Creating a positive healing experience through Advanced Medical Massage and Integrated Bodywork

Muscle Energy Techniques


Injury can occur as a result of trauma, accidents, overuse, strain/sprain, etc., not all of which should be treated with muscle energy. These techniques are most appropriate for the following injury patterns:

  • Decreased range of motion secondary to muscular spasticity, rigidity, hypertonicity or hypotonicity. Hypertonicity often follows overuse and can result in altered joint position, increased irritability and decreased elasticity. This injury pattern is often accompanied by a non-specific muscle ache in the area of injury.
  • Interneuronal injury—when dysfunction occurs at one joint or segment, the related agonist muscles are also affected. If uncorrected, the antagonistic muscles eventually become involved as well, leading to dysfunction of both muscle groups. This presents as decreased range of motion with pain and/or tenderness in the area.

Mechanism of action for muscle energy techniques

Muscle energy is a direct and active technique; meaning it engages a restrictive barrier and requires the patient's participation for maximal effect. As the patient performs anisometric contraction, the following physiologic changes occur:

  • Golgi tendon organ activation results in direct inhibition of agonist muscles
  • A reflexive reciprocal inhibition occurs at the antagonistic muscles
  • As the patient relaxes, agonist and antagonist muscles remain inhibited allowing the joint to be moved further into the restricted range of motion.

Despite the many claims made regarding the efficacy of these techniques, there are only two peer-reviewed studies that have shown that muscle energy techniques can significantly decrease disability and improve functionality in patients with disorders such as low back pain.

Indications and contraindications[edit]

Muscle energy techniques can be employed to reposition a dysfunctional joint and treat the affected musculature. Indications include, but are not limited to: muscular shortening,low back pain, pelvic imbalance, edema, limited range of motion, somatic dysfunction, respiratory dysfunction, cervicogenic headaches, and many others.[citation needed]

These techniques are inappropriate when a patient has injuries such as fracturesavulsion injuries, severe osteoporosis, open wounds, or has metastatic disease. Additionally, because these techniques require active patient participation, they are inappropriate for any patient that is unable to cooperate.


Muscle energy techniques can be applied to most areas of the body.According to one textbook, each technique requires 8 essential steps:[3]

  1. Perform and obtain an accurate structural diagnosis.
  2. Engage the restrictive barrier in as many planes as possible.
  3. Physician and patient engage in an unyielding counterforce where the patient's force matches the physician's force.
  4. The patient's isometric contraction has the correct amount of force, the correct direction of effort (away from the restrictive barrier), and the correct duration (3–5 seconds).
  5. Complete relaxation occurs after the muscular effort.
  6. The patient is repositioned into the new restrictive barrier in as many planes as possible.
  7. Steps 3-6 are repeated approximately 3-5 times or until no further improvement in range of motion is observed.
  8. The structural diagnosis is repeated to evaluate if the dysfunction has resolved or improved.
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