Neurokinetic Therapy (often called NKT) is a type of natural therapeutic system that has the goal of correcting learned movements and muscle functions within the body that can contribute to poor posture, joint tenderness and muscular pain. Considered to be a healing “bodywork modality,” similar to massage therapy or chiropractic adjustments for example, NKT is often used in rehabilitative settings to treat injuries and chronic pain. (1)
The NeuroKinetic Therapy® corrective movement system was first created by a man named David Weinstock in the mid-1980s. He created this unique system of precise muscle tests and adjustments to help correct muscle and movement memories that were stored in the brain region that’s responsible for learned motor control.
NKT practitioners now work with clients around the world to help reduce problems such as common running injuries and carpel tunnel syndrome, which are often made worse due to dysfunctional muscle compensations. What other types of body compensations might eventually cause us pain? These include muscle compensations triggered through trauma, exercising with improper form, or compensating when we walk or lift in order to reduce fatigue.
NKT practitioners first identify where their clients’ muscles are behaving abnormally, then help them restore proper balance and function through good-old failure and repetition. After suffering a lower back injury, I discovered NKT and it became a key part of my rehabilitation process.
What Is Neurokinetic Therapy (NKT) and How Does It Work?
NKT is based on observations that certain body parts compensate for other weaker body parts. Essentially muscles or tissue can become weak and “shut down” following injury, while others become forced to work overtime and make up their shortcomings. This concept is known as the body’s “muscle compensation patterns.” These patterns are observed in people experiencing noticeable weakness and pain, but also often appear to some degree in those who are generally healthy and strong.
As a type of manipulative bodywork that’s related to Active Release Technique, NKT is based on a chiropractic technique called Applied Kinesiology, which uses touch and adjustments to help the body heal itself. (2) Prior to using any Applied Kinesiology technique, a practitioner must first test their client’s reaction to a type of movement, stance, pressure or substance in order to see how they react, in order to observe their weaknesses.
Weinstock discovered that muscle compensation patterns are stored in a part of the brain responsible for muscle and movement memories, called the cerebellum. Muscle testing could be used to help reveal incorrect movements being stored in the cerebellum that are contributing to pain or postural abnormalities.
- The cerebellum is sometimes refereed to as “the body’s control center for all motor skills” (in NKT, it’s often called the Motor Control Center or MCC). It plays a crucial role in helping us to develop into fully functioning adults who can perform many movements automatically (such as grabbing, walking, bending or bringing things towards our body) without much conscious thought. (3)
- The cerbellum is connected to all muscles via the somatic nervous system, which is a series of nerve channels that bring chemical messages throughout your body related to your senses, location in space and movements.
- Although memories stored in the cerebellum allow us to do many tasks subconsciously and automatically, we still must learn these behaviors and movements through trial and error. Babies and children slowly develop muscle memories as they get older, and the cerebellum (in conjunction with other parts of your brain) then stores these memories like a computer, so that eventually we can perform them on “autopilot.”
- Normally movement memories are extremely useful and beneficial, but they can become problematic following an injury or overuse. When one muscle is overused or strained, the body adapts by creating muscle compensations. These compensations then get stored into the Motor Control Center and can be hard to break without precise interventions.
- Movement patterns may be faulty or dysfunctional, and cause pain due to imbalance, overuse or overloading of tissues. Pain itself is not always at the site of dysfunction — it’s simply result of faulty compensations.
- The goal of NKT, therefore, is to reteach corrected muscle movements. A NKT practitioner is similar to a physical therapist in that they help patients to practice movements over and over again using proper form. Eventually these corrected movements replace incorrect muscle compensations and become stored in the MCC for future use.
Who Benefits from Neurokinetic Therapy the Most?
Neurokinetic Therapy is beneficial for both the young to old, the sedentary and the very active. It’s commonly performed on athletes, dancers, those recovering from accidents and orthopedic patients.
Some of the conditions that NKT can be used to help correct and heal include:
- Injuries caused by trauma or impact (such as car accidents)
- Low back pain
- Neck and jaw pain (including whiplash and TMJ)
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Injuries including strains, tears and pulls (in the shoulders, elbows, knees, ankles, wrists, etc.)
- Plantar fasciitis
- Bursitis and tendonitis
- Pain caused by improper form and compensations developed during athletics/exercise
NeuroKinetic Therapy practitioners start out a series of sessions with clients by first testing their muscles. They look to see if the client’s anterior muscles are weak and, therefore, causing compensations in other muscles. This is the case with many painful conditions and injuries.
In order to know how to correct underlying muscle functions that contribute to these conditions, “localized muscle testing” must be performed.
- Manual muscle testing (also called therapy localization) is performed to evaluate the strength of a muscle. NeuroKinetic Therapy testing is performed in a very specific protocol to identify which part of the body is contributing to pain or injury. Often, it’s the muscle relationship that is a problem since when one muscle is inhibited, the opposite/corresponding muscle works too hard.
- Testing is often more difficult than it might seem, because one strong muscle might be compensating for a weak muscle and, therefore, a weak/damaged muscle might still appear to test “strong.” In NKT, the muscle suspected to be weak is tested first and then the one suspected to be strong is tested second.
- The goal is to find the localized, precise spot where the compensation is happening in order to release the tight muscle, reset the weak muscle, and reprogram the relationship between the two within the MCC.
6 Benefits of Neurokinetic Therapy
Research regarding the efficacy and applications of NKT is still mostly in its early stages. The “inter-connectedness of the body” and relationship between different nerve/muscle/tissue systems has now become the focus of a great deal of emerging research. We can expect to see a lot more formal research conducted in the years to come regarding the use of holistic bodywork modalities.
Until then, consider what Dr. Kris Bosch, PT, DPT, ATC, FAAOMPT has to say regarding NKT’s efficacy: “What works in the clinic often pre-dates the research by at least a decade.”
1. Reduces Muscle Tension
The primary goal of NKT is to reduce pain and tension in overworked muscles, which become damaged and fatigued due to learned compensation patterns. Soft tissue manipulations can help to stretch painful or tight areas and even correct posture, but in a short period memories stored in the MCC might cause tightness and pain to come back as the “strong muscle”continues to overcompensate for the weaker.
Other treatments, such as deep tissue massage and myofascial release, can help reduce muscular tension by improving blood flow, breaking up scar adhesions and reducing stress. But essentially, the tension is likely to return if therapy doesn’t correct the underlying causes of the tight muscles.
2. Helps Retrain Muscles Following Trauma
Neurokinetic therapy is often used to help treat patients recovering from accidents, trauma or impact, and athletic injuries. This can include neck strains, whiplash, concussions and spinal problems that cause back pain. (4) Due to compensations/overuse, accidents are commonly tied to headaches/migraines, bulging discs, nerve damage, numbness and trouble sleeping.
Benefits of NKT for those recovering from injuries include:
- Long-lasting pain relief, improved muscle relaxation and reduced tension
- Protection from future pain that returns due to old injuries
- Reduced swelling, spasming and tenderness
- Return of normal range of motion, functionality and strength
3. Corrects Poor Running Form
A study published in Sports Health found that runners often experience reduced functional range of motion and frequent injuries due to compensations. Compensations can lead to higher impact and increased load/pressure being placed on certain muscles and joints within the legs, hips and feet.
Compensatory behaviors effect bony and soft tissue structures that can cause athletes to experience conditions such as: heel spurs, pre-arthritic pain, mechanical hip pain, plantar fasciitis and other compensatory disabilities or disorders. (5)
Benefits of NKT that apply to athletes include:
- Improved balance, posture and coordination
- Reduced spasms
- Increased range of motion, strength and stamina
- Faster muscle recovery with less fatigue or tenderness
- Injury prevention
A common overuse/compensation injury seen in some athletes, including football players, was recently the focus of a study done by the Center for Sports and Exercise Medicine at Queen Mary University. They studied how chronic adductor injury resulted in abnormal muscle activation in the hips of athletes.
Researcher found that gluteus medius to adductor longus activation ratio was significantly reduced in football players with groin pain compared to those who were uninjured. Athletes with groin pain displayed 20–40 percent less movement due to decreased abductor muscle activation. (6)
Other research has shown that similar adductor strains are common among athletes who repetitively perform “push off” movements and twists with the hips, thus compensating with other muscles, including those practicing soccer, hockey, basketball, tennis, figure skating, baseball and martial arts. (7)
4. Reduces Neck and Back Pain
Research shows that people who have experienced back or neck pain in the past have a 3–6 times greater risk of re-experiencing/sustaining pain than those with no history. People with arthritic pain, athletes, people who have been in accidents, and others who have experienced persistent stiff necks or lumbar spine pain often develop compensations to help them move and recover. However, it’s been found that decreased lumbar spine range of motion can contribute to ongoing poor conditioning, excessive loading on the spine, repetitive movements performed incorrectly and muscle strain in the neck.
Muscle strains are believed to be the most common causes of neck and back pain, especially in athletes. (8) Limited mobility of the pelvis can increase strain in the lower back, while limited hip internal rotation is associated with symptomatic lumbar spine pain.
Research shows that back pain due to compensations is common in twisting and hyperextension sports, such as gymnastics, diving and football. Shoulder, upper back and neck pains can also be triggered by overuse and impact, and then sustained due to compensations.
A NKT provider may also offer cupping therapy for natural back and neck pain relief.
5. Treats Shoulder Pain & Headaches
NKT is now being used to help treat pain associated with muscle abnormalities and tension of the shoulders, upper back, jaw and neck. These include:
- Frozen shoulder
- Headaches & migraines
- Rotator cuff pain or injuries
- Other shoulder impingement and overuse injuries
The shoulders are very susceptible to wear-and-tear caused by overuse and repetitive straining. Research shows that “impingement syndromes” in the shoulders (overuse) are predominantly caused by instability of the glenohumeral joint, often due to repetitive movements that change static and dynamic muscle stabilizers.(9)
Some shoulder injuries are tied to dysfunctions of the triceps and lats, two powerful humeral extensors. When they are overworking, they can limit flexion in the humerus. NKT treatments can reduce overuse strains and help correct poor posture/poor biomechanics that are enforced while playing tennis, golf, doing computer work, lifting weights, etc. (10)
6. Helps Reduce Carpal Tunnel Syndrome & TMJ
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is characterized by numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers, usually along with weakness of the grip. Sometimes those with severe CTS need to have multiple surgeries on the same wrist, but surgery doesn’t always correct the problem or pain.
Overuse of the hands/fingers is the primary cause of CPS, and compensations/stress of the nerves in the neck, shoulder and elbow are also believed to play a part in its development. Straining the finger flexors (muscles in the forearm and palm of the hand) can compress the median nerve of the hand, which is where NKT can be utilized. Be reducing compensations in nearby muscles, carpal tunnel relief is achieved because tension is able to be lifted from the overused hand or arm. (11)
NKT Vs. Active Release Technique, Graston & Dry Needling
One thing that makes NKT treatment for pain different than many other modalities? As the NKT Facebook page puts it, “In NKT, we make no assumptions about the body’s relationships, we just test, assess, and then treat.” Here is how NKT differs from other popular bodywork modalities:
- NKT vs. Active Release Technique (ART): ART is similar to deep tissue massage techniques and myofascial release because it works by manipulating soft tissue, thereby reducing stress placed on joints and nerves. The goal of ART is to restore normal mobility and “glide” between muscular tissue and nerves, and it treats many of the same conditions that NKT does.
- NKT vs. Graston Technique: Graston is another type of soft tissue mobilization technique that helps break up fibrous muscle scar tissue, improve blood flow, move tissue fluids, and reduce pain or muscle tension. Graston technique is performed using a handheld instrument that helps apply deep pressure to the patient in a rhythmic way. Athletic trainers, chiropractors, hand therapists, occupational and physical therapists often offer Graston technique.
- NKT vs. Dry Needling: Dry needling is used to addresses myofascial pain and nerve or spinal injuries. A “dry” needle (meaning one that doesn’t release any medication) is inserted into trigger points in muscle tissue that causes pain to be dispersed outward. (12) This helps disturb “motor end plates,” the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles and pain is experienced. Dry needling is often used in conjunction with other treatments, stretching and physical therapy to offer improved range of motion and other benefits.
History of Neurokinetic Therapy (NKT)
The creator of NKT, David Weinstock, had been practicing and teaching manual therapy techniques since 1973, prior to establishing his own regimen and treatment center. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University as a pre-med student, Weinstock went traveling around the world to learn different body healing modalities. He discovered that compensations are at the root of many acute and chronic conditions, and that addressing the underlying problems associated with these conditions involves reteaching the body how to move properly.
Weinstock considers himself an experienced “Bodyworker” and has worked in the field for over 35 years. The primary reason he decided to establish a specific protocol for Neurokinetic Therapy was to address the problem that many practitioners and patients face: clients can go through treatment sessions and experience improvements in their pain, but after some time their symptoms often reemerge. This can happen over and over again in some cases, as long as the underlying problem is not being addressed.
Weinstock wrote his book Neurokinetic Therapy, an Innovative Approach to Manual Muscle Testing to explain in more detail how to perform manual muscle testing, positioning and techniques. He also developed a certification program to train other NKT practitioners. Today, practitioners can be found throughout the world, working in places like physical therapy settings and chiropractic offices. In addition to physical therapists and chiropractors, athletic trainers, massage therapists/Bodyworkers, yoga and Pilates teachers are also becoming certified NKT practitioners.
How to Find a NKT Provider
Here’s what you can expect from a NKT session:
- Sessions are done with clothes on. Wear something lose and comfortable to make adjustments easier.
- Often times NKT is coupled with other corrective exercises such as stretching, massage and physical therapy for max results.
- NKT is not a one-time-treatment. It’s necessary to perform movements that were previously unavailable multiple times, since the MCC learns best through failure and repetition (think about how babies learn to stand and walk!)
NKT practitioners are certified following completion of 1–2 training programs and hands-on practicums offered by the official NeuroKinetic Therapy organization. The Neurokinetic Therapy website offers resources for finding a trained practitioner in your area, including functionality to search by name or location.
Precautions Regarding Neurokinetic Therapy
Neurokinetic therapy is considered very safe for most patients when performed by a trained practitioner, but keep in mind that many forms of movement therapy have not been as thoroughly researched at conventional treatments have.
People who are showing signs of being very ill (a fever, dizziness, swelling and high amounts of inflammation) in addition to being in pain should always visit a doctor to rule out other causes such as infections.
Movement therapies that use intense manipulation or stretching of the deeper layers of body tissue are not suitable for people who have recently undergone surgery or severely injured themselves.
If you have suffered from a severe injury or have an emotional or psychiatric disturbances, consult with a doctor before beginning work with an alternative therapist or stop taking your medications.
Final Thoughts on Neurokinetic Therapy (NKT)
- Neurokinetic Therapy is a healing bodywork system based on correcting muscle compensations that are developed when certain weak muscles become inhibited, forcing other muscles to become overworked.
- NKT first tests for abnormal compensation pattern that can contribute to pain or tightness, then uses specific repetitive movements to reteach the body how to perform movements correctly and store them in memory.
- Benefits of NKT include: reducing headaches, neck or back pain, lowering symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, treating trauma or injuries, and helping to lower shoulder, wrist, knee and elbow injuries.