Are Your Feet Killing You? Happier, Pain-Free Feet With Somatics

The feet are an integral part of our balancing system. They are the means through which we meet the ground and negotiate the surface upon which we walk.

When we sprain an ankle or suffer a lower leg injury we lose the ability to walk in a balanced way and are more likely to re-injure the same joint. We habituate to the Trauma Reflex and may even walk with a limp. When our backs become chronically tight (Green Light Reflex) we may find ourselves walking heavily and heel-striking loudly. We may even experience shin splits when we run in this situation.

Humans are the only perfectly bipedal being on earth. When all goes well, our feet coordinate  together beautifully with the legs, pelvis, and somatic center so we can stand up in gravity and move forward.

Feet 1Many people, however, stuff their feet into hard, narrow shoes, put them into artificial and unnatural positions (such as when wearing high heels), and “support them” with orthotics and thick sneakers; both orthotics and thick “supportive” shoes only “prop up” the problems in the center of the body. They in fact, can make things worse by preventing our feet from sensing and feeling the surface they stand on and responding to the sensory feedback that would ideally help them know where they are in space. Our proprioceptive abilities diminish the more we have between our feet and the ground beneath them.

Some people are told that problems such as hammertoe, bunions, and neuromas are always heredity structural problems when, in many cases, they can develop due to functional imbalances in the center of the body.  When we stop training our feet to sense and feel we can forget how to use our feet and toes over time.

The muscles of the feet are no different from any other muscles in the body: they can learn to be flexible, responsive to movement, and highly efficient. They can also learn to stay tight and contracted, making walking unpleasant, cumbersome, clumsy and painful –  especially when barefoot. Sensory motor training can help prevent the need for orthotics as you regain the ability to walk smoothly, lightly and evenly, using both legs and feet.

Problems of the feet develop in the lower leg due to imbalances in the muscles of the center of the body.

How often have you stopped and noticed your feet and how your weight is distributed through your feet? Do you clutch your toes? If you tend to lean forward, slightly slumped in your posture, and stuck in the Red Light Reflex, you probably do. Clutching your toes keeps you from falling forward! This suggests a lack of balance in the center of the body. When you stand or walk do you tend to roll in or out on your feet? Notice this next time you walk. Notice whether you put more weight on one leg and foot than the other when you walk. Then make a note of which foot is more sore or painful (or has a bunion).

Feet 2The more you move your feet the better your balance and gait will be.

In my book, Move Without Pain, I recommend getting reacquainted with your feet by playing with them. Did you ever wonder why babies play with their feet? They are a vast resource of information that provides critically important information for the brain. Once we stand up to gravity that information can help us with our proprioception and balance.
Laura Gates, taught a group of my Clinical Somatic Education practitioners-in-training in Europe how to explore the muscles and movement of the feet for happier, more flexible and “intelligent” feet. Below is an easy, fun video tutorial about how to remind the muscles of the feet (and lower legs) to stay relaxed and ready for action. Remember, the first step to happy feet is learning to regain sensation and control of  the tight muscles of the back, waist and abdominals so you can stand easily in a balanced, neutral position. Then play with the movements on this video and enjoy your smooth, easy walk.

 

Heal Herniated Discs with Hanna Somatics

I’ve gone to an acupuncturist, pain medicine doctor, sports medicine doctor, massage therapist, physical therapist – and they all told me, “you’ll never get rid of this. It will never go away.”

This is what my client, Joanne (not her real name) told me before her first clinical Somatics session. She had a herniated disc, severe back pain and sacroiliac joint pain. She had a feeling that “life’s impacts,” as she called them, had more of an effect on her than anything else. I agreed with her. I explained some basics about muscles and bones in order to demystify what up until then had been an elusive problem for her:

  • Muscles attach to bones and muscles move bones.
  • The brain and nervous system senses and moves your muscles.
  • The brain reflexively responds and adapts over time to stresses in the environment by tightening muscles in specific, full body patterns.
  • If these stress responses are on-going or severe enough (i.e. an accident), the brain and muscles learn to stay chronically contracted as if the stress were still occurring, even as if has stopped.
  • Because muscles learn to be really good at contracting and holding the body tightly, they must learn to relax and release. This can only be achieved through improving one’s ability to sense and control one’s muscles and movement.

Herniated discs are the structural result of poor muscle function.

With the exception of a traumatic accident, discs herniate because the muscles attach to them are so strongly contracted – and unable to relax – that they push the disc material out.  sciatica An X-ray can show a protrusion in your spine – but the question doctors fails to ask is, “What is happening in the muscles, that is putting excess pressure on the spine and discs?

Herniated discs are one of the most common muscle pain conditions I see in my clinical practice; they are yet another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia. More specifically, herniated discs are the result of habituation to two Somatic Stress Reflexes:

Trauma Reflex: The brain’s response to an accident, injury, surgery or one-sided functional task (such as holding a baby on one hip). The muscles of the waist and trunk rotators contract on one side in order to avoid pain.  There is always a slight side bending or twist apparent in people with a trauma reflex. The waist muscles (the internal and external obliques, the quadratus lumborum, which “hikes” the pelvis on one side) cause an uneven pull on the lumbar spine (or on the cervical spine in the case of a cervical herniation). This, in affect, herniates the disc.

Green Light Reflex: This reflex contracts all the muscles of the back of the body, from sacrum to occiput, is a “call to action” response, invoked hundreds of times a day in our busy industrialized society. It is the cause of most chronic back pain. The muscles of the back contract strongly, yet feel weak and fatigued.

Over the course of five clinical Somatics sessions Joanne learned to release, relax and regain control overthe muscles of her waist, back and pelvis, all of which had become rigid and contracted over the years. She learned to pandiculate rather than stretch her muscles, restoring full muscle function and length to her weary muscles. When she learned to release her back muscles her shooting pain began to disappear. Once her waist and trunk rotators began to soften she enjoyed moving her hips and pelvis without fear of pain when she walked. “My husband won’t know what’s walking in the door!” she laughed after one session.

Here are three of the most important exercises that Joanne did to help her relax her back and waist muscles – Arch and Flatten, to release tight back muscles, the Side Bend and the Washrag.

Joanne now understood that her loss of body awareness and muscle control – the very thing that had contributed to her muscle pain – had developed over time due to stress. The next step for her is to continue to improve her ability to self-sense and self-correct through her practice of Hanna Somatic Exercises. Life is movement, and the learning is hers to explore for the rest of her life. She will only get better and better.

Her doctors were wrong and she knew it all along. Her pain has gone away.