“Hey I told you the pain was on the OTHER side”



Have you ever been working on a client who complains of pain in one area of their body but the knot/restriction is actually on the opposite side of the body or joint?


Have you ever wondered why this is? Or how to explain it to clients when you want to work on the opposite side of the body that they are experiencing pain?


My favorite answer is an educational response. I say, “The area you are experiencing pain is the symptomatic area. The cause of the problem may actually be in the antagonistic or opposite side of the body or joint.”


Basically what is going on is that the restricted myofascial area is much stronger than the symptomatic side and often pulls the non-restricted side into an eccentric contraction (a loaded muscle under a stretch). This causes pain in the elongated and loaded muscle because it is constantly having to work to pull the body/joint back into a neutral alignment (and it’s losing the game of tug of war).


As a therapist we have a conundrum. “If I don’t work on the area that is in pain, they won’t feel like I listened to what they needed/wanted. However, if I make the elongated side even longer, I may be making their musculoskeletal alignment even worse.” This is the thought process going through our heads.


The following example is a way I have found to work WITH (not ON) the client to achieve both success and education for the client.


What I will say is that I have a theory that I would like to test and I need their help by giving accurate feedback about how their body feels. I will say that I suspect that there is a restriction on the opposite side of the body or joint that may be pulling the body or joint out of alignment thus causing pain. Then I ask if it would be ok to palpate and observe the tissue.


After assessing the tissue, if the data supports the hypothesis, then I will point out the observations to the client by asking if they feel the restriction and the difference from side to side.


If they do feel the differences, GREAT. If they don’t then this now becomes a lesson in self-awareness for the client as you describe the quality of the tissue from side to side and ask them to observe it with you through palpation and movement.


Then ask if it’s ok if you work on the restriction and see if it helps relieve the pain on the painful side. Once you release the tissue, go ahead and ask them to check the painful area and tell you what they feel. You may want to then bring both sides into as much balance and suppleness as you can, but setting them up for success by certainly addressing the adhesion being the cause of the dysfunction.


You have just educated your client about how the body is constantly trying to move toward neutral to keep us functioning at our greatest capacity. You taught them the the source of pain is often NOT where you feel the pain in the body (when you’re talking about musculoskeletal dysfunction). AND you taught them that the pain can become relieved INDIRECTLY when you work on the restricted side thus bringing the body back to a neutral state.


Now try this with your clients, and have fun discovering how incredibly connected our bodies are.


As always, use discretion using deep tissue techniques as they may not be appropriate for people with special health conditions.


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