Muscle Activation Articles

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Audrey's Story (2008) - A Case Study

I got to feeling down because I constantly felt I was focusing on what I couldn't do. (Examples below).  That’s not the kind of person I am – I was used to being an active and independent person. To be limited in so many basic ways was taking over, dictating how I lived day-by-day. I felt so demoralised and miserable but I could not easily talk to anyone about it because it all felt so insoluble and hopeless.

There seemed no let-up. It just continued and got worse and worse. I went to the GP, had physiotherapy, chiropractic, sports therapy. There was variable, but always only short-term relief from all of these ‘treatments’.

I came to Owen, thinking, “Well, I’ve tried everything else, I might as well give this (Muscle Activation Techniques) a go.” I just felt desperate, especially when the chiropractor said he was stumped by it (when he had treated previous problems successfully). I felt I was at the end of the road, that I’d just have to learn to live with it. Everyone I saw agreed with the following -  i) it was now a long-standing problem so it was ‘chronic’ and so would take a good while to get better, whatever the treatment; because ii) probably inflammation was adding to the problem; iii) it was probably ‘coming from the neck’ although all the pain and symptoms were mostly in the upper arms (but some were in elbows and hand, fingers too).

I was getting more and more fed-up and worried – they (health practitioners) all seemed to be able to talk a lot about the consequences (pain, its location, etc.) but no one was able to get rid of it and the consequences, restricted mobility – inability to do so many things because of the pain and limited range of movement in my arms and shoulders and at times, also in my hands, fingers.

I decided that the best ‘attitude’ I needed to work on developing, to adopt , was that I should just resign myself to this was how it was going to be - ‘it’ -  for now on to the end of my life: what a thought, just beginning my 60s, grim now so how will I be in my 80s?! I work in teaching and I want to carry on – intellectually – for as long as I can but had prospect of my physical body letting me down because of the impact of these symptoms on sleeping, mobility etc.

But now I don’t think twice about doing all the things I couldn’t do before! I find it hard to remember what it was like, how difficult so many things were for me to do. I only know from the notes I made for all the practitioners I went to see. As I read these, memories come back.

The housework went to pot because I just could not do things that needed reaching, using my upper arms and shoulders. Seeing jobs (and dust & dirt!) pile up, added to my feelings of ‘I’m just not coping’. After a while, when I felt it got too bad to look at, I’d pay a cleaner to come in to help me do all the things I couldn’t do.

Same with the gardening – I had to hire a gardener to do all the things I couldn’t do.

A main problem was the impact on sleeping. The pain in my upper arms was such that I could not lie on my sides. I would try to start off sleeping on my back. But would turn on to sides, as matter of course, during the night, and then be woken with the pain. Months of this meant I was not getting proper rest/sleep. Now I am better, I am back to proper night’s sleep – with full energy. What a relief! I used to think – ‘how can I carry on like this?’ I used to prop myself up with pillows on each side to try to stop me turning on to my side so I would not keep waking myself up. I don’t need to do that now. I can turn over on either side, throughout the night with no shooting pains in my upper arms and shoulders – and continuous sleep.

It is so good to feel I now don’t have to keep asking for/paying for help.

Not only that, but I am better off – physically – than I was before I started with ‘MAT’. I started with ONLY wanting, rather, hoping – ‘just to get rid of the pain; just to get rid of the inability to move so I can swim, do housework, etc.’ but there have been so many extra benefits apart from all those things – I am now just more agile, ‘physically/bodily-relaxed’ (I can’t think of a better word to describe that). There is a kind of ‘flow’ in how I walk that was not there before. My posture is so much more ‘up-right’. I just feel so much physically relaxed.

Examples of what I couldn't do:-

Basic housework tasks such as:-
Clean the windows
Folding a sheet on my own
Putting up curtains
Reaching things out of high cupboards
Mowing the lawn
Hanging out washing
Hoovering the stairs
Reaching high to clean eg. bathroom tiles; lamp-shades


Pulling up weeds
Brushing paths
Raking leaves and putting in bags


Personal tasks
Taking jumper off
Putting on a jacket, coat
Washing hair
Washing back


Fixing catch of necklace (back of neck)

Just ordinary day-to-day things
Lying on sides when sleeping – woke me up when turning over
Reaching to turn off alarm clock
Holding baby to give bottle feeds
Reaching down to pick up something dropped
Pulling down garage door, to close
Reaching for books and files on shelves


To do with driving
Pulling car seat belt on
Turning head, to see to reverse
Turning head to see traffic before driving into main carriageway
Steering sharply up and down multi-storey car parks
Using hand brake

Physical exercise
Gym - limited what I could do – had to stop my ‘favourite’ – the ‘rower’ and all equipment to do with ‘arms-use equipment’
Swimming – over-arm impossible for ‘Crawl’


The investment of ‘MAT’

OK, yes, it does cost money BUT when I think about what I have ‘got’ for the financial outlay it has more than paid for itself. I had to pay for help with things that I could not do for myself – cleaning, gardening.

More important than that though, for me, was that I was not only getting to be disabled with these problems I was becoming handicapped and there were no signs that this was on the wane: far from it, it was just getting worse.

So the financial outlay was easily ‘worthwhile’, even essential because I really felt desperate to get back to living normally – to be able to do ordinary daily tasks easily, normally again, like dressing, washing, housework and driving – what ‘price’ can be put on that? I economised to budget to pay for ‘MAT’ and still do but then I realised that I was then saving money with MAT because I was now not paying out all I was before for help with house cleaning and gardening. Not only that – there is another ‘cost’ apart from the financial cost, that MAT was helping me to save: no longer did I need to ask so many other people to help me with things I could not do, neighbours and relatives. I hate having to ask people for help – I see myself as a strong and independent person. So feeling so ‘helpless’ was upsetting me. Now I am back to how I used to be, doing things for myself and not needing to ask for help. Anyone can see how important that it is in how you feel about yourself without me explaining: it is great to be back to being independent, not so ‘dependent’ any more.


Other bonuses of ‘MAT’

I carried on with ‘MAT’ after the pain had gone and after I got a good range of mobility that meant I could do all the things I could not do before such as housework jobs, dressing and physical exercise. This was because I started to feel so much better, physically overall – this is difficult to describe. The concrete aspects are to do with posture – I am more up-right/straight, less round-shouldered. I actually feel taller! I feel more agile and lithe. I notice this in how I walk, move. Definitely, in swimming which I could not do before because of the inability in my arms.

This has had an effect in how I feel about myself emotionally; again, this is difficult to describe but because I feel I am ‘less stiff’, in my movements, more agile, lithe, then I feel easier in how I move, walk, basically there seems to be less tension in the whole of my body.


I’d recommend ‘MAT’

  1. Because it has helped me when so many other sources I’ve tried have been given only limited and/or short-term effects.

  2. Not only has it got rid of the pain and limitations on mobility (I can now use my arms at an incredibly wide range of movement) it has improved my overall posture and ease of movement in my upper and lower limbs/body.

  3. Because my problems affected sleep – it  was disrupted – I have so much more energy so it has affected ‘quality of life’; I feel so much more on top of life’s demands at work, etc

  4. It does cost money – but it has saved me money. I had had to spend a lot on paying for help with house cleaning and gardening because I could not do this any more. Now I can due to MAT so I am, in fact, financially better off.

  5. Apart from all the above, I feel better – physically health-wise – because of ‘MAT’ and this makes me feel better emotionally because I was worried that there was no solution, given the ineffectiveness of all other ‘treatments’ sought. So the overall result is more than just physical – I now feel much stronger, lithe, agile and able to do so much more. In effect, I am better than I was before I had these particular problems so it is very strange but I feel I also have a new lease of life.


A word from Owen

Audrey sought help as a case study client when I was going through the MAT internship.  Audrey had extreme limitations in movement corresponding to pain in her neck and shoulders, she also suffered from spasms in her fingers and re-occurring back issues.  Even I was under the impression that there was little hope from my experiences as a corrective exercise specialist; but was pleased Audrey was willing to be a guinea pig and put across the time and effort to help herself between sessions.

It has been a truly eye opening experience to follow the essence of Muscle Activation Techniques in action.

She had received diagnosis and some benefit from other treatments such as physiotherapy, chiropractic and sports massage but seemed to get stuck and then regress. I made it clear that I would not be able to diagnose her pains and we both agreed that we would be basing treatment on the muscle imbalances that were highlighted in a range of motion assessment.  These ranges would be tested for muscle weaknesses and treated whether or not they appeared to be related to her aches and pains.  This also corresponded to what part of the body I was studying in the internship at the time.

In some sessions changes in range of motion were remarkable and other times gradual or not at all but one thing that was consistent was the stability and control Audrey was gaining in the movement she had.  The effect of this was that each time she came in she would report that the aches and pains were reducing and she was able to do more and more things in her day to day life.  This reinforced the idea that the imbalances (even if not directly at the painful sites) were associated with the aches and pains and limitations in movement; and that as stability was added, the body would take this extra support and was able to recover and heal itself.        

Audrey has continued to have MAT sessions because it has not only helped her to recover from her initial symptoms but her ease of movement continues to build and as does her all round quality of life.