Long Lasting Pain Relief for Knee Pain

I used to have “bad knees.” I was a dancer for 15 years, had several knee surgeries, and found myself unable to kneel for long periods of time and challenged if I had to sit cross-legged on the floor by the time I was 40. Those days are gone. My knees are no longer “bad.” In fact, they’re strong, and pain-free, with no arthritis or stiffness.

How did I change my “bad knees” to “good knees?” I discovered Hanna Somatics.

In this post on a well-respected website about age and health, you’ll see an incomplete perspective on how to get long-lasting relief for knee pain. I say “incomplete,” because from my clinical experience, most people suffering knee pain don’t look like the nice, neat, symmetrical “people” in the illustrations. (Don’t get me wrong; knee exercises are great for those under the care of a physical therapist who need to regain muscle tone and strength due to knee surgery.)

Most people suffering from knee pain are not standing tall, and balanced.

They are either slightly tilted to one side, twisted in their torso (which causes the pelvis to shift out of alignment) or slumped and rounded forward; this is known as the Trauma Reflex. Most people suffering from knee pain are also very tight in the center of their bodies, and completely unaware of both their posture and their gait. Some people with knee pain limp and don’t even know it! This kind of chronic muscle tightness that affects posture and movement is called Sensory Motor Amnesia – the brain has simply forgotten how to relax certain muscles, causing your movement to change for the worse.

Myth: Painful knees mean you have weak knees.

Doing strengthening exercises for knees can be helpful, but doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Painful knees do not necessarily mean weak knees!

Painful knees often have more to do with tight, contracted muscles in the thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings) and in the center of the body than with any structural problem in the knees themselves. Unless you’ve had an accident that resulted in  structural damage to your knees, strengthening the muscles that attach into the knee joint without also releasing accumulated muscle tension in the center of the body won’t give you long-lasting relief.

Once you learn to relax the tight muscles of the back, waist and abdominals and regain a real sense of balanced alignment and an even gait, then doing certain strengthening exercises can be beneficial not only for the knees, but also for your overall health.

One of the fastest way to relieve knee pain is to regain a balanced gait.

Several things occur when your gait is uneven:

  • One leg works harder than the other when you walk. This creates unequal pressure in the knee joint, which can, over time, create structural damage not only in the knee joint, but also in the hip joint.
  • The thigh muscles (quadriceps) tighten strongly – often stronger than necessary – to stabilize the knee as you walk unevenly.
  • The hamstrings tighten in response to what the thigh muscles are doing. The thigh and hamstrings muscles are supposed to work together in coordination, but when one set of muscles is contracted excessively and continuously, the other set of muscles contracts accordingly, making it difficult to release either set of muscles. It’s as if you’re stuck in a vice.

On my DVD, Pain Relief Through Movement, I instruct you in how to do the “walking lessons” (shown in the photo on the right), Somatic Exercises that teach you to release and relax the muscles of the back, waist and abdominals for easier movement in the pelvis, hips, legs and knees. These exercises come at the end of the DVD, because once you’ve learned to regain control of, and release the back, waist, abdominal and hip muscles you’re ready to learn to walk freely again. Learning to coordinate the muscles of walking begins with the back muscles, not with the knees.

Somatics Isn’t Just About Movement; It’s About Life

How would you feel if you arrived at your office in the early morning and this was your view out of your window?

IMG_1950

Every morning last week as I went to work I was treated to this magnificent visual “good morning.” My reaction was to stop, smile, sense the wind on my face, and feel grateful to be feasting my eyes on such beauty. It made a difference in the way I felt throughout the day.

The above photo was taken in Stavanger, Norway where I was teaching a clinical training module in Somatic Education at the studio of my Norwegian clinical student, Sol Brandt-Eilertsen. Imagine being treated to such a calming scene each morning.

IMG_1906The studio is also home to a swan who sits happily in a puddle in the driveway all day long. He’s there when we arrived and there when we left in the evening. This swan is just part of the scenery – nothing extraordinary to the locals. For the other students and me, however, the swan, the boats, the wind-whipped sea, and the cloudy, unpredictable skies had a positive emotional affect on us. It was a sensory experience that made us want to reach our arms into the air and breathe deeply.

In addition to the swan and gorgeous coastal scenery I noticed (over the course of the week) how little my right hip (the one with the two labral tears) bothered me. I credit my hiatus from long hours writing at my computer and answering emails to this added extra pain relief and improved movement. When I travel I spend very little time on the computer. This is a good thing for my body. I sleep better and feel calmer. So it goes with Somatics.

A Soma is a body as experienced from within.

Everything we experience in our lives is first a sensory (feeling) experience, which is followed by a motor (movement) response in your brain. Whether it is a newborn baby that makes you to smile broadly or a fight with your spouse that leaves you physically exhausted, it all begins with sensation and awareness. Some responses to one’s environment are reflexive and predictable, common to all human beings when they respond to the stresses of life.  Thomas Hanna codified these postural reflex patterns and called them the Red Light, Green Light, and Trauma Reflexes.

To be “somatic” doesn’t just refer to the way in which you move. It refers to everything you do in life. You see, like it or not, everything you do is responded to by the sensory motor system with a muscular response in the body. Since you are the only one who can sense what it feels like to be “you,” you are the only one who can choose how you want to feel. And this can impact all aspects of your life.

If your back hurts constantly, when was the last time you stood up to take a break from your computer? If your neck bothers you, do you hunch over your phone as you text? Are you aware of how your thought patterns, attitudes, movement habits, and emotional responses to life contribute to your muscular pain or limited movement? What brings you joy and calm? Do you bring those things into your life or push them off for another day?

An easy and gentle way to bring more somatic awareness into your body and life is through a practice of Hanna Somatic Exercises. These exercises help change the way you sense, feel, move and control your body.  This awareness and control invariably filters into other aspects of your life.

One of my clinical students has a student in her weekly Somatic Exercise class who reported that not only is sheIMG_1769 feeling pain-free and more flexible after incorporating a daily Somatics practice into her life, but she is feeling happier about herself – freer and more able to express herself. This woman’s sentiment is what keeps me traveling around the world teaching people how to teach Hanna Somatics.

Somatics teaches freedom by way of somatic awareness, and you can’t get much better than that.

To buy Martha’s Essential Somatics® instructional DVDs, click here.

Pain-Free At Work: A New Essential Somatics® DVD To Relieve Workplace Pain

Workplace pain” is muscle pain that can develop due to the on-going or repetitive demands of your job. You don’t have to sit at a desk, however, to experience “workplace pain.” Teachers, nurses, construction workers, data processors, salesmen and women, lawyers, doctors can all develop chronic muscle pain.

Sitting for long hours at your job can have an adverse affect on one’s health. Office-Somatics-DVD

Stress has another downside: it puts your nervous system into a “fight or flight” mode. Somatic Exerices and frequent breaks to stand, move the arms, walk up and down the hall or simply stand up and “reach to the top shelf” allow the nervous system to relax.

A more relaxed nervous system has been shown to contribute to increased mental focus and creativity. It also directly contributes to improved self-awareness and optimum muscle function. This alone can save you countless visits to the chiropractor, doctor and physical therapist.

Available Now: Essential Somatics® Pain-Free At Work DVD

On this DVD you will learn seven easy, short Somatic Exercises you can do at your desk in order to remind your muscles that they don’t have to stay tight and frozen in one position all day long.  Consider downloading this DVD to your desktop so you can remind yourself daily how to release and relax you neck, shoulder, back and waist muscles so that they function more efficiently throughout the day.

Click here for a complete selection of the Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise DVDs.