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Stretching Vs. Pandiculation – What’s the difference and why does it matter?
Let’s look at the key differences between stretching and pandiculation. Pandiculation is used extensively in Clinical Somatic Education to regain the brain’s control of tight painful muscles.
Stretching sends sensory information only as far as the Spinal Cord
When a muscle is stretched, the sense receptors within that muscle send information to the spinal cord to indicate that the length of the muscle has changed, in this case lengthened. The spinal cord in response sends an impulse to the muscle being stretched, triggering a contraction (tightening), it also sends an impulse to the opposing muscle inhibiting a contraction. So, stretching a muscle causes it to respond by contracting. This is counter to what you’re are trying to achieve when you stretch. This is a very basic explanation of the stretch reflex. As you can see the brain is not involved in the process at all, the stretch reflex is a spinal cord reflex.
Pandiculation sends new sensory information all the way to the Brain
When a muscle is contracted, the sense receptors within that muscle send information all the way to the Sensory Motor Cortex of the brain (see image below) to indicate that the length of muscle has changed, in this case shortened and also that the level of tension in the muscle has increased. Because this information has reached the brain, the muscle can be sensed or ‘felt’. It is now under your conscious control. At this point you can choose to increase, maintain or decrease the level of contraction. When pandiculating you will slowly decrease the level of contraction all the way down to complete rest. But the take home point is you illicit full cortical control over the muscle when you contract it voluntarily.
Stretching is passive
Stretching is passive, you are not actively using the muscle, you are merely pulling on it, there is no brain involvement.
Pandiculation is active
During a Pandiculation you are actively using the muscle, your brain is involved in the process.
Stretching decreases potential power output of the muscles involved
Passive stretching and even PNF* stretching temporarily reduce the potential power output of the muscle.
Pandiculation increases sensation & awareness of the muscles involved
Pandiculation strengthens the connection between the sensory motor cortex of the brain and the muscle. The muscle can be sensed more clearly and control of both functions of the muscle (contraction and relaxation) are increased. This is because the muscle is both contracted and relaxed slowly and carefully during a pandiculation, essentially allowing you to practice both functions.
Stretching provides no new sensory information to the brain
Because the brain is not involved in a passive stretch there is no new sensory information for the brain. Therefore no new learning takes place. This may be the most important difference between stretching and pandiculation
Pandiculation provides lots of new sensory information for brain
Because the brain is very much involved in the process of Pandiculation there is a large amount of new sensory information for the brain. Therefore new learning takes place.
Stretching can be painful
Passive stretching is generally uncomfortable and can even be painful especially if Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is present.
Pandiculation feels good
Pandiculation performed correctly feels very pleasurable and relaxing. It has the feeling of a yawn.
No attention required to stretch
There is no focused attention required to pull on a limb and evoke a stretch.
Attention required to paniculate effectively
Focused attention is absolutely required to perform an effective Pandiculation, both to contract the desired muscle and also to control the slow relaxation phase so that it feels smooth.
Temporary change in length
Passive stretching confers only a temporary change in length, if any, as the muscles reflexively recontract in response to the stretch.
Long term change in length
Pandiculation confers more permanent changes in muscle length as you brain LEARNS a new longer resting length for your muscles. Please note the changes in muscle length that are achieved through pandiculation are as a result of the reduced level of tension in the muscle. They are not as a result of tissue remodelling.
Stretching does not eliminate Sensory Motor Amnesia
Passive stretching does nothing to eliminate the habituated levels of chronic muscular contraction that are typical of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).
Pandiculation eliminates Sensory Motor Amnesia
Pandiculation eliminates SMA quickly and easily by returning control of the muscle to Sensory Motor Cortex and allowing you to learn how to relax and lengthen your muscles.
These are the main differences between Stretching and Pandiculation. One final point to note is that often when people stretch they will stretch muscles in isolation, whereas with pandiculation one contracts many muscles at once. This allows us to release large patterns of contraction more quickly and effectively.
The learning component of pandiculation allows you to develop better sensorimotor control over your muscles, and muscles that you have full control over will not cause pain. It is only those muscles which you have lost control over that become chronically tight and painful. The pain is the warning sign that you do not have control any more.
If you would like to learn more about Somatics and how it can help you to improve your movement and reduce or eliminate your muscle pain, get in touch with me.