Movement Recovery After Surgery (Part 3)

I’m six weeks post foot surgery and I’m feeling stronger and more stable every day. I’m well aware that the bunion I had removed didn’t develop overnight and neither did the subsequent movement imbalances and pain it contributed to. My return to strong, free, balanced movement is a process that is requiring me to be patient, persistent, and positive. I look forward to moving even better than I did before the surgery.

Let’s take a second to review:

When you suffer an injury or a surgery in one part of your body, the brain reflexively responds by tightening muscles in full body patterns: the front, back, or sides of the body contract. While the conscious, voluntary part of your brain makes sure you’re out of pain and nursing the injury (e.g. icing your foot, wearing your surgical shoe, using crutches) the unconscious, involuntary part of your brain takes care of keeping weight off that limb or area through muscular contraction. This compensatory cringing reflex is called the Trauma Reflex. You don’t have to tell your waist muscles to tighten to hitch your foot off the floor; it happens automatically.

Structure versus Function

Once your doctor has cleared you for movement, a daily practice of gentle somatic movements begins to reverse the tension your brain reflexively created in response to the pain and stress of surgery.

In my case, I had bunion surgery on my right foot. My brain responds involuntarily by tightening the muscles of the waist to keep weight off of my foot when I’m walking or, rather, limping around. The surgical boot creates a further imbalance as it is thicker than the shoe I wear on my other foot. If I don’t address this compensatory pattern, I may find my hip beginning to ache. This compensatory pattern of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) exhibits itself as a Trauma Reflex. The following photos illustrate this pattern clearly.

Pictured: Front view of the Trauma Reflex caused by involuntary compensation in response to foot surgery. The surgical boot (left photo) further exaggerates my existing hip hike. After a short routine of Somatic Movement and wearing my normal shoe instead (right photo), my Trauma Reflex is already less severe.

Pictured: Front view of the Trauma Reflex caused by involuntary compensation in response to foot surgery. The surgical boot (left photo) further exaggerates my existing hip hike. After a short routine of Somatic Movement and wearing my normal shoe instead (right photo), my Trauma Reflex is already less severe.

Pictured: Back view of the Trauma Reflex caused by involuntary compensation in response to foot surgery. If not addressed, this Trauma Reflex can lead to myriad other aches and pains throughout the body.

Pictured: Back view of the Trauma Reflex caused by involuntary compensation in response to foot surgery. If not addressed, this Trauma Reflex can lead to myriad other aches and pains throughout the body.

For some of us there is a pre-existing a pattern of dysfunctional movement present even before we chose surgery. If you can nip this pattern in the bud, surgery may not be necessary. But if this pre-existing pattern of SMA is left alone, it can ultimately create structural issues that may only be solved through medical intervention. Your surgeon can “fix” the part of your that needs fixing, but your pattern of SMA will still exist — surgery does not “fix” your pattern of SMA. If you don’t address the compensatory pattern that developed over time (or in response to your surgery) you might find yourself having aches and pains in another part of your body. Only you can restore accurate balance and proprioception in your movement and release excess muscle tension.

In my last blogpost I discussed how my movement changed and the gradual improvement I’m making by applying somatic principles and movements to my rehab. It’s now time to address both the compensatory reflex at the center and the coordination of the periphery (in my case, the feet).

Try this:

Take a walk around your room. Notice your feet and legs. Notice the movement (of lack thereof) in the center of your body. Is there anywhere that you feel bracing or tension, right to left, front to back?

Watch this video and do the foot pandiculations I demonstrate. Do them on one foot first, then stand up, close your eyes, and sense the difference between that foot and the other one. Take a walk around the room. What’s changed? Repeat this with the other foot.

Now sit in a chair or lie down on the floor. For about a minute slowly move through Arch and Flatten, stopping at neutral after each repetition. Then do several Hip Hikers to get the pelvis swinging side to side as the waist muscles lengthen and shorten, always coming back to neutral. Finish up with a lazy, soft Washrag. Focus on releasing the center of the body yet connecting the tipping inward and outward of the feet to the movement you sense in the center. Bring the center and the periphery together. Stand up and take a walk around. Do you feel more balanced and connected now that you’ve addressed both the center and the periphery?

Your Somatic Movement practice is a daily opportunity to deepen your exploration of what an extraordinarily interconnected somatic organism you really are. Make use of the many support materials we have on the Essential Somatics store. Better yet, find an Essential Somatic Movement class in your area and start learning more. We are meant to move with intelligence, grace, and ease. Enjoy the journey!