Spontaneous Muscle Release Technique

SM(a)RT for short. I use this modality in my massage practice more than any other. I love the results it achieves for chronic pain and so do my clients! But what is it?


Dawn Lewis, the cultivator of this wonderful technique, describes it as a “positional release modality.” In SMRT, your therapist moves the body into its established pattern using an activating force to stimulate a positive change. What this looks like without the jargon:

  1. Find the position in which the muscle is most comfortable

  2. Add some compression

  3. Hold

And the craziest part? That initial movement is tiny!  (That picture in the background is showing me doing a SMRT hold on her clavicle as we we work to resolve her shoulder pain.)

Feeling a little skeptical that something so simple could be effective for pain relief? That's all good. Let's talk about why it works.


Approach Under the Pain Threshold

Whether you have a frozen shoulder, a weak ankle, chronic low back pain, or a recurring crick in your neck, more than likely you are carrying a little bit (or a lotta bit) of anxiety that the treatment itself will cause pain. Raise your hand if that's you! In many bodywork practices such as traditional trigger point therapy or even some exercises in physical therapy, this initial increase in pain is a necessary component to healing and it can be a little intense.

SMRT allows us to come in underneath your pain threshold meaning there is extremely little to no pain. Because the movements are small and we are going with the pattern your mind/body already determined to be safe, there is no reason for the physiological alarm bells to ring. Working in this way helps to dissociate the limbic, or survival, response that was linked to the area or movement, decreasing pain.  The small movements also allow us to work deeply without painfully pounding through the superficial tissues.


Talk to the Brain

In a world filled with endless demands, noise, and visual stimuli, isn't it great to come home, sit in the quite for a few minutes, and give yourself some breathing room? Your mind/body craves that same peace. Most other modalities work through their movements. Conventional deep tissue techniques rely on friction or stripping. Thai works through reaching full range of motion. Even Swedish affects through the continual motion of the strokes. These are all wonderful and work - and give your body more things to process. In other words, many of our pain relief massage skills continue the gogogo of life, albeit in a much more relaxing way.


Most of the work done with SMRT, on the other hand, happens in the stillness of the hold. Think of it like a mini meditation for your tissues! It provides the quiet that the mind needs to assess its body map and determine if the tone or lack thereof is appropriate for the current environment i.e. laying on a massage table.  When it is found that your body is over or under reacting, the mind/body will correct itself. Added bonus: the calm quickly activates the parasympathetic nervous system creating deep relaxation from almost the first hold.

Work Multiple Systems

Dysfunction always affects multiple systems in the body.  SMRT addresses them all, often simultaneously. For example, shoulder tension will involve not only the muscles but the fascia and the nerves and can also involve the lymph, skeleton, and ligaments.  Leveraging the first rib can rebalance the ligaments, unwind the fascia, release tension from the muscles, and allow the lymph to flow more freely. Because we can stimulate several systems at once, it is not unusual for an entire body region to relax with just one move.  It is also common for clients to experience releases happening in parts of the body seemingly remote from the area being worked because the entire body is connected. One client told me her left ear started tingling as I was working on her right ankle!


Other Cool Things About SMRT

  • Clothed sessions are just as effective - no need to get undressed

  • “Full frills” massages are enhanced by this modality - for those

that love the oil and flow

  • Results tend to last longer - take away the reason for guarding while working all of the systems and the body will hold onto the changes


Receiving SMRT is still one of the best bodywork experiences that I can have as a therapist.  Offering it to clients and seeing the “Eureka!” moment when they have better range of motion and less pain with just a few light holds is hugely gratifying.  


What do you think?  Would you like to experience a massage that can work deep and provide long lasting pain relief while still being relaxing?  Call or text (856) 857-7535 to schedule your session