NeuroKinetic Therapy: Rooting Out the Cause of Dysfunction and Pain


David Weinstock, author of “NeuroKinetic Therapy: An Innovative Approach to Manual Muscle Testing” (North Atlantic Books, 2010), hated every minute of pre-med school at John Hopkins University. He couldn’t wait to get out of there. Despite his father being a doctor, Weinstock felt a disconnect when it came to traditional Western medicine and knew it wasn’t his purpose. So he kept searching.

Traveling extensively through Central America and South America, and attending naturopathic school in New Mexico, he studied many different healing modalities—eventually getting into biomechanics (the scientific study of the mechanics of movement and structure), which he found stimulating but only took him, and his patients, so far. Doing everything right, Weinstock couldn’t understand why people returned with the same issues over and over again.

Then he was introduced to neuroscience and the field of motor control theory, which states that all movement patterns are stored in the motor control center in the cerebellum of the brain. In that moment, he had an epiphany that completely changed the way he worked. His epiphany led to the start of NeuroKinetic Therapy (NKT), which is now being used by Weinstock’s students to help thousands of people all over the world.

“Bad” neural programming


Although muscles, mechanics and coordination are required to actually move the body’s structure through space, all movement is controlled by the central nervous system, composed of the brain and spinal cord. Motor control refers to the cooperation between the complex neural circuitry of the central nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. It’s the brain’s ability to organize movement via electric impulses to specific muscles.

The brain’s motor control center not only stores but also creates new movement patterns (such as when a baby learns to crawl) as well as substitutes movement patterns when a person is injured or has bad physical habits (like poor posture). Once the compensatory pattern has been programmed in the brain, the motor control center will continue to unconsciously organize the body’s movement accordingly, however dysfunctional it may be (often resulting in pain). That is until something is done about it.

Weinstock says no amount of deep tissue work, adjusting, realigning or stretching will ultimately solve a musculoskeletal issue as long as the motor control center continues to spit out a bad neural program. He knew that in order to truly help people, especially those with chronic conditions, he had to address the actual cause of each issue—the dysfunctional movement patterns stored in their brain.

Soon after, he and his colleagues began developing NeuroKinetic Therapy in the mid-1980s at the Institute of Conscious BodyWork in Marin County, California (which they co-founded).

A corrective movement system


A highly sophisticated diagnostic tool, NeuroKinetic Therapy combines the science of motor control theory (how the brain coordinates movement in the body) and manual muscle testing to evaluate, correct and restore healthy, functional, more efficient movement patterns, re-establishing proper communication between the brain and body.

Whereas most traditional medicine, physical therapy and even alternative approaches such as chiropractics and massage therapy aim to treat the symptoms, NKT was designed to assess the cause of dysfunction and pain at its root, in the cerebellum. NKT is a tool that can be used with any other therapeutic modality or movement—and in fact, NKT practitioners even include acupuncturists, yoga and Pilates instructors who want to better assess and assist their clients.

“NeuroKinetic Therapy is looking for the cause of the movement dysfunction, which is usually not in the place where you hurt. It’s usually somewhere else,” Weinstock explains. “That somewhere else is likely to be a muscle that’s not working very well, that’s underactive. And the one that’s hurting is the compensator, or the overactive muscle.” (When one part of the body isn’t functioning properly, the motor control center will recruit a substitute muscle to do its job, creating a dysfunctional movement pattern.)

He shares that people are usually surprised when they realize that what they thought was the problem (where it hurts) is actually a symptom of the problem and that the problem itself is something else entirely. Professional athletes often are shocked to learn that their strength is not an indicator of optimal function. They’re even more surprised to realize just how disconnected their brains are from the muscle that underperforms under light stimulation. Using NKT’s testing methods, Weinstock’s able to identify the muscle that isn’t working along with the one that is overworking in order to effectively release the overactive muscle and activate the underworking one—which is a part of NKT’s homework protocol.

Everything affects everything


One of the issues Weinstock has with Western medicine is that most doctors are still treating individual parts of the body and not systems—when “everything moves with everything else,” as he likes to say.

Take the jaw and hips. When you shift your hips in one direction, the jaw goes in the same direction. (Try it. Seated, shift your hips to the left. Which way does your jaw move?) When your hips shift to the left, so does your jaw. However, most doctors don’t consider the factor of uneven hips in their treatment of temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMJD, which usually includes a night guard to prevent teeth grinding (a symptom of the problem).

In fact, there are a number of determinants to consider for TMJD. The jaw muscles can compensate for just about any other muscle in the body—the motor control center will recruit whatever muscles it can to complete a task. Just notice the way you clench your teeth the next time you have trouble opening a jar.

Another example is carpal tunnel syndrome, which Weinstock claims is one of the most poorly diagnosed conditions. “To simply state that the problem is solely in the wrist is to grossly overlook many contributing factors,” he says. A multitude of issues, including overly tight neck or chest muscles, can cause the same symptoms as carpal tunnel.

Don’t give up


And on that note, he warns against bad diagnosis, encouraging those living with chronic pain to stay hopeful—and get evaluated by a NeuroKinetic Therapy practitioner (which you can find on NKTdirectory.com).

“Very often, people come to me as the person of last resort,” says Weinstock, who admits there’s a lot of pressure on him. “People come from all around the world and they expect results, and most of the time, I produce results, [but] sometimes I can’t. But the fact is, if you give up hope because you really haven’t researched enough … then you’re giving up on a world of possibilities.”

Weinstock doesn’t want people viewing their conditions as death sentences, pointing out that even his clients with permanent conditions continue to improve their performance despite physical limitations.

Weinstock also asks that people set aside these four common misconceptions:

  1. Imaging is everything. The latest research is proving that most adults 50 and older have some degeneration in their spine. However, their symptoms vary widely. A person with visible damage can be absolutely pain-free.
  2. A doctor’s diagnosis is final. Weinstock particularly warns against diagnosis over the phone or without physical examination. If the doctor hasn’t seen you, question his or her assessment.
  3. Muscle size corresponds to function. Weinstock says just because your quadriceps work in one function, like squats, doesn’t mean that when you run, your quads will do what they’re supposed to do. The brain’s ability to organize movement (motor control) will supersede muscle function, so you’ll run either functionally or, if you’re injured or have bad posture, you’ll run dysfunctionally. Weinstock says that your brain will run that program until you change it.
  4. Chronic pain is a life sentence. Weinstock even has clients with prostheses who have learned to function optimally.

Video credit: Javier Díez, Stocksy
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