Retire Atilla The Thumb and go Muscle Swimming!

Do your hands and body hurt after working with clients? You are not alone. It’s time for all bodyworkers to work smarter, not harder with minimum effort and maximum results. Since every muscle has an automatic sensory reflex whose job it is to resist sudden change from external forces, let’s retire Atilla the Thumb and go Muscle Swimming instead.

As manual therapists we all face the question, “How can I best facilitate tissue release and allow the muscle to return to its happy, healthy resting state while maintaining my own ecology of movement?” I stumbled across an answer to that dilemma about twelve years ago and have been refining my approach ever since in both my private practice and CE seminars. I call it Muscle Swimming because I was delightfully amazed by how effortlessly I “swam” through tissue layers when I implemented the two primary techniques of Muscle Swimming, Pin and Rock and Pin and Move. Utilizing these strategies completely transformed my sessions, both for my clients and me. My clients loved how easily and painlessly I achieved tissue depth and release. Therapeutic effects of sessions lasted longer and outcomes were easier to achieve. I felt more energetic and present since I wasn’t working so hard. I smiled more!

Muscle Swimming uses physiology to facilitate release of myofascial structures allowing the therapist to work smarter and the client to have co-ownership of the session. Active and passive movement strategies are essential ingredients in all the Muscle Swimming protocols. This powerful combination of active and passive movement maneuvers turns off hyperactivity in muscles and joint receptors. It also facilitates the separation and lifting of fascial layers. In this article we’ll focus on the wondrous portal of Pin and Rock.

Pin and Rock is a compelling strategy that serves as a portal to deep tissue work. The therapist gradually presses to find the tissue’s first barrier. Then the muscle is gently pinned, and the therapist adds slow rocking. Rocking has an immediate calming effect. It stimulates the parasympathetic system, harking us back to the time when we were rocked for nine months in the womb. Think of it as a way of introducing yourself and saying hello to the tissue.

Our first encounter with a stressed myofascial unit should be gentle and non-threatening. Passively shorten the muscle, gently pin it with multiple fingers for a broad, dispersed pressure and add a slow rhythmic rocking of the joint. In fact, the first nerves to myelinate in the human fetus are the vestibular nerves which sense movement. Our first consciousness is that we are moving beings. Be patient – wait for the tissue to soften and yield before moving to the Pin and Move protocol. Come back to this Pin and Rock maneuver whenever you sense guarding in your client. Watch the video below to see an example of Pin and Rock to melt through myofascial layers to access the iliopsoas.

Next month we’ll look at Pin and Move – using active movement to release myofascial contractures and improve proprioception.