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 Clinical Somatic Education we call this Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The Three Reflexes we work with in Clinical 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 release 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

~

www.clinicalsomatics.ie

 

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Somatic Education – 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 cortical* control of those muscles, and then slowly relaxing them under control. This simple act of pandiculating reduces the resting level of tension in the muscles for better movement, reduced pain and improved comfort.

Here is an example of a simple Somatic Exercise 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 to the video.

Arch & Flatten with Laura Gates – www.fullmovementpotential.com

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

Flower with Martha Peterson – www.essentialsomatics.com

As you can see from the videos, Somatic Exercises are performed, slowly and gently with the intention of something like a yawn. Try these out and leave a comment on your experience. I am currently developing my own instructional  Somatic Exercise videos and an eBook which I hope to have available in the new year. If these are something you would be interested in leave a comment below this post.

In the meantime here are some links to Somatics resources around the web. You can find more videos from each of these Somatic Practitioners on Youtube and Vimeo.

Martha Peterson – www.essentialsomatics.com

Laura Gates – www.fullmovementpotential.com

Lawrence Gold – http://lawrencegoldsomatics.blogspot.ie/

Susan Koenig – https://www.youtube.com/user/somaticsforyou

 

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

 

Somatics Exercises instructional DVDs and CDs

Essential Somatics
Fantastic instructional DVDs and CDs from Martha Peterson

Somatics Educational Resources
(about half way down linked page under the heading AUDIO). These are Somatic Movement Classes guide by the late Thomas Hanna, the man who developed this work. Highly recommended.

Lawrence Gold
Comprehensive Somatics instructional CDs and DVDs for a wide range of issues.

 

I’ll be back soon with my regular Somatics blog posts, in the meantime share this post with anyone you know who is interested in Somatics resources around the web.

~

www.clinicalsomatics.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, get in touch here.

~

http://www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Neck and Shoulder Pain and The Red Light Reflex

How does The Red Light Reflex cause, neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, problems in the arms and wrists , shallow breathing and poor posture?

Red Light Reflex is an habituated and ongoing tightening of all the muscles of the front of the body. When you forget how to relax and lengthen the muscles of the front of the body you can develop many problems over time. In Clinical Somatic Education we call this inability to release and relax muscles Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). With Red Light Reflex the main muscles involved are the muscles of the belly (Abdominals), chest (pectorali major and minor), shoulders (upper trapezius) and inner thighs (adductors). So how does involuntary chronic tightness in these muscles lead to pain and poor movement?

Stickman_Template_Red_Light

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

 

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

  1. The forward curving of the spine
  2. The change in angle of the rib cage and pelvis due to the tightening of the belly and chest muscles
  3. The drawing together of the rib cage and pelvis due to the tightening of the belly muscles
  4. The corresponding forward position of the head and the shoulders as a result
  5. The bending of the legs and arms
  6. The reduction in true height as a result of the spinal curve

 

Back Pain
As you can see from the image above Red Light Reflex causes a curving forward of the spine. This creates a situation where the back muscles are always lengthened but at the same time working hard to keep you upright in gravity and maintain your head position. This constant workload creates sore, tired back muscles and leads to pain in the mid and upper back.

Birds-Eye-Red-Light

Neutral posture, absence of Red Light Reflex >>>>> Red Light Reflex

 

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

  1. The sunken chest, rounded back and shoulders forward
  2. The head pulled forward of the centre line

 

Neck and shoulder Pain
When the belly, chest and frontal neck muscles are tight making the spine curve forward, they draw the head and shoulders forward too (refer to images above), creating a rounded back and stooped posture. This makes it difficult to stand up “straight”. The constant forward and shrugged position of the shoulders can also cause discomfort and pain whilst limiting your ability to turn your head left or right and also to raise you arms straight overhead. The shoulders must rest in a neutral position in order for the neck and arms (and in turn the elbows and wrists) to move freely and function properly. When the shoulders and head are constantly drawn forward this reduces the amount of space internally in the front of the chest and neck. This means less space for all the nerves and blood vessels which innervate the shoulders and arms. When these nerves and blood vessels are compressed or inhibited it leads to problems in the…

Arms, Elbows, Wrists and Hands
Problems in the arms, elbows, wrists and hands are also often due to habituated Red Light Reflex. The brachial plexus, which is the main nerve that innervates the (upper limbs) arms runs between the scalene muscles of the neck, through the area behind the collar bone and just behind the attachment of pec minor (small blue chest muscle in image below) towards the armpit. When the chest and neck muscles are habitually contracted, as is the case with Red Light Reflex, they can compress the brachial plexus causing; Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, tingling and numbness in the arms and hands, weakened grip, carpal tunnel syndrome, cold hands etc. This is yet another example of tightness in the centre of the body leading to problems at the extremities.

Breathing
You can also see in the image below the intercostals, these are the muscles that are found in between each of the ribs. In Red Light Reflex these muscles will also be habitually contracted to some degree. As you can imagine, if these muscles cannot relax fully your ability to breathe deeply is reduced. In this situation the ribs are no longer free to expand making space for the expanding lungs. As a response to this we begin to chest breathe which adds further fatigue and tightness to the muscles of the chest, neck and shoulders. Chest breathing is inefficient and can cause systemic low level anxiety and fatigue due to insufficient oxygen intake. Belly breathing in contrast is efficient and helps you feel relaxed and energised. Belly breathing is only possible when we are able to let our abdominals and intercostals (between the ribs) relax and lengthen. The image below highlights the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor) and the abdominals for clarity.

 

Chest_Abs_Highlighted

Right side Pectoralis Major , Left side Pectoralis Minor and Abdominals highlighted in blue

 

As you can see Red Light Reflex can contribute to a myriad of complaints. The good news is it is relatively straight forward to release and relax all the muscles of the Red Light Reflex using safe simple Somatic Exercises or through Clinical Hands On Lessons. Through Somatics you will learn how to recreate these Reflexes voluntarily so that you can DECREATE them voluntarily. We do this by pandiculating all the muscles and movement patterns involved in each reflex (Green Light, Red Light and Trauma). This allows YOUR BRAIN to regain control of your muscles, and in turn your body and movement. If you would like to learn more, you can get in touch with me here.

~

www.clinicalsomatics.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 tigthening 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 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 Somatics, either via Clinical Hands On Sessions or Somatics Self Care Exercises. 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.

~

www.clinicalsomatics.ie

What is ‘Good’ Posture?

Poor posture is the result of habituated dysfunctional patterns of involuntary contraction aka Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). Or, put more simply, excessive levels of involuntary muscular tension in one place or another that pull us out of shape and cause muscular imbalances. In fact, the Three Reflexes, Green Light, Red Light an Trauma, show up in our bodies as postural distortions.

Mannequin_Trauma_Reflexesx3
Poor posture as a result of habituated Green Light Reflex, Trauma Reflex and Red Light Reflex. Most people will have all three to some degree.

Excessive time spent sitting/driving/doing desk work can lead to SMA in relation to the muscles of the front of the body (Red Light Reflex). You lose the ability to lengthen these muscles to their true resting length. When these muscles are tight they round the shoulders forward, pull the chest, and in turn the head, down and forward into typical slumped posture.

Often, in a situation as illustrated above, the conventional view is that the muscles of the back of the body are ‘long and weak’ and the muscles of the front are ‘tight and short’. Thomas Hanna addresses this fallacy quite specifically and comprehensively in his teaching. The tight side is not weak it is perfectly strong, it is also fatigued. If you palpate a tight muscle you will feel how it is very hard, that is because it is strongly contracted. The perceived ‘weakness’ is a result of the fatigue from being constantly contracted and constantly using energy. There is a difference between being weak and being fatigued. The strength of a muscle is dependant on its ability to contract fully and equally to relax fully. A muscle that never relaxes is always tired and so cannot do its job properly.

What about the muscles on the other side that are thought to be ‘long and weak’? The muscles on the opposing side, are longer yes, but again they are not weaker. They cannot contract fully because the opposing muscles are ‘stuck’ in contraction (SMA) as described above. Muscles always work in opposing pairs/groups. If the function of one pair/group is compromised it automatically compromises the function of the opposing pair/group. This is a clear example of Reciprocal Inhibition* for the physios among you.

This distinction is very important. When we restore the ability to fully relax, to the ‘tight/short’ side (by eliminating the SMA through pandiculation), the ‘longer/weaker’ side is no longer inhibited and so it can contract fully again. This creates a state of co-ordination and balance between the muscles. With this improved balance and co-ordination improved movement, comfort and posture is inevitable.

So, good posture, relaxed and tall, is the absence of excessive muscular tension throughout the body and balance and co-ordination between opposing muscle groups. With good posture you will be able to move quickly if you need to, without excess muscle tension. It’s not about tightening muscles in order to stay standing upright!

Good posture can be attained quickly and easily through Somatic Exercises. These exercises allow you to eliminate SMA and so remain in a neutral state of relaxed balance. Poor posture cannot be ‘fixed’ by adding MORE tension to muscles that are incorrectly thought to be WEAK!

In Summary:

Poor Posture = unnecessary involuntary tension in the body causing imbalance.

Good posture = the absence of unnecessary involuntary tension in the body.

Think about it…

If you would like to learn how to eliminate SMA and improve your posture using simple Somatic Exercises get in touch.

*Reciprocal Inhibition: contraction in a muscle is accompanied by a loss of tone or by relaxation in the antagonistic muscle.

~

www.clinicalsomatics.ie