Sensory Motor Amnesia


Sensory Motor Amnesia (“SMA”) is a great term coined by Thomas Hanna, the inventor of Somatics.

SMA describes inefficient patterns of muscular activation that are so habitual you can’t sense or control them. For example, you might have simply forgotten how to relax areas such as the neck, low back and shoulders, or how to activate muscles like the glutes or abs. This leads to weakness, inefficiency, poor coordination and eventually pain.

How does SMA develop? The first way is simply lack of movement. Our movement skill, like other skills, will fade if it is not used. Modern life for most people means hours of sitting in chairs, cars or couches, instead of the highly physical environment in which our bodies evolved. Your body was designed by evolution to be constantly squatting, lunging, twisting, turning, reaching, carrying, throwing, fighting, running, climbing on a daily basis. If you stop doing these things for a few years, you will develop some SMA. Over the years your body simply forgets about subtle or gross movement possibilities and falls into a rut from which it cannot escape.

Another common way to develop SMA is with an injury, such as a sprained ankle. A sprained ankle requires the whole body to develop a new movement pattern (e.g. a limp) to prevent movements which will aggravate the injury. Even after the ankle has healed, a subtle form of the limp may persist as a deeply ingrained unconscious compensatory movement pattern throughout numerous joints.

Let’s say you have some pain in the shoulder when you push your arm overhead. It’s possible that the reason for the pain is that the rotator cuff muscles located along the shoulder blade are not doing their job of pulling down on the top of the humerus and preventing it from sliding into the acromion process directly above it. This causes an impingement of soft tissues between two bones which causes pain. Why aren’t the rotator cuff muscles turning on at the right time and doing their job? As we discussed above, one possibility is that the person has simply failed to do any significant work with their arm overhead for a while and the rotator cuff muscles have simply become sloppy and uncoordinated in doing this job at the right time. Another possibility is that a previous shoulder injury from years past required those muscles to rest to avoid further injury, and they got into a bad habit of being lazy that was never corrected after the injury healed.

So how do we cure SMA? By trying a system such as the Feldenkrais Method or Z-Health which is designed take your body goes through all the subtle little movements you have unconsciously avoided for years. It takes precise concentration and attention to recover them without “cheating” or deviating into a compensatory pattern. After the movement is recovered, it is integrated back into your movement patterns, leading to increases in performance and reductions in pain.

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11 Responses to Sensory Motor Amnesia

  1. […] more of the segments have lost their ability to move, through lack of use or poor coordination or sensory motor amnesia, other vertebrae will be asked to move further and work harder to accomplish the desired […]

  2. […] or uncoordinated movement, people lose the function of some of their moving parts, this is known as Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). SMA causes compensations in movement patterns because some parts have to work double time to make […]

  3. […] turn is experienced as smooth and easy.  If you fail to move several vertebrae (perhaps due to sensory motor amnesia), then you have to apply extra force and strain to squeeze as much movement as possible out of the […]

  4. […] you had knee surgery.  Your CNS learned to avoid it, and this became a habit.  Now, because of Sensory Motor Amnesia, it has effectively become a dead zone or Bermuda Triangle on your movement map.  If you want to […]

  5. […] the Hard Easy and the Easy Elegant; Why Slow Movement Works; Skeletal Awareness; The Body Maps; Sensory Motor Amnesia; and Strategies to Cure Chronic […]

  6. […] from a sprained ankle. Perhaps the back pain was caused by some faulty movement or sensory habits (sensory motor amnesia) that developed during the process of protecting the ankle while it was healing. Maybe all that he […]

  7. […] What is Z-Health? August 26, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments Z-Health is essentially a system of simple movement exercises devoted to helping you move better, which means with less pain, and more coordination, efficiency, power, strength, range of motion, etc. Z-Health is the creation of Dr. Eric Cobb, a chiropractor, trainer and martial artist. The foundation of Z-Health is subtle isolated joint movements done in a very slow, precise and mindful manner. The intention is to cure is to improve the sensory and motor maps of the body and cure sensory motor amnesia. […]

  8. […] period of time, you lose the ability to accurately sense and control that movement. This is called sensory motor amnesia. The brain’s body maps get fuzzier, less clear. If you tape three fingers together in a way that […]

  9. Roberto says:

    Hola. I like the articles very much, find lot of affinity. I´m a Feldenkrais practitioner.
    Here´s an article about the neurophysiology related to our work, you may use it or put it as you want.–theoretical-support

    Regards from Argentina. Roberto

  10. […] issue is to increase the coordination of your joints and decrease sensory motor amnesia (see post on SMA) without causing nay pain in the process. Because the body is a unit, as I’ve discussed in […]

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