Fascial Counterstrain for the Musculoskeletal System

In 1955 Dr. Lawrence Jones D.O. discovered that positioning a patient for comfort could correct complex spinal disorders. The accidental discovery occurred after he helped a patient with severe low back pain try to find a comfortable sleeping position. After a brief period of experimentation, a position was identified in which the patient was completely comfortable. After a 20-minute trial in this position (to see if this was a viable sleeping position,) the patient was able to stand fully erect for the first time in 6 months. Shortly thereafter the patient made a full recovery.

Why Fascial Counterstrain Works

Today it’s believed that Counterstrain works via decompression of pain and movement receptors which exist in the body’s main connective tissue called fascia. Once slackened, these receptors are silenced (shut off) alleviating pain, relaxing tissue and allowing trapped metabolites to dissipate (see references below). Thus, the musculoskeletal version of Fascial Counterstrain can directly relax skeletal muscle spasm and “unlock” restricted joints through reflex mechanisms. No aggressive manipulation or “thrust” techniques are needed.

This “reflex” dysfunction causes the muscle to contract constantly, instead of only contracting when called upon by the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Neuroreactive biochemicals or “waste products” soon build up in the muscle and this perpetuates the chronic spasm causing the formation of a tender point or “trigger point.” [Reference: Uncovering the biomechanical Milieu of myofascial trigger points using in vivo microdyalysis: An application of Muscle pain concepts to myofascial pain syndrome: Jay P. Shah, Journal of Body work. See Research Articles.]

The Cause of Many Chronic Pain Syndromes

Myofascial pain or “soft tissue problems” are responsible for a large percentage of chronic pain syndromes.  It can occur in all areas of the body and presents as persistent tightness, pain or numbness/ tingling sensations.

Myofascial pain cannot be detected by MRI, X-Ray or CT scan; however, trigger points can be diagnosed electro physiologically by spontaneous electrical activity (SEA.) Myofascial pain is distinctly different than fibromyalgia in which there is generalized soft tissue sensitivity in all areas of the body.  Interestingly, patients with fibromyalgia often have some degree of myofascial pain and therefore still have significant pain relief following Counterstrain treatment.

Treatments are Pain Free

One of the main advantages to Fascial Counterstrain is that it is an “indirect” or pain free manual therapy technique. This means that you place patients into positions of ease and comfort instead of stretching them into pain and restriction.  Also, Counterstrain’s ability to reduce overactive stretch reflexes gives the technique excellent “carry over” or permanency. In essence, with this technique, the body corrects itself instead of being “forced” into a correction.

The muscular or musculoskeletal form of Counterstrain is targeted directly to the muscles of the human body and thus has many clinical applications. Post-operative muscle spasm, tension headaches, low back pain, neck pain, tennis elbow and sprained ankles are just a few examples of conditions that respond to this form of Fascial Counterstrain technique.

If you feel you may have the symptoms of musculoskeletal dysfunction, feel free to set up a detailed evaluation with one of the trained Counterstrain practitioners at ARC Physical Therapy.


  1. Van Buskirk RL: Nociceptive reflexes and the somatic dysfunction: A model. J Am Osteopath Assoc 90:792-809, 1990
  2. Laporte, Lloyd DPC. Nature and significance of the reflex connections established of the large afferent fibers of muscle origin. American J of Phys, 1952, 169,609-621.

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