Isn’t it interesting how we incorrectly and inappropriately phrase things, leading us to believe that they are true? Have you ever said, (or heard someone say), “my back went out”? As if your back just decided one day to go rogue and go into spasm, or stop supporting you. Hmm…really?
The truth is that, for this to happen, you may have been mistreating your back muscles for some time. It was likely not consciously or intentionally, but unknowingly.
Hanna Somatics is a discipline that explains what happens when the muscles in your back line (a.k.a. posterior line) have been locked tight and short for an extended time in what he refers to as the Green Light Reflex. In Green Light Reflex, when you engage in a movement pattern, it invites your short and tight muscles to a) shorten even more, or b) to stretch, forcing them long, sends them into a serious revolt and spasm causing painful and intense gripping.
Sore back muscles are habitually short and tight. So when you bend forward to pick something up, your back muscles need to lengthen. However, habitually sore and tight back muscles cannot lengthen. When you lean forward, you yank on them, forcing them to stretch, which sends them into a severe revolt and spasm, causing intense and painful gripping. This is what we mistake as “my back went out.”
SENSORY MOTOR AMNESIA
So what is really going on when your back “goes out”?
The CORRECT explanation is that the chronically short and tight muscles experienced Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), unbeknownst to you (or your brain).
Sensory Motor Amnesia refers to a memory loss related to how to feel and control specific muscles (or chains of muscles) that are responsible for specific movement patterns in the body. SMA is a learned motor pattern of the nervous system. Affected muscles display a limited range of motion, experience ongoing pain, maintain a higher than average level of involuntary contraction at rest, and other dysfunctions, whether in use or at rest.
When you direct your muscles that are suffering from SMA to move outside their current holding/gripping pattern, the muscles may experience spasms. The proper name for this is Stretch Reflex - a protective physiological response to guard against forceful or abrupt lengthening of muscles and protect them from injury or tearing. Stretch reflex involves a signal from the muscle to the spinal cord and back.
This natural protection mechanism results in the muscles' hypercontraction, which could feel like a cramp or charley horse.
Everyone has experienced this at some point. Have you ever bent down to pick something up and struggled to get up? This is what you are really experiencing when your back goes out!
This ‘charley horse’ sensation is due to hypercontraction. It is simply the body’s way of protecting itself. The actual underlying issue is Sensory Motor Amnesia (a neurosignature in your brain telling your muscles to maintain a certain level of contraction.)
No amount of massage, stretching, or muscle relaxants will resolve the underlying issue of Sensory Motor Amnesia over the long term. The muscles need to be re-taught to release and function properly again.
Somatic Neuromuscular re-education reconnects the brain’s control of the contraction and the release of the back line muscles. This allows the muscles to willingly contract and lengthen with movement, as needed. This then allows you to bend over and easily get back up freely. This means you wouldn't experience back pain after your yoga class, golf game, or while in the garden.
So how do you re-educate your back line when you have Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)?
Pandiculation is not only the number one tool used in Somatic Neuromuscular Re-education - but it is also simple and easy! It involves only three simple steps:
1) Consciously contracting the muscle or muscle chain,
2) A deliberate, controlled, and slow lengthening of the muscle or muscle chain, and
3) Completely relaxing and resting the muscle or muscle chain.
Essentially, the magic consists of bringing your muscles back “online” with the brain. Hence, they contract when they need to contract and release as intended.
This serves many purposes, specifically:
Resetting the resting length of muscles - the muscle releases to its natural 0% contraction at rest instead of any level of contraction above zero. This feels wonderful!
Eliminating pain – the muscle(s) are no longer gripping, short, and working all the time, alleviating pain.
Improving function – because the muscles are now contracting and releasing properly, as you conduct your daily activities.