How a Clinical Somatic Approach Can Help Scoliosis

In my last blog post I wrote that although there might be a genetic link to scoliosis (for some people), the important factor in “idiopathic” scoliosis is “the environment.” The environment here doesn’t refer to trees and water; it refers to what kind of stressors occur in your life to cause you to develop scoliosis.

Let’s go back to the basics for a second:

  1. Your brain controls your muscles.
  2. Your muscles attach to your bones.
  3. Your muscles move bones. Bones never move where muscles don’t pull them (except in the case of a disease process, like polio).
  4. Your brain responds to stress in the environment by tightening muscle groups in specific patterns (red light, green light, trauma reflex).

Accidents and injuries at a young age can set scoliosis in motion.

I have worked with many clients who have had scoliosis “in the family.” I’ve worked with even more scoliosis clients who are the only ones in their family to have ever developed this condition. They all share one thing in common: a traumatic accident/slip/fall before or during adolescence. Many women who have developed mild scoliosis later in life have suffered a traumatic fall or accident, or spent decades raising multiple children and making a “perch” for their child by hiking up one side of their pelvis.

When you have an accident, your brain instantly contracts the muscles of the waist and trunk rotators in order to help you avoid further pain or injury. This “trauma reflex,” when habituated, can create an adaptive muscular pattern of consistent with scoliosis. The curve can be mild or severe. Many teenagers undergo¬† surgery to put Harrington rods in their spines, while others decide to use exercise and stretching techniques instead.

Hanna Somatic Education (HSE) is a safe, easy method for addressing scoliosis and relieving the back pain associated with this condition. HSE uses the technique of assisted (or “hands-on”) pandiculation to teach clients to release muscles that are stuck in the feedback loop of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). It is a recalibration of the voluntary sensory and motor centers of the brain. Remember that with SMA the brain forgets how to sense, feel and move muscles. Pandiculation heightens the client’s internal awareness of those muscles and teaches them to release.¬† Sensory motor function is restored, and structural imbalances slowly begin to reverse themselves.

In a clinical session of Hanna Somatics, assisted pandiculation helps to release the muscle groups involved in that person’s particular pattern of scoliosis.

At right are two photos of “Rita,” (not her real name), a woman with scoliosis with whom I recently did a first clinical session. The photo on the near right is “before” her lesson/session; the one at the far right is “after” her lesson/session.

Notice the “before” photo: Rita’s weight is pitched way over to the right. Her right waist is compressed, and if you look closely, you can even see the outline of her scoliotic curve on the right and contracted gluteal muscles on the left. She is literally being “pulled down” and twisted to the right.

Notice the “after” photo: Rita’s scoliotic curve is not as distinct. She is lifted up slightly out of her right side and her weight is shifted a bit more toward center. When I showed Rita these photos she exclaimed, “I actually have a waist!” She felt taller and lighter when she walked. What exactly did we do to affect this kind of change?

We pandiculated the muscles of the trauma reflex, then pandiculated the muscles of the right shoulder. I taught her the “back lift,” an exercise that brings the brain back into control of the back muscles. She also learned three more exercises for the waist muscles.

While it is clear that Rita and I have a lot more work to do to get her to “untwist” her ribcage, even out her pelvis and improve her symmetry, she made excellent improvement in one session. Daily practice of the Somatic Exercises to reinforce her progress, and about 5-6 more clinical sessions and she will be moving with less pain and more freedom. The kind of change she was able to affect is a small example of how effective assisted pandiculation and the techniques of Hanna Somatics can help those with scoliosis help themselves. The younger the client, the more rapid the progress.¬†

8 thoughts on “How a Clinical Somatic Approach Can Help Scoliosis

  1. What about those of us who haven’t suffered any kind of traumatic fall/injury? Would your course of treatment be different?

    I have had scoliosis since I was 12/13 and am now well into my adult years, and even though I have no pain I do have a severe, noticeable curve (and supposedly, according to a recent MRI I had done for something completely unrelated, a few herniated disks). To my knowledge I never had any kind of event trigger it like what you are describing. (I wasn’t particularly active as a child, aside from minor scraped knees I never had any injuries). I do think that due to being left-handed I always sat sort of ‘twisted’ when I was writing or at school desks.

    I tend to think that no matter the cause, movement and body awareness can do wonders for posture but my problem then becomes that if I stand ‘taller’ with my hips in line, I feel like one leg is slightly longer than the other and I don’t know how to compensate for that, or if I even should.

    • Thanks for your comment, Nora.

      You’re absolutely correct: no matter what the cause of the scoliosis, improved sensory motor awareness and control can do wonders for your body. Perhaps adjusting to sitting twisted as a leftie in school didn’t help matters, and perhaps there’s a genetic link to your scoliosis.
      The more important point is that there are things you can do to help yourself by learning to release and relax muscles within the pattern of scoliosis. Hanna Somatic Education can help you do that. If you live near a certified practitioner, I would highly recommend having about 4 clinical hands-on sessions in order to begin releasing those tight muscles.

      All the best,
      Martha

      • I actually live not too far from Maplewood. I came across your blog via Words bookstore (saw that you were reading and was curious). Unfortunately I can’t make the reading, but I’d be interested in a hands-on session, depending on times/price – what’s the best way to contact you?

      • Hi Nora,

        Please refer to my website for prices and explanations about what happens in a private clinical session. You can call me directly at 973-951-7845 to make an appointment, or email me at martha@essentialsomatics.com I would be happy to help you one on one. If you know anyone else who has muscle pain, send them along to my book signing! Thanks for inquiring, Martha

  2. Hi Martha,

    I just purchased your “basics” DVD so I can heal my scoliosis. I had a yoga injury a few years ago which twisted my rib cage and I’ve been in pain ever since. I’m wondering if I should only be doing the exercises on the left side of my body since this is where my muscles are contracted and in pain. Would doing the exercises on the right be somehow counterproductive in getting my rib cage back in place?

    Grateful,
    Blanca

    • Hi Blanca,

      Those with scoliosis needs a bit more attention and guidance than the average person. You have a more complicated pattern going on.

      Because you’re dealing with a full body pattern of habituation you need to do the exercises on both sides of the body. That being said, the tighter side probably could use a bit more focus and more repetitions – especially on the side bend. That movement I would do up against a flat wall so you really learn to move laterally and not twist as you pandiculate the waist muscles.

      I would also seriously consider doing a few Skype sessions with me (or with my colleague, Laura Gates, who has scoliosis). You would get a lot more individualized guidance, which can only help you on the path to relieving the pain associated with scoliosis. Information about those sessions is on my website.

      Thanks for getting in touch.
      Best to you,
      Martha

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