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!

The Fastest Route to a Pain-free Body: Clinical Hanna Somatics sessions

Janet (not her real name) came to my office this week complaining of hip pain. Walking upstairs was painful and laborious - and she was only in her 30's.  She had, as she put it, "a list a mile long of things I've tried" in her search for long term pain relief.  "I'm told I have piriformis syndrome. If I could just get my right buttock to relax, I think I could finally begin to feel better," she said. In a Clinical Somatics session that focused on the Trauma Reflex, Janet learned - very quickly - to release her tight waist muscles, ribcage and trunk rotators.I taught her to release the entire pattern of contraction that was causing her buttock to spasm: her tight buttock, abdominals and abductor muscles. Working with sensory feedback from my hand, she contracted these muscles as a pattern, then slowly released them into a fuller, more relaxed length. This technique is called assisted pandiculation - it resets the muscle control, function and length at the level of the central nervous system.  Twice more she pandiculated those same muscles, until she reached her own comfortable limit, flopping her leg inward easily.  She also learned the Back Lift to begin to relax her tightly contracted back muscles.

What happened next took me by surprise:

She began to yell, "Oh my God, oh my God! I can't believe it! I can't believe it!"

"Are you alright? Does anything hurt?" I asked. She'd scared me!

"No, no, no, it's just that I finally relaxed my buttock! I've been saying this all along and nobody believed me! This is my eureka moment!"

Janet left the office with an ability to move her hips in a way she hadn't been able to for eight years.

Most muscle pain problems are functional in nature, not structural

Why did this clinical Somatics session help her when years of physical therapy, trigger point therapy, massage, acupuncture and medical treatments hadn't? Because Janet's problem wasn't structural; it was functional. She suffered from Sensory Motor Amnesia, the habituated compensatory response to two traumatic accidents. Her muscles had learned to adapt, resulting in a twisted pelvis, altered gait and tight hip joint.  As Janet learned to release the entire pattern of tightness on her right side (and compensatory tightness on her other side) and improve the function of her muscles, her hip pain abated, and her muscle coordination and balance improved.

Janet wasn't completely out of pain. She has more to learn and practice in order to change her old way of holding her body to a new, more free sense of movement. Her brain's "new normal" will take time to integrate. In addition to a few more clinical sessions I told her to attend every Hanna Somatic Movement class and workshop she possibly could.  Being free and in control of your movement involves life-long learning. I give this same advice to every client I work with. While private clinical sessions are profoundly and rapidly effective, attending only a few sessions is like taking a few piano lessons and expecting to perform like Chopin or Mozart!

People often ask, "why do I need to come to class if I'm doing private sessions and feel much better?" The answer is simple: life is dynamic, as is movement. Every day there is the possibility of change and stress. Classes gives you the opportunity to learn more, differentiate your brain and movement, and become more skillful. Learning to override old habits and takes time! The more you sense and feel as you move, the more you can learn. The more you can learn, the more you can master. The more you master an awareness of yourself, from the inside out, the more adaptable and resilient you will be throughout your life. Eventually efficient movement will become your brain's default mode as you become more self-monitoring, self-correcting, and self-healing. Varying your daily Somatic Movement routine with classes and workshops and fun, functional movement makes your brain smarter and keeps you out of pain.

Click here to find a workshop, class or training near you.

Click here to purchase Martha's Pain Relief videos.

Movements That Don't Feel Good For My Hip

As promised, in my last post I shared my daily Somatics routine. In this post I'll discuss the movements that don't feel good for my body and hip, as well as movements I enjoy that help me feel strong without stressing my hip and causing pain. To start, here's what I've learned about my labral tears:

Because I can't fix the structural problem I need to listen to my body, move in a way that feels good and stay away from movements that cause pain. I had to get past my self-competitive nature and embrace acceptance of what I can't change and know that I can be strong, healthy and happy without pushing my body into places that don't serve it. It's calling letting go of your ego. Not always easy.

Movements that aren't pleasant for me:

Running. Though I like to run a block, walk, run another block, then walk, I can only do this a few times. Not having equal structural stability in my right hip simply causes my brain and muscles to come down just a bit harder on the right side. I wind up quite sore for a day if I do this and it puts unnecessary stress on my hip joint. It's not worth it.

"Core strengthening:" Sit ups, certain Pilates mat exercises. Why? Because the more I tighten my "core" the more it hurts my right hip. Sounds odd, right? Not really. Many people with a labral tear also have a cyst on their hip. Their hip joint structure isn't symmetrical. This can create some sensitivity that those without tears don't have.

Look at an anatomy chart and you'll see where the abdominal muscles insert into the pubic bone, the pelvis and you'll get a better idea of how excessive strengthening exercises can create pressure and tightness into the hip joint.

The best abdominal/core strengthening for me is functional body weight movement like vigorous hiking. I also love the movements of Exuberant Animal. They're fun, functional, creative and strengthening.

Fast twisting movements: Zumba doesn't work for me. It's simply too fast and one is never able to get to the full range of the muscle, nor have enough time to learn to do the movement properly. Slow hip movements are great, but super fast? It serves no purpose that I can see.

Stretching: Stretching only makes muscles tighter and, when done statically, invokes the stretch reflex. I pandiculate - a lot. And it means that I move in a comfort range that is right for me and optimum for my muscles.

I have had to become extremely aware of my tendency to revert to the original pattern that likely caused the tears in the first place: the Trauma Reflex. When stress hits most people revert to their most deeply familiar habit. For me it's the Trauma Reflex. Don’t worry. The beauty of the human brain is that we have the capacity to be internally aware of and in control of these habits. This leads to the ability to be self-correcting, self-actualizing and self-healing. We can start all over again every minute of the day.

Becoming aware of how you emotionally respond to stress is a critical part of the process. Do you cringe into that hip? Do you tighten your back, hunch your shoulders? Does that hip begin to ache when you’re stressed? Has it never occurred to you that your emotional or psychological state is connected to how your muscles move and how you feel in your body?

The lesson is to learn to listen to yourself, sense the information your brain is giving you about your body and move in ways that create pleasure, learning, growth and strength. It's a life long process that makes us smarter and more resilient.

How Hanna Somatics Helps Me Move Well Despite Labral Hip Tears

It’s time for an update. Several years ago I wrote several blog posts about hip pain, labral tear surgery, and how to help alleviate hip pain - not as a quick fix, but for the long term. Since then I’ve had countless emails from readers asking advice about hip pain and labral tears: which exercises are best for it, can Hanna  Somatics really help and advice on whether to have labral tear surgery or not.hips

So where do I stand now that I’ve had labral tears for several years, a very active schedule and haven’t had surgery?

I’m moving really well. I feel strong, I am still quite flexible and I know how to honor my limits to keep myself out of pain. You see, I am a poor candidate for surgery (I also have osteoarthritis in my hips from years of dance training and injuries), so there has only ever been only one clear choice for me: to incorporate the exercises, concepts and principles of Hanna Somatics into my daily life. This includes awareness of my emotional responses to stress, my postural habits, and my daily movement habits.

That means that I have had to walk the talk and be the example of what Hanna Somatics has to offer those in pain: the ability to become self-aware, self-monitoring, and self-correcting in their movement and muscular control. I know which activities help me and which ones don't and I know that if I "push on through" because I want to be competitive, and I ignore how my body is feeling, I will be sore for a few days afterwards.

I was diagnosed with labral tears after recovering from a skiing accident, which resulted in an ACL tear. As a Somatic Educator, I knew that my tears were the cumulative result of years of Sensory Motor Amnesia as well as minor, but very important, imbalances in the center of my body. For some people labral tears occur suddenly due to an accident or over time due to overuse; baseball players, martial artists and dancers are athletes who frequently suffer from labral tears, all due to repetitive movements.

The Trauma Reflex contributes to labral hip tears

If you have a labral hip tear, you've probably had an accident, injury, surgery, or performed repetitive IMG_3857actions - all of which evokes a sudden and powerful reflex called the Trauma Reflex. The brain, the command center of the muscles, loses its ability to contract and lengthen the muscles of the waist and trunk voluntarily and equally. You find yourself slightly tilted to one side, the pelvis twisted and leg length  a bit  uneven. Your gait changes and smooth walking or running becomes a thing of the past.

Here is what I have advised my readers:

If you have a labral tear and decide to have surgery, the surgery won't fix the muscular imbalance that you undoubtedly have in the center of your body. Only you and your brain can do that through sensory motor retraining. Then, once the tear is fixed, it's important to restore full muscle function, balance and coordination through Clinical Somatics sessions and daily Hanna Somatic Exercises. If you don't, you just may experience continued tightness in that hip, or aches and pains in other areas of the body due to compensation.

If your goal is to avoid a hip replacement (or put it off indefinitely) then the smartest thing you could do is to get the muscles which attach into and move the hip socket to release and relax. This is what I have done. Reduce excess muscle tension and free up your movement. This will take the pressure off the injured area and help you regain freedom of movement.

No matter what you decide, improved somatic awareness and control is what will change the course of your recovery from one of pain and limited movement to one of greater movement and self-control.

So what does my daily practice look like? There are so many Somatic Exercises to learn and choose from, yet some are what I call the “non-negotiables.” All this in my next blog post...

Top Three Myths About Hip Pain

Myth #1 - Your hip pain is due to arthritis

Sometimes hip pain is due to severe arthritis, very often it's not.

When you go to a doctor with hip pain their job is to give you a diagnosis because this is what most people want. Unless you are given an X-ray, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have arthritis, the doctor has no way of knowing whether your pain is due to arthritis. I was once told that, due to my age, I had arthritis. The doctor, despite not bothering to take an X-ray, insisted he was right when, in fact, he wasn't. Arthritis is often a "garbage pail diagnosis" - in reality, your hip pain is often caused by tight muscles that are in a state of Sensory Motor Amnesia.

And sometimes you can have arthritis but be moving well with no pain.

Myth #2 - Your hips are weak

It's time to retire this myth in particular. Those coming to me with hip pain have very little movement in the center of their bodies. Their hips don't sway, and their gait isn't smooth and fluid. The problem is not weakness, but tightness.

When muscles learn to stay tight (due to stress reflexes), they lose their full function. They can no longer contract and release fully as a healthy muscle should. Muscles in a state of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) have lost their physiological ability to release.  They are far from weak; they are, in fact, so strong that they cannot relax!

Doctors frequently pescribe physical therapy due to "weak muscles." Strengthening muscles that are in a state of SMA only makes them worse, as I discuss in this post about Tiger Woods' back injury.

Myth #3 - Surgery is the only option for hip pain

The medical profession looks at tight hip joints and sees a structural problem. Somatic Educators look at tight hip joints and see a functional problem. Doctors don't look at movement and patterns; they focus on separate body parts in an effort to "fix" them. Somatic Educators look for what's not moving when someone walks, and teaches them to improve sensory motor control of the muscles in order  to create more release in the center. This can create space and more movement in the joints. Most one-sided hip pain is due to an habituated Trauma Reflex; this reflex also causes an imbalance in the somatic center, altering one's gait and ability to maintain proper balance.

Long term muscle function can result in structural damage, however. Labral tears, osteoarthritis can result from decades of muscle dysfunction. Wouldn't it be a good idea to learn to take back control of your muscle function and coordination, your balance and your ability to sense and move yourself before jumping into surgery?

In this video I share a wonderful variation of the Side Bend, one of the most important and helpful Somatic Exercises you could ever do for hip joint pain. Try it and see how it feels.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/ExJs0_FBYj4]

Click here for my Pain-Free Legs and Hips DVD, which has plenty of helpful Somatic Exercises to help you release, relax and control the muscles that move your legs and hips.

How To Get The Most Out of Somatic Exercises

Here is a short video with helpful tips about three exercises which most people need some guidance on. I sent this video link out to everyone who purchased my "Pain Relief Through Movement" DVD. I'm making it available to everyone who's learned Somatic Exercises - even if you haven't purchased the Pain Relief Through Movement DVD. Here are some highlights. Read them, then watch the video!

Arch and Flatten:

When you do this exercise, you should feel your back muscles gently contracting and arching as the pelvis rolls forward. You should sense equal effort on both sides of the spine, and then, as you slowly and gently release back to neutral on the mat, you should sense both sides of the back "landing" together.

If you're slightly tighter on one side of your body than the other, you will probably sense more weight or pressure into one hip as you "inhale and arch, and tip the tailbone down in the direction of your feet."  You will feel that you're tilting into one hip. This may cause your lower back to feel sore. It may even cause an uncomfortable pinch. The aim is to sense the gentle arching and flattening right down through the center of your tailbone. The recalibration I demonstrate will help you find "neutral" in your pelvis as you pandiculate the muscles of the back.

Back Lift:

If you are tighter on one side of your waist than the other, maybe from a previous injury or accident, you probably have a Trauma Reflex in the center of your body; you'll feel as if you're off center or heavier on one side of your pelvis than the other as you lie on your front, ready to do the back lift. When you lift the leg you may feel as if you're "tipping" into one side of your pelvis and it will be more difficult to lift the leg.

Gently "anchoring" the pelvis of the non-working leg as you lift elbow, cheek, head and hand, will help you more fully regain balanced control of your back muscles.

Side Bend:

Many people tend to do the side bend and slightly arch their lower backs, twisting slightly into a typical pattern of the Trauma Reflex. This will cause a slight pinch in the low back. If you have sciatica, it will not feel good, as it is only re-creating the pattern that caused the problem in the first place.

Do the side bend as if you're up against a flat wall. Better yet, do the movement against a wall if possible! This will help you make sure that when you contract your waist muscles as you lift your top foot and your head ("making an accordion out of your waist muscles"). You'll be more able to sense the waist muscles contracting and lengthening instead of using the muscles of the lower back to help out.

Here is the video. (In case you're asked for a password, it's DVDthankyou1):

[wpvideo ZOynjrOg]

Let me know how it goes and whether or not these tips were helpful to you.

For those of you would like to learn how to skillfully teach the Somatic Exercises to others, my Somatic Exercise Coach Training (Levels One and Two) is for you. This popular training has been taught in the UK, Canada, Germany, Canada and Australia and people are learning to relieve their muscle pain and move more freely the world over thanks to the skills of Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise Coaches.

Martha is available for phone consultations, workshops, private clinical sessions. Click here for more information.

Learn to relieve back, neck, shoulder, hip, and joint pain easily, safely, and intelligently using methods taught nowhere else!

Relieve Hip Pain Easily and Quickly

Everyone these days seems to have hip pain - and it's usually one-sided. To demystify this right from the start, most chronic, one-sided hip pain is due to habituation of a very common reflex: the Trauma Reflex. This is a reflex that is invoked involuntarily in response to accidents, injuries, surgeries, or falls. It can also become habituated due to using a computer mouse, holding a baby on one's hip, or holding a heavy bag on one shoulder. The muscles of one side of the waist and trunk become tighter than the other side. This changes the way you walk and can lead to plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, and sciatica.

You must change the sensory motor nervous system in order to relieve muscle pain.

Think about it: if you could relax the muscles you would, right? But you can't. This is because you have learned so well to adapt and adjust to the stresses of your life (physical, mental, emotional, and occupational) that you don't even notice your movement or posture until pain sets in. The key to long-term pain relief is to learn to "reboot" your brain and nervous system so your muscles learn to fully relax. You are the only one who can do this; in Hanna Somatics we teach you how.

The first step is know what to look for. I like to ask clients to pay attention to specific things as they walk: Do both arms swing gently? Does one hip move more than the other? Do you land more heavily on one foot or the other? Do you notice a difference from one side to the other? Invariably even clients who say, "I've never paid attention to how I walk," will tell me that they notice one side moving while the other side feels stiff.

"Dorothy" came to me with pain in one hip, and discomfort IMG_1865when walking. She was very active, and loved to garden.  Notice in the photo at right how the right hip is higher up than the left hip. Notice the hem of her shirt; it curves up and to the right. Her right arm and hip are touching. Notice the difference on the left side; her back is more relaxed and there is space between her arm and hip. Her right shoulder slumps down while her left shoulder is level. This is a typical Trauma Reflex posture.

It wasn't surprising that Dorothy had discomfort when she walked. She was literally out of balance, with one foot and leg moving differently from the other, like a car with a flat tire. This kind of muscular imbalance creates hip pain on one side of the body; if it is not addressed it can also contribute to structural damage.

Dorothy didn't notice these imbalances until I pointed them out. She initially said that she felt IMG_1866balanced and even! Why? Because this "out of balance" posture had become an unconscious - therefore, uncontrollable - habit. In order to release the muscles around the hip joints and pelvis and relieve her hip pain, she needed to learn to regain conscious awareness and voluntary control of the muscles of side bending and twisting - the very ones that were hitching her pelvis up and tightening around her hip joint.

After only one session, she was able to relax her right hip so that it was even and level with her left hip. Notice the difference in the level of her hips in the photo to the right. The hem of her shirt is even as are her shoulders.

After a hands-on clinical Somatics session that addressed the muscles of the Trauma Reflex, I asked her to walk down the hall one more time. She noticed that her gait was smooth and effortless, and her hip pain was greatly relieved. I sent Dorothy home with several easy Somatic Exercises (arch and flatten, the side bend, and the washrag) - to do at home to reinforce the improvement she had made. I saw her her a few more times to help her release the muscles of the back and front of her body, and she reports that she continues to feel looser and more comfortable both in her hips and in her walk. It's amazing what a little awareness and movement can do!

How Computer Work Causes Shoulder Pain and Hip Pain

Overuse on one side of the body can create muscular imbalance and pain.

The most common muscle pain complaint people contact me about is hip pain - specifically right sided hip pain often accompanied by tightness in the ribs and waist on the same side.  There is invariably accompanying same-side shoulder pain, usually on the top of the shoulder and into the neck. To top it off, 100% of these people sit at a computer nearly all day.

Many of these people have also experienced an accident or injury that has caused them to "cringe" and contract in an involuntary brain reflex called the Trauma Reflex.  The trauma reflex involuntarily contracts one side of the waist and trunk rotators, which results in a slight side bending and twisting of the waist muscles on one side of the body. This occurs due to the need to compensate for an injury or to avoid pain on one side of the body.

Try this: Visualize sitting at your computer. Do you lean into your screen to see by thrusting your face forward? Do you reach for your mouse by rounding the shoulder forward and collapsing slightly in your ribcage? Do this do you sense a twinge of pressure or pain into your hip and up into your shoulder and neck when you do these movements?

Now look in the mirror. Does your posture like either of these photos?:

 

The photos above show a specific pattern of overuse on the computer. Look at the photo on the left and notice how the shoulder on the right side sits lower than the left shoulder. Look at the wrinkles in the woman's shirt right under her armpit and shoulder blade which indicates tight shoulder and waist muscles that pull the shoulder down.

Look at the photo on the right. Notice the same effect, only this time from the front. The shoulder on the left side (the client's right side) is pulling noticeably downward, causing the ribs to contract. Again, the telltale wrinkles in the shirt just under the armpit let you know that there are muscles tightening unconsciously all the time, while my client is standing "at ease."

If you are collapsed and contracted in the center of the body, your hip joint will also be tight.

Some studies show that between 70-90% of people are right handed. This means that most people working on computers also use their mouse with their right hand - reaching, holding the right shoulder still, and slumping slightly into one hip as they type. No wonder so many computer users also complain of shoulder pain!

But how does collapsing/slumping on one side of the body create hip pain and shoulder pain?

The graphic on the right will help you understand: this shows the external oblique muscles (the "waist muscles") that connect your ribs to your pelvis. The internal oblique muscles attach down into iliac crest of the pelvis. Both muscles help to twist the body and flex it laterally. They act like an accordion to bend the body to the side and enable the torso to turn. They are instrumental in moving the hips up and down and stabilizing the torso side-to-side.

If you habitually contract this muscle group, both the origin and the insertion of the muscles will become tight... all the way up into the ribs, shoulders, and neck, and down into the hip. The muscles will learn to stay tightly contracted and no longer able to fully contract, nor relax (Sensory Motor Amnesia) and pain will develop. The key is to improve awareness of your posture and movement habits, then consciously restore the muscles to their original length and function. Your pain will begin to diminish, your balance will improve, and your ability to move both of your hips and shoulder equally will return.

If you work at a computer and experience hip pain, shoulder pain or low back pain, you can choose to live without it. There are specific Hanna Somatic Exercises that can help you reverse this problem.

Products that can help you reverse your pain on your own:

You can also contact Martha for an online Skype session or one-on-one clinical session.

Heal Herniated Discs with Hanna Somatics

I've gone to an acupuncturist, pain medicine doctor, sports medicine doctor, massage therapist, physical therapist - and they all told me, "you'll never get rid of this. It will never go away."

This is what my client, Joanne (not her real name) told me before her first clinical Somatics session. She had a herniated disc, severe back pain and sacroiliac joint pain. She had a feeling that "life's impacts," as she called them, had more of an effect on her than anything else. I agreed with her. I explained some basics about muscles and bones in order to demystify what up until then had been an elusive problem for her:

  • Muscles attach to bones and muscles move bones.
  • The brain and nervous system senses and moves your muscles.
  • The brain reflexively responds and adapts over time to stresses in the environment by tightening muscles in specific, full body patterns.
  • If these stress responses are on-going or severe enough (i.e. an accident), the brain and muscles learn to stay chronically contracted as if the stress were still occurring, even as if has stopped.
  • Because muscles learn to be really good at contracting and holding the body tightly, they must learn to relax and release. This can only be achieved through improving one's ability to sense and control one's muscles and movement.

Herniated discs are the structural result of poor muscle function.

With the exception of a traumatic accident, discs herniate because the muscles attach to them are so strongly contracted - and unable to relax - that they push the disc material out.  sciatica An X-ray can show a protrusion in your spine - but the question doctors fails to ask is, "What is happening in the muscles, that is putting excess pressure on the spine and discs?

Herniated discs are one of the most common muscle pain conditions I see in my clinical practice; they are yet another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia. More specifically, herniated discs are the result of habituation to two Somatic Stress Reflexes:

Trauma Reflex: The brain's response to an accident, injury, surgery or one-sided functional task (such as holding a baby on one hip). The muscles of the waist and trunk rotators contract on one side in order to avoid pain.  There is always a slight side bending or twist apparent in people with a trauma reflex. The waist muscles (the internal and external obliques, the quadratus lumborum, which "hikes" the pelvis on one side) cause an uneven pull on the lumbar spine (or on the cervical spine in the case of a cervical herniation). This, in affect, herniates the disc.

Green Light Reflex: This reflex contracts all the muscles of the back of the body, from sacrum to occiput, is a "call to action" response, invoked hundreds of times a day in our busy industrialized society. It is the cause of most chronic back pain. The muscles of the back contract strongly, yet feel weak and fatigued.

Over the course of five clinical Somatics sessions Joanne learned to release, relax and regain control overthe muscles of her waist, back and pelvis, all of which had become rigid and contracted over the years. She learned to pandiculate rather than stretch her muscles, restoring full muscle function and length to her weary muscles. When she learned to release her back muscles her shooting pain began to disappear. Once her waist and trunk rotators began to soften she enjoyed moving her hips and pelvis without fear of pain when she walked. "My husband won't know what's walking in the door!" she laughed after one session.

Here are three of the most important exercises that Joanne did to help her relax her back and waist muscles - Arch and Flatten, to release tight back muscles, the Side Bend and the Washrag.

Joanne now understood that her loss of body awareness and muscle control - the very thing that had contributed to her muscle pain - had developed over time due to stress. The next step for her is to continue to improve her ability to self-sense and self-correct through her practice of Hanna Somatic Exercises. Life is movement, and the learning is hers to explore for the rest of her life. She will only get better and better.

Her doctors were wrong and she knew it all along. Her pain has gone away.

Long Lasting Pain Relief for Knee Pain

I used to have "bad knees." I was a dancer for 15 years, had several knee surgeries, and found myself unable to kneel for long periods of time and challenged if I had to sit cross-legged on the floor by the time I was 40. Those days are gone. My knees are no longer "bad." In fact, they're strong, and pain-free, with no arthritis or stiffness.

How did I change my "bad knees" to "good knees?" I discovered Hanna Somatics.

In this post on a well-respected website about age and health, you'll see an incomplete perspective on how to get long-lasting relief for knee pain. I say "incomplete," because from my clinical experience, most people suffering knee pain don't look like the nice, neat, symmetrical "people" in the illustrations. (Don't get me wrong; knee exercises are great for those under the care of a physical therapist who need to regain muscle tone and strength due to knee surgery.)

Most people suffering from knee pain are not standing tall, and balanced.

They are either slightly tilted to one side, twisted in their torso (which causes the pelvis to shift out of alignment) or slumped and rounded forward; this is known as the Trauma Reflex. Most people suffering from knee pain are also very tight in the center of their bodies, and completely unaware of both their posture and their gait. Some people with knee pain limp and don't even know it! This kind of chronic muscle tightness that affects posture and movement is called Sensory Motor Amnesia - the brain has simply forgotten how to relax certain muscles, causing your movement to change for the worse.

Myth: Painful knees mean you have weak knees.

Doing strengthening exercises for knees can be helpful, but doesn't get to the root of the problem. Painful knees do not necessarily mean weak knees!

Painful knees often have more to do with tight, contracted muscles in the thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings) and in the center of the body than with any structural problem in the knees themselves. Unless you've had an accident that resulted in  structural damage to your knees, strengthening the muscles that attach into the knee joint without also releasing accumulated muscle tension in the center of the body won't give you long-lasting relief.

Once you learn to relax the tight muscles of the back, waist and abdominals and regain a real sense of balanced alignment and an even gait, then doing certain strengthening exercises can be beneficial not only for the knees, but also for your overall health.

One of the fastest way to relieve knee pain is to regain a balanced gait.

Several things occur when your gait is uneven:

  • One leg works harder than the other when you walk. This creates unequal pressure in the knee joint, which can, over time, create structural damage not only in the knee joint, but also in the hip joint.
  • The thigh muscles (quadriceps) tighten strongly - often stronger than necessary - to stabilize the knee as you walk unevenly.
  • The hamstrings tighten in response to what the thigh muscles are doing. The thigh and hamstrings muscles are supposed to work together in coordination, but when one set of muscles is contracted excessively and continuously, the other set of muscles contracts accordingly, making it difficult to release either set of muscles. It's as if you're stuck in a vice.

On my DVD, Pain Relief Through Movement, I instruct you in how to do the "walking lessons" (shown in the photo on the right), Somatic Exercises that teach you to release and relax the muscles of the back, waist and abdominals for easier movement in the pelvis, hips, legs and knees. These exercises come at the end of the DVD, because once you've learned to regain control of, and release the back, waist, abdominal and hip muscles you're ready to learn to walk freely again. Learning to coordinate the muscles of walking begins with the back muscles, not with the knees.

Why Is One Leg Shorter Than The Other? The Trauma Reflex!

Here are three frequent questions my clients ask me:

Why do I have one leg shorter than the other?

Why do I have hip pain, knee or foot pain but only on one side?

I'm told that my pelvis is rotated because I have a weak core. Is that true?

The answer:

Leg length discrepancy, one side hip, knee, and foot pain, sciatica, tilted posture, piriformis syndrome, and a rotated pelvic are all the result of an habituated Trauma Reflex. No, the core is not necessarily "weak." It is likely so strong and tight - within the pattern of the Trauma Reflex - that the center of the body cannot fully relax, rotate and side bend evenly on both sides.

When you respond to any physical trauma, a sudden blow to the body, a slip, fall or crutchesaccident of any kind, the brain instantly, involuntarily, and often violently, contracts the muscles of the waist (the oblique muscles), the trunk rotators (lattisimus dorsii, abdominals, adductors and abductors of the legs) and the muscles that allow the pelvis to swing freely (quadratus lumborum and iliopsoas) in an attempt to avoid injury or to prevent further pain after the accident has occurred. If you've ever prevented what could have been a terrible fall you know the wrenching pain that comes with the sudden twisting movement that helps you regain  your balance.

If the accident is severe or violent - a car accident or a sudden slip on the ice, for example - the brain Trauma reflex - frontteaches these muscles to stay tight and contracted. If you injure yourself on one side of your body and need to protect that injured limb until it is healed (as occurs when using crutches), you can inadvertently learn to walk with a limp once the injury is healed. A one-sided job, like sitting at a computer and using the mouse all day with one hand can create a strong imbalance on one side of the body.

When muscles stay tight the brain loses the ability to fully contract and release the muscle. The ability to fully release the muscle is what gives the muscle power. This state of elevated muscle tonus and tension that won't relax is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. In the case of an habituated Trauma Reflex your brain integrates and organizes this learned and involuntary full-body imbalance into a "neutral" and "balanced" that, as those of you have ever suffered an accident or injury, can sense is out of balance, tilted, rotated and uncomfortable. Not to mention inefficient.

How do you learn to regain symmetry and balance in the center of your body? Muscles that have learned to stay tight and contracted due to stress must learn to relax, release, and move freely again. It's muscle reeducation. Many people can benefit from one-on-one clinical sessions with a qualified Somatic Educator skilled in the methods of Thomas Hanna. However, many people can also easily learn to do this on their own, at home.

The video below can help you learn to lengthen both sides of the waist evenly so you can regain your internal awareness ("somatic" awareness) and proprioception for improved balance and a smoother gait. This easy awareness exercise is best done after you learn to relax and release the waist muscles by doing arch and flatten, the side bend and the washrag.

To learn more Hanna Somatic Exercises and learn to relieve muscle pain and improve mobility, and somatic awareness, you can purchase my Pain-Free series of DVDs. Enjoy the video and enjoy standing tall!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mb5Ip0H6jTk&feature=youtu.be]

Labral Tears - Surgery or Not?

Releasing painful muscles is the first step in hip pain relief.

In my last post I wrote about chronic hip pain, what is counterproductive for it, and what works from my perspective as a Hanna Somatic Educator,

  • Strengthening painful hip muscles can cause further pain or injury.
  • Learning to relax the muscles of the hip joint and the compensatory full body pattern of contraction in which the muscles are stuck can provide long lasting pain relief, relaxed hip joints, and balanced movement.
  • Understanding Sensory Motor Amnesia and the Trauma Reflex, the root cause of chronic hip pain, will help you understand how to intelligently regain pain-free movement of the hip.

Exercises such as the "clam shell" or "butterfly," and lateral leg lifts only serve to tighten the hip muscles even more, making it more difficult to move the hip. Often they create more pain, not less. Sitting with the soles of the feet together and pushing the knees out to stretch out the inner thighs can cause tight adductors to contract back against the force of the stretch. Even psoas stretches performed in isolation, can induce the stretch reflex, causing muscles to tighten back against the stretch. This further reduces the amount of control your brain has over your muscles.

Muscles that the brain cannot fully contract nor fully release are muscles that cause pain.

  • Address the pattern of contraction, not the individual muscles.
  • Pandiculation is the most effective way of regaining muscle function, improving movement and resetting muscle length. When you contract a muscle first, then lengthen and relax it you address muscle function at the level of the nervous system.

I hope some of you tried a few of the Hanna Somatic Exercises I included in my last post. Here is a wonderful variation of one of my favorite Somatic exercises: the Steeple Twist. This variation, made by Charlie Murdach (a Hanna Somatic Educator and Feldenkrais practitioner) shows how differentiating movements with the hips creates improved overall movement. Remember to go slowly and only as far as is comfortable. "Micro-movements" are perfectly fine!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGuBU-1M0xM&feature=relmfu]

All these movements are a good beginning to learning to relax the muscles involved in the "trauma reflex."

Improved body awareness and muscle control is crucial when you have structural damage.

If you know that you are injured, but your doctor tells you it's nothing to worry about, then it's critically important to focus your attention on how your brain and muscles are compensating to deal with the injury (Sensory Motor Amnesia), and how that is changing the way in which you move. Unconscious and habituated functional problems left unchecked can, over the years, result in structural damage.

Do you have to be A-Rod to get a good doctor?

About a year ago I finally convinced my doctor to give me an X-ray on my hip. I had intermittent hip pain that I knew intuitively wasn't merely a functional issue.  The X-ray showed a tumor on my hip and an MRI confirmed a tumor, the result of two labral tears. My surgeon, a well known sports medicine doctor here in New Jersey, took time to show me my results: labral tears, osteoarthritis, and a tumor. He told me that, "there's just not enough science out there about labral tears to go ahead and do the surgery."

Unrepaired labral tears could create the need for a hip replacement in years to come.

Before my appointment was over, I asked my doctor if he thought that not repairing the tear in my hip soon would set me up for a full hip replacement in the future, due to compensation over time. His reply: "Yes, that just might be the case."

As I said in my first post about hip pain, it didn't take Alex Rodriguez's doctors long to figure out that if the Yankees were going to get their star player back on the field, earning his millions and hitting home runs, labral tear surgery was a must. ASAP. Why was there no absence of scientific data there?

So where does this leave the rest of us?

Recovery from labral tear surgery is no walk in the park, especially if you have no addressed the Trauma Reflex that got you there in the first place; it can't be solved by surgery. Surgery helps to repair the structural damage (which is wonderful), but it doesn't address the Sensory Motor Amnesia that alters movement in the first place.

The winning combination: Surgery + skilled physical therapy + Hanna Somatic Education = focus on regaining full functioning of the body as an integrated whole

While the jury's not out about what route I will have the option to take, improving my own sensory motor system and paying attention to my daily movement habits is critical to create long-lasting pain relief.

 

Eliminate Heel Pain and Plantar Fasciitis with Hanna Somatic Exercises

Plantar fasciitis and heel pain affects approximately 2 million people a year in the United States. People stretch, ice, foam roll, get acupuncture, and wear night splints and orthotics. This article from PubMed Health is reflective of the medical practice's current view on plantar fasciitis, pain in the connective tissue of the bottom of the foot. The medical field believes that the only way to treat it is to address only the problem area of pain, rather than taking into consideration one's daily movement habits as a potential contributing factor to this condition.

Plantar fasciitis is the result of overly contracted muscles of the lower leg, and  an imbalance in the somatic center.

As a Clinical Somatic Educator, I teach people to eliminate chronic muscle pain by restoring their brain's control of muscles and movement. From my clinical  experience, most heel and foot pain, including plantar fasciitis, is the result of  improper weight bearing, which originates in the muscles of the center of the body, adversely affecting one's gait. It's another classic example of Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The most common pattern of muscular dysfunction responsible for plantar fasciitis is an habituated  Trauma Reflex pattern in the center of the body. This occurs due to compensation from an accident or injury, or repetitive one-sided work (like holding a baby on one's hip - also a contributor to sciatica). It looks like my client in the photo at right.

Notice how this client's right hip is higher than the left, and his weight is mostly on his left foot. His pelvis is slightly rotated, causing unequal leg length discrepancy. The back muscles on the left side of his body are tighter than on the right. This full body pattern causes the muscles of the lower leg (which help to move the foot) to adapt to receiving unbalanced weight.

The most effective method to long-term relief from plantar fasciitis is Hanna Somatic Education.

  • Become aware of the imbalance in the center of your body so you can learn to release this pattern and regain symmetry and balance in those muscles.
  • Learn to release the overly contracted muscles of the lower leg and feet. Muscles that do not function properly can only improve their function through movement. This is why passive therapies (trigger point, massage, stretching, etc.) for leg and foot pain do not work in the long term.
  • Become aware of your gait. Do you heel strike? Do you scuff your feet? Are your hips stiff when you walk? Movement in the center of your body affects the movement at the periphery of your body; a tight center will make your feet will suffer when you walk.
  • Reverse a gait imbalance to help prevent plantar fasciitis from returning.

Once the back, waist muscles and hips are relaxed and balanced, (and your gait is smooth and even), plantarfascitis, foot, heel, and lower leg disappear rapidly.

A client came to me with severe plantar fasciitis. I saw her for one clinical Somatics session. She learned to release and rebalance the muscles of her back and waist and become more aware of her walk. She also learned five easy, somatic movements to do every day to reinforce her progress. She sent me this email several weeks later:

I'm doing very well, was VERY diligent about doing the exercises and felt terrific in doing so, the results were great. I've fallen off the wagon a bit since returning from vacation but am working towards starting up again on a regular basis. The plantar fasciitis is nearly gone, I have very few symptoms now and can give credit to the exercises, walking and sitting differently, and going without shoes as often as possible... Seeing the wonderful results has encourage me to move ahead with an additional session!

Learning to restore somatic awareness and brain control of your muscles is the first step to eliminating not only plantar fasciitis, but other painful conditions, such as sciatica, back, neck, shoulder pain, TMD/TMJ, frozen shoulder, hip and knee pain and tension headaches. Visit the Essential Somatics® store here.

 

Pain Relief for Sciatica and Knee Pain

Recently I read an article about a new medical technique that addresses sciatic pain. The woman in the article - a hairdresser - was overjoyed that, through surgery, she was able to get relief from her sciatica. I'm happy to know that some people can be helped through medical intervention, but the problem still remained: there was no guarantee that her pain wouldn't return; as is common with many medical approaches to functional problems such as sciatica, the patient never really found out how she had created her sciatica. Without addressing the root cause of her pain - a chronically tight buttock muscle - her pain will most likely return. Sciatica pain occurs when the sciatic nerve, which runs through the buttock and down the leg, is compressed by the buttock muscle or tight back muscles on one side. Doctors will inject medication to either deaden the nerve or relieve the compression, rather than treat what is causing the pain to begin with. If you become aware of your pattern of movement that is causing your muscles to become contracted, then you can change your movement and get rid of the pain.

So if your sciatic nerve is being pinched by a tight buttock muscle (the piriformis) what is causing the muscle to contract? Sciatica is a full body pattern of muscle dysfunction that develops in response to habituation of the Trauma Reflex,  which causes one to walk with a painful, uneven gait. This can also cause knee pain.

Whatever we do consistently becomes a habit at the level of our brain and nervous system.

If we stand with a baby on our hip, our waist muscles learn to stay tight on one side to make a perch for the baby. If we have injured ourselves and use crutches to get around, one side of the waist becomes tight to protect the injured limb. These are examples of adaptation to stress that cause our muscles to accumulate more and more muscle tension.

The only way a muscle contracts is if the brain, the command center of the muscles, sends it a signal to contract.

If the message to contract is constant, then the muscle learns to stay tight, even when you're sleeping. Add to that tight back muscles, and you have a textbook recipe for sciatica: tight back muscles and one side of the waist/hips that are tighter than the other side.

Sciatic pain can be reversed through Somatic sciatica exercises and sensory motor retraining.

If you have sciatica, take a moment to notice how you move. Is one hip higher than the other? Are your back muscles contracted constantly? Do you walk with an uneven gait? Is one knee painful when you walk? Do you stand with more weight on one leg than the other? Would you like to learn to regain balance and control in the center of your body so the hips, back and waist muscles can relax and take pressure off that sciatic nerve?

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, click here for a few Hanna Somatic Exercises; they are perfect for improving awareness of one's movement, and restoring full brain control of the muscles that cause sciatica. Hanna Somatic Education can teach you to rid yourself of sciatic pain for the long term and help you regain control of your body... without surgery.

 

Piriformis Syndrome Part 2 - Releasing the Iliopsoas Muscle Video

Here's what WebMD has to say about piriformis syndrome:

Piriformis syndrome usually starts with pain, tingling, or numbness in the buttocks. Pain can be severe and extend down the length of the sciatic nerve (called sciatica). The pain is due to the piriformis muscle compressing the sciatic nerve, such as while sitting on a car seat or running. Pain may also be triggered while climbing stairs, applying firm pressure directly over the piriformis muscle, or sitting for long periods of time.

From a Hanna Somatic Education point of view, piriformis syndrome is just another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia.

Piriformis syndrome is caused by habituation of the Trauma Reflex, a full-body reflex pattern that is evoked in response to an accident, injury, surgery, or one-sided repetitive movement. The muscles of the waist and trunk rotators (the obliques, lats, abdominals, iliopsoas muscle, adductors, and abductors) become chronically contracted on one side of the body, causing the pelvis to hike and/or rotate slightly. This pattern of muscular imbalance causes the piriformis muscle to involuntarily over-contract in an effort to maintain balance. Piriformis syndrome is in the same category as neck and shoulder problems, plantar fasciitis, chronic back pain, TMJ, sciatica, or joint stiffness. It's a functional muscle problem in need of a functional solution: sensory motor retraining of the brain to muscle connection in order to teach the frozen, contracted muscles involved in the pattern of piriformis syndrome to relax and release. The end result is relaxed and coordinated muscles, restored muscle function, a greater sense of body awareness, and no more pain.

Try these simple self-assessment tools to become aware of how piriformis syndrome is being created in your body:

  • Stand in the mirror and take a look at yourself. Are your shoulders level?
  • Close your eyes and sense the weight into each leg. Is it the same on both side?
  • Put your hands at the waistline, right on the top of the pelvis. Are your hips level?
  • Lay on your back and lift your legs up to 90 degrees above your hips. Look at your ankle bones. Do they meet, or is one ankle bone higher than the other?

If you notice imbalances in your posture, then you know that your movement habits are causing your pelvis to twist or tilt and your back and buttock muscles to work harder on one side than the other. Hanna Somatics can teach you to change that.

A daily routine of Hanna Somatic Exercises to prepare your body for movement is the first step to reversing the pain of piriformis syndrome.

A Somatic movement practice reinforces more optimal movement patterns. You will learn to move more efficiently when your muscles are fully under the control of your brain. There are times when it's necessary to tweak these exercises, or target the offending muscles a bit more directly.

Remember that it's never just one muscle causing the problem when you find yourself out of balance or moving inefficiently. In the video below you will engage muscles that would normally coordinate together with the piriformis.  Have a look and try them out for yourself. Let me know how it goes.

Visit the Essential Somatics® store for easy-to-follow instructional DVDs. Learning the basic movements of Somatics goes a long way toward educating you and your muscles to get rid of chronic back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee, foot or joint pain - and keep yourself moving pain-free for the rest of your life.

[wpvideo QeXgJh9o]

How to Regain Your Form: Horseback Riding, Falls, and the Trauma Reflex

I got bucked off of a horse and landed hard enough on my right hip to warrant a trip to the ER. Luckily, nothing was wrong in the x-rays. Fast forward a few years and I started to notice pain in my hip flexors when riding. I would get off of the horse and feel stiff - more on the right than the left. Years went by and my pain included both hips, and back pain. When I sit for a long period of time, I stand up like a 90 year old woman. When I read through your website, I find myself feeling like someone can finally describe my pain!

"Laura" came to me for Hanna Somatics because she realized that her back and hip pain was probably due to Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) - the condition of chronically contracted muscles that results from muscular adaptation to stress (accidents, injuries, repetitive movement). She wanted to learn to relax her back and hip joint muscles, which had become taut and painful from years of compensating from her original riding accident as well as from long hours in the car and at the computer.

A fall off a horse evokes the trauma reflex and contributes to hip, neck, and shoulder pain.

Laura had developed a typical, habituated Trauma Reflex pattern of compensation: one side of her waist muscles and trunk rotators was tighter than the other side. This occurred due to her sudden fall off her horse many years earlier. Her brain - the command center of the muscles - had forgotten how to control her muscles and no matter what she did to try and relax them, nothing gave her long-term relief. This is a common response to an accident.

In order to ride she had developed compensatory patterns that enabled her to stay on the horse, even though one hip couldn't move as well as the other. Her brain had expertly compensated by over-tightening her hip flexors as she rode, sat at her computer, or drove her car.

Laura also had slightly slumped and tight shoulders - indicative of the Red Light Reflex pattern. She said she had been kicked by a horse and knocked flat on her back on the ground. She was stuck in a dark vise of muscular contraction, as occurs with whiplash. Fluid movement of the spine was almost impossible.

When the back muscles are too tight, one's riding form is stiff. The back doesn't relax and coordinate with the muscles of the front of the body. The brain recruits muscles it doesn't need to help you stay balanced on your horse. The horse no doubt senses your tension and you ride as if you had the emergency brake on. Neither horse nor rider is happy.

The only long-term solution is to retrain the muscles of the back, waist, and front of the body to relax and lengthen again. This will restore proper balance, symmetry and muscular coordination.

Here are some conditions that are the result of an habituated trauma reflex:

  • Sciatica
  • Restricted and painful hip joint
  • Leg length discrepancy
  • Loss of balance due to uneven weight distribution/tilted posture
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Uneven gait, with more pressure into one hip/knee/foot
  • Knee pain
  • Plantar fasciitis

Laura, my equestrian client, learned to use the technique of pandiculation to relax and lengthen her back, waist, and hip muscles. This eliminated her pain because her brain learned to voluntarily release and relax the muscles that had been tightly and painfully contracted. She now practices the gentle, easy Somatic Movements I taught her to do at home; these movements reinforce the brain's ability to self-correct should stress threaten to take over.

Despite her car commute and long hours at the computer, Laura is moving well and back in control of her body. No more visits to the chiropractor, physical therapist or doctor for her pain! Horseback riding is also still very much a part of her life - but now it's easier to do.

To learn to relieve muscle pain easily and rapidly on your own, check out the Essential Somatics® store.

 

Swimming as a Useful Somatic Activity

I recently received this email from a client while I was on vacation:

I thought I'd pass along an interesting experience I've been having. I remember you telling me that after the Exuberant Animal day-long play session you had, you said that despite the fact that you expected to have soreness, you didn't. You said it was probably because all your muscles worked together in a natural, coordinated way. I've recently discovered that swimming has the same effect for me.  I've  begun swimming regularly and it dawned on me one day that after 20 - 30  minutes of that exercise I feel no soreness at all.  How odd!  For me at least, swimming, combined with Hanna Somatics is a terrific combination.

How funny that I would receive this email while I was away in New Hampshire, hiking in the White Mountains, and swimming in the chilly waters of Lake Winnipesaukee.

Swimming gives you the opportunity to use all the muscles of your body in smooth, balanced coordination.

Without pressure on your joints, your muscles get a strong workout as they push and pull against the weight of the water. The crawl stroke is a perfectly coordinated movement; the back and waist muscles shorten and lengthen in coordination, as you twist and turn. The lengthening and reaching can help improve your ability to stand tall with both sides of the trunk long and even. Swimming can be done year round, too, which makes it a wonderful daily activity.

If you have ever suffered a trauma - be it a broken ankle, knee surgery, or slip and fall - you may already notice that one side of your waist and trunk is tighter than the other. You may feel "tilted" to one side, or you may have a leg length discrepancy. You may want to consider swimming as a "somatic activity" that can help to retrain the muscles that learned to stay contracted due to your trauma.  If you have sciatica, scoliosis or hip pain on one side, swimming can help you to figure out where you're tight and where you're not. Don't worry! This awareness is simply giving you information about where your brain has lost voluntary control of movement that used to be natural, efficient and effortless. The first step to regaining fuller, freer movement is through awareness.

A good way to determine whether you may have a trauma reflex getting in the way of smooth, efficient movement is by doing the crawl stroke. If you find that it's easier to reach forward with one arm more than the other, try the Side Bend and Washrag Somatic Exercises. Then return to the pool or lake and see if your stroke has evened out. All the muscles involved in the Trauma Reflex (the trunk rotators) can learn to release, relax, and coordinate efficiently through the retraining that swimming offers.

How a Clinical Somatic Approach Can Help Scoliosis

In my last blog post I discussed the important factor in "idiopathic" scoliosis: the environment. The environment here refers to what kind of stressors occur in your life to cause you to develop scoliosis. Let's go back to the basics for a second:

  1. Your brain controls your muscles.
  2. Your muscles attach to your bones.
  3. Your muscles move bones. Bones never move where muscles don't pull them (except in the case of a disease process, like polio).
  4. Your brain responds to stress in the environment by tightening muscle groups in specific patterns.

Accidents and injuries at a young age can set scoliosis in motion.

I have worked with many clients who have had scoliosis in the family. At the same time, I've worked with even more scoliosis clients who are the only ones in their family to have ever developed this condition. They all share one thing in common: a traumatic accident/slip/fall before or during adolescence. (Many women in particular who have developed mild scoliosis later in life have suffered a traumatic fall or accident, or spent decades raising multiple children and making a "perch" for their child by hiking up one side of their pelvis.)

When you have an accident, your brain instantly contracts the muscles of the waist and trunk rotators in order to help you avoid further pain or injury. This Trauma Reflex, when habituated, can create an adaptive muscular pattern of consistent with scoliosis. The curve can be mild or severe. Many teenagers undergo  surgery to put Harrington rods in their spines, while others decide to use exercise and stretching techniques instead.

Hanna Somatic Education (HSE) is a safe, easy method for addressing scoliosis and relieving the back pain associated with this condition. HSE uses the technique of assisted (or "hands-on") pandiculation to teach clients to release muscles that are stuck in the feedback loop of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). It is a recalibration of the voluntary sensory and motor centers of the brain. Remember that when one has SMA, the brain forgets how to sense, feel, and move muscles. Pandiculation heightens the client's internal awareness of those muscles and teaches them to release.  Sensory motor function is restored, and structural imbalances slowly begin to reverse themselves.

In a clinical session of Hanna Somatics, assisted pandiculation helps to release the muscle groups involved in that person's particular pattern of scoliosis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEFORE: Rita's weight is pitched to the right. The right side of her waist is compressed, and, if you look closely, you can even see the outline of her scoliotic curve on the right and contracted gluteal muscles on the left. She is literally being "pulled down" and twisted to the right.

AFTER: Rita's scoliotic curve is not as distinct. She is lifted up slightly out of her right side and her weight is shifted more toward the center.

When I showed Rita these photos she exclaimed, "I actually have a waist!" She felt taller and lighter when she walked.

What exactly did we do to affect this kind of change? We pandiculated the muscles of the trauma reflex, then pandiculated the muscles of the right shoulder. I taught her the Back Lift, an exercise that brings the brain back into control of the back muscles. She also learned three more exercises for the waist muscles.

While it is clear that Rita and I have a lot more work to do to get her to "untwist" her ribcage, even out her pelvis, and improve her symmetry, she made excellent improvement in one session. Daily practice of the Somatic Exercises to reinforce her progress, and about 5-6 more clinical sessions and she will be moving with less pain and more freedom. The kind of change she was able to affect is a small example of how effective assisted pandiculation and the techniques of Hanna Somatics can help those with scoliosis help themselves. The younger the client, the more rapid the progress. 

Scoliosis - The Ultimate Trauma Reflex

In one of my recent Essential Somatics® workshops in London, a student told me about a friend with scoliosis. “The poor girl has been dealing with back problems for a long time. The doctor told her that her scoliosis was genetic and there's nothing he can do for her,” he said.

So is scoliosis genetic?

In 2007, the first possible genetic link to scoliosis was discovered. The defect in the CHD7 gene has been tied to idiopathic scoliosis (which means there is no known cause), so how much does this discovery actually help? I've worked with many people with scoliosis and have long wondered if there's a genetic propensity in families toward scoliosis. The article states:

Although scientists have known for years that scoliosis runs in families, its pattern of inheritance has remained unclear. That’s because the condition is likely caused by several different genes that work in concert with one another — and the environment — to cause scoliosis.

The key words for me here are "and the environment." From a Somatic Education perspective, the way we reflexively react and adapt to stress is what can determine whether or not one develops scoliosis.

I enquired more about my student's friend and learned that she fell down an entire flight of concrete stairs and landed on her coccyx when she was younger. He told me, "She's never been the same since."

Scoliosis and the Trauma Reflex

Thomas Hanna theorized that scoliosis developed due to an habituation to what he termed the Trauma Reflex. This reflex occurs instantly in response to a sudden accident or injury (slipping on a patch of ice, falling down the stairs, etc.) and the need to avoid pain or injury. It can also develop gradually (limping, using crutches, wearing a medical boot after an injury/surgery, etc.) as you compensate until your injury is fully healed.

The trauma reflex involves all the trunk rotators of the core (latissimi dorsi, obliques, abdominals, abductors, adductors) - muscles that twist, rotate, and bend to the side in order to retract from the site of the injury or accident. It is a useful and completely involuntary reflex that, once conditioned and habituated, teaches the waist muscles that attach into the pelvis to stay tighter on one side than the other. The pelvis will twist, and the hips will become slightly tilted and out of balance. What develops in response to this imbalance is a compensatory tightening in the shoulders and ribcage. The fall my student’s friend suffered is indeed a serious accident and a perfect example of just the kind of trauma that could lead to scoliosis.

Somatic Exercises can help release the tight muscles that contribute to scoliosis.

I have worked with many clients who have scoliosis in the family and even more who are the only ones in their family ever to suffer from this condition. Every one of them shares one thing in common: a traumatic accident/slip/fall before or during adolescence.

While scoliosis is complicated to address, and best addressed through private clinical sessions, there are specific Somatic Exercises that can begin to release the muscles that are the most complicit in the pattern of scoliosis:

  1. Back lift
  2. Cross lateral arch and curl
  3. Side bend
  4. Washrag
  5. Steeple twist
  6. Walking exercises - part 1 & 2
  7. Shoulder and hip circles (from Pain-Free Leg and Hip Joints)

The first 6 exercises in the above list are from my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.

Here's a tip for more efficient learning:

When doing the Steeple Twist, focus on lengthening the waist muscles, releasing the sides of the waist, expanding the ribcage, and allowing the pelvis to rock – be aware of any arching in your back and do not over-arch. In doing the "steeple hands" part of the exercise, the focus is on gently expanding and twisting the ribcage and shoulders as you lengthen from deep in the latissimus muscles. If you don't know this exercise and you have scoliosis, it's time to start learning the basics of Somatic Exercises!

Martha teaches specialty workshops, conducts private clinical sessions, and presents to trainers, and medical professionals wishing to learn more about how Hanna Somatic Education can help their clients and patients to get long term pain relief safely, sensibly and easily.

Pain Relief from Piriformis Syndrome: A Somatic Approach

It's never just one muscle that causes your muscle pain.

It doesn't matter if you have sciatica, piriformis syndrome, plantar fasciitis or even a herniated disc. You aren't a jumble of separate body parts randomly put together; you're a living, breathing, constantly changing system, controlled by the brain and coordinated to move as a whole, efficient, coordinated system. That's the way your sensory motor system sees it. I know it often can feel like, "if I can only relax my X muscle, then my life would be grand." It would be nice if that were the case, but it's not.

Yes, you can have a piriformis muscle that feels like the culprit, but it's important to ask yourself: Why is my piriformis muscle only hurting on one side of my body?

Muscle pain is the result of a FULL BODY PATTERN of contraction.

Once you learn to regain control of the painful muscle and its synergists, then you can regain efficient, effortless movement as well as pain relief for that pesky piriformis.

In the case of piriformis syndrome the unconscious part of the brain (the part responsible for habits/learned movement/reflexes) is contracting the piriformis constantly because the pelvis is out of balance — twisted and rotated in most cases. This is called a Trauma Reflex.

Most people don't consider the connection between the command center (our brain) and what our muscles are doing. Our muscles do not have a mind of their own – they respond only to the brain. In order to release all muscles involved in the pattern of the Trauma Reflex and regain balance in the center of the body, you must learn:

  • Which movement pattern got you into the problem in the first place

  • How to prevent your pain from coming back (Somatic Exercises!)

  • How to be more aware of your body as you move on a daily basis

  • How to create more efficient and coordinated movement

This functional muscle problem needs a functional solution: sensory motor retraining of the brain-to-muscle connection in order to teach the frozen, contracted muscles involved in the pattern of piriformis syndrome to relax and release. The end result is relaxed and coordinated muscles, restored muscle function, a greater sense of body awareness, and no more pain.