Sensory Motor Amnesia and What Causes It?

It is a memory loss of how certain muscle groups feel and how to control them. And because it occurs in the central nervous system, we are not aware of it, yet it affects us to our very core.
— Thomas Hanna

Source: Somatics Reawakening of the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health by Thomas Hanna


Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is an adaptive response of the nervous system that is not diagnosable and not treatable through traditional medical or surgical applications. Many clients with SMA are deemed “incurable” or "declining due to the aging process" by medical practitioners. 

This adaptive response to our habits of living is like having a blind spot to certain movement patterns that have become automatic.


Sensory Motor Amnesia expresses in these various ways:

  • sciatica

  • pelvic pain

  • frozen shoulder

  • digestive issues

  • urinary urgency

  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction)

  • limited range of motion

  • muscle tightness, pain or dysfunction

  • low-back syndrome

  • hip pain

  • plantar fasciitis

  • carpal tunnel



What Causes Sensory Motor Amnesia?

Based in the nervous system, Sensory Motor Amnesia develops from a person’s response to stress, trauma and repetitive use, creating a newly learned adaptive response that is repeated over time. People who have SMA hold some muscles contracted all the time, essentially developing patterns to one or more stress responses.

These repeated forces or habits become a traumatic insult to your nervous system, directly impacting your body, posture, muscles and skeletal structure. The contractions are so deeply involuntary and unconscious that a person who has SMA no longer remembers how to move about freely. Sensory Motor Amnesia can occur from childhood onward or at any age. 

If you have chronic tight muscles, soreness, muscle fatigue or think you’re declining from aging, chances are you have areas affected by these blind spots.  Most of us have some form of Sensory Motor Amnesia lurking in us and the good news is, we can change it.



What are Common causes of Sensory Motor Amnesia? 

  • Long-term sustained stress

  • Specific sudden trauma, such as automobile accident, fall, injury or surgery

  • Habituated movement patterns such as daily computer use with poor posture, sitting and other habits including an activity/sport repeated over and over (including the footwear we become accustomed to)

  • Lack of movement (sedentary lifestyle)




How Do I Correct Sensory Motor AmnesIA?

Sensory Motor Amnesia is a learned, adaptive response of the nervous system. Because it is learned, it can be unlearned. SMA requires re-education of the sensory-motor system. Traditional medical interventions and treatments are not effective for getting to the root causes of Sensory Motor Amnesia.

No amount of stretching can undo tight muscles—you have to change patterns originating from the nervous system (i.e., the brain and spinal cord). Sensory Motor Amnesia can only be relieved by one method: Re-educating the brain’s voluntary sensory motor cortex. This process helps control muscles that are constantly in a state of contraction and allows for full muscle relaxation or release.  This is the focus of Clinical Somatic Education.

Re-education occurs through inner awareness, proprioception (i.e., the ability to sense the position, orientation and movement of the body and its parts), and a combination of somatic “first person” awareness and “third person” support (i.e., guidance from a Clinical Somatic Educator).


For more information on SMA and Somatic Education, please read the book Somatics: Reawakening of the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health by Thomas Hanna