“In 1997 I got bucked off of a horse and landed hard enough on my right hip…to warrant a trip to the ER. Luckily, nothing was wrong in the x-rays. Fast forward a few years and I started to notice pain in my hip flexors when riding. I would get off of the horse and feel stiff…more on the right than the left.
I noticed increasing soreness in the hip area…most of it on the right side. By 2009, my pain…included both hips, and back pain. When I am sitting for a long period of time, I stand up like a 90 year old woman. When I read through your website, I find myself feeling like someone can finally describe my pain!”
“Laura” came to me for Hanna Somatics because she realized that her back and hip pain was probably due to Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) – the condition of chronically contracted muscles that results from muscular adaptation to stress (accidents, injuries, repetitive movement). She wanted to learn to relax her back and hip joint muscles – taut and painful due to years of compensating from her original accident – and long hours sitting in the car and at the computer.
Laura had developed a typical, habituated “trauma reflex” pattern of compensation: one side of her waist muscles and trunk rotators was tighter than the other side. This occurred due to her sudden fall off her horse many years earlier. Her brain – the command center of the muscles – had put these muscles on “cruise control,” so no matter what she did to try and relax them, nothing gave her long term relief. This is common to anyone who as ever suffered an accident.
In order to ride, she had developed compensation patterns that enabled her to stay on the horse, even though one hip couldn’t move as well as the other. Her brain had expertly compensated by over-tightening her hip flexors as she rode, sat at her computer for long hours, and drove her car.
Laura also had slightly slumped and tight shoulders – indicative of the red light reflex pattern. She explained that she’d also been kicked by a horse and knocked back onto the ground, flat on her back – a common injury for horseback riders. This kind of accident causes the muscles of the front of the body to contract suddenly as the back muscles lengthen and tighten – similar to whiplash. Both the front and back of the body becomes like a “vise,” making fluid movement of the spine difficult.
When the back muscles are too tight, one’s riding form is stiff. The back doesn’t relax and coordinate with the muscles of the front of the body. Muscles grip when they don’t need to and balance is harder to achieve. No doubt the horse feels the lack of ease on the part of the rider as well.
This loss of easy movement can happen to any athlete, when certain muscles are involuntarily contracted, and “amnesic” – regardless of the sport. A case of SMA can chip away at one’s athletic form, resulting in less efficient movement while increasing the potential for injury.
Here what happens in a sudden or violent – off a horse, a bicycle, down a flight of stairs, or when you trick over something and fall forward (see photos):
The involuntary part of your brain (subcortex) instantly contracts the muscles on one side of your body in order to attempt to keep you in balance, and to protect you from further injury.
You can’t help it, it happens and there’s nothing you can do about it as it’s happening. However, retraining the muscles to relax and lengthen again is crucial to regaining balance, symmetry and muscular coordination.
Here are some conditions that are the result of an habituated trauma reflex:
- restricted and painful hip joint
- uneven leg length
- loss of balance due to uneven weight distribution/tilted posture
- piriformis syndrome
- uneven gait, with more pressure into one hip/knee/foot
- knee pain
Laura, my equestrian client learned to use the technique of pandiculation (contracting the muscles first before lengthening and relaxing them) to relax and lengthen her back, waist and hip muscles. This eliminated her pain as her brain learned to take back voluntary control of her muscles. She also practices the gentle, easy Somatic Movements I taught her to do at home, which teach her to become more self-correcting should stress threaten to take over.
Despite her car commute and long hours at the computer, Laura is moving well and back in control of her body. No more visits to the chiropractor, physical therapist or doctor!
Horseback riding is also still very much a part of her life – but now it’s easier to do.
To learn to relieve muscle pain easily and rapidly on your own, click here to buy my new, easy to follow DVD.