Rodney McBride

Hypertonic vs Normotonic vs Hypotonic

Hypertonic vs Normotonic vs Hypotonic

In my blog A Unique Relationship between Ligaments and Muscles (see October 7th) I mentioned and briefly explained the concepts of hypertonic and hypotonic in relation to ligaments. I didn't have time to go into greater detail since the topic was focused on the correlation of ligaments and muscles. 

So today I want to expand on this notion of hypertonicity and hypotonicity and add normotonicity to the conversation since I consider them to be extremely important in bodywork. 

When the Central Nervous System (brain and spinal cord) needs to communicate with the rest of the body it will send a nerve impulse to the area of interest. And when the Peripheral Nervous System (rest of body) needs to communicate with the CNS it will send a nerve impulse back to the brain and spinal cord. 

This neurological circuit needs to be free and clear of any proprioceptive (sense) obstruction in order to be considered functional. If this is the case then we can refer to this robust circuitry as normotonic. If this is not the case then we now have a neurological glitch.

We always want the structures of the body to be normotonic because this means that they can respond to environmental challenges in a healthy manner and turn on and off like they should without becoming dysfunctional. But when these bodily structures become overly stressed they can become hypertonic (always on) and hypotonic (always off) giving the impression that a dysfunction has already precipitated.

There are two types of hypertonicity. Hypertonic is defined as the inability of a bodily structure (muscles, ligaments, nerves, joint capsules) to turn off when it needs to. The circuit is turned up way to high. This is the neurological portion. And palpatory hypertonic. Palpatory hypertonic is defined as muscle/fascia that becomes dense, hard and fibrotic over time due to overuse. This is the physical portion. 

Treat hypertonic muscles with bodywork (PDTR) and palpatory hypertonic muscles with massage to promote blood and lymph movement. Relieving the neurological hypertonicity first will alleviate the palpatory hypertonicity. Trying to relieve the palpatory hypertonicity first will not alleviate the neurological hypertonicity since all dysfunctions start as nerve issues before you feel them physically. 

Hypotonic is defined as a bodily structure (muscle, ligaments, nerves) that is turned off and won't turn back on when it needs to. The circuit is turned down way to low. This is usually due to some structure overpowering another. A hypertonic (always on) muscle for example will promote hypotonicity in a nearby one. Correcting the hypertonic muscle again with bodywork (PDTR) will fix the hypotonic muscle. 

So now we have defined hypertonic, normotonic and hypotonic. We want all bodily structures to be normotonic as this indicates a functional and healthy Nervous System (NS). And when we don't we have possible hypertonic and hypotonic problems. If so always treat the neurological hypertonic structure as this will relieve itself and reset the hypotonicity of nearby structures, thereby returning the area to a normotonic state. Check for other proprioceptive complications. Apply massage at the end of treatment if necessary. 


You must be logged into Gmail (or other from the list below) to post. Otherwise, please email Rodney McBride directly at with any questions.