The human body maintains life and health in an amazing way. Each individual cell performs an
activity that contributes to the body’s over all function. Nerve impulses transmit information
to maintain balanced internal environment called homeostasis. Every day, life situations
threaten to disrupt that balance. Physical traumas, strains and emotional stress undermine
homeostasis. This balance leads to aches and pains which left untreated may result in
There are ways to get to the roots of these imbalances and alleviate much of the pain and
dysfunction. The St. John Method of NMT, developed by Paul St. John in response to his own
constant, debilitating pain, is one such method. It is based on research that identifies the
fundamental causes of pain.
The St. John Method of NMT is of soft tissue manipulation techniques that balance the central
nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) with the structure and form of the
musculoskeletal system (skeleton and muscles of the body). The St. John Method of NMT is based
on neurological laws that explain how the central nervous system maintains homeostatic balance.
Accordingly, these same laws dictate how the central nervous system initiates pain responses.
One law that applies, “Arndt’s Law” represents how pain originates in the body. Simply stated,
it says different levels of stimuli to the nerve affects physiological activity. At homeostasis
(balance) nerves transmit impulses very slowly. Injury, trauma, postural distortion, or stress
cause nerves to speed up their transmission, inhibiting equilibrium and making the body
vulnerable to pain and dysfunction. It is necessary to stabilize low levels of neurological
activity to maintain homeostasis and thus overall health.
The St. John Method of Neuromuscular Therapy considers 5 principles that cause pain.
Nerve compression or entrapment
Ischemia is lack of blood supply to the soft tissues, which causes them to be
very sensitive to touch. Typically, if less than 5 to 10 pounds of pressure causes tenderness,
the tissues are in an ischemic state. This is one of the first conditions a neuromuscular
Trigger points occur when nerves fire impulses at a rapid speed into an area of
the body other than that which has been traumatized. Because of trigger points, the cause of
serious pain may often be far removed from the actual site of the pain. This, in turn inhibits
proper blood flow, which causes iscemia and often leads to more pain and discomfort.
Nerve compression or entrapment is pressure on a nerve by bone, cartilage or
soft tissue. The role of the soft tissues in nerve compression is vital. Realigning vertebrae
without treating associated soft tissue frequently treats the symptoms and not the cause.
Spinal nerves are subject to intrusion when any of the vertebrae are dislocated or spinal
disks herniated. Treating the surrounding soft tissues that cause or maintain the dislocation
greatly enhances rehabilitation and alleviation of pain.
Whiplash often causes nerve entrapment by the soft tissues. The nervous system initiates
tightening of the muscles to stop bleeding in the tissues caused by violent snapping of the
neck backward and forward. This tightening results in muscular spasm. After bleeding stops,
the spastic response, initially a curative one, will continue if intervention is not made.
This muscular spasm causes pressure on nerves and creates its own painful condition.
Nerve entrapment is the most common type of pain and always cause ischemia. Ignored, it can
produce associated trigger points.
Postural distortion is an imbalance of the muscular system resulting from
movement of the body off the coronal, midsagittal and horizontal planes.
Gravitational force (33.,5 lb per square inch) is constantly pulling the body toward Earth.
If there is an imbalance in the structural system, gravity causes the body to compensate in
an effort to retain balance. Trauma, gravitational pressure or psychological pattering causes
the soft tissue to assume a weight – bearing function and thus become thicker, denser and
harder. Muscle contraction, body distortion and pain are the results of compensations the body
makes in order to maintain structural homeostsis. By determining why the compensations have
occurred, the distorted patterns can be eliminated, proper posture restored, and associated
pain diminished or eliminated in most cases.
Other body distortions are caused by muscles contracting and shortening while others lengthen
in an effort to hold the body upright as a result of “righting reflexes.” These reflexes
respond to messages from the inner ear, eyes, muscles or skin to bring the body into
Biomechanical dysfunction is an imbalance of the musculoskeletal system
resulting in faulty movement patterns. Repetitive strain of certain soft tissues results in
adapted movement patterns that become muscular “habits” and must be reeducated.
How Can NMT Help You?
NMT can help individuals experiencing structural distortion, biomechanical dysfunction and the
accompanying pain that is often a symptom of the underlying problem. It is used to locate and
reduce spasms and hypercontraction in the tissues: eliminate trigger points that cause pain;
restore postural alignment, proper biomechanics and flexibility to the tissues; rebuild the
strength of injured tissues and assist venous and lymphatic flow. NMT is an effective and
economically feasible method of treatment.
How is NMT Performed?
The patient is actively involved in the process of healing by helping the therapist understand
his or her particular condition. At the initial visit, the therapist evaluates for:
Soft tissue causes of these patterns and presenting pain conditiions.
The NMT therapist developes a treatment plan by screening gait patterns and measuring the
positioning of the body on the coronal, midsagittal and horizontal from which to determine
distortion patterns. An exacting analysis of proper posture and biomechanics explains the
cause and effect relationship to pain.
The therapist then palpates the soft tissues to determine if there are ischemic, trigger points,
nerve compression and / or entrapment possibilities. When the body is aligned on the midsagittal,
coronal and horizontal planes, the tone of both somatic (body covering) and visceral (internal
organ) tissues improves. As tone is normalized, the nervous system is balanced.
The appropriate pressure to use during a neuromuscular treatment varies depending upon age,
fitness, nutritional health, postural pattern of the patient, as well as the extent of trauma and
toxicity levels of the tissues. The proper level of pressure elicites a moderate state of
discomfort. If pressure is too light, it does not produce the necessary stimulation of nerve
receptors to produce the desired theraputic response. When adhesions are found in the tissues,
deeper pressure may be used by working across muscle fibre.
In using the St. John Method, the therapist applies pressure for 8-12 seconds to each area being
treated, prompting a therapeutic response in the tissues. Pressing longer may cause the body tot
treat the pressure as an intrusion, particularly if there is inflammation in the tissue. Optimal
success is achieved by applying pressure to trigger points or ischemic areas3-4 times for 8-12
seconds rather than a longer duration. This is because the therapists goal is to interrupt the
physiopathological reflex circuts.
Origin of the St. John Method of Neuromuscular Therapy
Paul St. John had a vested interest in studying and researching soft tissue pain and
musculoskeletal dysfunction. He was seriously injured three times in his life: he broke his
back in three places in a high school football game, was injured in Vietnam, and was in a
head – on auto accident. For nearly four years, he awakened to headaches and unceasing pain.
Thousands of dollars in medical expenses left him without relief. He found that by pressing on
the tissues of his neck, back and shoulders, he was able to get temporary relief. Fustration
and fear led him to medical libraries where he began his investigation of pain. He discovered
a great deal of literature on soft tissue and the interrelationship between muscles, tendons,
ligaments and fasciae, and the role they play in causing pain. From his research, he became
familiar with a technique called receptor tonus technique, which prompted him to attend a
course with Dr. Nimmo. He began preforming the receptor tonus technique and incorporating his
knowledge of the body into his work, training other individuals in his method so they could
treat him. For the first time in four years he was pain free. He then attended massage
therapy school while expanding on his own treatment technique. In 1978, he developed the St.
John Method of NMT and began teaching seminars while maintaining a clinical practice to
further his research.
NMT has been presented to healthcare professionals at such institutions as John Hopkins
University, the University of South Carolina, and to the Kentucky Dental Society and the
Atlanta Craniomandibular Society. NMT has also been presented before the Physical Medicine
Research Foundatrion; the American Academy of Head, Neck and Facial Pain; at American Massage
Therapy Association conventions; and at the Institute for Temporomandibular Regulation in
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