Performers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles stage popular life-size puppet shows about T. rex and Triceratops dinosaurs five days a week. Carrying their heavy costumes can result in strained muscles or injuries, so the museum decided to try a therapeutic exercise new to many in the United States called neuromuscular activation (Neurac for short).
Developed in Norway, the method uses Redcord equipment — a collection of red-colored cords, loops and slings — that allows the therapist to put patients in various supported positions. Exercises are pain-free because the cord-and-sling setup supports the patient’s body weight while working.
Museum officials sent their performers to Core Conditioning in Studio City, Calif., one of the first physical therapy facilities in the country to offer Redcord and Neurac, for some preventative work.
“They have a lot of performers who get injured as they’re moving around in costumes that weight 100 lbs. or more,” says Gabrielle Shrier, MPT, one of the owners of Core Conditioning. “We brought them in and evaluated them with Redcord. With the Redcord unit, you are able to evaluate the body in its movement, and tease out the areas that need treatment.”
Shrier recommended exercises for the performers, based on the Redcord evaluations, and injuries decreased significantly over the following months.
“In treatment, you’re able to off-load some of the body weight so that you can train the muscle to function at the level it can, then slowly add body weight to get the muscle strength back, “ she adds. “It takes away the compensatory pattern you develop when you’ve had an injury.”
Physical therapists at The Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze, Fla. have been using the Redcord and Neurac treatment system since 2010.
“The majority of our patients get on it at some point in their treatment,” says Stephen LaPlante, PT, at The Andrews Institute. “We’ll use it on everyone from professional athletes to the elderly. We use it as an adjunct to other treatments, like manual techniques. If I’m moving a patient’s neck, for example, and they have pain every time, I can put them on Redcord and move them for greater range of motion without pain.”
LaPlante says once a patient is in the Redcord setup, the physical therapist may increase the muscle stimuli by tapping the cords while the patient is in a stabilized position.
“You give more feedback to the brain that way, telling the muscles to work here,” LaPlante says. “Within a week’s time, with many people, you can increase functionality. Some of the exercises will hit multiple body parts. The results speak for themselves.”
It’s not easy for new treatments to gain acceptance in any medical community, and Michael Leonardi, who runs the distributorship for Redcord in the United States, says while Record and the Neurac method have been widely used in more than 30 countries for decades, it’s just starting to gain a foothold in America.
According to Leonardi, the new treatment method is used in hospitals such as Beaumont Hospital in Detroit and the University of Michigan Hospital System in Ann Arbor, as well as at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center.
“Neurac has value in both the rehabilitation and fitness industries,” Leonardi says. “It’s a way for rehabilitation professionals to create wellness programs through functional exercise. It’s a continuum of care, and a great conduit between rehabilitation and fitness.”
At the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center, clinical manager Peter Toohey discovered Neurac and the use of Redcord equipment in 2007 through researching treatment options online and reading various medical journals.
“Most of our coaching staff is from foreign nations, so I’ve got to stay on top of what’s being used everywhere to see if there’s a performance component,” Toohey says. “Our center concentrates on a majority of the winter sports. I was doing some research on setting up uncontrolled environment tasks in the off-season, and Redcord’s been able to do that for me.”
Toohey does most of the training for the Center’s athletes and says the Neurac method is used for more than rehabilitation. For example, Toohey explains, if a short track speed skater, skier, or ice curler loses form during competition, he or she will slip, needing to stand up and get back into the fray.
“We can put them in the Redcord and train the body to compensate for that slipout,” says Toohey, explaining that athletes can be placed in positions in the slings that force them to find stability in an unstable environment. “We also use Redcord for rehabilitation, but my philosophy is we don’t let athletes get injured. There are athletes who push themselves and crash on tour, and we work on them with Redcord.”
He notes that while many physical therapists use Redcord and the Neurac method primarily for rehabilitation, he predicts the treatment will evolve into a strength and conditioning system as well.
“There’ll be a day, within five years, that Redcord will be all over the country,” Toohey says. “People want more of a wholistic approach to health, and don’t want to just take pills for problems. With Neurac and Redcord, you’re using your body to fix your body.”
Dinah Eng is a freelance columnist in Los Angeles, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.