Hanna Somatics Is Simple, Sensible Science

In my last post I wrote about Dead Butt Syndrome (DBS), a new condition thatdoctors are diagnosing runners with. DBS is another name for Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). It develops due to a Trauma Reflex. The compensatory muscle dysfunction that results from a Trauma Reflex shows up as an inability to control the gluteals.

As someone who works daily with people in pain, I am concerned about the need for more investigation on scientifically-based methods that yield quantitative results for runners - and others - who suffer from "mysterious" muscle pain that falls under a variety of names: Dead Butt Syndrome, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, piriformis syndrome, low back back, joint pain, and frozen shoulder to name a few.  I'm not saying that there aren't skilled, caring physical therapists and doctors out there helping people with the above mentioned conditions. There are; I know some of them. Too few, however, understand that many of these conditions aren't medical in nature, but are functional; if one improves sensory motor function, the structure/posture will improve. One of the best methods for saving people healthcare dollars in the long run is  to improve muscle function and full body awareness.

Please note: If any of the above named conditions isn't relieved at the level of the sensory motor system a true, structural, medical problem could develop. Long term functional problems can yield real structural damage. Walk around out of balance for 30 years with a pelvis that is slightly twisted, and you risk creating structural wear and tear in one hip socket or knee that can only be fixed though surgery.

It's somewhat shocking when professional athletes sign on to wearing titanium bracelets that promise to improve athletic performance. Or that a company such as Power Balance, the maker of a bracelet that would improve muscle balance, would market something that has no basis in science. Power Balance has had to retract their assertion that their bracelets improve the wearer's balance, yet these kinds of quick fix "gizmos" are still a draw for thousands of people.

The power of placebos has been well documented, and placebos definitely have their place.

But clients often come to me after having spent hundreds, and often thousands of dollars on treatments that haven't worked. Most of these treatments are not what I would call snake oil. Many, however, like painkillers, yield short term, temporary benefits. These clients are frustrated, intelligent people who know they aren't getting the answers they're entitled to.

Long term change occurs best when muscles are reeducated, as is done in elite sports training. Gadgets and manipulation can never take the place of brain to muscle sensory motor retraining.

Don't get me wrong; I've been a massage therapist for 23 years and know full well that relaxing, passive bodywork therapies can help to relieve one's stress level. However, to get to the root of one's muscular dysfunction you must engage the brain and the body through movement reeducation. If muscles have learned to stay tight, then they must learn to relax. This is a process of education that gives the student back his physical freedom.


"Dead Butt Syndrome" = Sensory Motor Amnesia

Dead butt syndrome is apparently a new syndrome that many runners are suffering from, but don't realize it. This newest "syndrome" is, from my Somatic Educator point of view, another nebulous diagnosis that seeks to put a name to something the medical profession still doesn't know enough about: Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)

SMA can cause Dead Butt Syndrome.

SMA is the condition of chronically contracted muscles that occurs due to habituation from stress reflexes (accidents, injuries, surgeries, repetitive training). SMA, which occurs at the level of the nervous system, can cause hip pain, back pain, sciatica and a host of other functional problems. The brain actually loses the physiological ability to relax, release and control the muscles. Thomas Hanna, PhD, wrote about it in his book, Somatics: Awakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health. This book will change your perspective on your own body and your potential to regain mastery over your body.

When a muscle hurts or is dysfunctional, the problem is never in just one muscle. There is a lack of control in a specific action pattern and group of muscles that perform that action that causes a particular muscle to become sore. In Dead Butt Syndrome, the gluteus medius is allegedly the culprit in addition to "weak abdominal muscles."

Here is why I disagree:

There's always a full body pattern of dysfunction that needs to be awakened, addressed, and reversed when just one muscle is causing pain. It doesn't matter if it's the neck, the foot, the hip flexor, or the calf. If a group of muscles is chronically contracted, one's entire ability to move becomes unbalanced. These muscles are usually the ones with SMA. The sensory motor system simply needs to be improved (by relaxing these "amnesic" muscles at the brain level) so that balanced movement becomes "the norm" again.

Chronically contracted muscles may feel weak, but are, in actuality, so tight that their function becomes impaired.

In this "dead butt" hypothesis, it means that the gluteus medius is either chronically contracted or can't function properly because other muscles are so contracted that fluid movement of the back, waist, abdominals, and pelvis is inhibited. Chronically contracted muscles feel "dead" and weak because they don't get enough oxygen and blood, when in fact they are actually so tight that they can't relax!

I participated in a wonderful class the other evening taught by John Belkewitch of Day 1 Personal Training. We did all kinds of functional mobility drills that required focus and somatic awareness. The next day I was incredibly sore and tight - in my right thigh. What did I learn? I learned that my right side had more SMA than I realized, and was really tight.  My left side wasn't participating fully to balance my movement. The lesson here is that whenever one one part of your body is sore after a vigorous physical activity - suspect Sensory Motor Amnesia - and begin to notice more closely where you might have lost control of balanced movement.

To get to the root of your problem, attend a class, workshop, or private session in Somatic Education. You can save money spent on short term pain relief methods, learn to reverse pain for the long term.