Jonathan Hunt, 39, is a former Premiership footballer who had to retire in 2003 due to persistent lower back pain, which manipulative therapies failed to help long term. Then he discovered Somatics (aka Hanna Somatic Education or HSE), which teaches you how to release muscles that have involuntarily contracted. He was so impressed with the results that he trained as a Somatics therapist himself - becoming one of the few in the UK - and is now playing football again semiprofessionally. Knowing a colleague had a chronic knee and back problem, I suggested she went to see Jonathan. Here’s her report:
‘It was pounding 84 miles in six days along Hadrian’s Wall two summers ago that started my problems. By day two, my right knee was throbbing with every step, but I kept going and by the time I
sought medical help two months later, I’d also put my back out from walking badly. Physiotherapy lessened the knee pain by
strengthening the muscles on the inner knee, and pilates greatly helped my
back. But a year on, I was still experiencing a lot of discomfort and unable to exercise so Sarah suggested I try Somatics, a technique designed to reduce pain by easing movement in conditions such as arthritis, back and hip problems, and sciatica.
‘At my first 75-minute session with Jonathan, who’s based in Islington, London, I stood in front of a mirror and he showed me that the right side of my body was scrunched up, making it slightly shorter than my left, which he said was the root cause of my back pain. He also made me walk up and down to demonstrate how this imbalance had developed into a lopsided walk, which was - surprisingly to me - the underlying reason for my knee pain. The solution, he said, was to elongate my right side so I walked properly.
‘I lay on a couch while Jonathan slowly performed a series of movements to contract and elongate my muscles to even up my body. At first my neck hurt because I was so tense, but as I learned to relax I could immediately feel the tension ease in my back. Then he gave me easy, gentle exercises to do at home. They take just five minutes a day - the aim is to slowly build up your strength. At first I experienced a few twinges, but Jonathan explained I’d been doing them too vigorously.
‘After four 60-minute follow-up sessions, I’m definitely more aware of my weaker right side, and the way I move as a consequence. Most patients need just five to eight sessions with a therapist - the key to Somatics is to practise the home exercises daily. When I do them, I suffer far less pain and am much more flexible than I used to be. Before I started Somatics, I couldn’t do more than a short walk around the park - now I’m doing aerobics and dance classes and have even managed several 15-mile walks.’