Why We Have Low Back Pain

In this NPR story about back pain, some old myths about back pain persist - the biggest one is that strong abdominals will help relieve back pain. I understand the opinion that the shape of one's spine (a "J" spine, as compared to an "S" spine) may be why some indigenous cultures don't have back pain, but too much is missing from this discussion.

Back pain is a functional adaptation to stress caused by chronically contracted muscles that will not release.

The answer to back pain is simpler than people realize: for the majority of back pain sufferers, back pain slowly develops over time due to what they do repeatedly in their daily life. Whatever you do consistently becomes a habit in your central nervous system, brain, muscles and movement. The inability to sense what you are doing and why - and choose to change it in the moment - results in a  loss of control over one's muscles, movement, and for many suffering from pain, their lives. Efficient, easy, effortless movement and personal freedom go by the wayside.

Thomas Hanna, Ph.D, author of the book, Somaticsputs it this way:

....the almost epidemic prevalence of pain in the lower back is not specifically a medical problem. that is, it is not a condition of break down of some kind, a disease process...it is actually something that is in some sense a kind of psychological, or emotional process. The prevalence of back pain has everything to do with the kind of lives that we live and the kind of society in which we live. Now if I were to try and put a finger on the most general pathology of urban industrial society...I would say that the pathology is that of proprioceptive illiteracy. Most human beings grow up losing the ability to perceive internal events in their own bodies.

He describes the Green Light Reflex (the Landau Response), a reflex that is invoked automatically every time there is a "call to action - " an urgent  Tanzanian-Trip-3-474deadline, or the need to rush to get somewhere. The brain contracts the  muscles of the back to move the body forward. Reflexes are neutral, helpful and often life-saving. Yet if you live in a society where this reflex is evoked thousands of times a day your brain gradually habituates to the reflex to the point where you can no longer - voluntarily - relax, nor control your back muscles. The back muscles (as well as gluteal muscles, hamstrings, shoulder muscles) can become rigidly and painfully contracted.

Indigenous people have different stresses from those in industrialized western culture, but what they have to a greater extent than us is movement. They move more than they sit; they move slowly, they differentiate their movement, they squat, and, as they walk, their pelvises move. Their pace of life is slower. It is not a "are we there yet?" culture.

Try this somatic exercise for relief of your back pain.

If a group of indigenous people were to sit in front of a computer for 40+ hours a week, drive cars in rush hour traffic, drastically reduce their movement (except the occasional workout), or be subjected to technology that demand constant attention, they would likely develop back pain. It is their environment, their lifestyle, and their attitude toward life (rather than their spines) have more to do with why they suffer less from back pain than most western societies.

We adapt to our environment for better or worse. If you want the perks that come with our stressful western industrialized society you would do well to incorporate the wisdom of movement and awareness of indigenous cultures.

Back Pain After Gardening?

I want to share the following article by Karyn Clark, one of my clinical students from the UK. For all you gardeners out there who are gearing up for the summer season, read this! It will give you some pointers about how to recuperate from a day of wonderful, yet repetitive gardening.

 

11160009_870839839648700_6727914488985578643_nThe author, pandiculating in her garden.

It struck me whilst out gardening over the weekend how many people like me jump at the chance of a nice sunny day to get out into the garden and cram in as much as possible before the rain comes or it’s time to go back to work. We pull, we dig, we shovel, we hit.

For many, we do more physical activity in those 4-6 hours than we have done since the last time we were out in the garden. People spend a lot of time reaching, bending and reaching, stretching up and reaching, pushing their bodies that little bit further to get to that last branch or weed at the back of the flower bed. They dig and plant, bend and pull. All in all, they spend the majority of the day with their back in an over-stretched forward flexion position. Then it happens...the stiffness, the tightening, the inability to move any further because of the back pain. For most it’s that deep aching across the low back. For others it's more intense radiating further into the buttocks or down the legs.

So what do we do? We hobble back into the house, chuck our clothes in a heap and sink into a nice hot bath. "Ahhhhhh," it feels so good! The pain is easier; we relax, as do the muscles, deeply.After a good half an hour we get out. Our poor relaxed muscles are required once again to jump to it and do their job, stabilizing and moving the joints of the body. As we get dried and dressed we sadly realize that the stiffness and pain is actually still there.“STRETCH” we think “I need to stretch!" NOW STOP! Lets go back over this:You’ve spent all day stretching, bending, reaching, attempting to contort yourself into positions that Iyengar would be proud of. Is stretching really the answer? I’m afraid not.

The science of stretching versus pandiculation

So you’ve been stretching inadvertently all day, evoking the "stretch reflex," also called the myotatic reflex. It is a pre-programmed response by the body to a stretch stimulus in the muscle. When a muscle spindle is stretched an impulse is immediately sent to the spinal cord and a response to contract the muscle is received. This reflex protects muscles from tearing.

By stretching further we continue to evoke and deepen the stretch reflex, yet many people when in pain are so desperate to alleviate it they continue to just push it that bit further in a vain attempt to release the pain. The best idea is to  stop stretching and try something different: pandiculation.

If the muscle is contracted and stuck in that pattern of contraction we need to reset the brain; after all it is the brain and the nervous system that controls the muscles, so lets start with that. We need to re-set something called the Alpha Gamma feedback loop, also known as Alpha Gamma Co-activation. This feedback loop ensures optimum functioning of the muscle's length from contraction all the way to relaxation.

A muscle starts at a certain length. When the muscle is stretched, the muscle spindle stretches and the fibres fire more strongly. When the muscle is released from the stretch and contracts, the muscle spindle becomes slack, causing the fibres to fall silent. The muscle spindle is rendered insensitive to further stretches of muscle. To restore sensitivity, gamma motor neurons fire and cause the spindle to contract, thereby becoming taut and able to signal the muscle length again.

When we pandiculate we start by tightening into the contracted pattern that the muscle is involuntarily stuck in and then lengthening out of it in order to retrain the muscle to relax. This re-sets the Alpha-Gamma Co-Activation loop. To pandiculate means to "yawn." When we yawn we contract and then slowly release, thus relaxing the muscle. Animals pandiculate, babies pandiculate, many adults pandiculate upon waking.

So the next time you’re gardening, firstly be kind to yourself, take regular breaks, lay down and pandiculate throughout day to help prevent the back from going into spasm. And if it it does, don’t stretch!

When your back starts to ache, lie down (like Karyn in the photo at top) and do the basic somatic movement called Arch and Flatten. This simple Somatic Exercise will teach your back muscles to release and relax. You can do it on the lawn in the middle of your gardening day. Allow the movement to flow with your breath and make sure it feels good. Arch and Flatten just may become your best friend!

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.

My Daily Somatics Hip Pain Relief Routine

In my last labral tear update I wrote that an habituated Trauma Reflex is always a part of the posture of someone with a labral tear. Whether you get surgery for your tear or not it is critically important to regain full muscle function of the muscles of the somatic center if you're ever going to move efficiently again.

My daily pain relief tips for hip pain

Pandiculation - first thing in the morning! I never get out of bed without pandiculating. I wake IMG_3791up and take a few minutes to yawn out my arms and legs - my own natural version of the Human X - "hike" my hips up and down, and twist the center of my body, letting my head and neck move with the movement (like the Washrag).

A daily Somatics routine of between 10 - 15 minutes, morning and evening.

  • Arch and Flatten - sometimes moving into the Flower (especially if I've done a lot of computer work that day).
  • Cross Lateral Arch and Curl
  • Back Lift
  • Arch and Curl with psoas release
  • Side Bend - I prefer the "arm sweep variation"
  • Washrag (or Steeple Twist)
  • Walking Exercises

A varied routine, with movements such as:

  • Hip Lift and Reach
  • Propeller
  • Arch and Curl with Psoas Release (find it here on Laura Gates' DVD)
  • Arch and Flatten with Cactus Arms
  • Side lying shoulder and hip circles (relaxed shoulders help release the hips)
  • Seated Somatics
  • Standing Somatics (from my book)

Pandiculate often during the day! I make movements up: rolling my hips, shoulders, squatting, Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.14.33 PMreaching my arms up, twisting our my center, swinging my arms, bending to the side.

Stand up frequently if you're doing desk work. I stand up frequently and do "Reach to the Top Shelf," sometimes 15 times a day!

Sun Salutation - done very slowly and somatically. I take all the time I need to sense the flow of the movement without stretching or holding stretches. I do about 3 rounds 3-4 times a week.

Walking, walking and walking.  Walking integrates my movement and allows me to coordinate the whole body. Walking is, after all, the most important movement any human being needs to be able to do easily and efficiently.

Stair climbing or hill walking. Incorporating stairs or a hill allows me to strengthen and coordinate my hips, back, legs and waist within a functional movement. I can really tell what's out of balance when I go up and down stairs. It gives me a chance to go back, notice what's not moving as freely and see how I can tweak it.

In my next post I'll share with you movements that don't feel good for me considering that I have a labral tear. They might feel good to those with no structural hip issues, but not for me! So I honor what my body has to tell me and stay away from them. There are so many movement choices, why stick with something that doesn't feel good?

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.

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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.

Top 3 Myths About Neck Pain

I've work with a lot of people with neck pain, some so severe that they had to go on disability. In the past  Tiger Woods dropped out of a golf tournament due to neck pain - a bulging disc. He said, "I can deal with the pain, but once it locked up I couldn't go back or come through..." While adamant that his neck pain had nothing whatsoever to do with his car accident, as I wrote in this post, Tiger has a bad case of Sensory Motor Amnesia. Here are three myths about neck pain to consider:

Myth #1: Neck pain is caused by the neck muscles

Thomas Hanna once said, "a stiff neck is a stiff body." Muscle tightness in the neck is only a part of a larger IMG_3845muscular pattern of contraction closer to the center of the body. The vertebrae that comprise what we think of as "the neck" are only 7 vertebrae of 24 that comprise the spinal column. There are several layers of strong paravertebral muscles on both sides of the spine that extend from the tailbone all the way up into the base of the skull. If the muscles on the back of the body - from neck to pelvis - are tight, the neck will be affected. This kind of "Green Light Reflex" posture creates pain in the back of the neck and into the base of the skull.

If the front of the body is hunched and slumped, the neck will be affected as well; this "Red Light Reflex" posture draws the head forward, which causes the muscles that move the neck and balance the head to contract strongly to maintain balance.

Simply addressing the neck muscles will not solve the problem - for the long term. The body moves as a system, not a jumble of individual parts. Relaxing the back and front of the body can result in a more relaxed and pain-free neck.

Myth #2: Neck problems come with old age

The older we get, the more opportunities our muscles have had to learn to stay tight, "frozen," and contracted. This is how Sensory Motor Amnesia develops. It occurs due to accidents, injuries, surgeries, repetitive use, and emotional stress.  If that state of habitually contracted muscles progresses over the years, it will appear that the neck problem is a result of age, when in fact, it is the result of muscular dysfunction left unchecked. There is no substantive evidence to prove that age itself has anything to do with neck problems. There is, however, substantive evidence that a lack of movement can result in tighter muscles and restricted movement. This can happen at any age, especially in today's technological world.

Myth #3: Neck problems mean the neck muscles are weak and need strengthening

I addressed this issue of painful muscles being "weak muscles," in an old post about the Top Four Myths About Back Pain. Painful, tight muscles are rarely weak; in fact, they are usually so tight that they can neither release fully, nor move efficiently. Tightly contracted muscles which lack proper blood and oxygen are painful, sore and, because they cannot fully release, feel weak. What is needed is to restore fully muscle function, so the muscles can do the two things they are meant to do: fully contract and fully release. A muscle that cannot fully relax is holding unnecessary tension. Learn to relax and control the neck, back, shoulders, and hips and move the entire body efficiently and your neck pain will probably disappear forever.

Try this easy movement in order to relax and release not only the back muscles, but the neck muscles as well. Notice the connection between the neck and the lower back:

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To learn to reverse chronic muscle pain with gentle, easy Somatic Movements for the back, neck, shoulders, and hips, click here for my Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders DVD.

How Clinical Somatics Can Bring Tiger Woods Back Into Competition

Tiger Woods is taking a leave of absence from golf. Even he seems confused about what the real problem is. Does he need to keep changing his swing? Improve his attitude with sports psychology? Get stronger? Tiger has tried just about everything, from the best back surgeons to his trusted physical therapists and coaches, yet nothing has worked for the long term. His story is, unfortunately, all too common. He is hitting his head against the medical wall because his trusted practitioners and trainers are trying to "fix" him from the outside in, when the problem all along has been happening on the inside - within his own sensory motor system.

Tiger Woods has Sensory Motor Amnesia.

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tiger_woods_injuries_576

The reason none of his treatments are working for the long term is because Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) can only be eliminated by learning, through movement, how to release and relax his muscles at the level of the nervous system. He is unaware of how he has adapted physically to the accidents, injuries, and repetitive movements and stresses of his life. These have all taught his muscles to stay contracted and never fully release. These adaptations of muscular holding, all happening within the brain, have changed the way he moves and his once powerful and accurate golf swing has gone by the wayside. He can, however, get it back.

The brain teaches muscles how to move; that's how elite athletes learn to move so efficiently. Tiger's brain has taught him to contract his waist and trunk rotators in response to the constant twisting inherent in golf as well as in response to the accidents and surgeries he has experienced. This habitual pattern is called the Trauma Reflex.

Tiger can very easily get back on top in golf once he learns how to eliminate his Sensory Motor Amnesia and regain an accurate sense of himself - from the inside out. He has not only lost control of his muscular system; he's lost control of what it feels like to be Tiger Woods. Restoring muscle function and reducing excess muscle tonus is a learning process that will not come through traditional strengthening/stretching, PT or surgery.

Sensory Motor Amnesia can only be eliminated by changing the way the brain senses and controls the muscles

His doctors and trainers don't know what to do with him because SMA doesn't show up on MRI's, X-rays or blood tests. Surgery only exacerbates SMA because it creates even more muscular compensation and adaptation in the brain/muscle sensory motor connection. It doesn't address the root of the problem: his muscles are sub-cortically (involuntarily/unconsciously) contracted all the time and his brain cannot recruit his muscles accurately, nor relax them fully.

Mo Skelton, a physical therapist at McCurtain Memorial Hospital, recommends the following advice:

Woods must now take time to listen to his body, get off the course and fully restore his strength and mobility. Rest is not what he needs most. He needs strength. Woods must focus on strengthening his erector spinae muscles, his abdominals and obliques as secondary stabilizers, and his posterior chain for function. 

This is the the same recycled myth about muscle pain that fitness trainers have been teaching for decades: when you lose your form or experience back pain it's because you're weak. This couldn't be further from the truth. In actuality, muscle pain develops because the muscles are so strong they cannot, physiologically, relax nor recruit properly. Strengthening only makes things worse.

What Tiger Woods needs is not more muscles, a bigger squat or stronger obliques. He needs to learn to relax the muscles of his back and waist.

And I would add that yes, he needs to take time off and devote himself to learning to reverse his Sensory Motor Amnesia and regain skilled cortical control of his sensory motor system. It won't take long for him to be back on top. 

Tiger needs to learn how to pandiculate with Somatic Exercises, rather than stretch and strengthen and spend time working with a skilled Clinical Somatic Educator in a clinical setting. He needs to de-habituate the stress reflexes he is stuck in so he can regain balance in the center of his body and move freely again. I would love to see Tiger back on top of his game and back in control of his life. With Clinical Somatics he will find that not only does his life go better, but his golf game comes right back where it used to be - and possibly even stronger than before.

Here is a sample of a good place for him to start:

How To Reverse Hip Pain

Here is an old blog post, recycled and updated with free videos. It has stood the test of time.

Strengthening hip muscles doesn't always relieve hip joint pain.

In this post about hip pain and labral tears I questioned the commonly held belief that strengthening the muscles of the hip will somehow relieve general hip joint pain when you've had an injury (like a labral tear).  Here's a recap:

  1. Labral tears are generally the result of athletic injury or wear and tear over the years due to accidents. Labral tears cause instability in the hip.

  2. Instability in a joint causes muscles to contract to try and create stability.

  3. This kind of reflexive contraction to save yourself from further pain or injury or to compensate because because of an injury changes the way in which you would normally move.

  4. The muscles involved in this "Trauma Reflex" pattern must be trained to relax first before beginning any course of strengthening or exercise. Otherwise you will more deeply entrench a pattern of muscular dysfunction.

I recently read a blog written by a young woman who has struggled with hip pain (and also has a labral hip tear) for 4 years.  One extensive post had to do with her experience of dealing with hip pain. She strongly advocated hip exercises, and included links to videos of yoga stretches and repetitive Jane Fonda-esque exercises, all under the heading, "Hip Exercises Will Hurt."

Maybe they will.

And if you have a hip injury that hasn't been addressed, hip exercises will hurt your chances of ever feeling really good again.

To  her credit, the writer admitted that she still has hip pain despite the exercises and noticed that one leg seems "shorter" than the other - yet her own doctor's advice was to strengthen her hip muscles and to "not expect much more mobility than she already had." Despite her good intentions and obvious search for pain relief, from a Somatic Education perspective there is better advice out there than what her doctors gave her or what she is giving her readers.

Try these Somatic Exercises for hip pain relief.

When hip joints are tight, it's because the muscles that attach into the joints have learned to stay tight. They need to be retrained, slowly and intelligently - not forcefully - to release, lengthen and move freely again.

Here are a few easy movements you can do at home to begin to release hip muscles that, when habitually contracted, contribute to chronic pain. Then I'd like to caution you against certain commonly prescribed exercises that can sometimes make hip pain worse.

Instead of stretching the muscles as you go through these movements, you will pandiculate them - contracting the muscle first, then slowly lengthening it to a full relaxation (as if you were imitating a cat or dog getting up from rest). Pandiculation is the key to resetting muscle length and sensory awareness and motor control without forceful pr painful stretching.

Arch and flatten: This movement relaxes the back muscles. Tight back muscles contribute to tight hip joints.

Arch and curl: This movement helps to relax the abdominal muscles, while the washrag allows for easier full body twisting. It relaxes the back, waist, belly and hips.

Side Bend: This movement directly addresses the "Trauma Reflex" muscles of trunk rotation that, when habitually contracted, are probably the biggest contributor to hip pain. This movement will teach you to relax, release and lengthen the waist muscles so that both sides of your waist are the same length and have the same ability to bend from side to side.

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Lay on your right side, as shown in the photo below. Have the knees folded on top of each other at right angles to the body. Rest your left arm on the floor so that your head can rest on it. Get comfortable.

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Let's first explore the lower part of this exercise: put your top hand at your waist and, keeping the knees together, slowly lift the top foot as shown at right. Notice how the hip slides up toward the ribs as you lift the foot. Allow the hip to move as the foot lifts. The waist muscles are drawing the hip up as the foot lifts. Repeat that movement 3 times slowly. Completely release the hip and foot back to neutral.

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Now let's explore the upper part of the exercise: reach the left hand over top of the head and grab your right ear. Inhale and on the exhale, very slowly lift the head into the air. Let the waist muscles and ribs contract to bring your head up. Sense the contraction in the waist as your ribs squeeze down toward your hip. Slowly release down to neutral. Repeat this 3 time slowly.

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Now, let's put both movements together for a full pandiculation of the waist muscles. Inhale, expanding the ribs, and on the exhale lift the head, and the top foot at the same time. The ribs squeeze down as the hip slides up toward the ribs. You're making an accordion with the waist muscles!Let the movement of the waist and hip raise the foot. Notice the contraction in the groin as well. Only go as far as is comfortable and don't force any movement! You are retraining the muscles, and reminding them that they can move.

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IMG_3585

On the inhale, slowly lower the foot and the head down at the same time. You're lengthening and relaxing the waist muscles as the hip rolls down to neutral and the ribs relax.  up the right hip to touch the right armpit. Lengthen the entire side of your body as you come down to neutral and completely relax as shown in the photo on the lower right. You're beginning to gain length in the waist muscles! Repeat this movement 6 times slowly.

Roll onto your back and take a minute to notice the difference in sensation between your left side and your right side. Let your brain soak up the sensory feedback. Now roll onto the other side and repeat the side bend 6 times slowly.

Finish this series of movements with theWashrag.

Remeber to do all of these movements SLOWLY, GENTLY, and WITH AWARENESS.

Take a moment after doing these movements to notice the sensations of your body. Lie quietly on your back. This allows your brain time to absorb the sensory feedback you have given it. This new sensory awareness results in improved motor skill and flexibility.

In my next post, I'll discuss my own answers to the following questions about labral tears:

  1. Should they be repaired?

  2. How do you deal with the discomfort of a tear if your doctor says, "let's just wait and see."

  3. Are you setting yourself up to create serious structural damage to the hip joint by not repairing the structural weakness?

I welcome all feedback about the advice given in this blogpost. Do the above movements for a couple of days and let me know how it goes. If you need help, advice or guidance, please contact me!

To learn these movements at home for rapid, long-term muscle pain relief, you can purchase my new, easy-to-follow instructional DVD.

Pandiculation - "Dynamic Stretching" Squared

In a  New York Times article about stretching, Gretchen Reynolds reported on the largest study ever conducted on the effectiveness of stretching. The results showed that...

Stretching makes no difference one way or the other as far as injury prevention is concerned.

The percentage of those runners assigned to do 20 second static stretches before every run, was identical to the group assigned to the "no stretching" regimen. The study was conducted over the course of three months.

Dr. Ross Tucker, a physiologist in South Africa and co-author of the Web site The Science of Sport said, “There is a very important neurological effect of stretching. There is a reflex that prevents the muscle from being stretched too much." This is  what Hanna Somatic Educators have taught their clients for years: the reflex Dr. Tucker refers to is called the "stretch reflex." It is invoked by static stretching, and induces the muscle to contract back against the stretch, in effect making it tighter than it was before. This is a reflex that protects the muscle from trauma.

Reynolds goes on to write:

Dynamic stretching, or exercises that increase your joints' range of motion via constant movement, does not seem to invoke the inhibitory reflex of static stretching, Dr. Tucker said. When "you stretch through movement, you involve the brain much more, teaching proprioception and control, as well as improving flexibility."

Pandiculation improves muscle function at the level of the central nervous system.

Hanna Somatic Educators have been teaching students for decades not to stretch to change muscle length, but rather to pandiculate. Pandiculation is a brain reflex action pattern that animals do - often up to 40 times a day. Next time your dog gets up from rest, watch what he does: he'll put his front paws out and contract his back as he relaxes his belly in a yawn-like lengthening. He may even do the same with his legs. This "wakes up" the muscular system at the level of the  brain and ensures the the brain is always in control of the muscles.

The action of pandiculation restores muscle length, function and brain level control of muscles and movement as it re-educates all movements of a muscle: concentric, isometric (when you hold the contraction for just a second) and eccentric. The brain "takes back" that part of the muscle's length and function that it had lost voluntary control of - the part that was "stuck" or full of tension. Pandiculation sends a strong signal to the sensory motor cortex, which in turn serves to "reboot" the function of the  muscles for greater sensation, motor control, balance, proprioception, and coordination.

Pandiculation of over-trained and tight muscles can prevent knee, hip, and back injuries when running.

Phil Wharton, well known author of the Wharton Stretch Book, now agrees that contracting a muscle first, then moving it through its range of motion is much more effective than simple, static stretching. Dynamic stretching, however similar to pandiculation, is not the same as pandiculation, nor is it as effective. The key to freer movement in any sport or activity is freedom of movement in the center of the body. If you don't release and re-pattern the large muscles of the center - from which all movement originates - you will experience only short term improvement. Think of an animal, first contracting its back muscles, then slowly and deliberately lengthening them only as far as is comfortable for them to go - then doing the exact same thing with the muscles of the front of the body.

You may have a favorite athletic stretch; explore a way to pandiculate it: tighten into the tight muscles first, then slowly lengthen away to the end of your comfortable range. Then completely relax. This can be done with hamstrings, quadriceps, waist muscles, triceps, biceps, you name it!

Here is a short video that shows a couple of easy pandiculations you can do prior to your run. Try them out and see what you think. To learn these and other Somatic Exercises that can teach you to reverse your pain and regain freedom of movement, click here.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8J5fDdCpF4]

How To Counteract The Dangers of Too Much Sitting

Thankfully, more is being written about the dangers of sitting. And this YouTube video says it all. I questioned the usefulness of chairs a while ago after learning more about functional evolutionary movement. Doctors and scientists are beginning to observe - and accept - what Somatic Educators have known for years: humans are meant to move, in many different ways and planes of gravity - they are not meant to sit for long periods of time without moving. Movement helps to embed learning, enhances creativity and, most importantly, keeps the respiratory, circulation, lymphatic and  muscular systems moving efficiently. It also reinforces basic movement patterns that we all need to maintain in order to keep ourselves moving freely for the rest of our lives.

Dr. James Levine, is quoted in the Business Week article as saying,

"What fascinates me is that humans evolved over 1.5 million years entirely on the ability to walk and move. And literally 150 years ago, 90% of human endeavor was still agricultural. In a tiny speck of time we've become chair-sentenced."

Most people sit one of two different ways - slumped in their chair or pitched forward. 32Sit as I am in the photo at right - slumped - and notice in your own body how:

  • the muscles of the front of the body contract as you hunch. Your breathing is shallow (because your chest is collapsed)
  • the back muscles are tight in co-contraction
  • the neck muscles, both front and back, tighten as your head moves forward (and/or down) to look at your computer screen

Sit pitched slightly forward and notice now:

  • IMG_6834the muscles of your hip joints tighten at the creases in your groin
  • your lower back contracts (feel them with your own fingers)
  • your neck muscles tighten
  • now, keeping that position, look at your computer!

This is what millions of people do every day... all day!

People who sit for long periods generally complain of low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, TMJ and hip joint pain. This, unfortunately, makes sense, because sitting is a repetitive task that teaches the muscles (that only learn through repetition) to stay contracted. Sitting contributes to Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), the condition of chronically contracted muscles that, due to habituation and compensation to stress, have learned to stay involuntarily and constantly contracted. If your muscles are full of tension, ready for the next day of sitting, nothing will relax those muscles unless you get the brain back in control of the muscles.

Try these Somatic Exercises at your desk to reduce and release muscle tension

Below are a few simple and safe movements that will remind your muscles that they don't have to stay "frozen" all day long. These movements are from my easy to follow Pain-Free At Work DVD. Instead of stretching as you do these movements, you are pandiculating - gently tightening into the tight , tense muscles (this takes the muscles off cruise control) and then actively and slowly lengthen the muscles into their full range. This awakens the brain to sense the muscles again so it can lengthen them into their full range. It is what cats and dogs do upon waking and before they move into action. Don't forget to breathe easily.

ARCH AND CURL

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.19.01 PMScreen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.19.23 PMArch and curl your back as you sit. Go slowly and gently, inhaling as you arch, and exhaling as you round.

Both of these movements can be done standing. Try them, play with them and see how they feel.

 

WASHRAG

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.14.58 PMRoll your shoulders forward and back, allowing the shoulder blades to slide along the back. Do this as if you were yawning.

Same with this one: try it while standing.

 

STANDING REACH

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.14.33 PMStand next to your desk and reach up, as if reaching to the top shelf for something. Repeat this slowly on the other side.

 

 

 

 

Walk to work if you can. Stand at the counter and work at your laptop (as I'm doing this very moment). Change your position and notice the difference between your hips and back when you stand versus when you sit. Use every opportunity you can to not sit, but to bring movement into your life. And when you do feel the need to sit, go back to my blog post about chairs and read it. Consider sitting on the ground and making your chair the exception instead of the rule.

Click here to purchase my Pain-Free DVD series. Click here for my book, Move Without Pain.

Somatic Exercises Make You Happy!

I taught a Somatic Movement class the other morning. It was a cold, snowy morning and honestly, I was surprised that anyone showed up for class. You know how it is when it's cold outside -  you hunch your shoulders up, pull your scarf up around your neck and tighten your center as you walk so you don't slip. Winter can really cause the muscles to become tight. Then I remembered that there is nothing more invigorating and effective for opening yourself up from the winter cold to a relaxed state than a slow, gentle Somatic Movement class.

Everyone in the class had some kind of hip and shoulder pain. Here is what I taught this morning:

  • Arch and Flatten - first arching and flattening to neutral on the floor, then arching and flattening into the floor, moving from the Green Light Reflex into the Red Light Reflex.
  • Arch and Curl - with a gentle psoas release (thanks to Laura Gates, CHSE)
  • Side Bend
  • Propeller
  • Washrag - first with the feet about a foot apart, then with the feet wider apart ("windshield wiper legs")

By the end of the class, those who had had a twist in their pelvis had evened their pelvis out. One woman had felt scattered and anxious and after class she felt grounded and strong. Everyone's hip pain was gone, their walking was lighter and, best of all, the students had a clearer understanding of which stress patterns had contributed to their discomfort - and how they were able to reverse them.

In my teaching I have found that if people don't understand why they're being told to do a movement or exercise, they simply won't stick to it. That which makes sense to us in our own experience is that which will serve us as we continue to grow.

Why do Arch and Flatten? Because it recreates the Green Light Reflex of forward action (go, go, go!!) and the Red Light Reflex (or worry, fear, anxiety, slumping over the computer) that is invoked every day, hundreds of time. Recreate it so you can recognize it when it happens and de-create it.

Why do the Side Bend? Because it gets the brain back in control of the waist muscles - the very muscles that contract and "freeze up" when you have a sudden injury or slip or fall.

And so on...

Somatic Exercises brings you more awareness, efficiency of movement and help you "shake off" the stress of daily life.

Reflexes are merely unconditioned responses to stress. They are neutral. Problems with movement and muscle pain occur when we become habituated to and stuck in a reflex pattern - our shoulder rounded forward or one hip hitched up higher than the other. We want to be able to respond to the reflexes when we have to, but we don't want to "live" in any one of them. We want to live life at neutral.

Here is an explanation of why Somatics is great for everyone, every day. It's from Kristin Jackson, a Somatic Exercise Coach in Portland, OR. Her reasons for teaching Somatic Movement echo mine. Enjoy her video at the end; her students' experience of Hanna Somatics is common to that of hundreds of people experiencing Somatic Movement around the world.

Somatics makes everything in your life easier.

In addition to helping you move with more ease, Somatics helps you think more clearly, sleep better, even relate to people better. It all has to do with your nervous system. The constant stress of today's fast-faster-fastest world puts your sympathetic nervous system (the part of your nervous system that stimulates fight-or-flight bodily responses) into overdrive and never lets your parasympathetic nervous system kick in so we can enjoy the pleasant things in life like relaxing, digesting and making babies.

Somatics makes you happy!

Who wouldn't want to offer something that makes a client exclaim, "I feel like I'm 10 years old again!" after her first session. Honestly, I'm tired of "selling" exercise. I can't compete with big-box gyms or Groupon or flashy trainers. That's not me. But educating people how to move well and feel amazing is a wonderful thing to share!

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFK9UJeIZyk&feature=youtu.be[/embed]

 

How To Know If You're Out Of Balance

Daily stress teaches our muscles to contract in very specific ways. If the stress is on-going or repetitive enough we may even feel as if we're "stuck" in our stress. Over time we may find that we feel out of balance. An imbalance in the center of the body will show up as an uneven gait, twisted pelvis, slumped shoulder on one side, one-side muscle pain or quite commonly, a "hiked" hip. Overly contracted muscles pull us off balance and add excessive stress to our joints. They can contribute to arthritis, joint pain, back, iliotibial band pain, neck, shoulder and hip pain. The key is to learn to ride the waves of stress in our lives - not get stuck in them. One of the biggest benefits of Hanna Somatic Exercises is learning to find neutral in the center of the body and bring the brain back into control of the muscular system. It's one of the most important skills necessary to become stress resilient.

In this video below you'll learn an easy and quick way to determine if you're out of balance. Don't worry! If you are, you can begin to learn how to regain muscular balance and symmetry with Somatic Exercises.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/srE5f0-N5tE]

Click here to purchase Pain-Free Somatic Exercise DVDs.

Click here to purchase Martha's book.

Click here to find out about clinical sessions, Skype sessions and phone consultations.

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!

Somatic Education is Evidence-Based Treatment for Back Pain

Scientists at the Sahlgrenska Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden have research to support the use of Somatic Education - movement reeducation that relaxes tight, painful muscles - as an evidence-based modality for treatment of back pain. Somatic Education has been around since the early 20th century and has helped people learn to improve their posture, relax tight muscles and move in more efficiently and easily.  The method the Salgrenska Intitute studied was the Feldenkrais Method, the same method that Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., creator of Hanna Somatic Education, practiced for decades before developing his own method called Hanna Somatic Education. Swedish physiotherapist Christina Schön-Ohlsson states,

"Inefficient movement patterns gradually become habituated even though the original injury or strain is no longer present."

How right she is!  Clients frequently tell me, "I just don't feel the way I once did." They feel as if something "happened to them" to cause them to lose their flexibility, movement and self-control. The good news is that they can learn to regain their independence; all it takes is a process of education and a little patience.

In Hanna Somatics clients learn to become aware of the muscles that have habitually and tightened (as Schon-Ohlsson said) in response to the original injury - and then to release them at the brain level.

All human beings respond to stress with specific, visible patterns of muscular contraction.

Thomas Hanna was the first Somatic Educator to codify three specific stress reflexes - reflexes that all humans respond to in response to stress. By addressing these reflex patterns (of the back, the front of the body and the sides of the body), people can learn - very quickly - to reverse their muscle pain and restore awareness and control of their movement.

Chronic low back pain develops as a learned response to stress. It can be unlearned.

Muscles are controlled by the brain and central nervous system. The brain gets sensory feedback from the muscles, then commands them to move.  It is a simple feedback loop of sensing and moving. When stress occurs repeatedly, we can learn to habituate, adjust and adapt to our stress, as  mentioned by the Swedish scientists. This causes our muscles to stay tight and frozen; our brain literally forgets how to sense and move our muscles. This is called Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). The reason that medical science has no solution to habituated muscular tension is because SMA is not a medical condition. It is a sensory motor condition that can only be reversed through movement.

If you'd like to experience sensory motor learning, explore the movements shown on my website.  Move slowly and gently, with eyes closed (to tune out visual distractions). Make them pleasant and be mindful not to work too hard; these are not exercises as you know them from the gym. When you're done, relax completely and notice the difference in sensation in your body.

Thankfully there is a slow acceptance of "sensory motor learning," also known as "neuromuscular movement re-education" in the medical community. In my Somatic Exercise Coach Training I have taught osteopaths, chiropractors, and physiotherapists how to teach basic Somatic Exercises in order to help their patients become more self-aware and self-correcting in their movement.

I look forward to the day when Somatic Education is the first line of defense against back, neck, shoulder, hip, and joint pain. If you are in pain and have not gotten the relief you know you can get, come take a class, or workshop, schedule a private session, or contact me. I am happy to help get you on the path to a pain-free life!

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 To Relieve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Neck, Shoulder and Hip Pain

There is always a full body pattern of muscle tension that causes functional muscle pain.

In my last post I wrote about hip pain and how the posture of leaning and slumping into one's dominant side to reach for and use the computer mouse, can create hip pain. I often call this "computer-itis." This action also contributes to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) and can also create shoulder and neck pain as one hunches, draws the shoulder forward, collapses through the ribcage and waist and concentrates on the work (and computer screen) at hand.

When we move, it is never just one muscle that lifts our arm, brings our leg forward, or bends our back.  Beneath our conscious awareness there is a perfectly balanced process of sensing and moving between agonist, antagonist and synergist muscles that allows us to coordinate each movement. If one muscle group contracts, its antagonist lengthens to allow the movement to happen. This is how we move through gravity efficiently and, we hope, with the least possible effort or pain. We are a system, controlled by the brain, not a jumble of separately moving parts. If there is tension in one part of the system, everything else in the system changes to accommodate and compensate.

If we change the way we move due to overuse, repetitive action, injury, or accidents we can develop the condition of Sensory Motor Amnesia (tight, "frozen" muscles that the brain has forgotten how to release). This means that your brain invariably contracts and recruits not just the muscles needed to complete the action, but also other groups of muscles that compensate to help us move. This dance between muscles stops working and both agonist and antagonist muscles become tightly contracted, as if we are stuck in a vise.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a perfect example of Sensory Motor Amnesia. It can develop due to an habituated red light reflex, excessive computer work and habitual hunching of the shoulders. The scalene muscles become overly contracted and compress the thoracic outlet, causing tingling down into the fingers. Tight upper trapezius muscles, rounded, hunched shoulders contribute to the problem. Address the full body pattern of tightness through the center of the body and nerve conduction will improve.

Try these corrective Somatic Exercises for relief of shoulder pain, hip pain, and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

Here is a simple protocol for releasing, relaxing and retraining the muscles that become painfully tight from excessive computer work. This is useful for office workers, graphic artists, film or music editors, data input workers, and those whose work is simply repetitive.

Arch and flatten - allow the neck to move along with the movement.

Flower - allow the abdominals to soften and relax as you lengthen the front and open the chest.

Side bend - allow the waist muscles to contract and slowly lengthen.

Side Bend variation: In the video below is a Somatic Exercise that helps to release and relax the muscles involved in Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). TOS causes tingling into the fingers and symptoms similar to angina in some people. The problem lies in the fact that the muscles of the neck - specifically the scalenes, as well as the upper chest are tightly contracted. This puts pressure on the thoracic outlet, the space between your neck and upper chest where many blood vessels and nerves are found. I have used the Somatic Exercise below to get rid of TOS in my own body.

This is a full body pandiculation of exactly the muscles that "collapse" and tighten when you slump, jut your head forward to look at your computer screen and reach for your mouse:

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

Washrag - to open up the front of the body and connect the center of the body to the shoulders and hips.

Other wonderful Somatic Exercises that can help to battle "computer-itis" are the steeple twist, flower, neck and neck variations (from Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders).

Martha is available for corporate presentations on pain relief and workplace injury prevention. Save healthcare dollars and prevent worker injuries from repetitive muscle strain and overuse. For more information, email Martha.

How Technology Causes Neck Pain

Recently I read this article in the Royal Gazette about one woman's saga of neck pain. Her struggle to reconcile with the fact that her iPad caused her recurring neck pain is a common functional adaptation to our increasingly technological world. Most of my clients sit for up tcradleo 12 hours a day hunched at the computer. They say that their job is taking a toll on their health and their ability to move freely.

Trying to sit up straight and view my computer screen is killing my body. I feel as if I'm getting "old" before my time.

Their doctors tell them that they have degenerative disks, yet neck pain is merely the symptom, not the cause of the problem. The root cause is the habituation of a well known, yet ignored involuntary stress reflex common to all humans and vertebrate animals: the Startle Reflex (or Red Light Reflex). This reflex is invoked in response to fear, anxiety and worry, the need to protect oneself, or repetitive slumping over a computer, smartphone or iPad.

The "posture of senility" and fear is the posture of the computer generation.

Migraines-in-teenagersWhat does the Red Light Reflex look like? Hunched and slumped shoulders, face thrust forward, chest collapsed, tight belly, rounded upper back. This posture used to be consider "elderly" posture, yet age has nothing to do with slumped, hunched shoulders; this is a functional adaptation to one's technology as well as one's emotional stress. Habituation of this reflex can lead to headaches, TMJ, neck and shoulder pain, shallow breathing and fatigue. The solution is to restore awareness of one's posture and movement, and learn to release and relax the muscles involved so you can return to a neutral, pain-free posture.

A picture is worth a thousand words and the photo at right says it all. This young boy looks a lot like teenagers I see walking around, ignoring each other, immersed in their smartphones.  This posture has become the "new normal" for many. Even small children are boy with computerbecoming experts at slumping.

As you read this post, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are sitting like this little boy, mesmerized by the computer screen? Is the back of your neck tight?
  • Is your stomach tight?
  • Are you breathing deeply?
  • How do the tops of your shoulders feel? If you straighten your neck to a comfortable, neutral position can you see your computer screen?

Hanna Somatic Exercises can help reverse neck pain and improve breathing.

Migraines, eye strain, shallow breathing, thoracic outlet syndrome, TMJ and mid/upper back pain are conditions that can develop due to excessive technology use and habituation of a slumped, Red Light Reflex posture. The muscles involved in this reflex (and posture) are always at the ready: to check the phone with the neck tilted forward or crane the neck to see the computer screen. Somatic Exercises and pandiculation help you hit the reset button in your brain (the command center of your muscles) so you can relieve your pain, regain your movement and get your life back.

Try these Somatic Exercises

Remember - movement is medicine. The brain teaches you to adapt to your environment - for better or for worse. Today's western industrialized society is more and more sedentary and people take fewer and fewer breaks to stand up, shake their hips, roll their shoulders, stretch out their arms or jump up and down.

Remind your muscles that they don't have to stay tight and frozen; get up and move! Circle your arms, do the Twist, jump up and down, take some long, deep breaths and slowly roll your shoulders. And then go for a walk. Preferably without your phone.

Click here to purchase my easy-to-follow instructional DVDs.

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.

How Somatic Exercises Can Teach You To Get Rid of "Degenerative Disc Disease"

I recently read an article about Mike Crawshaw, a young British singer, who stated that his "spine is crumbling" and to avoid any potential harm through surgery, he chose to exercise. One doctor is quoted as saying, ‘The right kind of exercise can be helpful. You can strengthen the back muscles that support everything. This helps deal with the spasms in the affected muscles that cause pain. It’s possible to help with these problems without surgery.’ Crawshaw made the best decision for himself by finding a way to strengthen his back muscles. The doctor's statement, however, isn't completely correct; strengthening back muscles "to support everything" will not help deal with muscle spasms in the areas that cause pain. If back muscles are stuck in a state of heightened tension that pulls the discs closer together, you are more likely to "strengthen your pain" than to relieve it.

First here is a perspective on degenerative discs from a Somatic Education perspective. Then we will discuss strengthening the back in order to "support" the allegedly weak spine:

Is a "degenerative disc" caused by a disease process or is it a case of poor muscle function, which results in compressed, herniated and otherwise weakened discs?  The label "degenerative disc disease" sounds like a pathology that supposedly develops with age. Yes, arthritic changes can emerge due to age, poor diet, lack of sufficient water, lack of movement and overuse injuries; all of these can contribute to disc problems.  Most "degenerative discs" that I have seen in my practice are another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia, which can be eliminated when one learns to regain control of one's muscular system, improve nervous system function of the muscles, and restore muscle length.

Muscles put pressure on discs. Release the tight muscles and the discs have more room to move.

In an X-ray, discs that are squeezed tightly together look as if they're X-rayabout to crumble, causing the spine to buckle like an unstable building. Look at the X-ray on the right. Notice how one disc (the black arrow) has a lot of space, while the other (white arrow) is squeezed together. It doesn't look good, does it? The spaces between the discs are uneven and the spine is being pulled into an uneven "archer's bow," which gives the appearance of excess pressure on the lower vertebra (white arrow).

But what exactly pulls the spine into this shape? The muscles, of course.

 

And why would the muscles pull on the spine like this? They are stuck in what Thomas Hanna called the "Green Light Reflex," a reflex that contracts the muscles to prepare them for action. This reflex, like all reflexes is simply an unconditioned response to stress. The problem occurs when it becomes conditioned and habituated; the brain can literally forget how to relax the muscles. Here's the thing: you can't see muscles on an X-ray; all you can see is the result of the bones being pulled by the muscles.

Never strengthen something you can't feel.

Degenerative disc disease is a functional problem of the sensory motor system, not dissimilar to many other musculoskeletal problems that are deemed structural by the medical world. Once you lose awareness of your movement and how the way in which you respond and adapt to stress (mentally, emotionally and physically) you, too, may develop problems with your discs. There is a solution that doesn't involve surgery: Clinical Somatic Education and Hanna Somatic Exercises.

We all need to be strong, so awareness of what you can and cannot feel and control in your body is the first step to strengthening. The second step is to regain full muscle function and length. Once this is achieved, your brain now works with a muscle that is not being restricted by Sensory Motor Amnesia. Think of it this way: moving with Sensory Motor Amnesia is like trying to drive with the emergency brake on. Once Sensory Motor Amnesia is eliminated, create an enjoyable strengthening routine and be sure to include Somatic Exercises as a warm-up and cool-down to maintain optimum muscle function.