Sensory motor amnesia (SMA) – the basics:

  • SMA is caused by habitual muscular contraction and the loss of the ability to sense and control your muscles
  • Sensory motor amnesia manifests as pain and tension in the body
  • Lower back pain and most musculoskeletal pain is caused by sensory motor amnesia; when your muscles stay contracted and tight, you feel pain!
  • Clinical somatic exercises are the most effective way to retrain your nervous system to get rid of SMA – through pandiculation!

Sensory motor amnesia (SMA), coined by Thomas Hanna, is the inability to sense and control your muscles. Sensory motor amnesia manifests as pain and tension in your muscles. These full body patterns, over time, become so habituated by the Central Nervous System that your brain can no longer turn off muscles you don’t need to use when making a movement.

SMA can also go the other way and prevent you from turning on muscles you should be using to make a movement more effortless.

Sensory motor amnesia leads to weakness, poor coordination, and inefficient movement patterns that eventually result in pain.

You may be thinking to yourself “Well OF COURSE I can control my muscles, I go running and do yoga and climb mountains! If I couldn’t control my muscles, then how could I walk?”

I too had similar thoughts about SMA until I moved slow enough while practicing Somatics to realize I did not have voluntary control of my body.  

Sensory motor amnesia develops over time due to the ongoing stresses of daily life, recovering from an injury, or even recovering from a surgery.  

If you are a person who does not move often and has a sedentary lifestyle, you can develop SMA in your movement patterns. Everyone in this country has SMA somewhere in their body.

So, let’s take a classic American example of…  LOWER BACK PAIN and how this is caused by sensory motor amnesia.

Back pain as a public health problem

Millions of Americans experience chronic lower back pain.  According to the American Chiropractic Association, around 31 million Americans admit experiencing lower back pain at any given time.1 

Worldwide, back pain is the leading cause of disability, preventing people from not only working but also from carrying out the activities of daily living.2  Back pain, which is just one type of musculoskeletal pain, contributes to an increasing rise in healthcare costs and loss of productivity in the workplace.

According to one study, participants were more likely to report back pain if they experienced work-family imbalance, a hostile work environment, or job insecurity.3  Stress affects the level of tension you hold in your muscles; when you feel stress, it is an automatic response by the nervous system to tense and contract your muscles.  

Typically, treatments for back pain range from medication to physical therapy to even surgery.  Unfortunately 60-80% of people who undergo these treatments experience the same chronic back pain within 2 years.4

So, how do you get lower back pain?

When your back muscles tighten, as is the case with habitual contraction due to sensory motor amnesia, your discs compress on one another. Over time, tight back muscles can lead to:

  • Herniated discs
  • Sciatica
  • Chronic lower back pain
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Nerve pain

Image by Colm McDonnell

The powerful paravertebral muscles line either side of your spine. When they remain contracted, as is the case when you are stuck in the Green Light Reflex or the Landau Reflex, they bring the vertebra closer together. This causes a lordotic curve in the spine, or lordosis, and also contributes to anterior pelvic tilt, when the pelvis is tipped forward. The belly protrudes as a result.

The image below shows an individual who experiences both lordosis and kyphosis, which is a result of tight muscles in the back and also in the chest. As you can see, often lordosis helps cause kyphosis, and vice versa, because your spine needs to equally balance the weight of the vertebra. 

In the picture on the right, the tight chest muscles cause the back to round and the head to protrude forward, while the tight lower back muscles create the lordotic curve and the anterior pelvic tilt.

If you are feeling distraught, don’t worry! There is a way to re-learn how to move freely and with joy! Somatics – your inexpensive and always accessible way to get rid of tension and the holding patterns of stress on your body. 

Luckily, there is a way to reeducate your nervous system to change your movement patterns and eliminate your muscle pain.

Clinical Somatic Exercises, developed by Thomas Hanna, are the most effective way to improve your brain-to-muscle connection and eliminate your chronic muscle pain.

This is because Clinical Somatics gets to the root cause of most muscle and joint pain: YOUR BRAIN!

Please reach out to schedule an appointment or consultation.

Works Cited:

  1. Jensen M, Brant-Zawadzki M, Obuchowski N, et al. Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Lumbar Spine in People Without Back Pain. N Engl J Med 1994; 331: 69-116.
  2. Hoy D, March L, Brooks P, et al The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases Published Online First: 24 March 2014. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-204428
  3. Yang, H., Haldeman, S., Lu, M., & Baker, D. (2016). Low Back Pain Prevalence and Related Workplace Psychosocial Risk Factors: A Study Using Data From the 2010 National Health Interview Survey. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 39(7), 459-472. doi:10.1016/j.jmpt.2016.07.004
  4. The Back-Breaking Cost of Back Pain. (2018, September 12). Retrieved October 2, 2018, from