What is Somatics?
Part Three: How is Clinical Somatic Education different from other methods?
Clinical Somatic Education (CSE) uses both hands-on and self-care movement techniques to teach the nervous system how to release chronic muscular contraction and relearn natural, efficient posture and movement patterns. The movements are extremely slow and gentle, and are suitable for all ages and physical abilities.
Many healing modalities are passive, meaning that the client stays relaxed while the practitioner manipulates their body. In contrast, CSE is active, meaning that the client is actively engaged in the movements. This active engagement allows learning to take place in the nervous system, and is one of the key reasons why CSE is so effective in creating lasting change in bodily function.
Stretching typically doesn’t have long-lasting results due to the stretch reflex, formally called the myotatic reflex. When you pull a muscle farther than it can comfortably lengthen, your stretch reflex kicks in, contracting your muscles to prevent you from overstretching and tearing your muscles, tendons and ligaments. Read more about why static stretching is ineffective in these two posts: What is the Stretch Reflex? and Why Stretching Doesn’t Work.
CSE uses no conventional stretching techniques. Instead, CSE movements gently contract and very slowly release muscles in a specific way so as to teach the nervous system to keep muscles relaxed and released when not in use.
Massage is one of the oldest physical healing modalities, appearing in written records from several thousand years ago and likely predating recorded history. Massage therapy uses various techniques to apply pressure on muscles and connective tissues in order to lengthen tissues and relieve pain.
Massage has many benefits such as relaxing the nervous system and stimulating the circulatory system. The sensation of touch also stimulates the release of “human growth hormone,” which is critical for cellular healing and growth.
Unfortunately, the benefits for which most people get a massage—muscular release and pain relief—are short-lived. Massage, like stretching, is a passive way of lengthening muscles. A gentle massage should not activate the stretch reflex, but a deep massage will, often resulting in soreness afterward. And regardless of how gentle or deep the massage is, it will be passive, not engaging the nervous system in an active learning process and not leading to any lasting change.
When chiropractors perform spinal manipulations, often referred to as chiropractic adjustments, they apply controlled force into a joint which moves the joint back into proper alignment. It is believed that bringing joints back into alignment restores mobility, alleviates muscle tightness and pain, and allows injuries to heal.
Chiropractic adjustments, or any movements which pop a joint back into alignment, usually provide an enjoyable sense of release and relief from pressure or pain. Unfortunately—and if you’ve been paying attention so far, you know what I’m about to say—the fact is that simply manipulating the structure of the body does not change the way it is functioning. Within a few days or even just a few hours of an adjustment, your learned movement patterns and habitual level of muscle tension will typically cause your joints to become misaligned again, and you’ll be making an appointment for another adjustment.
Our bones do not move unless our muscles, which are controlled by our nervous system, tell them to move. So if our skeleton is out of alignment, it is because our muscles have pulled it out of alignment. The only way to create lasting change in our movement patterns and resting muscle length is to engage in an active learning process.
A physical therapist may prescribe exercises which are designed to improve strength, range of motion, flexibility, and balance, depending on the needs of the patient. While there are many benefits to physical therapy, there are two main reasons why chronic pain patients might not have success with it.
The first reason is that strength-building exercises are typically prescribed in order to fix imbalances in posture and movement. Lack of strength is typically not the issue for people in chronic pain. Most often, it is chronic tightness and damaging movement patterns. Strength-building exercises can result in making the targeted muscles tighter, which can increase muscle soreness and pain. What people in chronic pain most often need is for chronically tight muscles to be released, not strengthened.
The second reason why physical therapy may not work for people in chronic pain is that it typically does not address full-body movement patterns. Strength-building exercises are usually focused on the site of the pain; so, a person with shoulder pain will be taught exercises to build up strength in the muscles around the shoulder joint. This approach is helpful after an injury or surgery, but it doesn’t address the full body pattern that likely caused or contributed to the pain in the first place. Chronic pain, degeneration and injuries rarely occur in a vacuum; in other words, they are most often the result of the way we use our entire body. Clinical Somatic Education retrains full-body movement patterns, effectively relieving pain and preventing future pain, degeneration and injury.
Check out the other five posts in this series:
Part One: What is Clinical Somatic Education?
Part Two: How Clinical Somatic Education was developed
Part Four: Is Clinical Somatic Education right for me?
Part Five: What to expect in Clinical Somatic Education lessons and classes
Part Six: The Clinical Somatic Education learning process
The Pain Relief Secret: How to Retrain Your Nervous System, Heal Your Body, and Overcome Chronic Pain by Sarah Warren, CSE
Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health by Thomas Hanna