How Emotions Can Create Pain

“Anne,” the client I wrote about in my last post, had been turned down by several medical practitioners before she found me. “No one will touch me,” she said. The frustration of not being able to find someone who is willing to help can often exacerbate the pain that one is looking to relieve. What is it like to be told that there is “nothing wrong,” that it’s “all in your head,” or that you’re “too risky” to work with?

What emotions are involved when you feel that no one is listening to you when you talk about your pain?  My clients tell me they’ve felt anger, frustration, anxiety, and confusion. These are all emotions that can cause reflexive muscular tension, such as clenching of the jaw, collapsing forward in a slumped posture as the abdominal muscles contract, or contracting the back as if girding oneself for a battle. Imagine this muscular tension in addition to whatever muscle pain is already being experienced, and matters only get worse.

When I tell clients about the studies done that prove that there is no thought that goes through one’s brain that is not responded to muscularly in the body, they are amazed and relieved. Some realize that their emotional stress and the way in which they contract their muscles in response to that stress is what created their original problem in the first place. Understanding how our thoughts and feelings affect our muscles, and how on-going emotional stress can begin to create tight, clenched muscles is a crucial step to getting rid of pain and keeping it away.

Remember that anything we do consistently becomes a habit, and that includes tightening muscles in response to physical, repetitive, or emotional stress. This can create Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA): the state of habitually contracted muscles that causes conditions like sciatica, TMJ, shallow breathing, knee pain, and back pain. Only mindful, aware, and consistent reeducation of the muscles can reverse that condition and give you back muscle control.

reachingNext time you’re emotionally stressed, take a minute, close your eyes, and listen to your heartbeat. Inhale deeply. Let your belly relax. Then reach up like the little boy in the photo and stretch. Let the tension out, feel the muscles tighten, then relax as you change that state of tension to one of relaxation.

Relieving the Pain of Scoliosis and Pregnancy

“Anne” called me, having heard that I teach people to rid themselves of chronic pain.

“No one will touch me, and I’m wondering if you can help me.” She explained that she was seven months pregnant with her second child, had scoliosis and was suffering from severe pain in her left hip, groin and ribs. When I asked her why no one would work with her, she said that everyone said they didn’t know what was wrong, and it might be dangerous. Instinctively she knew that tight muscles were causing pain. She was correct.

One look at Anne told me that years of compensation due to accidents and injuries was at the root of her muscle pain. I knew that if I could teach her to feel her waist muscles  again and begin to move her hips, she’d feel much better. Anne’s left side was much tighter than her right side, (as in the photo on the right) and her left hip was drawn upward. Her right ribs twisted back and downward, and her weight was pitched more onto her right foot.

She showed a typical Trauma Reflex: a muscular holding pattern that occurs in response to an accident or injury. This is also the pattern of holding that creates scoliosis: a trauma at an early age (she broke her leg and was in a cast for months at age 9) can cause you to have to compensate until the injury heals. This leaves the waist muscles tighter on one side than the other and causes the ribcage to twist in compensation. The muscles, which attach to the spine, then pull the spine out of alignment during the growth spurt that occurs during adolescence.

After three sessions of learning to relax the muscles on the left side of her body – the waist, shoulder and rib muscles – including the muscles of her legs –  she stood up, able to breathe deeply for the first time in months. Under her shirt, her back looked similar to the photo on the right. The hips were hiked up and the ribcage twisted.

The nagging pain in her groin was greatly diminished. Methodically contracting, releasing and relaxing muscles to make them longer than before was easy. Anne and I worked together over the course of two months, reprogramming her movement and muscle control.  She wanted to make sure that when the new baby arrived she could deal with lifting, holding, and nursing.

Anne is doing really well; her baby is now two years old, and the pain she arrived in my office with is gone. She continues to do her Somatic Exercises whenever she gets a chance.