Some responses are primal: when you hear a loud noise, you startle; when someone pinches you, you flinch. But what if you could recondition your body to respond differently to sudden stimuli, as a way to manage chronic pain?
Primal reflex release technique (PRRT) is a novel physical therapy treatment designed to examine how our primal reflexes respond to trauma, stress and surgery. It addresses the calming or "down-regulation" of these abnormal reflexive responses, predominately the startle and withdrawal impulses, otherwise known as our "fight or flight" system. These reflexes are thought to be overstimulated in patients experiencing pain, which may maintain their discomfort or even cause it to worsen.
According to Silvia Rodriguez, lead physical therapist of Rehabilitation Services at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, using unorthodox techniques, such as gently pulling the hair or running gentle fingers across the face, can indirectly target the cranial nerves to help normalize these abnormal reflexes, thereby decreasing or eliminating pain.
"PRRT allows us to look at the body as a whole and treat it globally. We can calm down or down-regulate a hyperactive nervous system, and help restore the primal reflexes back to normal," says Rodriguez.
"To make sure PRRT is helping our patients, we consider the statement, 'get better in four or treat no more.' If PRRT is right for you, it will work very quickly and effectively. It is not uncommon to hear patients say, 'wow this is a miracle, I don't have any more pain' or for them to feel like a new person."
Types of chronic pain that PRRT can help
PRRT is intended for patients who suffer from acute or chronic pain, including:
- Headaches/sinus pain
- Trauma-related injuries or recent surgeries
- Joint and muscle pain
- Chronic pain
What to expect
Although the techniques are unusual, the process itself is comfortable and patient-centered. Your therapist will begin your treatment with a quick evaluation to determine your most sensitive and painful areas. They will use their hands to find the overly protective reflex, barriers to pressure or pulling away from the pressure, and will watch and listen for a grimace, gasp or groan that indicates a painful spot needing treatment.
After the therapist determines your area of involvement, specific techniques will be performed to relax your abnormal reflexes. These techniques are performed gently to avoid causing additional pain. Treatment times may vary depending on the severity of the problem; however, 30-minute treatment blocks are fairly common.
Many patients experience an immediate decrease in pain and restored function following treatment, although the technique isn't for everyone. Your therapist will know if PRRT is right for you soon after you begin treatment. When PRRT is successful, our patients will be better able to participate in higher level functioning and return to performing pain-free activities of daily living.