Sensory Motor Amnesia

sensory motor amnesia

Hi there back after being caught up in a lot of things. Just for your information can you guys guess where I am writing this article from right now?


I am currently back in New Zealand. Which means that I am back to the place where I can access a lot of books and what not’s. Also that means infrequent blog uploads due to having to restart everything once again.

Getting back to the topic what is sensory motor amnesia? I mean by the name itself did the body forget to move? I was just reading a book named Move without pain by Martha Peterson just because I have some free time on my hands and I came upon the term Sensory Motor Amnesia. To better explain the topic I think it would just be proper to tell the story of Thomas Hanna. The person to coin the term Sensory Motor Amnesia.

Thomas Hanna during the year 1975 or 1976 coined the term Somatic Education which is basically the discipline of movement reeducation. He believed that understanding what one feels from oneself is distinctly different from how another person views how a person feels. This seems a bit on the psychological side of science but I tell you it’s not. In a basic sense the more you know about how your body moves the better a person is able to control one’s body in space. An example of these exercises are yoga and Tai-chi in which a person is able to move ad stop a stance whenever he needed to and then move again from the stopping position. In the book “Somatics” Hanna tried to explain why science is not able to answer one specific part of medical science which is why do we develop muscle tension, stiffness, pain and inflexibility as we age? I mean it is quite interesting to note that why some elderly people somehow need a lot of help why are some of them healthy enough to even be able to move about society by themselves? The answer that he came up to answer the question of why people develop muscle tension. Stiffness, pain and inflexibility is because of sensory motor amnesia.  According to Martha Peterson” sensory motor amnesia occurs when your muscles are so tight that they simply won’t relax”. It is important to note that sensory motor amnesia is not something that one chooses to have but something that develops reflexively through one basic bodily response. The stress response oddly enough is the stress reaction of the body. Stress is one of the thing in life that is pretty much unavoidable but is not the one that causes the problem. The cause of the problem is the reflexive reaction to the stress input.


So if the reaction is reflexive is there no way to counter the effect of sensory motor amnesia? To be able to answer this we should take a look at what the reflexes are. According to Thomas Hanna there are three types of reflexes particularly the Green light reflex, Red light and the trauma reflex. We will be trying to understand each of the reflexes to better understand how to negate the effects of sensory motor amnesia. The first reflex we will be looking at is the green light reflex. The green light reflex is more commonly known to us therapist as the Landau Reflex. So what is a Landau Reflex just to refresh myself I checked Molnar or at least what I listed in digital form from the book. So what is Landau it is a reflex seen at 4 months and is integrated in 12-24 months , it is triggered by having the child suspended while having one hand in the lower abdomen ; the response is typically having the head spine  and legs extended with arms extended at the shoulder or the parachute position. So according to Hanna the reflex itself persists as a call to action reflex that when triggered constantly gets the muscles particularly the back muscles to tighten. The second reflex is the red reflex. The red reflex according to Hanna is the startle reflex. So just to refresh myself and in extension you guys what is the startle reflex I took a look at my notes, college notes as I don’t generally work with kids nowadays. If I was able to match this correctly I think Hanna was trying to describe the MORO reflex. The Moro reflex is generally a reflex that appears 28 weeks after being born out of the world and generally disappears at 4 to 6 months of age. It is generally triggered by sudden change in the position of the head. According to Hanna this is becoming more and more frequent not due to having a dangerous environment but due to habitual slouching on the couch or chair. He further explain that this kind of mimics a fear reaction like crouching down and stopping ones breathing then curling inwards to protect itself from danger. The primarily long term effect of the overstimulation of this reflex may include shallow breathing, hip and knee problems, TMJ disorders, tinnitus and respiratory problems. The last reflex is the trauma reflex. This reflex is as the name implies happens as a response to accidents or injuries. It is according to Hanna is an avoidance maneuver in an attempt to escape further injury as such it tightens some muscles so as to keep it away from further injury. The trauma reflex could lead to chronic muscular problems such as improper leg length, uneven gait and tight and painful hips and knees.

So in essence the body forgets what it normally is and considers the reflex reactions as normal as such each muscle keeps the tightness of the muscles for an extended amount of time. As such how can we as humans overcome these reflexes? The basic answer according to Hanna is to move. The only question is how to you move with the imitations of these reflexes. Have you ever heard the phrase” know yourself and know thy enemy and you will be able to fight 1000 battles” don’t remember who said this one though so maybe by someone. For Hanna to be able to move well we should be aware of the body’s problems so the better we understand our limitations the better the body is able to sense what the problem is, correct it and ultimately heal the problem. As such being told not to move the injured part even a bit might be more detrimental to the body than when it is at least slowly being able to move.

A real life example of this is when I got hit by a car during a bike ride and since this is an accident I don’t have any pictures of the accident. Well after getting hit the active and passive movement of the right shoulder and hip were significantly limited. As a way of measuring things I was not able to reach a table top counter good thing I do things well on either hand. Thank the Lord for being ambidextrous back then otherwise it was hard to do things and basically I tried resting for 1 week and taking the painkillers unfortunately these things did not work much well aside from having the wounds close as such things were much stable as I would not see any blood flowing out from me when I move stuff around. The only thing that I did was go back to my usual routine I took my katana and tried to swing it in a slow and steady pace at a rate that does not cause any pain during movement. Lo and behold I was able to move quite well after 4 days of doing that and this was without the use of any self-manual therapy as any movement back then was bloody painful and doing manual therapy meant being able to keep an awkward position. I did the manual therapy after the pain died down so as to get full range afterwards.

So just for curiosity sake and I think a lot of people would like to see this answered. Is would stretching help? Specially for Sensory motor amnesia. According to Hanna Stretching will not be much helpful for these types of problems. The reason that stretching does not help is that the muscles are controlled by the brain as such when there is a lengthening of the problematic muscle the body itself triggers a stretch reflex that would more than often result in more tightening of the muscle.


It is said that if you know your enemy and know yourself, you will be imperiled in  hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemy nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle

-Sun Tzu

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