Why Are So Many People Living With Chronic Pain?

Shutterstock/Artem Furman

According to this study, 28 million people in the UK are living with chronic pain. That is almost half of their entire population. Think about that for a moment. 28 million people living with chronic pain. In a wealthy, first world, industrialised nation.

Those quite frankly crazy numbers prompted me to have a quick google for some statistics for the US, Ireland, Europe and globally.

USA: “In 2016, an estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults had high-impact chronic pain.” (source)

Ireland: “Chronic pain is thought to affect 1.65 million people in Ireland, with chronic back pain one of the more common diagnoses.” (source)

Europe: 20% of all Europeans experience chronic pain “…200 million musculoskeletal disorders and 100 million people experiencing other forms of chronic pain.” (source)

Globally: “Estimates suggest that 20% of adults suffer from pain globally and 10% are newly diagnosed with chronic pain each year.” (source)

High percentages of people suffering with chronic pain places a massive strain on healthcare services and costs the economy billions.

“The two health conditions most clearly associated with disability benefits are musculoskeletal disorders (particularly non-specific lower back pain and general chronic pain syndromes) and mental health problems. In the UK, these complaints comprise more than 50% of sick certification. Musculoskeletal complaints, predominantly mild to moderate in severity, and often with no clear or consistent underlying pathology, account for around 20% of benefit recipients in the UK, and therefore account for a significant proportion of incapacity for work20. Given that the annual economic costs associated with sickness absence and worklessness amount to over £100 billion21, the impact of pain and associated conditions remains a significant contributory factor.” (source)

How did we get to this point? With all our technology, medical advancements, nutritional supplements, oils, ointments and tinctures we still have not addressed something as common as chronic musculoskeletal pain. We put men on the Moon, and rovers on Mars, but back pain? Sorry, no idea.

And what is it about modern industrialised societies that leads to such high numbers of chronic pain sufferers? What has changed?

I believe one major factor is that our modern environment is now unrecognisable to how it was even 15 years ago. Technological advancements, and the rise of smartphones and internet connected gadgets has led to a sharp increase in how connected we are, and in turn, how many potential stressors we are exposed to.

People are constantly connected, or ‘on’. Work email alerts, FB alerts, IG alerts, LinkedIn alerts, SMS alerts, Whatsapp alerts, alerts, alerts, alerts, ALERTS! Kids, spouses, family, jobs, friends. All of these things are vying for our attention. This creates an almost imperceptible background milieu of chronic low level stress. Except it’s not imperceptible at all.

Humans respond automatically and subconsciously, to all of the above. Our landau response (Green Light Reflex) is triggered. On a wholly subconscious level we mobilise ourselves, preparing to attend to all these demands, by contracting our back muscles. This contraction of the back is the beginning of the act of moving forward, out into the world. Moving forward to deal with alerts, life etc. This is why “musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.”(Source) Go, go, go! More, more, more!

Then there’s social media, a digital addiction which can bring its own heady mix of validation-seeking, fear-mongering and anxiety to people’s lives. This can trigger our startle reflex (Red Light Reflex) further increasing our stress levels. Nothing inherently wrong with social media by the way, but it is defintely prudent to limit your exposure.

Our environment has changed far faster than we have. Whenever there is an environmental change, the inhabitants of that environment (that’s us) must also change. It just so happens that the modern environment we have created for ourselves is incredibly fast paced, over stimulating and highly stressful for many of its inhabitants.

It is predicted, and expected, that our technological environment will continue to change even faster in the future. The meteoric advancement of technology will continue unabated. So how can we keep up? In order to survive in this new technological environment, we must be capable of change. We must become as adaptable as our technology.

We must learn how to adapt, and to continue adapting as we go forward. We need to learn skills and techniques which will enable us to cope with our new highly stimulating and potentially stressful environment.

A good start would be to learn how to better monitor, and regulate our responses to stressful stimuli. This will involve becoming more aware of ourselves, our automatic and involuntary responses and how we interact with our new environment. Ironically the ancient aphorism “know thyself” will become ever more relevant and important as we speed into the future.

A regular Somatic Movement practice can help us in this regard. It can provide the means to monitor, regulate and release the involuntary muscular tension that is triggered in response to the myriad stressors in our environment. The same involuntary muscle tension that can cause much of the chronic musculoskeletal pain experienced by so many.

The solutions to living in a highly stimulating and fast paced modern technological environment will not come in the form of a pill, a powder, a gadget or an app. It will come from cultivating your own self awareness and developing more control over your self and your responses to the ever growing number of stressors in this brave new world.

If any of this resonates with you, and you are interested in acquiring practical stress management, muscle pain relief and relaxation techniques, consider learning Somatics. There are more avenues for learning than ever before. If you’d like to learn with me, you can get in touch with me here.

As always, thanks for reading.

learnsomatics.ie

Can Stress Management be Simple?

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Stress. It’s unavoidable. No matter your circumstances you are going to experience, and have to manage, some degree of stress in your life. But what is stress?

“Stress has many faces, and creeps into our lives from many directions. No matter what causes it, stress puts the body and the mind on edge. It floods the body with stress hormones. The heart pounds. Muscles tense. Breathing quickens. The stomach churns.
The body’s response to stress was honed in our prehistory. Collectively called the “fight-or-flight” response, it has helped humans survive threats like animal attacks, fires, floods, and conflict with other humans. Today, obvious dangers like those aren’t the main things that trigger the stress response. Any situation you perceive as threatening, or which requires you to adjust to a change, can set it off. And that can spell trouble.
Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. It can dampen the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other common infections. It can contribute to asthma, digestive disorders, cancer, and other health problems. New research even supports the notion that high levels of stress somehow speed up the aging process.
Though stress is inevitable, you can help control your body’s response to it. Exercise, meditation, invoking the relaxation response, and mindfulness are great stress busters.”
https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/stressSource

From the above, the point we’re most interested in is this: “Muscles tense.” What they are saying is that stress causes involuntary muscular tension. That’s a problem. This muscle tension happens subconsciously. We are not really aware of it. This muscle tension, as well as making us feel stressed, can lead to chronic muscle pain and stiffness.

When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress… https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body

This also leads to automatic activation of the SYMPATHETIC nervous system (‘fight or flight’ response). The physiological effects of activation of the SYMPATHETIC nervous system (SNS) include:

  • ACCELERATED Heart Beat (anxiety anyone?)
  • HIGH Blood Pressure (uh oh)
  • INHIBITED digestion (hello belly ache)
  • RELAXED Bladder up (I never used to make night time trips to the bathroom?)
  • CONTRACTED Rectum (why am I constipated?)
  • Secretion of STRESS HORMONES from the adrenal glands (I can’t shake this bad mood)
  • SUPPRESSION of the immune system (why am I always sick?)
  • REDUCED growth (suppression of growth hormones) (that little cut still hasn’t healed)
  • SLEEP PROBLEMS (so tired all the time)
  • MEMORY DYSFUNCTION (sorry, I totally forgot about your birthday)

Doesn’t sound like much fun does it?

Do any of these sound familiar to you? If so, you may be suffering from some degree of chronic stress and the chronic SNS activation that goes along with that. SNS mode is not necessarily a negative state, as indicated above it is necessary to respond to a threat/situation appropriately. The problem is when we find ourselves in a state of chronic SNS activation. As humans, we are well-equipped to deal with short periods of SNS activation, then ideally, when the perceived threat has ended, we would return to PARASYMPATHETIC Nervous System (PNS) activation. PNS is, or should be, our default mode (also known as ‘Rest, Digest and Repair’ mode).

PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system activation has the opposite effects to the Sympathetic Nervous System:

  • SLOWER heart beat (feeling calm…)
  • LOWER blood pressure (…and relaxed…)
  • STIMULATION of digestion (…and well nourished)
  • NORMALISED bladder function (no more getting up in the night)
  • RELAXATION of rectum (regular as clockwork)
  • INHIBITS secretion of STRESS HORMONES from the adrenal glands (happy mood, happy days)
  • STIMULATION of the immune system (I can’t remember the last time I was sick)
  • NORMALISED growth hormone responses (that cut has healed right up)
  • DEEPER more restful sleep (Zzzzz..)
  • NORMALISATION of memory functions (I planned a surpise for your birthday)

That all sounds much more conducive to feelings of relaxation right?

But how do we switch back to PNS mode, or ‘invoke the relaxation response’ when we are chronically stressed?

Well, if you could somehow release the involuntary muscular tension that is triggered in response to stress you could deliberately switch back to PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system mode. Somatic Movements provide us with a simple and straight forward way to do just that. They use a technique called pandiculation to reduce muscular tension (and reduce pain and improve movement, bonus!). Pandiculation works by re-establishing your voluntary control over your muscles and in the process, relaxing them. This leads to de-activation of the SYMPATHETIC nervous system (fight, flight or freeze mode) and activates the PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system (rest, digest and repair mode).

This makes Somatic Movements a simple and effective stress management tool. By learning how to monitor, regulate and control your own muscle tension you are learning how to monitor, regulate and control how you respond to stress. With practice you can become more resilient to the myriad effects of stress. You can literally learn how to relax, and activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System, any time, on demand. Becoming an expert at relaxing. Sceptical? Take less than 3 minutes and try a pandiculation right now by listening to the audio below;

The pandiculation technique utilised in the audio above can be applied to all the muscle groups in the body for total body relaxation. By deliberately releasing the muscle tension triggered by stress you can return to a state of relaxation and calm. When you are relaxed you can sleep better, when you sleep better you will feel more refreshed, when you are more refreshed, you can think more clearly, when you think more clearly you can make better decisions, when you make better decisions… well, who knows what good things might happen!

When stress is unavoidable, simple, effective stress management techniques become essential. So why not Learn Somatics? You’ve nothing to lose… except all that tension.

If you’re interested in learning how to use Somatics to release muscle tension and manage stress check out my Online Class offerings and 1-1 options here. Alternatively you can visit the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel and start learning today.

As always thanks for reading.

learnsomatics.ie

Neuroscience and Somatic Education

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the function and structure of the Brain and Nervous System.

Somatics is the exploration of the first hand experience of the Brain and Nervous System through movement.

So if you are practicing Somatics you can call yourself a Neuroscientist!

Below is a link to an excellent article by Carrie Day CCSE, and Martha Peterson CCSE that explains in detail how Hanna Somatic Education takes adavantage of neurological principles to eliminate chronic pain and improve movement. Check it out…

The Science of Somatics

Learn Somatics online. Classes and 1-1s available here.

Visit the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel to start learning today.

As always thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

It’s Never Just One Muscle

Often, when we have pain, there is a perception that there is one particular muscle that is causing the problem. Such as, “Oh its my psoas/piriformis/hamstring” etc. And while that may be where you feel the pain or restriction, it is not necessarily where the problem is.

Muscle never work in isolation, they can’t. In order for one muscle to contract, another, opposing muscle must relax, this immediately means you have another muscle brought into play. Muscles work in groups and fire in patterns of contraction to facilitate movement. So a sore or tight psoas/piriformis/hamstring is really just one part of a much bigger habituated involuntary full body pattern of contraction. In Somatic Education we call this Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The Three Reflexes we work with in Somatic Education; Green Light Reflex, Red Light Reflex and Trauma Reflex, are examples of universal full body patterns of muscular contraction. These reflexes are common to all creatures with a spine and nervous system so it is important to be able to recognise them in yourself.

hamstring runnerIt’s that pesky hamstring again! Or is it?

From a Somatics perspective, we look for the connection between the problem/pain area and the three Reflexes mentioned above. For example tight/sore hip flexors, could be as a result of habituated Red Light Reflex. If it is only the hip flexors on one side, or perhaps the piriformis on one side, it may suggest a Trauma Reflex. A chronically tight and painful lower back can be caused by habituated Green Light Reflex. In order to address problems like these you must first relax the muscles of the relevant reflex and then improve the functioning of the entire movement system. As a living, breathing, conscious Soma* you are a SYSTEM OF MOVEMENT. Movement dysfunctions must be addressed by looking at that system in its entirety and improving its functioning in its entirety.

How is this done? Well, first we look at posture for signs of habituation of the Three Reflexes. Usually all are present to some degree. In that case which one is most dominant? What way is the brain and nervous system holding the body? Looking at the entire system.

We watch the client walking. What parts of the body move freely, which parts of the body do not move freely? Which side bears more weight? Again, we are looking at the entire system.

Then we palpate, that is we feel the tonus or hardness of the muscles, both standing and on the plinth/worktable. Are they tight? Which ones are tight? Which ones are soft? What is the relationship between them? What changes in the tonus from standing to laying down? Where is the Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)? Again looking at the entire system.

Then we decide which reflex to address first based on our observations. With that decision made we educate the client through gentle guided movement patterns and full body pandiculations. They learn how to sense the Three Reflexes (see links above), these universal full body patterns of contraction. How to recognize them, how to contract into them VOLUNTARILY and more importantly, how to RELAX out of them VOLUNTARILY.

Working in this way, by educating the client, allows for systemic improvements in movement, comfort and pain reduction. Because clients learn how to do these movements for themselves, they can repeat the process at any time by themselves. Thus becoming more self aware, self correcting and independent.

So with all that said. Do you have a muscle that seems to be tight or sore? If so, explore your movement a little further. Which parts of your body move freely and comfortably? Which parts do not move freely and comfortably? With a little investigation you may find that it is never just one muscle.

*Soma: the body experienced from within

Learn Somatics online with me, check out my online learning options here!

Or checkout the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel to start learning right away.

As always thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

Somatic Movement – The Basics and some Resources

In my last post I talked about the difference between stretching and Pandiculation. Based on the number of emails I received in relation to that article I want to clarify how Pandiculation relates to the other main elements of Somatic Education which are;

Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)

&

The Three Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light and Trauma)

You can’t fix a problem that you are not aware of. In the context of Somatic Education, Sensory Motor Amnesia is the problem, the Three Reflexes are how the problem presents and pandiculation is (one of) the tools we use to address and resolve the problem.

Everyone has some degree of SMA, from a little to a lot. Read more about what SMA is and how it develops, here.

SMA shows itself in the body as habituated contraction of Three Reflexes. These are brain reflexes, if you are conscious and reading this, then you have a brain, and if you have a brain, you will be susceptible to habituation of these three reflexes. I encourage you to read the three blog entries on each of the reflexes.

Here they are;

Green Light Reflex

Red Light Reflex

Trauma Reflex

When we habituate any or all of the Three Reflexes we will inevitably have movement deficits and/or muscle pain. The extent of either will be dependant on the subtlety or severity of our Sensory Motor Amnesia. Regardless, the approach to resolving the SMA is the same. We must remind the brain how to use the affected musculature correctly. We do this by voluntarily recreating the Three Reflexes and then slowly decreating them.

In the case of Green Light Reflex, this involves  purposely contracting the muscles of the Green Light Reflex, which is all the muscles of the back of the body. This allows us to take voluntary/deliberate/conscious control of those muscles, and then voluntarily/deliberately/consciously relaxing them slowly and under control. This simple act of pandiculating reduces the resting level of tension in the muscles for better movement, reduced pain and improved comfort.

Below is my video demonstrating a simple Somatic Movement to address Green Light Reflex, pandiculating the muscles of the back of the Spine, with an emphasis on the lower back muscles. I would advice watching the video first and then doing the movement whilst listening again.

Here is another simple Somatic Movement that addresses Red Light Reflex. Again watch the video first and then do the movement whilst listening to the video.

As you can see from the videos, Somatic Movements are performed, slowly and gently with the intention of something like a yawn. Try these out and leave a comment on your experience.

You can find more of my free videos on the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel where I will be breaking down all of the most fundamental Somatic Movements.

If you are interested in books on Somatics, I’ve provided a short list below;

Books about Somatics

Somatics by Thomas Hanna

The Body of Life by Thomas Hanna

Move Without Pain by Martha Peterson

Move Like an Animal by Edward Barrera

The Sustainable You by John Loupos

If you think you’d like to Learn Somatics online with me, you can check out my online learning options here.

As always thanks for reading

www.learnsomatics.ie

Stretching Vs. Pandiculation – What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Let’s look at the key differences between stretching and pandiculation. Pandiculation is used extensively in Clinical Somatic Education to regain the brain’s control of tight painful muscles.

Stretching sends sensory information only as far as the Spinal Cord
When a muscle is stretched, the sense receptors within that muscle send information to the spinal cord to indicate that the length of the muscle has changed, in this case lengthened. The spinal cord in response sends an impulse to the muscle being stretched, triggering a contraction (tightening), it also sends an impulse to the opposing muscle inhibiting a contraction. So, stretching a muscle causes it to respond by contracting. This is counter to what you’re are trying to achieve when you stretch. This is a very basic explanation of the stretch reflex. As you can see the brain is not involved in the process at all, the stretch reflex is a spinal cord reflex.

2015-05-08_0919

Pandiculation sends new sensory information all the way to the Brain
When a muscle is contracted, the sense receptors within that muscle send information all the way to the Sensory Motor Cortex of the brain (see image below) to indicate that the length of muscle has changed, in this case shortened and also that the level of tension in the muscle has increased. Because this information has reached the brain, the muscle can be sensed or ‘felt’. It is now under your conscious control. At this point you can choose to increase, maintain or decrease the level of contraction. When pandiculating you will slowly decrease the level of contraction all the way down to complete rest. But the take home point is you ellicit full cortical control over the muscle when you contract it voluntarily.

SMA Brain Diagram

Stretching is passive
Stretching is passive, you are not actively using the muscle, you are merely pulling on it, there is no brain involvement.

Pandiculation is active
During a Pandiculation you are actively using the muscle, your brain is involved in the process.

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Stretching decreases potential power output of  the muscles involved
Passive stretching and even PNF* stretching temporarily reduce the potential power output of the muscle.

Pandiculation increases sensation & awareness of the muscles involved
Pandiculation strengthens the connection between the sensory motor cortex of the brain and the muscle. The muscle can be sensed more clearly and control of both functions of the muscle (contraction and relaxation) are increased. This is because the muscle is both contracted and relaxed slowly and carefully during a pandiculation, essentially allowing you to practice both functions.

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Stretching provides no new sensory information to the brain
Because the brain is not involved in a passive stretch there is no new sensory information for the brain. Therefore no new learning takes place. This may be the most important difference between stretching and pandiculation

Pandiculation provides lots of new sensory information for brain
Because the brain is very much involved in the process of Pandiculation there is a large amount of new sensory information for the brain. Therefore new learning takes place.

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Stretching can be painful
Passive stretching is generally uncomfortable and can even be painful especially if Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is present.

Pandiculation feels good
Pandiculation performed correctly feels very pleasurable and relaxing. It has the feeling of a yawn.

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No attention required to stretch
There is no focused attention required to pull on a limb and evoke a stretch.

Attention required to paniculate effectively
Focused attention is absolutely required to perform an effective Pandiculation, both to contract the desired muscle and also to control the slow relaxation phase so that it feels smooth.

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Temporary change in length
Passive stretching confers only a temporary change in length, if any, as the muscles reflexively recontract in response to the stretch.

Long term change in length
Pandiculation confers more permanent changes in muscle length as you brain LEARNS a new longer resting length for your muscles. Please note the changes in muscle length that are achieved through pandiculation are as a result of the reduced level of tension in the muscle. They are not as a result of tissue remodelling.

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Stretching does not eliminate Sensory Motor Amnesia
Passive stretching does nothing to eliminate the habituated levels of chronic muscular contraction that are typical of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).

Pandiculation eliminates Sensory Motor Amnesia
Pandiculation eliminates SMA quickly and easily by returning control of the muscle to Sensory Motor Cortex and allowing you to learn how to relax and lengthen your muscles.

These are the main differences between Stretching and Pandiculation. One final point to note is that often when people stretch they will stretch muscles in isolation, whereas with pandiculation one contracts many muscles at once. This allows us to release large patterns of contraction more quickly and effectively.

The learning component of pandiculation allows you to develop better sensorimotor control over your muscles, and muscles that you have full control over will not cause pain. It is only those muscles which you have lost control over that become chronically tight and painful. The pain is the warning sign that you do not have control any more.

If you would like to learn more about Somatics and how it can help you to improve your movement, relieve stress and reduce or eliminate your muscle pain, check out my online classes here.

 

~

www.learnsomatics.ie

Habituation – How our movement habits can create our pain

How can our movement habits create pain and decrease our ability to move well?

Habituation is the simplest form of learning. It occurs through the constant repetition of a response. When the same bodily response occurs over and over again, its pattern is gradually “learned” at an unconscious level. Habituation is a slow, relentless adaptive act, which ingrains itself into the functional patterns of the central nervous system. (Thomas Hanna, Somatics 1998)

We get good at what we repeatedly do, that is how our brain learns, through repetition. We will get good at things we do intentionally AND things we do unintentionally. If we repeatedly stand in a certain way or walk in a certain way, eventually that way will become learned and automatic. When it becomes automatic we are no longer conscious of it. It becomes our ‘normal’.

The Green Light Reflex is the reflex that drives us forward into the world. It is an inherently positive reflex. Without it we would never have learned to crawl or walk. However, every time your phone rings, someone calls your name, a deadline looms, you rush to be on time, the bodily response is the same, your Green Light Reflex is triggered. All the muscles of the Green Light Reflex contracting, to ready you for action.

In modern society, most people have very busy lifestyles and are constantly under demand from their jobs, children, emails, phone calls, text messages, social activities, hobbies etc. This constant triggering of the Green Light Reflex, leads to habitually and chronically tightened back muscles in exactly the way described by Thomas Hanna in the quote above.

Your ‘normal’ becomes a learned state of contraction, always ready for action and unable to relax fully. You develop Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), forgetting how to release and relax all the musculature of the back of the body. A stiff, sore back and reduced ability to move freely becomes inevitable at this point.

The Red Light Reflex is the complete opposite of the Green Light Reflex. It is a withdrawal reflex, a tightening of all the front of the body in an attempt to make ourselves small and hideaway from fear or danger. Red Light is triggered by fear, danger or threat, .ie when we hear a loud noise, or someone yells ‘duck!’. It can equally be caused by spending too much time slumped in front of a laptop, tv, tablet or smartphone. Nowadays this seems to be a major cause of Red Light Reflex. Many hours with our heads pointed down, back rounded and our shoulders slumped forward gazing at our ever smaller screens (PCs > laptops > tablets > smartphones). If we spend a lot of time in this position, or under threat, we are essentially learning how to stay in that position. Belly tight, hip flexors tight, shoulders forward, head down. Again this state of learned contraction becomes our new ‘normal’. And while it is very useful for looking at gadgets or working at a screen, it is not so useful when we want to do something (anything) else. Eventually, you develop Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), forgetting how to release and relax all the musculature of the front of the body. A stiff, sore neck and shoulders and reduced ability to breathe deepy and move freely becomes inevitable at this point.

We can habituate any posture or movement pattern that we use regularly, whether it is helpful or not.

PoorPosture

Think about it, do you always sit in the same chair in your living room? In the same position? It just feels comfortable right? Well that’s because you have unintentionally learned to sit in that way. It’s an example of habituation. Do you always carry your infant on the same side hip? Habituation. When you drive do you always sink into one side? Or put your elbow on the centre console? Habituation. When you stand do you always cross your arms? Or your legs? Or lean into one side? How do you walk? Always wear your bag on the same side? Again these are all habituations. One sided habits can lead to Trauma Reflex. Much of what we do each and every day is automatic and performed unconsciously. But some of these movement habits may be causing you to have pain due to the constant contraction of the muscles involved.

Becoming aware of our movement habits can help us to identify which ones may be causing us to have pain or reducing our ability to move well. Once identified, Somatic Exercises or Clinical Somatics Lessons can help us to release these habituated patterns of muscular contraction for less pain, more self awareness and more freedom of movement.

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www.learnsomatics.ie

 

Low Back Pain and Green Light Reflex

In this post, I described The Green Light Reflex. When this reflex becomes habituated, it can often cause back pain, particularly in the low back.

But how does the Green Light Reflex cause back pain?

When the thick strong muscles of the spine, known collectively as paravertebrals, are involuntarily stuck in contraction (SMA) they draw the spinal vertebra closer together, this causes the lower back to arch forward excessively. This is often referred to as lordosis, or lordotic posture. It is easily identified by a lower back that is pulled to the front, it also makes the belly protrude and tilts the pelvis anteriorly.

Stickman_Template_Green_Light

Neutral posture (left), and a typical Green Light posture (right)

 

Some points to notice, in the figure on the right.

  1. The excessive arching of the lumbar spine
  2. The change in angle of the rib cage and pelvis due to the tightening of the back muscles
  3. The drawing drawing back of the shoulders and head
  4. The corresponding forward position of the hips
  5. The hyperextension of the hips and kness
  6. The protuding of the belly as a result of the overarched low back

When these paravertebrals are stuck in contraction, they will make any type of forward bending action more difficult. In order to bend forward freely, you must be able to relax and lengthen all the muscles along the back of the spine. If you cannot voluntarily relax and lengthen these muscles you have what we call in Clinical Somatic Education, Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).

Spinal_Highlighted

Paravertebrals

 

Paravertebrals (the muscles running either side along the length of the spine) that are habitually contracted pull the vertebra (bones of the spine) closer together. This can compress any or all of the nerves that exit the spinal cord in the lumbar area or any other area of the back, leading to trapped nerves, sciatica or similar complaints.

This compression of the spinal vertebra can also create a situation where the intervertebral discs that are supposed to act as shock absorbers between each vertebra, are pushed out of place leading to bulging/herniated discs. This spinal compression is also what causes “wear & tear” in the lumbar spine. Even if you don’t have nerve pain or bulging discs from habituated Green Light Reflex, the constant contraction of the paravertebrals leads to fatigue and aching muscles in the back.

So an habituated Green Light Reflex can be the cause of several problems from a reduction in mobility all the way to herniated discs. Each of these problems occur along a spectrum of Green Light Reflex. At the low end of the scale, .ie minimal green light reflex you might expect to have reduced forward bending ability, and at the high end of the scale you might expect, tension headaches, chronic pain and bulging or herniated discs.

These are not the only issues that can occur as a result of habituated Green Light Reflex. It can also lead to tension headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, tight hips, hamstrings and calves, knee pain and other issues. But the mechanism by which these problems occurs is the same. Chronic involuntary contraction (SMA) of all the muscles of the back of the body. In the image below those muscles are highlighted in green.

Muscles involved in Green Light Reflex highlighted in green

So what can we do about it? Well in truth the solution is quite simple. We must RELEARN optimal control of all the muscles of the back of the body. When we relearn proper control we will have the ability to relax and lengthen these muscles to their full and proper resting length. When this has been achieved pain is reduced or eliminated and movement quality improves.

How do we relearn proper control of these muscles? We pandiculate them using safe simple Somatics Exercises or through a series of Hands On Clinical Somatic Lessons. If you would like to learn how to release and relax all the muscles of the Green Light Reflex for a looser more comfortable back and freer movement, try one of my online classes here.

~

www.learnsomatics.ie

Injuries and The Trauma Reflex

Injuries can cause Trauma Reflex and Trauma Reflex can cause injuries. How?

Injuries can occur as a result of an impact or fall. When we anticipate an impact, we instinctively turn away from it which generally results in a side on impact. Then, the muscles on the side of the body around the site of impact reflexively contract to protect you from said impact. If this impact is hard enough or ceates enough of a ‘shock’, this muscular contraction or tightening can become habituated. Our brain behaves as if the impact or injury is still happening. When a pattern of muscular contraction becomes habituated you develop Sensory Motor Amnesia in regards to the muscles involved. You forget how to sense them and move them. So in the case of a hard impact or nasty fall, you inadvertently develop a habituated Trauma Reflex. Your waist muscles on one side becoming stuck in contraction. These tight waist muscles draw the hip up towards the ribs and the ribs down towards the hip, shortening your waist. There is also generally some rotation of the spine involved. The figures below illustrate this;

Stickman_TemplateNo Trauma Reflex >>>>>>>Trauma Reflex of right side of body

Some points to notice, in the figure on the right.

  1. The curving of the spine making it shorter on the right side
  2. The drawing together of the rib cage and hip on the right side
  3. The compensatory tilting of the head in an attempt to bring the eyes level with the horizon
  4. The asymmetrical level of the shoulders, and in turn the hands
  5. The increased angle of the thigh bone in relation to the knee as a result of the tilted hips

These are examples of the kinds of postural distortions that a Trauma Reflex causes. The maybe subtle or pronounced depending on the case. When these distortions become habituated, you are no longer in balance like the figure on the left. Even though the cuts, scrapes and bruises from your impact may have healed, your nervous system is still in injury mode. Holding one side of your body tight. If you get stuck in a Trauma Reflex you are likely to incur further injuries because your balance and symmetry have been compromised. This is due to the habituated muscular tightness in the muscles on one side of the body.

If we look from above we can see the spinal rotation that usually accompanies Trauma Reflex more clearly;

Birds-Eye-TraumaNo Trauma Reflex >>>>>>>Trauma Reflex of right side of body

Some points to notice, in the figure on the right.

  1. The rotation of the right shoulder backwards and the corresponding forward rotation of the left shoulder
  2. The compensatory rotation of the pelvis (the blue box) in opposition to the shoulders
  3. The asymmetrical positioning of the feet
  4. The compensatory rotation of the head in relation to the shoulders

Smooth gait (walking pattern) is dependant on the ability of the centre of the body to be relaxed, and able to rotate freely. If you cannot fully lengthen one side of your waist and allow your spine to rotate freely along its axis, your gait will not be smooth or balanced. You will walk with more weight on one side, this can lead to one sided back, hip, knee and ankle pain as one side of your body must work harder than the other. This is easy to visualise when you look at the figures above and imagine those same asymmetries in motion. These asymmetries also lead to increased ‘wear and tear’ in the joints of the affected side which over time can lead to structural problems within the joints themselves. Trauma Reflexes are also the cause of many alleged leg length discrepancies. The short side waist creating a false ‘short’ leg.

When Trauma Reflex is accompanied by Green Light Reflex (which occurs often), we begin to see complaints like Sciatica, and Plantarfasciitis developing due to th habituated muscular tightness on one side plus habituated tightness in the back of the body.

Trauma Reflex can also develop in more innocuous ways. For example slouching to one side as we sit at a desk and use a computer mouse for hours at work. Or holding a baby on one hip for long periods repeatedly. The end result will be the same, the loss of the ability to lengthen the waist muscles on one side of the body and, over time, mysterious one sided pains in the body.

So in this way, an injury can lead to Trauma Reflex and a Trauma Reflex can lead to further injuries. If not addressed it can become a vicious cycle of injuries and pain.

Some more examples of how Trauma Reflex can develop include;

  1. Drawing an injured leg off the ground to protect it from weight bearing, people do this when they use crutches or sprain an ankle
  2. Falling down stairs
  3. Slipping off a kerb or on ice
  4. Performing one sided activites repeatedly, these can be, and often are occupational, recreational or sporting
  5. Sitting into one side of your hip, out of habit. If you always sit in the same corner of your couch for example

You get the picture. Fortunately, it is quite simple to eliminate a Trauma Reflex with Somatic Movements, either via Clinical Hands On Sessions or Somatics Movements. Somatics teaches you how to pandiculate the affected muscles, restoring the brain’s control of those muscles and simultaneously lengthening them back to their correct resting length. The end result is softer, more relaxed muscles a smooth gait and a body that is in balance and capable of equal right/left movement in all directions.

You can learn online with me here. Or you can explore at your leisure on the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel.

As always thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

My Glute isn’t firing?

A common complaint among the athletic/training community sounds like this:

My glute won’t fire. That’s why I do more squats, ye know, to activate it…

A yes, the scourge of the glute that won’t fire, but what does that statement actually mean?

What they are really saying is this. They cannot sense or control their glute muscle. That is to say they cannot ‘feel’ it and they cannot contract it under full control nor more importantly, relax it under full control. Thomas Hanna PhD. the man who developed Hanna Somatic Education and author of the book Somatics, called this inability to sense or control a muscle fully; Sensory Motor Amnesia. SMA develops in response to stress (both acute and ongoing), trauma (falls, collisions etc), repetitive actions or through a lack of movement (too much sitting anyone?). When SMA presents in one side of the body such as in one of the glutes, it generally indicates that the person has what he called a Trauma Reflex

Trauma_72ppi

As a quick reminder, a Trauma Reflex creates an involuntary twisting and bending of one side of the trunk due to an accident, impact, fall or even surgery. Imagine the way your body twists when you try to  move away from a tickle in the ribs for example, that would be a quite similar pattern.

If one side of the waist and trunk are involuntarily contracted (which means you can’t voluntarily relax them fully), your pelvis will be pulled out of alignment. This causes one side of your trunk to work differently to the other. The glutes fire on one side, but not the same on the other. Now you are walking around a little bit off kilter, one leg and hip doing more work than the other, eventually, one of your knees gets sore, or your hip starts getting cranky from the uneven workload. Or your lower back, or even your shoulder. Until one day you find yourself saying something like, “Hey! My glute won’t fire…”

But it’s not just your glute is it? Muscles never, ever work in isolation. It’s all the muscles of the waist, all the spinal rotators, even the abdominals and the hip flexors too. Muscles always work in groups and in patterns. So if your glute isn’t firing, you can be 100% positive that the synergists and antagonists are also not operating optimally either. You are the proud owner of an habituated Trauma Reflex.

Have someone take your photo from the front and the back. Take a good, hard look at this photo. Here’s a hint, whenever one side of your body is assymetrical or out of balance and different from the other side, you have a Trauma Reflex. Look for the following clues that would reveal a possible Trauma Reflex.

  1. Are your Shoulders level?
  2. Are your hips level?
  3. Is your head slightly tilted to one side or shifted to one side?
  4. Is the space between your arms and your torso different on each side?
  5. Is your torso sitting directly atop your pelvis or is it shifted to one side?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you do indeed, have an habituation of the Trauma Reflex.

Do you think it would be a good idea to put a heavy barbell on top of a body that displays these signs? Or run 10 miles? Or cycle 50 miles? Even walking with a Trauma Reflex can lead to problems. Performing any athletic endeavour when your pelvis, shoulders and trunk are out of balance can potentially cause injuries; it is a truly joyless experience. Squatting and Deadlifting with a Trauma Reflex will almost definitely lead to injury over a long enough time frame or under a large enough load. Running or cycling will lead to more wear and tear on one side of the body as you are essentially off balance all the time. There is also a very, very good chance that you will have some habituated Green Light and Red Light Reflex as well as your Trauma Reflex. Why? Because everybody does; we all live in the same world and deal with the everyday stresses and strains of modern life.

So how does one regain the ability to fire the glute, reinstate your balance, improve your movement ability and get back to the sport or activity you enjoy?

Get thee to a Clinical Somatic Educator and experience Hands-On Lessons so you can get hands on feedback to release the Three Reflexes and eliminate SMA even quicker than you can do it on your own. You will also learn how to perform safe, simple Somatic Movements. Somatic Movements are restorative and preventative movements that teach you how to recreate each of the Three Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light and Trauma) yourself and then slowly relax out of them, this is called pandiculating. You can try these Somatic Movements right now over at the Learn Somatics YouTube channel.

As always thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie