Eight out of ten people in the United States suffers at one time or the other with back pain. Over $50 billion a year is spent on back pain. Twenty-five years ago Thomas Hanna, PhD, wrote in his book, Somatics, that 85% of adults suffer from back pain. That statistic hasn’t changed, and little has been done to educate doctors or patients about the root cause of most back pain: the brain and the way in which it senses and controls the back muscles.
I was inspired to write this blog post because of a familiar advertisement in my Sunday New York Times. It’s for a back pain center in New York City that does less invasive back surgery: safest procedure, NO cutting, NO bleeding, NO drilling, NO scarring! The missing piece to this advertisement is “no sensible information about why your muscles are causing you pain!”
From my clinical experience many back surgeries could be prevented with some basic understanding of why back muscles become tight and painful and how to release and relax them. Back pain is not as mysterious as we are led to believe.
Surgery can be life saving, yet one study that looked at recovery rates for certain back pain surgeries concluded that “intensive rehabilitation” is, over time, more effective than surgery.
Somatic Education is the most minimally invasive solution to back pain available.
So where does back pain come from? Most chronic back pain develops over time as an habituated response to stress. The Landau Response (also referred to as the “Green Light Reflex” in Hanna Somatic Education) is a brain stem reflex that is triggered whenever we are called upon to get something done – answer the phone, write emails, rush around, pay attention…hurry up!
Our back muscles, from the base of the skull down to the sacrum/tailbone contract, spurring us into action. These muscles also contract to allow us to run, jump, walk and engage in vigorous, fun activities. If, however, these muscles are never taught to relax and release on a daily basis, they can wind up “on” 24/7 – tight, painful and sore.
This Landau Response is first triggered at the age of about five months, when a baby discovers his back muscles. All the muscles on the back of the body contract – the neck muscles, rhomboids between the shoulder blades, upper trapezius, gluteals – to pick the head up. From that moment onward, for the rest of that person’s life, those back muscles will reflexively contract whenever there is a need to respond to a task.
There’s nothing wrong with this reflex; it merely prepares us for an action. However, in today’s world, this Landau Response is triggered so continuously that for many it gradually begins to habituate. Our brain, which controls our muscles, literally teaches our back muscles to stay contracted and “frozen” in a constant state of readiness (the photo at right shows a typical green light reflex posture).
If left unchecked, constantly contracted back muscles can lead to structural problems – herniated discs, bulging discs, and sacroiliac pain.
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. In fact, we know that the areas where there is greater stress….namely urban industrial societies, we have the highest incidence of lower back pain.
~Thomas Hanna, PhD.
This particular pattern of Sensory Motor Amnesia is reversible with a daily routine of Somatic Exercises. Somatic Exercises teach you to re-educate your muscles through slow, gentle, safe movement. You begin to regain voluntary control of muscles that have learned (due to stress adaptation) to stay tight and painful. On my DVD, Pain Relief Through Movement, you can learn the most important Somatic Exercises you will ever need to reverse and eliminate chronic back pain.
Try these Somatic Exercises for back pain relief:
- arch and flatten
- arch and curl (from my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD)
- back lift
- cross lateral arch and curl (from my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD)
- seated awareness exercise
- reach up to the top shelf (from my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD)
Stress reflexes are hardwired into the central nervous system because they serve a purpose for movement and human environmental s however, we don’t want to get stuck in them. Learn to control those stress reflexes and you’ll be on your way to relief in no time flat!