Pain Relief from Piriformis Syndrome: A Somatic Approach

It’s never just one muscle that causes your muscle pain.

It doesn’t matter if you have sciatica, piriformis syndrome, plantar fasciitis or even a herniated disc. You aren’t a jumble of separate body parts randomly put together; you’re a living, breathing, constantly changing system, controlled by the brain and coordinated to move as a whole, efficient, coordinated system. That’s the way your sensory motor system sees it. I know it often can feel like, “if I can only relax my X muscle, then my life would be grand.” It would be nice if that were the case, but it’s not.

Yes, you can have a piriformis muscle that feels like the culprit, but it’s important to ask yourself: Why is my piriformis muscle only hurting on one side of my body?

Muscle pain is the result of a FULL BODY PATTERN of contraction.

Once you learn to regain control of the painful muscle and its synergists, then you can regain efficient, effortless movement as well as pain relief for that pesky piriformis.

In the case of piriformis syndrome the unconscious part of the brain (the part responsible for habits/learned movement/reflexes) is contracting the piriformis constantly because the pelvis is out of balance – twisted and rotated in most cases. This is called a Trauma Reflex.

Most people don’t consider the connection between the command center (our brain) and what our muscles are doing. Our muscles do not have a mind of their own – they respond only to the brain. In order to release all muscles involved in the pattern of the Trauma Reflex and regain balance in the center of the body, you will learn:

  • Which movement pattern got you into the problem in the first place
  • How to prevent your pain from coming back (Somatic Exercises!)
  • How to be more aware of your body as you move on a daily basis
  • How to create more efficient and coordinated movement

Below is a video clip about how to address piriformis syndrome from a somatic perspective. For those of you who already have my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD, you’ll see that I’m giving you some pointers for the Back Lift, and a variation for the Steeple Twist that specifically helps for piriformis syndrome.

Essential Somatics Goes International

It’s been a whirlwind of activity since I arrived in Europe at the beginning of May. On the professional side of things I have had the good fortune to meet a wide range of enthusiastic people whose search for improved movement, pain relief, and long-term good health has led them to Essential Somatics, Hanna Somatics and me.

I began the month with workshops – one for a continuing education segment for British Wheel of Yoga teacher trainers, and another for enlisted servicemen in the UK. No matter who I speak with or where they come from, they all understand the basic message of Somatics: improved body awareness, muscle control, and pain relief can only come from within. Your responses to stress create your muscle pain and restricted movement, and you can learn to reverse that situation on your own through Hanna Somatic Education.

The Fundamentals of Hanna Somatic Education for Health Professionals in Frankfurt, Germany.

I just returned from Frankfurt, Germany where I taught a basic course called “The Fundamentals of Hanna Somatic Education.” The enthusiastic group of health professionals included an osteopath/naturopath, a chiropractor, several Pilates teachers, physiotherapists, and fitness trainers. One participant flew in from Vienna, Austria, and another from Slovenia. The seminar was organized by osteopath Detlef Poehlmann and hosted in Uta Gotschlich’s beautiful studio, Premium Pilates.

Participants left the seminar with substantive knowledge of how to apply basic concepts of Hanna Somatics to the way in which they interact with their clients, and how to assess their clients’ posture and movement. They even learned a daily routine of Somatic Exercises to help them take care of their own bodies!

Many of these health professionals had either read my book, Move Without Pain, found Essential Somatic while searching for unanswered questions regarding their own muscle pain, or begun to incorporate Somatic Exercises into their fitness routines on the advice of respected strength coach, Dan John.

We addressed, in detail, the following concepts:

  • Sensory Motor Amnesia and how it is at the root of most chronic muscular pain. If you understand how this condition occurs, many so-called “mysterious” conditions (back pain, sciatica, TMJ, piriformis syndrome, leg length discrepancy) seem a lot less complicated than medical profession may have us believe.
  • The Three Somatic Stress Reflexes, which are common to all humans, no matter where they may live or what their circumstances. It was fun to watch the participants close their eyes and recreate these reflexes physically in response to imagined stress. They began to learn how to recognize and assess these reflexes in their fellow participants as well as experience them through the Somatic Movement explorations interspersed throughout the day.  They were naturals and it was exciting to see them spot the patterns of muscle tightness in their colleagues.
  • Pandiculation, a brain reflex action, is  one of the important clinical techniques used by Hanna Somatic Educators to teach people to retrain their brain to release muscle tension and reset muscle tonus/length. The exploration of this technique was an eye-opener for many of the participants. They learned about the science behind it, and experienced it in an interactive partner exercise.
  • They also experienced several hours of Hanna Somatic Exercises. The academics of Somatics are fascinating, but the gold is discovered through movement, and in the experience of how rapidly one can change one’s own ability to sense and move muscles that were once painful and unable to move and coordinate well. These gentle, safe exercises are the key to maintaining mobility and overall health.

Hanna Somatics is “education with therapeutic outcomes.”

One of the most critical distinctions I wanted participants to walk away with was the difference between how most medical professionals practice and how Hanna Somatic (Clinical Somatic) Educators practice. This difference can’t be underestimated, and once one begins to interact with a client with this different perspective, amazing things can happen:

Most medical professionals interact with you as a body. They make charts, take blood, take measurements trying to solve you like math problem or a car that won’t start. Somatic Educators are concerned with Somas. A Soma is a body as experienced from within: what it feels like to be YOU. Our job is to guide and educate you to awaken your own internal proprioception and awareness in order to affect change – from the inside out. This is the only way to reverse one’s habitual muscular tightening, poor posture and response to stress.

I came away informed and educated by what the participants had to offer me through their participation. From a somatic perspective on Pilates, to functional outdoor movement training to neuromuscular chiropractic methods – we all brought something unique to offer each other.

As we said our goodbyes we were already discussing dates for a future Somatic Education professional training in Germany. Germany, get ready to feel a whole lot better – help is on the way!

To bring Martha to your area for a workshop, or full day seminar, contact her directly.

Learn More From the Experts in Movement, Fitness and Health

Laree Draper has put together an impressive list of experts on fitness, movement, nutrition, weight lifting, pain/injury and health for a series called “Movement Lectures.” I had the honor of being invited to include a lecture about Hanna Somatics.

If you’d like to hear my lecture, and learn more from others in the fascinating field of fitness, movement education and health on her site. You can download lectures (which include a pdf transcript) and listen to them whenever you want.

The more you learn, the better informed your choices will be. Education is the key to retaining mastery and awareness.

Somatics, Differentiation, and Kettlebell Training

Improving range of motion is easy with “differentiation.”

A UK kettlebell instructor who incorporates Hanna Somatics in his training, sent me a link to a hip mobility exercise video clip from “Kettlebells From the Ground Up.” It demonstrates a simple hip mobility exercise that can help to improve one’s Turkish Get-Up.

My client knew I would appreciate the teaching in this video. The technique shown in this video, which enabled the athlete to improve his range of motion is called “movement differentiation.” This technique was popularized by Moshe Feldenkrais and is widely used by Hanna Somatic Educators as well.

Differentiation = improved sensory motor control

Differentiation of movement elicits almost instantaneous  improved coordination and range of movement to the muscles. You “disrupt the circuits” in your brain by separating the larger movement into smaller movements that, seemingly, have nothing to do with one another: moving the ankle by itself, then the hip by itself, the back to the ankle. The ankle, knee and hip are related, yet most of us forget that the more aware you brain is of the body as a whole, the easier it is to perform any given movement. The biggest benefit is increased sensory awareness and motor control.

When you give feedback and new stimulation to the brain by focusing conscious, voluntary attention on these areas through movement, the outcome is instanteous improvement – not with force, but with intelligent sensory appreciation of what you’re doing. Just like “updating the software” on your computer, the motor output in your brain is “updated” so it can run more smoothly. Muscle length and function improve as well, without forceful stretching.

The seated twist (at right, and on my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD) is a perfect example of a Somatic Exercise that elicits extraordinary instant improvement in one’s ability to release tight neck and shoulders through differentiation.

Try this Somatic Exercise for hip mobility in the Turkish Get-Up.

The Hip Lift and Reach Somatic Exercise is similar to the movement pattern you want to execute smoothly in the Turkish Get-Up. It targets all the muscles that attach into the pelvis and hip joint – the waist, back and abdominals – for freer hip movement.

Here’s another simple differentiation you can add to the video link from Kettlebells from the Ground Up:

  • Inhale and gently arch the lower back as you outwardly rotate the leg and outwardly rotate the arm/shoulder. Allow the shoulder to press down into the mat as you rotate the arm. This brings in gentle movement of the back muscles.
  • Exhale and relax the back slowly as you bring the leg and the shoulder back to neutral.
  • Repeat 3-4 times slowly.
  • Repeat the entire sequence, and add the head turning slowly toward the arm/shoulder as it rotates outward.
  • Test out your range of motion, by first lowering your leg to the ground, then bringing it up as high as is comfortable.

Notice the changes in your hip and shoulder coordination. Let me  know how it goes!

Visit the Essential Somatics® store to purchase my pain relief instructional DVDs.