Back, hip joint, knee pain, and piriformis syndrome pain are common reasons people seek out Hanna Somatics for pain relief. Many clients present with posture that is “out of balance” – meaning that their hips and pelvis are not level, their leg length is uneven and their gait is not smooth. Some clients have said to me, “Just the other day someone asked me why I was limping, and I never even noticed I limped! All I know is that my back(or hip or piriformis) is killing me!”
They’re not concerned about their limp, because their limp feels “normal” to them. This is a perfect example of Sensory Motor Amnesia – the condition in which the brain literally forgets how to sense and move muscles. Their muscles have adapted to specific stress reflexes and they no longer move the way they once did. When you lose awareness of the way in which you move, this is indeed cause for concern.
Most of my clients with back, hip or piriformis pain associated with a limp were treated with:
- physical therapy (most common)
- cortisone shots (very common)
- trigger point therapy
- massage therapy
- MRIs, X-rays, blood tests, nerve conduction tests
What was missing in the treatments of all of these clients was an understanding of how a limp develops, which muscles are involved in the need to limp, and how this kind of muscle dysfunction causes the muscles of the center of the body to contract constantly, even when they’re no longer needed for an action.
Limping means the muscles of the center of your body are out of balance.
When we walk we are meant to walk with a smooth, even gait. Our pelvis is perfectly designed for our upright, bipedal locomotion and the more we let our hips relax as we walk, the more effortless our movement will be (and the less joint pain we will have). Below is a great video of balanced, strong walking and upright posture – a necessity for African women carrying things on their heads.
This kind of natural movement is “the norm”….until something happens to put a “monkey wrench” in the workings of the brain.
When we have an accident – we fall, slip on the ice, fall on our coccyx, break a bone and have to compensate, protecting that part of the body – the brain instantly responds by contracting specific muscles of the trunk in order to protect that area. The muscles involved in this pattern are the lattissimus, obliques, adductors, abductors and abdominal muscles, which all contract together in an attempt to keep us up in gravity (see photo below). This protective “holding” pattern can, if it is on-going or severe enough, cause a limp to develop.
This kind of functional problem can, over time, create serious structural damage, like hip joint pain, labral tears, osteoarthritis and hip joint impingement.
The trauma reflex causes us to limp, putting too much weight into one side of the body.
If you’ve ever suffered any kind of accident that causes you to lose your balance, you might remember how you twisted suddenly to try and avoid the fall, only to fall anyway. The photo to the right is an excellent example of an involuntarily invoked trauma reflex – a desperate attempt by the brain to regain balance and not fall. For many people, this kind of accident results in an habituated posture in which the muscles on one side of the body are slightly tighter than the muscles on the other side.
When you get stuck in this particular stress reflex, pain isn’t far behind. You begin to walk like a car with one flat tire, “galumphing” from side to side. Anyone with a limp should learn to reverse it as soon as possible by re-educating the muscles involved in the pattern. It’s easy to do with Somatic Exercises and, if necessary, the skilled guidance of a Certified Hanna (Clinical) Somatic Educator.
Good somatic solutions for limping:
For those who own my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD, the following exercises focus on the waist muscles/trunk rotators, and will go a long way toward “fixing” the problem in and re-programming your muscles so you can walk evenly again:
- side bend – addresses the obliques, which are muscles of side-bending
- washrag – brings in gentle twisting of the pelvis, and shoulders, as the waist lengthens
- human X **- the quintessential movement of “crawling,” which lengthens both sides of the body
- steeple twist** – increases the ability to twist and lengthen the center of the body – back, abdominals, waist
- walking exercises, part 1 & 2 **- freeing the pelvis and reintegrating a healthy pattern of walking.
- hip lift and reach – frees the hips and pelvis as you add the shoulders for more movement.
** – these exercises are found on my “basics” DVD.