Joint health is affected by many variables. The medical community generally view joint pain or problems as structural in nature and on occassion this is indeed the case. However, a far more common cause of joint problems is chronically tight and contracted muscles around a joint. Chronically tight muscles are not a structural problem they are a functional problem. Our muscles can easily become too tight as a result of our responses to everyday stresses, from performing repetitive tasks, a lack of movement or from an injury, impact, fall or surgery. These patterns of habitually tight muscles show up in our bodies as the previously discussed Green Light, Red Light and Trauma Reflexes.
How do chronically tight muscles cause joint pain?
When the muscles that articulate a joint are ‘stuck’ at a high level of contraction they are shorter and tighter than is optimal. Short, tight muscles will draw the bones of the joint closer together compressing the joint and leading to pain and restricted movement. If the bony structures in the joint are being pulled too close to each other by the tight muscles these structures can begin to rub off each other and can eventually wear down the cartilage that protects the ends of the bones. So, over time what began as a functional soft tissue or muscular problem becomes a structural problem.
In the case of the hip joint, pain can be caused by habitually contracted gluteals, piriformis and tensor fascia latae. These are all muscles that articulate the hip and leg. However it is never just one muscle that causes the problem as muscles always work in concert. The problem is always a larger, full body pattern of contraction. One sided hip pain, for example is often the result of a Trauma Reflex. It follows then, that an effective solution to the problem cannot only address one muscle. Learning to release the Trauma Reflex and regain balance and control of the muscles of the centre of your body will go a long way towards resolving your hip pain!
By improving the function of the muscles around a given joint and addressing the full body pattern of contraction we can release ALL the muscles back to their true resting length. Then, compression of the joint is reduced and normal range of motion and comfort of the joint are restored. This outcome can be achieved safely, quickly and easily through the educational process of Clinical Somatics (aka Hanna Somatics). You must address the full body pattern of contraction by RELEARNING how to regain control over ALL the muscles involved in the pattern of contraction.
If you have tight painful joints and restricted movement and would like to learn how to release and relax your muscles for freer more comfortable movement, you could benefit from a course of Lessons in Clinical Somatic Education.
Clinical Somatics (aka Hanna Somatics) is a simple process of neuromuscular re-education that allows you to regain voluntary control of all the muscles of your body so that optimal muscle function and comfort can be restored, and then maintained, for the long term. When we have full control of our muscles, they cannot cause pain. Only muscles that we have lost voluntary control over (SMA) can cause pain.
It is an education based approach to pain relief, wellness, health and mobility that honors the neurological fact that our brains have absolute control over our muscles. Any attempt to change the condition of, or optimize the functioning of, our muscles must involve the brain. If the brain is involved it means there is a learning component and true change only comes through learning. By learning new and more efficient ways to use our muscles we can make long term changes to our body, or should I say to our ‘Soma’ (our body experienced from within).
There are two ways to achieve this;
Clinical Somatic Lessons
Clinical Somatic Education systematically addresses the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light, Trauma) over the course of 3-6 Lessons. The practitioner guides the client through some specific movement patterns and provides gentle hands on feedback to the client to help them to properly sense the various muscles involved. Once the client can sense or feel these muscles they can begin to regain control of them and in turn release and relax them back to their proper resting length. Clients are then taught the Somatic Self Care Exercises that they can do themselves at home so they can maintain this muscular control and freedom.
Somatic Self Care Exercises
These are a series of safe, simple floor based movement patterns that enable us to consciously recreate the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light, Trauma) so that we may consciously de-create them. The goal of the Exercises is to pandiculate into and out of the Reflexes eliminating SMA. This is akin to hitting ‘reset’ on our muscle function. When you’re PC or laptop is acting up, the first thing we do is usually to turn it off, and then turn it on again. This allows the sytem to reset or reboot. With Somatic Exercises we are doing the same thing for our brain muscle connection. The only difference being we do the opposite, we turn the muscle fully ON, and then slowly turn it fully OFF. This simple act resets or reboots our muscle function and control for freer, more comfortable muscles.
The Backlift is one of many Somatic Self Care Exercises
- Clinical Somatics (Hanna Somatics) is Education NOT therapy.
- Clinical Somatic Lessons teach you how to recognise and release all the muscles involved in the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light, Trauma).
- Somatic Self Care Exercises performed regularly allow you to be self correcting in the future for long term pain relief from tight stiff muscles.
- Somatics resets or reboots our muscle function and control for freer, more comfortable muscles and improved movment potential.
What is the Red Light Reflex and why must we be able to recognize it??
The Red Light Reflex, also called the Startle Reflex, is an automatic brain reflex that is activated every time we are startled or feel we are in sudden danger .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.
The job of Red Light Reflex is to contract all the major muscles of the front of our body so as to enable us to make ourselves smaller. This protects the soft and vulnerable internal organs located in our abdomen. Red Light is in effect the very opposite of the previously described Green Light Reflex. Green Light involves mostly muscles of extension (expansion), where as Red Light involves mostly muscles of flexion (withdrawal). Throughout our evolution, Red Light Reflex served a very practical and useful purpose. If Green Light is the ‘fight’ or the ‘flight’, Red Light is the ‘freeze’, or ‘play dead’. It is a shrinking away from fear or danger. Animals in the wild do this all the time as a means of hiding from predators, making themselves small and withdrawing into themselves. The main muscles involved are indicated in the image below, also involved but not indicated are the hip flexors, flexors of the arms and legs, and the internal rotators of the arms and legs.
Just as Green Light Reflex can cause problems when it becomes habituated, so too can the Red Light Reflex. It can lead to chronic neck pain, headaches, jaw pain, hip pain, mid back pain and shallow breathing. Shallow breathing in and of itself leads to low level anxiety as the body becomes stressed due to a lack of oxygen. This can lead to fatigue, depression and sleep problems. The wooden mannequinn below approximates the Red Light Reflex as it typically appears.
Do you recognise this type of posture in yourself, or in others? It is, unfortunately, very common in modern society. Again, this type of stooped over posture is often associated with the aging process, but it is merely an habituated physical response to stress, and one that is easily reversed. But before we get to that there is one more brain reflex to discuss. Next up… The Trauma Reflex.
- The Red Light Reflex is an automatic Brain Reflex triggered when we are startled or feel we are in danger.
- It allows us to withdraw from a perceived threat by causing all the muscles of the front of the torso to tighten.
- If habituated it can cause neck, jaw and mid back pain, shallow breathing and fatigue.
- The slumped posture it creates is associated with aging but it can be easily reversed.
What is Sensory Motor Amnesia and why do you need to know about it?
Sensory Motor Amnesia inhibits movement quality and freedom by reducing muscle control and function and can be defined as:
‘A partial or total loss of (memory in) our ability to SENSE and MOVE our muscles’.
Muscles have only two functions, they CONTRACT and they RELAX, that’s it! They do nothing else, so if you lose voluntary control over those two FUNCTIONS, you lose voluntary control over the result of those functions. Which is… Drum roll… your MOVEMENT! The impulses which signal your muscles to contract or relax come from the Motor Cortex (one half of the Sensory Motor Cortex). So the problem of SMA is not a structural problem in the muscles but a neurological event in your brain.
Sensory Motor Amnesia can develop in the following ways;
- Through Stress (physical and emotional)
- Through Trauma (surgeries, injuries, falls, impacts)
- Through repetitive actions (working at a computer, driving, playing a musical instrument etc)
- Through lack of movement (sedentary lifestyle)
When SMA develops your muscles become ‘stuck’ in contraction to some degree. We ‘forget’ how to VOLUNTARILY release and relax them to their full resting length. These ‘stuck’ muscles pull us out of shape creating postural distortions. These postural distortions make it more difficult to move well by reducing our range of motion and can eventually cause chronic muscle pain (back, hip, neck, shoulder, knee, ankle pain etc.) without apparent cause. What do these postural distortions look like? Check out my next few posts to find out…
- Sensory Motor Amnesia is ‘a partial or total loss of (memory in) our ability to SENSE and MOVE’ our muscles.
- When we develop SMA we can no longer relax our muscles to their proper resting length.
- SMA is a brain event that causes a functional muscular problem.
- It is not a structural problem.
- It is developed through stress, trauma, repetitive actions or lack of movement.
- It causes postural distortions and muscular pain in our bodies.