When we're injured, our bodies often go into a state of protection. That means we tend to switch off some muscles and just stay in one place for long periods of time AKA sensory-motor amnesia. It's not surprising - it hurts too much to move! But this can lead to many problems down the track including muscle weakness, stiffness and lack of mobility.
PHOTO BY JUPITER IMAGES FOR CANVA PRO
Often when I work with clients, we are talking about reintroducing movement into their lives. When we do that, we're often working to activate muscles that have been switched off as a result of injury or chronic stress/pain.
It's common for people in pain to develop habits to 'protect' themselves from further harm; these can take the form of not using certain parts of their body because by doing so they feel less pain (and this is known as protective guarding), or perhaps avoiding particular activities because they cause discomfort. These behaviors are understandable and natural responses but they can also become problematic if they become ingrained in our daily routines – not only does it make it difficult for us to get back into proper alignment but also makes it hard for us to enjoy life!
When we take this approach, I encourage you to think of muscles that have been turned off as having gone to sleep or gone on strike; and muscles won't come out of this state easily or quickly - it takes time to convince them that it's safe for them to turn back on again.
As a somatic educator, one of my primary goals is to help re-activate the sensory-motor feedback loop and bring it into balance so that the muscles can begin working properly again. This can be challenging because there are so many factors at play: how long did your injury last? How severe was it? Whether you were ever in pain during the recovery process and if so, how bad was it? What other health issues do you have (diabetes/high blood pressure etc) which could make healing more complicated? While there's no magic cure for everything that ails people in terms of aches and pains from their daily lives (yet...), there are some steps everyone can take toward regaining their health and well-being:
We can encourage these muscles to turn on by teaching them how to relax again, by getting them used to the sensation of moving, and by teaching the brain how to sense those muscles again with some specific sensing exercises.
One of the main reasons why we don’t use our muscles is because they have been turned off by the brain. The brain makes a decision to turn off a muscle after it has been over-used, injured, or simply not used for a long time. In order to activate the muscles again, we need to teach them how to relax again, get them used to moving again, and teach the brain how to sense those muscles again with somatic movement.
One thing that helps immensely is a process called pandiculation.
This is a form of active stretching that helps to relieve muscle tension and joint stiffness. It can also be used to help restore normal muscle tone, as well as improve blood circulation. This can be done in many different positions, including standing up or seated at your desk (see below).
Pandiculating is not just stretching. Stretching tends to be done in a passive way – you move your body into a particular position and hold it there until you feel a stretch. Pandiculation is different – it involves tensing a muscle first, followed by releasing all the tension in that muscle at once, allowing it to relax all the way back down again. This helps the sensory-motor cortex of the brain re-identify the part of the muscle it has lost contact with.
It's important to realize that pandiculation is not just stretching. Stretching tends to be done in a passive way – you move your body into a particular position and hold it there until you feel a stretch, then release the stretch. If your body has sensory-motor amnesia it cannot stretch the parts of muscles that the brain cannot identify and connect to.
Pandiculating is active, dynamic, and rhythmic; it involves repeated movements that mimic the patterns of daily life. Because pandiculation involves tensing a muscle first, followed by releasing all the tension in that muscle at once, allowing it to relax all the way back down again. This is different than other kinds of stretching exercises where you just hold one position for a period of time and then move on to another. This can help re-teach your brain how to sense muscles again so you can tell when they are tense or relaxed. Pandiculation is a very powerful tool for restoring flexibility, strength, and function in the body.