded, either due to a one time physical trauma or repetitive micro-trauma, as part of the body’s protective mechanism the nervous system decreases the contractile ability of the stressed muscles while creating a protective hyper-contraction of the opposing muscles. This resultant altered neural input to the muscles on both side of the axis is demonstrated by reduced contractile capabilities of the stressed/agonist muscles and an associated protective hyper-contraction of the antagonistic muscles. This neurological adaptation is represented by a lack of mobility that is secondary to the weakness of the muscles that were overstressed.
These principles define the foundational thought process behind MAT. The thought process behind MAT is that muscle tightness is secondary to muscle weakness. Through the principles of MAT, we recognize that wherever you see a limitation in ROM, it is an indicator that one or more of the muscles on the opposite side of the axis has lost its ability to contract efficiently. Therefore, the primary tool used in the MAT assessment is a muscle specific, joint ROM exam. MAT recognizes that limitations in ROM are an indicator of coinciding muscle weakness. Through further assessment,, once the limitations in ROM have been identified, MAT utilizes a specific testing process designed to assess the contractile ability of each muscle associated with the limitation in ROM.
This process allows the MAT practitioner to determine which muscles associated with the limitation in ROM have lost the ability to contract efficiently. Once these weaknesses have been identified, the primary goal is to improve the contractile ability of the inhibited/weak muscle. MAT presently has two processes for improving the contractile ability of muscles. One form of activation is through a specific palpation technique designed to stimulate the sensory receptors in the muscle, which in tum improves sensory feedback to the CNS. The other form of activation is through position specific isometric contractions designed to improve motor output to the muscles. The goal of each of these forms of activation is to improve the muscles’ contractile abilities in order that the muscle can more effectively handle forces that are being placed on them. By improving the contractile ability of the muscles, the primary goal is to improve the effectiveness of the muscles to provide stability at their associated joints. As the nervous system recognizes this improvement in the contractile abilities of muscles, it will also diminish the protective contraction of the antagonist muscles. This allows for efficient contractions of the muscles on both sides of the axis, thus providing mobility and stability about their associated joint(s). Therefore, the premise behind MAT is that if you can provide a sense of stability, then the body will give you mobility.
MAT can be looked at as part of the exercise continuum. The most important component of MAT is that it provides a system of checks and balances. It enables a MAT practitioner to evaluate the integrity of the neuromuscular system whenever a force has been applied against it. MAT also allows trainers to evaluate various forms of force applications in order to determine if certain exercises exceed the threshold, thus resulting in muscle inhibition. In simplistic terms, MAT allows trainers and therapists to “check their work”. Therefore, MAT can act as an adjunct to all forms of therapy and exercise. It is a specific technique designed to improve muscle function. This improvement in muscle function can, in turn, provide an environment which can reduce the risk of injury while also speeding up the body’s ability to recover from injury.
Explanation for Health Care Providers
MAT is a very specific non-medical process with a narrow application to the assessment, improvement and maintenance of a targeted aspect of human motor control — muscle’s contractile efficiency as a function of; a strict time interval, at various positions along muscle’s length: tension relationship, at a precise limb/body position, in response to a specific point of application and direction of external force.
Muscle Activation Techniques incorporates individual strategies each of which may be used by any number of licensed medical or non-medical providers; medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, doctors of chiropractic, doctors of physical therapy, massage therapists, nurses, trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, etc.
These techniques/strategies are:
- The Comparative Mobility Assessment — The CAM (Comparative Assessment of Mobility)
- Active Muscle Contract and Sustain Assessment — The AMC&S
- Positional Isoangular Contraction (muscle activation technique) — The PIC
- Digital Force Application to Muscle Attachment Tissues (muscle activation technique) — The DFAMAT
The MAT Specialist is trained and certified to perform several force application techniques to the body. When licensed providers, unfamiliar with the MAT paradigm, observe a MAT specialist perform these techniques, the MAT Specialist may appear to replicate procedures used within a medical diagnostic and treatment scope of practice. For this reason our definition of each technique is provided followed by an observer’s possible interpretation for each:
- The Comparative Mobility Assessment is a specific force application leading to the measurement of active or passive limb motion from a designated start position/posture, through a designated plane and direction, to the end of the limb motion. This measurement is then compared to the mirror image limb motion for the limb on the opposite side of the body. It is not a joint range of motion examination performed to evaluate passive tissue stability, joint surface pathology, ligamentous integrity, etc.
- The Active Muscle Contract and Sustain Assessment is a specific force application of a specific magnitude and rate of force application, set up and delivered by the MAT Specialist, that assess the muscle’s ability to react to and meet that force. It is not a manual muscle “break” test or manual muscle test used as an indication of the body’s response to a chemical substance, nor a change in its energetic field, nor a positional post isometric relaxation technique.
- The Positional Isoangular Contraction is a specific limb position/orientation and direction of motion generated by the client, into a barrier to that motion, set-up and maintained by the MAT Specialist. The MAT Specialist may use their hands and body to hold/guide limb orientations/positions and provide the barriers to motion during the isoangular contraction. It is not Muscle Energy Techniques, strain/counter strain or post isometric relaxation technique.
- The DFAMAT is a specific force application to body tissue using the practitioner’s fingers — direct pressure applied perpendicular to muscle attachment tissues (tendons, aponeuroses) using the tips of the fingers instituting motion creating subtle tension on the attachment tissues, followed with motion lines that are perpendicular (cross hatching) to each other, maintaining the tension for a duration of 1-4 seconds per site, releasing and then reinitiating the process, moving along the width/length of the target muscle attachment. It is neither a soft tissue evaluation nor a manipulation to release trigger points, adhesions, Active Release Technique, move body fluids to and from tissue sites, etc.
The specific application and unique manner in which the DFAMAT is executed is not any of the following manual techniques which are taught in massage or other soft tissue manipulation schools:
- Longitudinal Stroking
- Myofascial Release
- Trigger Point Therapy
- Chair Massage
- Cross Friction
- Positional Release
- Sports Massage
- Deep Tissue
The intention of the MAT DFAMAT technique is never to evaluate and interpret the state of soft tissues, nor to create a relaxation response for the muscle targeted. The MAT DFAMAT intends to stimulate sensory receptors that in turn may increase motor neuronal pool activation to the muscle associated with the attachment. This represents the opposite that most, if not all, massage techniques are attempting to achieve as an outcome of their techniques — which is relaxation.
MAT is clarifying and defending its use of these strategies as useful and appropriate for non-licensed health and fitness professionals for the assessment and improvement of muscle contractile capabilities related to exercise and physical performance. Furthermore, the individual MAT strategies (previously noted) when used together in a systematic format, under its definite methodology, based in the interpretation of the information gained each strategy, and the relationships established between that information, are unique to MAT. MAT’s intention is not to diagnose or treat pathology but to improve a specific aspect of a muscle contractile capabilities and that aspect’s impact on limb motion and position maintenance as it relates to exercise and physical performance.
MAT assures that these strategies are not taught in a way that MAT Specialists interpret nor perform them as medical procedures, or otherwise, and acknowledges the legal and liability position, as well as the authority of, established state licensed scopes of practice.
MAT is in no way attempting to usurp, undermine or assume the scope of practice of licensed professionals with its techniques which in no way intend to be medical in nature.
A MAT practitioner specializes in improving the contractile characteristics of skeletal muscle. With this in mind MAT acknowledges, understands and appreciates…
- … that the muscle system is often implicated in pathology and that MAT’s process affects human physiology. Therefore MAT educates its specialists to seek to work adjunctively and synergistically with licensed medical providers from all disciplines.
- … that it’s specialists need to work with medical and wellness providers as individuals seeking MAT often carry with them undiagnosed disease and conditions that may be influenced by the MAT process.
- … that muscle systems’ improvements may not be advanced in the face of some pathologies and therefore medical care must be sought to address those issues limiting this advancement.
- … that an individual with pain may experience a reduction, or even elimination of that pain as a by—product of the MAT process. This only suggests that the pain had its source within the loss of muscle system contractile efficiency. T he MAT process does not directly treat pain.
- … a consumer’s reaction to the reduction or elimination of their pain, especially if medical intervention has been utilized to relieve “pain” prior to the MAT process. The reaction may be one where the consumer interprets that MAT “fixes” pain problems. MAT educates its specialists to address this issue by teaching them to inform the consumer that its primary intention is to restore muscle contraction efficiency and limb mobility and not to treat pain. MAT in no way attempts to diminish the efficacy or efforts of medical providers to resolve their patients’ individual pain issue(s).
- … that the MAT process may be learned and utilized by licensed providers in the medical treatment of their patients, thus making the MAT process “Medical” only in that context. Since MAT is taught primarily to non-licensed medical providers (trainers, strength and conditioning coaches), the intention of the MAT process is not ‘to “diagnose” but to assess an individual’s muscular readiness for, and tolerance of, participation in exercise and relatively strenuous physical activity.
- … that many states, and the licensed professions regulated by a state, may have language in their regulations defining the use of manual techniques where the practitioner uses their hands in the application of treatments. MAT specifically instructs its certified specialists to become familiar with their state’s regulations. MAT also instructs its practitioners to stay within their skill set boundaries.
- … the need to foster a deeper understanding and positive attitude toward the group of diverse and highly qualified providers in their community, While being fully cognizant of the legal and political significance of each group’s scope of practice in a competitive inter-disciplinary health and fitness environment.
- … that only licensed and authorized medical providers can utilize the designations for disease and CPT Codes for treatment of disease. MAT instructs its specialists that they are never to use this system of coding to bill third party payers. If a licensed provider working with third party payers chose to hire a MAT Specialist and bill that specialist’s skills under the authority of their license as a treatment modality, then that is clearly the prerogative of that provider.
In closing, MAT encourages dynamic and collaborative working relationships in order to facilitate the health and wellness of an individual. MAT seeks to demonstrate its efficacy and contribution to individual health for all health care and fitness providers, educating providers to recognize the importance of muscle contractile capability as viewed by the MAT paradigm.
MAT also wants to communicate that despite its narrow scope of practice focusing on muscle system contractile capabilities – this process and its outcomes should not be minimized nor their potency overlooked or underestimated. MAT is an important process for anyone who recognizes the significance of the muscular system for the maintenance and improvement of overall human health and fitness. MAT believes its strategies are a unique and important contribution to the general field of assessing and improving an individual’s physical capabilities to engage and sustain physical activity and improve human performance.