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Are You in Pain because of Muscle Inhibition?

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

by Dr. Chris Knudsen

Muscle IQ Physical Therapy - Provo, UT

At Muscle IQ Physical Therapy we help you get Pain Relief Now! Inhibited muscles play a big role in pain. The key to pain relief is finding weakness and treating the cause of that weakness. The world famous clinician, Dr. Simon King, teaches that we must identify a patient's weakness before we do any treatment. I was at a conference on Afferent Input in Milan, Italy with Dr. King in 2019 and he used me as a test subject to teach the doctors in the room how to test for muscle inhibition.


Muscle Inhibition can be found through pushing on body parts and noticing an inability of the muscles to respond quickly and powerfully to this applied force. For example, a therapist can ask a patient who is sitting or lying on a treatment table to extend his or her arm forward and then the therapist pushes down on that arm to test muscle responsiveness. The therapist can also push on a leg, a foot, a hand, or even the patient's forehead to assess the muscle tone in that group of muscles.


Normal muscle response is quick and solid. The more experience the clinician has at testing muscle tone the better they will be at noticing the difference between normal muscle response and inhibited muscle response. Normal muscles respond quickly to applied force because of a reflex. The spinal cord increases electrical impulses to the muscle to cause it to contract fully.

At rest the impulse rate can be about 50 Hz or 50 times a second. When a force is applied to the muscle the impulse rate from the spinal cord increases to 500 Hz or 500 times a second. This is necessary in order for the body to respond quickly to changes in walking surfaces, or to protect the body from injury.

What is Muscle Inhibition?

Muscle inhibition occurs when the spinal cord reflexively is trying to protect the body from harm. It is a protective reflex. Just like the withdrawal reflex that happens when you touch a hot stove and your spinal cord reflexively pulls your hand and arm away from the hot surface. Muscle inhibition is your body's attempt at decreasing force through specific tissues.

If you injure your knee, you will start to limp. The spinal cord has decreased the impulse rate to the knee muscles and you are less able to carry weight on the injured leg. Instead of receiving an impulse rate of 500 Hz the rate is reduced, sometimes by half to about 250 Hz. The knee muscles will contract but more slowly and with less power and that is why you limp.

The normal muscle response can be restored by treating the tissues that are sending the danger message to the spinal cord. Once these tissues feel better the danger message stops and the spinal cord begins allowing the normal amount of muscle contraction.


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