Many people experience chronic back and neck pain at some point in their lives and it can be debilitating. If you aren’t one of these people, I’m sure you know people who are. A new study published in September 2022 demonstrates the efficacy of using pandiculation with Hanna Somatic Education (HSE) to relieve chronic back and neck pain. This unique self-care method releases chronic muscle tension by retraining the nervous system. I personally am a testament to HSE for relieving my own chronic muscle pain since I’ve been training and teaching this powerful practice.
Back and neck pain
The National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control completed studies on this issue in 2017 and 2019. At any one time 577 million people around the world are affected by back pain and 39% of adults had experienced back pain in the previous three months of the study.
Lower back pain is a leading disability globally. It creates a huge financial burden on individuals and governments. It contributes to rising health insurance costs, pain medication abuse, and mental health issues.
A Mayo Clinic Symposium on Pain Medicine reported that neck pain occurs in more than 30% of US adults each year. Nearly 50% of these cases become chronic or recurring. Between 1990 and 2017 there was an increase of 75% cases worldwide.
Why the increase?
The global population is aging, becoming less physically active—and experiencing rising levels of stress. In addition, our sedentary lifestyles have us sitting at desks, working on computers and handheld devices in poor postural positions. Home sofas are often cushy causing us to slump, further straining our neck and lower back muscles.
But there are other factors to blame as well. Many back and neck pain patients receive inappropriate treatment from traditional healthcare providers. The easy solution is prescribing over-the-counter painkillers and opioids. Often patients are encouraged to have costly surgeries with inconsistent results. Most doctors don’t understand the underlying cause of chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Addressing the underlying cause of chronic musculoskeletal pain
Most chronic musculoskeletal pain develops as a result of holding ourselves tightly in reaction to emotional stress, injury, surgery or poor posture. This causes our brain to forget how to sense or experience muscles in our bodies. Our nervous systems start to keep the involved muscles in those patterns constantly contracted in order to help us seem to function efficiently. Chronically contracted muscles become sore, painful and weak from constant use causing them to lose their natural tonus.
Somatic education relieves chronic musculoskeletal pain by retraining these deeply learned muscular patterns. Types of somatic education include the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method®, and Hanna Somatic Education (HSE).
HSE is unique in the field of somatic education and all movement modalities because it uses the technique of voluntary pandiculation. This involves slowly contracting muscles, then slowly releasing, allowing the muscles to lengthen while resisting the force of gravity. Chronic muscle tension is released, thus resetting the muscle tone. Most animals do this naturally as part of their involuntary nervous system. Just watch your cat or dog when coming out of a nap.
HSE is a method of self-care in which each individual is taught how to retrain one’s nervous system to release chronic muscle tension and improve posture and movement–and thus relieve chronic pain. The slow movements are gentle and easy to practice. What I love about HSE is that it empowers people to take care of themselves and become the expert in their own musculoskeletal functioning.
About Qiuju Huang—author of the study
Qiuju Huang worked at the Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare (JHAH) in Saudi Arabia as a senior nurse clinician for 20 years. A serious lower back injury caused disc protrusion. Pain prevented her from exercising and limited her ability to work. After trying nearly everything to heal her pain, she discovered Hanna Somatic Education. The somatic exercises relieved her pain so she could resume her regular exercise routine. She then enrolled in professional training at the Novato Institute for Somatic Research & Training to become a Hanna Somatic Educator.
Many patients at the Employee Health Clinic where Qiuju worked had chronic muscle pain similar to hers. Hospital management supported Qiuju in teaching HSE exercises to her patients with chronic pain. She worked with hundreds of patients in the clinic. She ultimately completed this retrospective study on the effects of HSE for patients with chronic neck and/or back pain.
Results of the study for chronic pain relief
The final results of the study included 103 patients ranging in age from 27 to 71 who had experienced lower back pain and/or neck pain for longer than two months. Each patient participated in between two and five private sessions of HSE over the course of 2-8 weeks—taught by Qiuju Huang,
The study found that patients had significant reductions in lower back and/or neck pain after completing about three sessions of HSE and practicing the exercises regularly on their own. The 6-month follow-up showed that pain reductions were sustained, as 73.5% of patients stopped using pain medications, and the mean number of doctors’ visits was reduced overall by 75%.
The study authors write: “The findings of this study indicate that HSE is an effective and sustainable method of reducing spinal pain.”
You can read the full study here: Effect of Hanna Somatic Education on Low Back and Neck Pain Levels.
Experience Hanna Somatic Movements yourself
- I offer free weekly classes and private sessions over Zoom.
- My in-person class at Harper College in Palatine, IL starts April 13, 2023