Understanding Back Pain - Somatics and Landau Reaction
Synopsis: Somatic educators are likely tell you something unusual your back muscles are not weak but musclebound.1
Author: Lawrence Gold
Published: 2009-09-03 Updated: 2010-06-27
Main DigestAccording to the reports of the mass communications media, back pain afflicts eight out of ten of us some time in our lives. That's old news.
Here's new news: a completely new method now exists for back pain, one that goes against the popular wisdom of how to deal with the condition and gets results quickly and consistently.
You may have tried the traditional medical solutions - strengthening, stretching, pillows, braces, a special bed, pain relievers, muscle relaxants, massage, exotic surgeries, or other approaches - acupuncture, biofeedback, relaxation techniques. For the good these approaches do, many people still have back pain after treatment and expect to have to live with it. It's either that, dependence on ongoing therapy, or muscle-relaxant drugs, which nobody likes because they dull mental clarity.
There's been nothing better, until now.
From your own experience, you probably know that traditional therapies often produce only short-term, partial relief or require regular - even lifelong - care. But it need not be that way.
There is something better available - a new discipline in the field of health care: clinical somatic education. Most back pain sufferers who resort to clinical somatic education should expect full recovery in a space of days or weeks.
Clinical somatic education is not education of the thinking mind, but of the brain as master control center for the muscular system. Clients rapidly improve their muscular control and freedom of movement through a mind-brain-movement training process. Clinical somatic education affects the brain the way biofeedback does, but with importance differences, one being speed of results and the other being the durability of the improvement. Changes are usually definitive and need no further professional help.
Clinical somatic education recovers fitness for the activities of daily living.
New Information on Back Pain
Somatic educators are likely tell you something unusual: your back muscles are not weak, but musclebound - tight by habit, not by disease. You can free yourself from back spasms by improving your muscular control of your back; you can relax back spasms and have them stay relaxed with a few minutes of structured movements, each day - which beats paying your [fill in your favorite therapist]. This statement applies as much to people with degenerative disc disease and herniated discs to those who have only a twinge, now and then. The underlying cause is the same: muscle tension.
"If that's true," you may ask, "why doesn't my doctor (or therapist) know about it"
The answer is that until recently, no method existed that could rapidly improve muscular control rapidly enough to be clinically practical. Word takes time to spread and gain credibility.
You may think, "Back spasms are too painful, too serious to be dismissed that quickly, or that easily."
That's understandable - but a misunderstanding of your situation.
Conventional Therapeutics and Back Muscle Spasms
Conventional treatment methods, as you already know, are not effective enough for many people. Most therapies try to strengthen, stretch, or adjust people out of back trouble by working on muscles or the skeletal system. But bones go where muscles pull them, the control center for the muscular system is the brain (not the therapist), and these approaches don't address the brain's control of muscle action, so the problem remains or returns. The problem isn't in your muscles; it's in your brain, the organ of learning and the center of long-term reflex actions, such as postural reflexes.
That's why the relief obtained by conventional therapeutic approaches to back spasms is usually temporary and you remains subject to re-injury and to prescribed limitations to movement.
Habits, including muscular tension habits, exist as patterns of brain programming. They're learned or acquired. Tension habits can be unlearned, and actually, relearning muscular control is the only approach that works for long term relief of back pain. You must overcome the reflexes that underlie back pain and gain control of your back muscles, to the degree of being able to relax them.
Medical doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, osteopaths, and body-workers use predominantly manipulative methods. They mean well, but temporary or incomplete improvements are common; cures are rare.
Problems arising from muscle tension cannot be "cured" by manipulation because muscle tension is not a disease, but a habit maintained in the brain. Habits can't be "cured"; they can be changed through retraining.
A Correct Understanding of 'Strengthening and Stretching'
The idea behind the common "strengthening and stretching" regimen for back spasms is usually based on a misunderstanding; it's a misunderstanding because the muscles involved are almost never weak, but tired; it's a misunderstanding because the muscles involved are not "short" and in need of stretching, but "in contraction" and in need of relaxation. Sore muscles don't need strengthening; they need rest and refreshment. They don't need stretching; they need to relax and lengthen.
You need to regain your ability to relax, something you can't regain by being manipulated by someone else; you regain it by relearning to relax - a form of learning, albeit a specialized one for which you will probably need training.
Back Muscle Spasms May be Painful, but Not Themselves an Injury
One of the automatic reactions of the body to injury is to tighten up. That's part of the pain of most injuries, particularly of muscular-skeletal injuries. It's a reaction that protects the body from further injury. There are cases where the tightening up of back muscles is such a protective reaction, and a necessary one - where actual damage has occurred, such as a ruptured disc or a violent accident. In such situations, surgery may be necessary and somatic education will either not help or produce only temporary relief, at least until after surgery, unhappy news for some, but realistic.
If you've seen a doctor for your back spasms, he or she has either discovered that you need surgery or that you don't. Surgery is a last, desperate resort and most doctors are reluctant to recommend it. If you have been sent for therapy or given drugs, yours is not a surgical situation, meaning that your spasms are not a protective reaction against injury, but a reflex-conditioning problem.
In the majority of back spasms, there is no injury. The back spasms are just a movement malfunction - a tension habit formed under stress. It's the "tension" part of "nervous tension."
So, why do back spasms occur? You now have part of the answer. Let's look a little more closely.
Your muscles obey your brain. Except for momentary reflexes controlled in the spinal cord (tested by your doctor's hammer tap), that's the whole story. So, if you have tight, spastic muscles, they're caused by your brain.
This answer is a "good news/bad news" type of answer. The bad news is that your muscles are out of control, and it's your brain's fault! Your brain isn't broken, just trapped by the memory of stress or injury in your history. The good news is that your brain can be relearn to relax those muscles.
Where do Back Muscle Spasms Come from
One thing you will almost always notice about people with back spasms, if you exercise your powers of observation, is their high shoulders and swayback. Touch the muscles of their lower back, and you will find the same thing: hard, contracted muscles, not soft, weak, flabby muscles.
The major source of back spasms is the lifestyle of being "on the go" - driven, driving, productive, on time, and responsive to every situation. This is a new idea for most people, so here's the explanation.
Our post-modern lifestyle triggers an ancient neuromuscular (bodily) response (known to developmental physiologists as the Landau Reaction); this reaction involves a tightening of the muscles of the spine in preparation for arising from rest (sitting or lying down) into activity (sitting, standing, walking, running). The Landau Reaction consists of the muscular responses involved in coming to a heightened state of alertness in preparation for moving into action; triggered incessantly for years, it becomes a tension habit - one that often outlasts the moment (or stage of life) when it was necessary.
(The general viewpoint taught in physical therapy, it should be noted, is that the Landau Reaction is a temporary developmental response seen in infants, that does not persist into maturity. However, the muscular action pattern seen in mature adults under stressful conditions is identical to that seen in infants experiencing Landau Reaction - shoulders, back, and hamstrings go into action (get tight).
Many Back Pain Issues Come from the Same Cause
Somatic educators usually find, upon examination of a person's musculature, that their pain comes not from an injury, but from overworked muscles; is not a medical problem or an injury, but a conditioning problem that often causes diagnosable medical problems. Their clients have back muscles conditioned into a painfully high state of tension. Most of the time, people can be brought to relax back spasms through brain-muscle training, and when they do, the pain and the problem disappear.
Though injuries from traffic accidents, falls, etc., also trigger muscular reactions that can become habitual, the Landau Reaction is behind most of the back-spasm epidemic in our society. It's a consequence of accumulated stress.
While you can't avoid the Landau Reaction (it's a necessary and appropriate part of life), you can avoid getting stuck in it. If your lifestyle puts you habitually in a state of reaction, you have to "de-habituate" yourself from it, so that your rise in tension occurs only as a momentary response to situations and does not become your chronic state.
Attempts to De-habituate the Landau Reaction
Most therapeutic approaches to back spasms are - without knowing it - attempts to de-habituate the Landau Reaction.
Cures for the tension and stress associated with the Landau Reaction include relaxation techniques, hypnosis, massage, skeletal adjustments, electrical stimulation, muscle relaxant drugs, and at last (as at first) pain medications.
Until recently, there was nothing better. Now, a clinical somatic education can rapidly improve muscular control, freedom of movement, and physical comfort. Once you have gained control of your Landau Reaction, a brief daily regimen of certain movements is sufficient to keep you from accumulating the daily tensions of a driven and overloaded life. You can keep refreshing yourself.
If you have numbness or tingling in your extremities, your problem is more severe and requires a medical evaluation to rule out serious conditions. Even if you have surgery, you will still need to learn to relax the tight muscles that initially caused the problem. If yours is not a surgical situation, then somatic education is probably viable for you.
The new methods used to de-habituate Landau Reaction are highly reliable and have no adverse side effects, apart from occasional temporary soreness the day after a session, soreness that fades out in a day or two, leaving you flexible, comfortable and stronger than before.
Reference: Lawrence Gold is a long-time practitioner of Hanna somatic education published in the American Journal of Pain Management (January, 1996, Vol. 6, no. 1, pg. 30) and the Therapeutic Specialist's Quarterly Report (summer, 1997, Vol. II, Issue VI, pg. 2). - www.squidoo.com/Pain_Management_through_Movement_Education
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