This article explains how somatic exercises make back pain vanish and why they are probably the fastest, most lasting way to end most back pain. They work not by suppressing symptoms, but by clearing up their underlying cause and the cause underlying that, so that no further damage occurs to your spine "under your radar" (i.e., without your feeling it because of the pain meds you take).

The action patterns that constitute somatic exercises produce fast and lasting results more effectively than stretching, more safely than strengthening exercises, faster, more comfortably, and more durably than manipulation or bodywork.

We clinical somatic educators teach them to our clients to stabilize and increase the results of clinical sessions (which work several times more quickly) -- they also work for people who can't get access to a clinical somatic education practitioner.

I speak from experience -- both my own -- I have cleared up severe back pain in myself -- and that of my clients (since 1990). In this article, I present theory and instructional video.

Most approaches to back pain treat the body as if it were a machine that can be adjusted, as if back muscles are unresponsive objects that, if stretched, will stay stretched.

If you've had treatment based upon this operating assumption and it left you still hurting, it's not that you an exception. You've just seen the limitation of an approach based upon these premises. It's why treatment for back pain is expected to take a long time, possibly a lifetime.

The "body as machine" idea misses an essential point: the brain regulates the body, which means the brain controls the muscles. If you adjust spinal alignment or stretch muscles, the brain soon resets the body to its habitual state (in the case of back pain, to the high state of muscular tension that caused the back pain to begin with), and you're back where you started, or close to it.

If you get therapy that treats the body as a machine without regard for your sensibilities (as in surgery, sometimes-painful therapy, or fast adjustments), it may trigger a cringe response, rebound spasms and even more pain. In that case, you need another, more humane approach -- and you may feel that you would prefer a more humane approach.

Your back is already sensitized and reactive; you want ease. So if, instead of treating the body like a machine, what if we bring you to ease with a non-invasive, self-controlled, "low-tech/high-touch" procedure similar to yawning? What if we can free the muscles into a lower-stress, more easful state, and do so completely and reliably, even under desperate conditions, such as severe back pain with disc bulges or nerve entrapment?

This is not a casual, fanciful, speculative "what if" question. It's a germane question with consequences.

The approach presented here has reliably and predicably helped thousands of people who have already had unsuccessful back surgery or other procedures to end back pain and recover freedom of movement.

What to do, next? The video, linked below, shows you.

When designing a treatment, the first question to answer is, "What causes sharp or sudden back pain?" Is it something about muscles? bones? cartilage? nerves? or something else entirely? The deeper answer is, "something else entirely", as you will learn.

Pain in the back, itself, usually comes from muscles going into spasm; the pain is the "burn" of muscle fatigue. When not muscle pain, pain in the buttock or leg(s) (sciatica) comes from tight muscles that compress the sciatic nerve where it emerges from the spinal column, or passes through the buttock. Pain in the upper back comes from muscle fatigue or spasm, which sometimes displaces of rib heads from their seat(s) between vertebrae. Disc herniation (bulge) or rupture, most commonly caused by tight muscles, leads to nerve root compression that shows up as nerve pain distant from the location of the disc, itself. All of these conditions trace back to that "something else", which I will explain in detail.

The Medical Quandary -- The Patients' Quandary: How to Control Back Spasms
Medical practitioners, including physical therapists and surgeons, face a peculiar quandary with regard to back pain in general: because their patients' pain so often comes from back muscle spasms, much of their efforts go toward ending back muscle spasms or correcting their consequences (facet joint pain, herniated discs, spondylolisthesis/slipped disc).

Still, according to one physical therapist, the likelihood of a back pain patient returning in another episode of back pain is about 80%. Back surgeries have a success rate of about 15%. The most commonly used approaches to muscle spasms, including massage therapy, help, but typically bring only partial relief. Has this been your experience?

Patients also face a quandary: money concerns. If you tend to choose methods of treatment covered by health insurance, (because you've been paying for it), you are, in effect, choosing a trade-off: saving money for a longer recovery period. Question is, are you really saving money if your productivity is impaired or you have to take treatment over a longer recovery period? and is it worth it?

"Somatic" back exercises of the type shown below promise (and deliver) speedy improvement (days or weeks), as an alternative to conventional treatment, which tends to be lengthy (months or years).

Why Back Pain Comes On Suddenly
Let's take another look at back pain that casts new light on conventional treatment.

Unless you have had a violent accident, your back pain, sudden or chronic, has been coming for a very long time. Muscular tension builds up for a long time before crossing the point of no return and becoming a back spasm. Then, like the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back," a small movement can trigger a crisis: muscle spasm -- and all the accompaniments.

So, we return to the therapists' quandary: back spasms. What causes back spasms? What controls muscular tension?

The answer may be obvious to you: your brain, the master control center for your muscles; your brain causes your muscles to go into spasm.


Muscle Spasms -- Usually a Brain-Conditioning Problem
Here, the answer may not seem so obvious -- until you understand it: conditioning. Apart from momentary reflexes, your brain controls your muscles. Your brain gets conditioned through repetition: repeated overuse, repeated overstrain, repeated stress. Your brain learns to hold muscles tight "on automatic". It's what is meant by "nervous tension." At that point, your tight back no longer comes from bending or lifting, but from a tension habit stored in your brain. You're always tight, on the verge of spasm or in spasm, and having gotten used to it, you probably don't even know how tight you've become. The problem isn't exactly "all in your head" -- but it is in your brain.

With tingling or numbness, the muscles of your back are so tight that they are pulling your vertebrae (the bones of your spine) so close that they trap and pinch nerves.

So the problem is simpler than you might expect. You probably do not have a medical problem; you probably have a conditioning problem. By relaxing those muscles, you end the pain of spasms. You also free the nerves from pressure and end the symptoms of a pinched nerve.

With the new methods, a muscular conditioning problem can often be cleared up fairly quickly -- past experience notwithstanding.

Perspective on Therapeutic Methods to End Back Pain
The view of most therapeutic methods holds that back pain comes from weak muscles. They therefore prescribe or practice "strengthening and stretching".

This view is understandable when we consider the following: Tight muscles are tired muscles, and tired muscles feel weak and seem to need strengthening. Tight muscles are shortened muscles, and shortened muscles seem to need stretching. Tight muscles cause postural changes, and postural changes imply the need for strengthening and stretching.

However, if stretching were the answer, people who stretch their back muscles would no longer have back problems. It begins to look as if "The Stretching 'Emporer' has no clothes."

The problem isn't weakness or muscles in need of stretching; it's muscular overactivity and muscle fatigue (tiredness and soreness).

It's simple: When muscles relax, they rest and get refreshed (feel stronger); they lengthen out (no longer seem to need stretching). With normalized muscular functioning, spinal alignment improves, movement normalizes, comfort returns.

A more direct approach, then, is to improve muscular control. People with back pain generally need a brain-muscle approach -- either to avoid surgery or after surgery.

The Brain-Muscle Connection Runs the Show
Muscular control has two parts: the ability to regulate muscular tension (regulate strength and relaxation) and the ability to sense muscular tension. Both abilities are needed, and both are controlled by the brain-muscle connection.

By concentrating on muscles instead of on the brain-level control of muscles, common therapeutic methods -- spinal and soft-tissue manipulation, surgery, spinal decompression/inversion therapy, and most therapeutic exercises in general -- work on effects (muscle spasms and spinal alignment), rather than the underlying cause (brain-level control).

When you've had therapy, did your doctor or therapist give you therapeutic exercises to do? Did he or she teach you, step by step, how to do them? Did he or she teach you to do them slowly and to keep constant awareness of the sensations of movement? Did (s)he give you abdominal strengthening exercises, i.e., crunches, and tell you, "These exercises will strengthen your back"? Did you go for strength or well-regulated control of the movements? Did you go for effort or ease? That's why most therapeutic methods don't work as well as they might. To the extent that they do work, they do so through gains of muscular control at the brain level. Progress comes slowly, at best, often from working too fast and too mechanically (if not too hard).

If you can't feel how to control your muscles, you can't control (and relax) them. You need to improve your ability to control your muscles and that involves your ability to feel yourself controlling your muscles (not merely feel the pain of muscles in spasm).

As you do, you recover comfortable freedom of movement; you recover the ability to relax; you stay more relaxed without thinking about it.

A Key
Muscle weakness is not the issue. Tight back muscles aren't weak; they're tired (and very sore). Try as you might, you can't remedy muscle fatigue by strengthening tight muscles.

Spinal alignment is not the central issue. Spinal alignment is maintained by muscular pulls; bones go where muscles pull them. Your muscles aren't controlled by skeletal alignment; your muscles control skeletal alignment, regulated by your nervous system. Tight muscles don't keep themselves tight; your nervous system keeps them tight as a reflexive action. Despite best intentions, you can't change reflexes by stretching.

Free control of muscles and movement is the issue. When you have control, you have freedom. You can freely tighten muscles and you can freely relax them. Right now, you can't relax your back; you're in the grip of a postural reflex of stress, known as "Landau Reaction".

The approach, here, is to free your back by improving your muscular control.

Author's Bio: 

See video of a client's spontaneous first reaction after a session of Hanna Somatic Education with the author, Lawrence Gold.

RELATED ARTICLE: A New Understanding of Back Pain
and A New, Effective Way to Relieve It

See also:
Somatics : Reawakening the Mind's Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health, by Thomas Hanna (Perseus Books); available in several languages, from

Lawrence Gold is a long-time practicing clinical somatic educator certified in The Rolf Method of Structural Integration and in Hanna Somatic Education, with two years' hospital rehab center experience (Watsonville Community Hospital Wellness and Rehabilitation Center: 1997-1999) and articles published in The American Journal of Pain Management (Pain Relief through Movement Education: January, 1996, Vol. 6, no. 1, pg. 30) and in The Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients (A Functional Look at Back Pain and Treatment Methods: November, 1994, #136, pg. 1186 ).

He was a featured presenter at New Mexico Council on Aging annual conference, 2003, and is creator of numerous self-help programs and books for improvement of movement health and the reversal of effects of injuries and aging.