How Somatic Exercises Can Teach You To Get Rid of “Degenerative Disc Disease”

I recently read an article about Mike Crawshaw, a young British singer, who stated that his “spine is crumbling” and to avoid any potential harm through surgery, he chose to exercise. One doctor is quoted as saying, ‘The right kind of exercise can be helpful. You can strengthen the back muscles that support everything. This helps deal with the spasms in the affected muscles that cause pain. It’s possible to help with these problems without surgery.’

Crawshaw made the best decision for himself by finding a way to strengthen his back muscles. The doctor’s statement, however, isn’t completely correct; strengthening back muscles “to support everything” will not help deal with muscle spasms in the areas that cause pain. If back muscles are stuck in a state of heightened tension that pulls the discs closer together, you are more likely to “strengthen your pain” than to relieve it.

First here is a perspective on degenerative discs from a Somatic Education perspective. Then we will discuss strengthening the back in order to “support” the allegedly weak spine:

Is a “degenerative disc” caused by a disease process or is it a case of poor muscle function, which results in compressed, herniated and otherwise weakened discs?  The label “degenerative disc disease” sounds like a pathology that supposedly develops with age. Yes, arthritic changes can emerge due to age, poor diet, lack of sufficient water, lack of movement and overuse injuries; all of these can contribute to disc problems.  Most “degenerative discs” that I have seen in my practice are another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia, which can be eliminated when one learns to regain control of one’s muscular system, improve nervous system function of the muscles, and restore muscle length.

Muscles put pressure on discs. Release the tight muscles and the discs have more room to move.

In an X-ray, discs that are squeezed tightly together look as if they’re X-rayabout to crumble, causing the spine to buckle like an unstable building. Look at the X-ray on the right. Notice how one disc (the black arrow) has a lot of space, while the other (white arrow) is squeezed together. It doesn’t look good, does it? The spaces between the discs are uneven and the spine is being pulled into an uneven “archer’s bow,” which gives the appearance of excess pressure on the lower vertebra (white arrow).

But what exactly pulls the spine into this shape? The muscles, of course.

 

And why would the muscles pull on the spine like this? They are stuck in what Thomas Hanna called the “Green Light Reflex,” a reflex that contracts the muscles to prepare them for action. This reflex, like all reflexes is simply an unconditioned response to stress. The problem occurs when it becomes conditioned and habituated; the brain can literally forget how to relax the muscles. Here’s the thing: you can’t see muscles on an X-ray; all you can see is the result of the bones being pulled by the muscles.

Never strengthen something you can’t feel.

Degenerative disc disease is a functional problem of the sensory motor system, not dissimilar to many other musculoskeletal problems that are deemed structural by the medical world. Once you lose awareness of your movement and how the way in which you respond and adapt to stress (mentally, emotionally and physically) you, too, may develop problems with your discs. There is a solution that doesn’t involve surgery: Clinical Somatic Education and Hanna Somatic Exercises.

We all need to be strong, so awareness of what you can and cannot feel and control in your body is the first step to strengthening. The second step is to regain full muscle function and length. Once this is achieved, your brain now works with a muscle that is not being restricted by Sensory Motor Amnesia. Think of it this way: moving with Sensory Motor Amnesia is like trying to drive with the emergency brake on. Once Sensory Motor Amnesia is eliminated, create an enjoyable strengthening routine and be sure to include Somatic Exercises as a warm-up and cool-down to maintain optimum muscle function.

Somatics Training Summer and Fall 2014

2014 has been and continues to be a very busy year for Essential Somatics as I travel to teach both the Somatic Exercise Coach Level One training and the Clinical Somatic Education professional certification program.

This Fall I will be teaching Level Two of the Somatic Exercise Coach Training in York, UK. (See below)

SOMATIC EXERCISE COACH TRAININGS LEVEL ONE

AUSTRALIA:

Adelaide
July 25 – 27
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For more information about Adelaide, lodging and logistics, please contact the training host: Jo Bentley (jbentley@chariot.net.au)

Melbourne                                                                                                                                                        August 1 – 3MELBOURNE
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For more information about Melbourne, lodging and logistics, please contact the training hosts: Mick Betteridge (massagemick04@gmail.com); Philippa Howard (ljhoward@netspace.net.au)

Martha will also have a limited number of spots available for private clinical sessions during her visit to Australia. Please contact Martha directly to set up your clinical session.

USA:

Maplewood, NJ                                                                                                                               September 5 – 7, 2014
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EUROPE:

York, EnglandImage 19
October 10 – 12
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Bensheim, Germany
October 17 – 19
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This training is open to movement professionals, body-workers, athletic/fitness trainers, Yoga, NIA and Pilates teachers and medical professionals and others outside the movement profession who want to learn to use Somatic Exercises to help others.

Learn how to help your clients and students begin to eliminate chronic muscle pain – on their own – so they can prepare to move better at any age or in any activity.

Please contact Martha directly with any questions.

SOMATIC EXERCISE COACH TRAINING LEVEL TWO

York, England                                                                                                                                   October 24 – 26, 2014                                                                                                                                    Click here for more details

This training is open to only to those who have successfully completely Level One of the Essential Somatics Somatic Exercise Coach Training.

Bring Martha and the Essential Somatics Somatic Exercise Coach Training to your area! Training dates are available for Spring 2015. Contact Martha directly for information about how to host a training, public workshops or on-site clinical session days for those in your area seeking a long term solution to chronic muscle pain and limited movement.

Shoulder Pain Relief Made Easy

Unconscious movement habits can cause muscle pain.

Yesterday I spoke to “Emily,” a well-known yoga teacher.  She was confused and frustrated about her shoulder. “I can’t get down to the floor without pain in my left shoulder. I must have an injury, because it hurts all down the left arm.” I asked her to show me what it is that she couldn’t do.  She moved gracefully through the “sun salutation,” and when she got to the part of the movement in which she lowered herself down to the ground, as in the photo at right, I watched as she easily engaged her right shoulder, but “guarded” her left shoulder.

Awareness of the problem is the first step to reversing it.

I asked her to stand up, bring her arms out like a “T.” Her posture showed her left shoulder hunched upward, while the right shoulder was relaxed.  She couldn’t feel the difference and had sensed both shoulders as being the same. I asked her if she had strained her left shoulder at any point and she admitted that she had a bad habit of hunching her left shoulder up as if cradling a phone to her left ear. I told her that this was an example of Sensory Motor Amnesia  – chronically tight muscles that the brain had “forgotten” how to release, relax and move properly.

Pandiculation relaxes tight muscles safely and effectively: tighten first, lengthen, then relax.

With her arms at her sides, I told her to slowly, but firmly draw her left shoulder UP to her ear, making the top of that shoulder even tighter than it was before. “Notice how the shoulder blade slides up along the back when you pull that shoulder upward. Let that happen,” I said. I coached her to notice and allow the shoulder blade to slide along the back as she lowered her shoulder to neutral.

When we don’t notice our movement, we often don’t allow muscles to move. We can improve the function of our muscles purely by noticing our movement. By doing that voluntary movement – tightening the shoulder up to her ear, then slowly relaxing it down to neutral – she regained control of her left shoulder. The pain disappeared! This voluntary contracting, lengthening, then relaxing of the muscle – pandiculation – is what resets the muscle length at the brain level. It is safer than stretching, simple, and reverses pain  rapidly and effectively.

Emily then performed her sun salutation one more time. When she got to the movement that had been bothering her shoulder, she exclaimed, “it doesn’t hurt! I feel balanced again!” What a difference 5 minutes of awareness can make

Try this easy Somatic Exercise at home for shoulder pain relief:

Focusing on one shoulder at a time, slowly draw the shoulder up to your ear, then slowly relax it back to neutral. Repeat this 3 times. Notice the movement. Is it jumpy? Jerky? Shaky? If yes, then go back and do it again until the movement is smooth, even and controlled. Close your eyes and take a minute to sense the difference between the shoulder you just pandiculated and the other shoulder. Now repeat on the other side. If you like, you can finish by drawing both shoulders up to your ears (as if you were protecting yourself from the cold), then relaxing them down slowly to neutral. Again, make sure the movement is smooth and controlled. When it is, you’ve taken back conscious, voluntary control of those muscles.

Click here to purchase Martha’s easy-to-follow Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders DVD.