Sensory Motor Amnesia: Hidden Pain Wearing You Down

The ability for us to consciously sense the tension and release in our muscles describes a state known as sensory motor awareness. That ability’s functionality depends on how actively we engage it. Humans tend be creatures of habit, forming routines in the way we relate to both our internal and external worlds. As we put ourselves on “auto-pilot”, especially when it comes to posture and movement patterns, the relationship between our conscious minds and the parts of bodies that may need attention can enter a state of sensory motor amnesia, where the internal sense of awareness becomes muted.

Pain Free Isn’t Problem Free

What this means is, just because we may not feel pain building day by day, doesn’t necessarily mean our body is in the state of balance it craves. As a neuromuscular massage therapist, one of the most common things I hear from clients in the course of a session is, “wow, I had no idea that much stiffness/tenderness/pain was even there!”. Yet much of the time, by the end of the session they can already feel a significant shift in their ability to move, while experiencing a greater lightness and free flow within their body.

Issues Start Small and Build

Over time many factors are wearing down different aspects of our bodies, yet because we have gradually lost a sense of our trouble spots and patterns, we don’t tend to address them until they can’t be ignored. The function of sensory motor amnesia is actually to make life easier by adapting to the stress of our habits, literally suppressing pain so that you can just focus on your day to day life, until you can’t. And this can lead to a host of physical issues including:

• Chronic Back Pain
• Sciatica
• Numbness In The Hands And Feet
• Leg Length Discrepancy
• Hip Pain
• Altered Gait
• Vertebral Disc Degeneration
• Plantarfasciitis
• Neck/Shoulder Pain
• Scoliosis

Catching Issues Early

The opportunity to bring awareness to our sensory motor amnesia starts with being able identify and work with trouble spots, maximizing function and preventing long term consequences. So here’s what you can do about it: Start by exploring your bodies ability to move. Are there any natural motions that you avoid, or are uncomfortable doing? Do any movements feel “stuck” or limited? Perhaps one side of your body is more “stuck” than the other? Are the motions smooth and full? How balanced is your posture and how often are you aware of it?

Therapeutic Work and Somatics

You can engage with a qualified manual therapist to work with your body to assess and release these areas and assist you in creating gentle self-care exercises designed to improve sensory motor awareness at home. These exercises are known as somatics and involve slowly contracting and releasing troubled muscles to bring more awareness and improved function to them.

What Do You Choose Now?

Our minds and muscles adapt to the input we give them, and they strive for balance and health. Don’t let age dampen your motivation, it is never too late to start heading in a healthier and more balanced direction through increasing our mind-body awareness. Our habits are learned, so we can learn new ones, and they may have profound effects on our experience of life. So visit your massage therapist today and talk to them about your personal assessment of sensory motor awareness and begin to move toward reducing pain, maximizing function and learn more about avoiding physiological consequences down the road.


This guest post contributed by Alex Lindeman, CMT, ANMT at Silicon Valley Massage Therapy Group.