An animal’s body should be strong but supple. Joints should move freely, without resistance. An animal should be able to move from any position to any other position with ease.
Neuromuscular Retraining (NMR) is a powerful, but very gentle, method of movement education. Because the sessions teach the animal (horse, dog, cat, or other four-legged creature) how to move more comfortably and effortlessly, they are called lessons.
Why Would an Animal Need to Learn How to Move?
Imagine this: You’re walking around the house barefoot and you stub your big toe, badly enough that it turns blue. It’s really sore for a few days, which affects the way you place your foot when you walk. You may not be aware of it, but you’re probably walking more on the outside of your foot than you usually do. The next thing you know, your hip starts to bother you, then your lower back. If the pain in your foot lasts long enough, the ripple effect may even travel to your neck.
And if you break your toe, well you might be hobbling around for several weeks. Even when the toe is healed and pain-free, your body might hold onto the pattern of movement you adopted while it was hurting.
All of us—human and animal alike—can settle into movement patterns that solve the immediate problem (like walking with a bruised toe or sore back) but that in the long run have a negative effect on the quality of our movement.
You’ve probably heard the term muscle memory. The nervous system has a memory as well. The body is extremely intelligent; the nervous system is the brains that run the show. So if you can present the nervous system with a more effective way of doing things (like moving without shuffling around), it will most often choose that option.
Quite simply, Neuromuscular Retraining helps the nervous system (and consequently the muscles) to change inefficient movement patterns, allowing your animal to move with the freedom and joy that is his or her birthright.
What Kinds of Movement Problems Can
Neuromuscular Retraining Help ?
Whenever your animal—horse, dog, cat, or other small animal—exhibits movement problems, always consult your veterinarian first to rule out an injury (such as a break) or a serious medical condition.
Here is a partial list of symptoms that NeuroMuscluar Retraining can help your animal eliminate:
- Sore back
- Hollow back
- Difficulty picking up a lead
- Difficulty bending in one or both directions
- Paddling with front legs
- Rope walking
- Little or no swinging motion in hips and barrel
- Difficulty stepping under
- Lack of impulsion
- Pain and stiffness associated with arthritis or injury
- General lack of coordination or balance
- General resistance or grouchiness
Dogs, Cats, and other Companion Animals
- General stiffness or soreness
- Shuffling or uneven gait
- Sitting unevenly or always on same hip
- Difficulty turning in one or both directions
- Difficulty turning head in one or both directions
- Difficulty with balance or coordination
- Difficulty lying down or standing up
- Pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, hip dysplasia,neuropathy
- Paralysis in one or more limbs
- General resistance or grouchiness
These and other movement problems usually result in pain or tension and, in the case of horses, an inability to do what the rider asks (which is often misinterpreted as laziness or stubbornness). It is important to realize that this pain or tension is only a symptom of the underlying problem.
Remember: If the underlying movement problem is not addressed, the symptoms will just keep coming back.
What Can You Expect from the Lesson?
I conduct Neuromuscular Retraining lessons in two ways:
- In person (at your home or barn, or in my office)
- From a distance
In an in-person lesson, I will observe your animal move before placing my hands on him or her. My touch is extremely gentle and non-invasive. I never make “adjustments” to an animal’s spine or joints. With my hands, I show the animal how individual body parts move as well as how they move in relation to each other. The movements I initiate are extremely small and are designed to quietly speak to the nervous system.
The goal of Neuromuscular Retraining is to improve the quality of movement. This cannot be done through force of any kind. In the case of tense muscles, for example, I do not use my hands to force muscle fibers apart. It is not only counterproductive (setting up more resistance), it is unnecessary. Once the animal has regained a natural, free movement pattern, the muscle tension will disappear on its own.
Say, for example, that your horse or dog is having difficulty bending to the left. Instead of smoothly bending, the animal goes around corners like a piece of wood. When we see stiffness, it’s often our impulse to start rubbing on the body, and while this can certainly feel good and can even eliminate some muscle tension, most likely the benefits will be temporary. And in the case of a horse, there is really no way to effectively massage the large, deep muscles that may be contributing to the problem. In any event, massage will not teach the animal how to use his body to bend more efficiently and more comfortably.
Instead, the animal needs to be shown that bending involves not only the neck, but the sternum, rib cage, spine, hips, and legs as well—in effect, the entire body.
Sit on a bench or armless chair. Slowly and carefully (you don’t want to strain any muscles), turn your head as far as you can to the left. The idea is to try to look behind you. Note how far you can comfortably go. Then bring your head back to the forward position.
Now, still sitting, scoot your right foot a bit more forward than the left. Transfer some of your weight onto your right foot and, at the same time, allow your left seat bone to come off the chair a few inches as you begin turning your entire upper body to the left. Be aware of your sternum (breastbone) and ribs as you turn. How much farther can you see behind you this time? And note that you have not stressed your neck!
Obviously, when teaching an animal how to use its entire body for a specific movement, I cannot give verbal instructions. Instead, I use my hands as pointers.
In addressing the issue of difficulty bending to the left, I would recognize that the problem most likely originates on the right side of the animal’s body. The stiffness in the right is preventing the stretch that is necessary to make the left side concave. Because the right side, then, is most likely more tense than the left (and I would check to be sure of this), I would begin the session on the left side. The idea is to work with the area of the animal’s body that moves most freely and easily. In a Neuromuscular Retraining lesson, I want to show the animal that movement can be effortless, and so I never want to cause tension of any kind in the body.
In the course of the lesson, I would work with the nervous system by way of the skeleton and muscles. I would not “adjust” the skeleton in any way, but would use gentle techniques of lifting, sliding, rocking, and circling to show the nervous system possible movement options. I would not rub the muscles, but would take over the work of the tense muscles by lifting and holding. I would work with each part of the body involved in bending; then I would work with these body parts in relation to each other. For example, I could work with the sternum and then the ribs, and then I could work with the sternum and ribs at the same time.
Once I had shown the animal how easily the left side of the body can move. I would teach this lesson on the animal’s right side—in this case, the side that is more tense and preventing a left bend. I would not want to cause any resistance to this already stressed area, so the lesson on the right side would be very brief! The nervous system is highly intelligent and can transfer information from one side of the body to the other with minimal instruction.
During the course of the lesson, I would continuously monitor the animal’s response to the information, being careful not to overload the animal’s nervous system with too much information.
Because I believe in a holistic approach to wellness, when working with a horse in-person, I will also check saddle fit and hoof balance. If you like, we can also discuss nutrition and natural lifestyle. All of these elements contribute to the horse’s ability to move smoothly, efficiently, beautifully.
When working with a dog or cat, I can look at the placement of the animal’s food and bedding to make sure they are placed in such a way that encourages a full range of motion. For example, if the animal always has to always bend to the left to reach the feed dish or bed, his or her ability to bend to the right can be compromised.
From a Distance
Because I am a Reiki healer (see “What is Reiki?” ), I am also able to conduct Neuromuscular retraining lessons from a distance as well. This enables me to work with animals that are too far away for me to work with in person.
I conduct these lessons in primarily the same way that I conduct the in-person lessons. The Reiki serves as my eyes and hands, enabling me to see and feel areas of the body that are tense or that are locked in inefficient movement patterns. I address these issues in the same way as in-person lessons.
Each Neuromuscular Retraining lesson—whether in-person or across distance—is tailored to the specific needs of the individual animal. While you will most often see positive results from one session, in the case of chronic movement problems it is not unusual for an animal to require more than one session to fully regain a smooth, comfortable, effective movement pattern.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about Neuromuscular Retraining. I would be happy to discuss your animal’s specific situation and needs.
Remember: When your animal is in pain, always consult a veterinarian to rule out injury or illness.
Questions? Please feel free to Contact Me to schedule a free half-hour consultation.