HOW IS MUSCLE ACTIVATION TECHNIQUES [MAT] DIFFERENT?
Most manual therapies primarily address muscular tightness. MAT treats muscle weakness primarily and tightness secondly.
Muscles function as movers and stabilizers of the skeletal system. Muscles stabilize bones at their joints and move bones through a specific range of motion [ROM] in a joint. When a muscle senses instability and therefore an inability to control movement through an ROM, the muscle then tightens to protect that joint. This is because it is easier to control a shorter ROM as compared to a large ROM. Muscles tighten to protect the body. This is a great and useful thing the body does!
Think about walking on the unstable surface of ice. Your muscles automatically tighten to shorten ROM so you will have more control as you walk with shorter steps.
Unfortunately, muscles [often groups of muscles] sometimes stay tight for long periods of time. This can lead to mechanical compensation patterns throughout the body. These compensations make it possible for the body to continue to mechanically function [i.e. having a limp in your stride], albeit with much less mechanical efficiency. These inefficient compensation patterns with limited ROM at one or many joints leads to an unnatural and uneven joint wear pattern. This wearing of the joint often results in osteoarthritis and arthritic joint pain. However, pain can also occur almost immediately with decreased ROM within a joint. This is why MAT can help with acute injuries as well as chronic muscular and joint issues.
MAT recognizes the interconnectedness of all joints in the body. In this regard, a problem at the hip could possibly cause a problem at the knee.
An analogous example of this can be seen in a bridge being held by cable wires. Each cable wire is designed to have a specific amount of tension in order to stabilize [support] the bridge. If one or more of the wires is weakened due to trauma, all the other wires will have to bear more of the bridge’s structural load. The other cable wires on the bridge may be able to compensate for a while but just like the human body, not indefinitely. The goal of MAT is to restore functional and efficient movement by encouraging acutely or chronically traumatized muscles to do their job. This allows more ROM in affected joints and gained stability with this restored mobility.