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Multi-Layered Creatures

December 1, 2020

I was logging last Friday. I do love a real fire and, since my Rayburn packed up, logs are my only source of heating this winter. I always have the dilemma, though, of finding the balance between enjoying the vibrant, hard working activity of collecting cutting and splitting logs and going easy on my body. My left shoulder is the weakest link and if I work it too hard it will never come good despite the therapy work I put into it. By the time I finished working I was a little concerned, but then all of a sudden, by Friday evening, my body felt fantastic. Any shoulder aches were gone, I felt solid, trim and mobile. It’s not the first time I’ve had such feeling of physical well being. It wasn’t the result of hard work logging, but a phase in the cycle of wave after wave of development as we build up layer upon layer to reconstruct a depleted, collapsed and damaged body.

To explain I’d like to use the onion analogy. If you cut an onion in half you’ll see it has many layers just as our bodies do. However, if the onion is allowed to rot then the layers become lost and the flesh turns to mush. That’s a way of describing one aspect of a body post spinal injury. You become an amorphous mass lacking structure, divisions, connections and layers. As we work on my body we build volume and attachments. When you get to the point in the cycle of a wave where the wave reaches further up the beach, in the incoming tide, then you have that new found form, strength and articulation to a degree not experienced before, at least not since being able bodied. Then the wave recedes.

The wave has to recede and draw back into the main body in order for the next wave to reach even further up the beach. This is the building of a new layer. That outer experience of increased strength and volume becomes lost as it descends deep into the body to become consolidated into another layer. That new layer improving the foundation upon which the next wave of development is based. I say ‘becomes lost’ as that’s literally how it feels. You’ve worked hard to gain that increase in volume or improved articulation and then all of a sudden it’s gone. Volume can disappear overnight, be it volume at the top of the chest, engulfing the collar bones, disappearing to leave the collar bones protruding again or muscular bulk to the legs disappearing to expose the bone once again. This latest wave of development was characterised by a real trimness to the body and improved pelvic articulation. Another recent wave brought greater strength in the head neck junction giving a wonderful sense of uprightness.

The latest wave is receding now with the seeming return of lacking abdominal quality and awareness of the weakness at the lumbar sacral junction. However, the perceived loss isn’t really a loss at all. You never return to where you’ve been, but instead to a state of increased inner development, greater intrinsic capacity and you know that the next wave will bring even more exiting development. As the tide comes in, wave after wave, and the onion is built up, layer upon layer, the body is transformed from mush to the multi layered creature we truly are. Eventually those feelings of strength, volume, trimness, articulation and uprightness will not leave me and my rehab will be complete.

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Lockdown

November 19, 2020

I actually quite like ‘lockdown’; it allows me to devote more time to myself. I miss the pub though. Since my sixteenth birthday I have been a regular in one local pub or another. I’ve known them as social hubs of community; as an extension of my home and a communal living room. Our government seems hell bent on destroying the fabric of our social existence which seems crazy, although possibly what we need. Pubs, like many things in life, are a shadow of their former selves. They may always have been businesses, but lately they have become nothing but businesses with commercial interests and legislation dominating to the point that the essence of the ‘Institution of the Public House’ has been lost. Rudolf Steiner once said, “Mankind always gets what it needs”. We seem to find it hard enough to sense the need for change let alone know how to bring it about, so it inevitably gets forced upon us.

Queens Head, Dorking – My first local

Lockdown affords us an opportunity to reassess, reset and even reinvent our lives for the better. I’m not changing a great deal, but I am considering what is important and making adjustments. I’m also taking the opportunity to focus more on the work of healing my body. It’s a life of dedication I have pursued for twenty years and it makes a change not to have the usual distractions. More importantly I’m thinking about how our society is changing. The National Health Service is becoming more and more incapable of supporting the nations health, despite their phenomenal ability to deal with accidents and emergencies. It must be reinvented.The work I am involved in is showing that hands on techniques, based on the bio-mechanics of the body can be used to treat spinal injury, cerebral palsy and other serious neurological conditions that the establishment regard as permanent and incurable.

This work has many more applications. Currently there is an ever increasing trend to replace so called ‘worn out’ body parts such as hips and knees, an approach that views the body as a machine whose parts can be replaced rather than a living entity with disease that needs addressing. If our work is embraced diseased hips and knees will be treated and returned to balance.

Fellow paraplegics would be wise to take up this work to find their own ability to improve their bodies rather than relying on a crumbling service. Technology can definitely be utilised, from the properties of modern polymers used to deliver a kinetic input into the body, all the way to the possibility of using an exoskeleton to retrain the rebuilt structure of the body. However we should not fall into the trap of believing that science will come up with the miracle cure. There are no miracle cures just steps in the right direction. Bio-mechanical rehabilitation techniques give all of us the tools we need to take care of our own health.

Change is exciting, especially when your work is waiting in the wings ready to rise to the fore once society, with a new attitude, is ready to embrace a more balanced approach. The current fear of a virus is accelerating the pace of change, so let’s hope for real evolution. Let us also hope that we can reinvent our Public Houses, in a manner befitting the dawn of a new era, before they all fall victim to bankruptcy.

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Being Frank

November 12, 2020

Frank Gardner is the Securities Correspondent for the BBC who was shot in Saudi Arabia leaving him a paraplegic. He’s made a documentary, called ‘Being Frank: The Frank Gardner Story’, aired on TV earlier this week, in which he talks about what it is to be disabled. Frank he definitely is, having the courage to talk openly about the intimacies of such an injury, his bladder and bowels; issues that are generally the unspoken reality of spinal injury.

Frank Gardner enjoying life to the full

I take my hat off to the man, as I do to anyone who makes something of their life following terrible injury. It’s not easy. Two things struck me about the film. Firstly the way he talked about what it is to be disabled. He was expressing thoughts that I haven’t had for many years. A typical outlook for someone in such a position and all thoughts I’ve had myself in the past. It made me think about how I’ve moved on in accepting my lot in life, a process that takes years.

He was working for the BBC when he got shot and continued to work in the same role when returning to life post injury. The difficulty in trying to play the same role is that you are constantly reminded of what you can no longer do. The essence of my life hasn’t changed a great deal and I managed, post injury, to fulfil my ambition to live the country cottage smallholding lifestyle, something you’re meant to be able bodied to achieve, but I did it by moving on to pastures new, while at the same time still holding on to the life I had and all my friends. It’s worked well for me.

Holding down a high flying job at the BBC is quite an achievement when living with a spinal injury. I haven’t had a proper job since I became a paraplegic; then again I was pretty unemployable before. That’s not to say I don’t work; I’ve always worked very hard. One of the wisest things my father has said to me is, “We used to make money out of the work that needed doing, now we create work for the sake of earning money”. No wonder mankind has taken our world to the brink of destruction when the relationship between money and work is so out of balance. I choose to do the work that needs doing, despite the fact it doesn’t pay, as I feel a more productive member of society that way. I work to put a roof over my head and food in my belly together with other work at the Cheshire Home community where I live, but my life’s work is in the development of Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation techniques and that brings me onto the other thing that struck me watching the film.

Frank’s body is just how mine used to be. Terribly depleted inner volume and terribly disconnected structurally. I’d almost forgotten how bad it once was. I’m so glad I got involved with Leonid Blyum and found the dedication to put the work in. I sent Frank my film last year, ‘Spinalroots the Movie’, and he not only watched it but took the time to write to me after. He didn’t really get it though and to be honest most people don’t.

Regardless of whether I walk again, if I can teach mankind the importance of paying attention to our intrinsic capacity, our structure and form, then my life’s work will be fulfilled.

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Chance or Fate

October 29, 2020

I was friends with a guy called Ziggy who lived in the main house at the Cheshire Home. He was severely disabled with cerebral palsy. One day he was going to have some hyperbaric oxygen treatment at a centre in East Grinstead and I was asked if I would go along to hold his hand in the chamber. The treatment is to breathe oxygen under pressure in a compression chamber, the sort that divers use when they get the bends; the idea being that the oxygen then manages to penetrate parts of the brain normally not accessed, encouraging rejuvenation of damaged tissue. While I was there, the woman running the centre talked me into having a course of treatment myself. I wasn’t that interested, but was intrigued by the Russian gentleman working there and wanted to know what he was up to.

I spent an hour a day for a week sitting in the chamber with only a port hole in the door to see out of. Through that I watched Leonid Blyum, the Russian gentleman, teaching a group of mothers to work upon their young children, all of whom had cerebral palsy. The children were lying on benches with their bodies wedged with towels so they were firmly supported. More towels were then carefully folded and laid on the child one by one in a specific construction. The mother used the palm of her hand to slowly compress this construction, followed by a release of the compression, repeating the motion over and over again. The towels were obviously being used as an air cushion designed in such a way as to deliver a mechanical input into the body.

Every now and then everyone would stop while Leonid gave an explanation. I couldn’t hear what was being said, from inside the chamber, but he used a flip pad to draw diagrams that made sense. I realised he had knowledge that went beyond that of the medical establishment and I knew then that I had to team up with him. None of his clients had spinal injury although all had serious physical disability from neurological conditions. He examined my body, asked me some questions, told me I’d have to find someone to work on me and agreed to take me on.

I’ve always lived life my own way, never been good at being told what to do and never blindly followed anyone. After meeting Leonid I was having a drink with some old mates and told them about the therapy program I was embarking upon. My good friend Wayne, who knows me well, said to me, “Do you mean to tell me you’re going to let someone tell you what to do?” “Yes”, I replied. “I don’t believe you”, was Wayne’s response. There was only so much I understood when I started, but I grasped enough straight away not to be blindly following and I wasn’t so much being told what to do as ‘trusting Leonid to guide me’. That was the start of not only my true rehabilitation, but also a journey of discovery into a higher understanding of health.

In Memory of Ziggy

Without my dear friend Ziggy, who’s sadly no longer with us, I may never have met Leonid Blyum. Was it chance or was it fate fulfilling my destiny?

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Switches

October 22, 2020

Breaking your back is a ‘head f**k’. There’s no two ways about that. One guy I was in hospital with was larking around on a bicycle late one evening. He fell off, like he’d probably done a thousand times, and yet this time he broke his neck. I’ve never known anyone deal with it so well. He seemed to accept his ill fate without question. Another guy jumped over a wall running away from the Police only to find out there was a quarry the other side that he fell into (or so the story goes). He broke his back, a similar injury to mine, and I watched his skeletal framework crumble before my eyes, his body becoming more and more hunched over as he slouched in a wheelchair. That’s what depression can do to you!

An ex squaddie, who drinks in my local pub, knows of the struggles that wounded soldiers go through. The mental struggles more than the physical. He asked me ‘What the switch was for me?’ He sees me happy and cheerful and doing well with my physical stature, and he’s looked at my website and film (www.spinalroots.uk) and appreciates the work I’ve done to heal my body. He understands that I couldn’t have achieved what I have without first getting my head around what had happened. I’d never thought of there being a switch so I simply replied that, ‘I get up each day and do what I can to take life forward’. Isn’t that what we all do?

Reflecting on this, later, I realised there were lots of switches. In my last blog post, ‘Years of Practice’, I talked about a previous accident. Managing to overcome that and turn my life around was the first switch that held me in good stead. I was used to living with injury which made it easier to deal with something more catastrophic. On top of that living with damaged legs was a struggle that largely went unrecognised and yet when I became paraplegic, society seemed to want to bend over backwards to help. It was soothing to experience a compassionate side to life.

Good fortune and fate have played their part. Rather than wait for the authorities to find me somewhere suitable to live I took it upon myself and came across a beautiful place in Brockham, my favourite village around my home town. An annexe to a bungalow where my landlord and lady lived with a little smallholding in the garden. Right up my street! A couple of years later I came across the Lodge at Heatherley Cheshire Home; a run down old cottage with a large garden and unkempt field beyond. Here I found the opportunity to create my own smallholding and to offer my skills to a community of disabled people. Following my dreams and pursuing a thirst for life was seeing me on my way.

Heatherley Lodge – Always at home with a good project

Then one day I bumped into Leonid Blyum who was working nearby in East Grinstead. From that day my rehabilitation entered a whole new realm, and that’s another story.

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Years of Practice

October 14, 2020

Before I broke my back and became disabled ‘for real’ I had a previous accident. At the age of twenty I was knocked off a bicycle, left unconscious in the road and then run over by a car. It nearly tore my right foot off, damaged my left knee and my head and body went underneath the car with what must have been the sump hitting me in the side of the head. That’s three quarters of a ton of metal travelling at speed! The driver never stopped.

Being young, and thinking I was invincible, I soldiered on and threw myself back into life thinking it wouldn’t bother me. For two years I did well, at least well in terms of keeping my spirits up. Physically I tended to overdo things and my ankle, especially, would swell up at times and lock solid. I got back to college after only a term off and the following summer I moved to Wales to work for a year as part of the course I was doing. I had a fantastic year, although coming back to London after the wilds of Wales was a little depressing and physically I was starting to struggle. The reality of living with injury was starting to press home.

I finished the year at college and obtained my degree, but it was tough and I had little desire left to get a job in engineering product design that I was trained for. Manufacturing industry had come to symbolise all that I despised about our industrial civilization. Maybe I should thank the accident for ensuring that I don’t now go to work in a suit and tie and have never become another pawn in the machine. As it was I returned to Dorking, my home town, exhausted both physically and mentally. There was work to do to overcome what had happened to me three years previously.

I never lost my thirst for life and my twenties were good years. Motorcycling with a dog that rode pillion, camping, rafting down rivers and a great deal of partying. They were, however, tough years mentally. If I had spoken to a doctor I would easily have been diagnosed with depression. I drunk a lot and rarely went a day without being stoned. My twenty fifth birthday was one of the lowest days of my life. I arrived at a friends house for dinner, late and a little drunk and I remember saying to him that surviving quarter of a century deserved a month off, and that’s how I felt. It was also a turning point.

I didn’t have the month off. I got back to physio, joined a yoga class, took to walking barefoot and dramatically improved my physical condition. I restored an old lorry, had a go at running a business with it and really began to get my head round life. Three years later, though, I sold my lorry and was labouring to try and pay my way having no real idea where life was going and then fate decided for me. I had an accident with a dumper truck, got crushed underneath it and broke my back.

While I was lying in hospital paralysed from the waist down a friend came to see me and said, “That first accident was just preparing you for this one”. In many ways she was right.

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Climbing a Mountain

October 8, 2020

I haven’t written a blog post for a whole year. I didn’t feel I had anything new to say. I even sat down in February and got half way through writing a post only to give up. I was just repeating myself. I’d said it all before and was relating what I was saying to yet more small improvements in the head, but that’s just it. What it takes to heal a body, from such a catastrophic injury, is one small improvement after another. Advanced Bio-Mehanical Rehabilitation, as the way of therapy I work with is known, is not a miracle cure, and there are no miracle cures, just steps in the right direction. Each step is nothing more than a tiny incremental change, but if you take enough small steps you can climb a mountain and climbing a mountain is exactly what you have to do to overcome the physical effects of a spinal injury.

Paraplegia is considered a permanent condition and without dedication to a way of healing it will be. I talked in November 2017, in a post entitled ‘Competitive Co-Operative’,about spinal injury being about far more than the loss of muscular function, due to nerve damage, and that there is enormous collateral damage; structural collapse that fails to recover naturally and overtime the changes become ingrained in the body and, if we are not careful, permanent. The cells of our body are constantly replenished and I am led to believe that every seven years we have an entirely new body with every cell being replaced over that period of time. Those changes will be replaced in the same ingrained fashion, unless we encourage the body to return to balance, as it replaces its cells. By delivering repetitive mechanical inputs, into the system of the body, we can encourage that return to balance as the body’s replenishes itself.

By the very nature of the work we are undertaking, it is a long slow process, although I find it incredible that the improvements, however slow, creep up on you so that now and then you suddenly realise how much you have changed and how far you have come. It would be nice to think that those who have known me throughout my rehabilitation notice these changes, bearing in mind that over the last twenty years we have radically altered the structure of my entire body to the point that I barely resemble the paraplegic I once was, and there are some who do. However, there are others who seem to forget just how bad a condition I was once in. I met someone at a funeral earlier this year who asked me if I was still doing the therapy and whether it was working. I looked down at my body and thought, ‘Can’t you see!’.

There’s a guy who drinks in my local pub, whom I haven’t know for long, who on hearing about my therapy work wanted to know more. I gave him the links to my website (www.spinalroots.net), blog (www.spinalroots.blog) and film (www.spinalroots.uk) and on seeing him the following week was impressed with how much he’d looked into it. He realised not only the enormity of the physical improvements, but the extent of the life journey I have undertaken. He’s inspired me to talk more about the psychological aspects of overcoming such an injury, realising that you can’t begin to heal a body without also healing the mind. So maybe it’s time to go back to the beginning and tell the story from a different perspective.

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Exoskeleton – Marvel or Madness

October 16, 2019

I was sent the following link the other day, the latest in a line of reports in the development of bionics for the purpose of enabling the paralysed man to walk again.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-exoskeleton/paralyzed-man-walks-again-with-brain-controlled-exoskeleton-idUSKBN1WI2HQ?utm_source=applenews&fbclid=IwAR2H9ujovyWIo0slber_Mor3Jus7h5FMWjx_9HBaGoJo-SVTjqCQFGKQx7s

The science and technology is truly incredible, who would have thought that one day Robocop would start to become a reality, while at the same time it’s frightening! It’s with good reason that an image of the future, where machines dominate, is always presented in dystopian films. So let’s look at what is really going on here and what’s at stake for the paralysed man.

Living with paralysis is never easy. The tasks of daily living all become much harder and not only do you have to adapt to a new set of circumstances, you also have to accept that so much is no longer possible. Putting the day to day living aside, the limits placed on the more outgoing side of life are enormous. Before my injury I was a very active man. I walked and cycled a great deal, not just to get from A to B, but also for pleasure, climbing hills with my dog on my days off. I enjoyed motorcycling, camping and rafting down rivers. Not all of this became impossible and, apart from the walking, much of it I continued to enjoy in some way or another. There are always limitations, though, and the desire for the freedom and independence, that you once took for granted, niggles away at the back of your mind. What if there was a way to once again to go and climb a hill, just you and your dog, wouldn’t it be great. I believe this is the spirit that drives people to want to embrace the bionic man approach and the exoskeleton.

At the moment such technology is a long way from becoming a functional reality, but even if it could one day get there, would it really be such a good idea? The vast majority of disabled people use mobility aids of some description or another. Where would we be without wheelchairs? I do not live in a wheelchair I use it as a ‘mobility aid’, but life would be unthinkable without it. I would be totally reliant upon the help of others. I also have a handcycle which my husky worked in harness with for many years. At the moment we are at a stage in my rehabilitation where it is unsuitable for me to be undertaking vigorous exercise with a handcycle, and the husky’s old and wouldn’t pull much anymore even if I harnessed her up, so these days I walk the dogs with an electric mobility scooter. I value my mobility aids, so isn’t an exoskeleton simply the logical progression of technology? After all a wheelchair won’t go up steps and even my tramper (a good off road mobility scooter) is extremely limited when it comes to climbing hills.

In terms of technology an exoskeleton may well be the logical progression, but from the human perspective the answer is no. A manual wheelchair you interact with by pushing it along with your arms, but the wheelchair does not interact with you. With a mobility scooter there is no interaction either way, it is simply a moveable platform upon which you have a seat. An exoskeleton, however, is a forced interaction with your body and that is another ball game altogether. I won’t even use a set of calipers to get me up on my feet because of the negative effect on the development of my body, despite the fact that I could probably get about reasonably well with them, and I definitely wouldn’t go anywhere near an exoskeleton for reasons that I will do my best to explain.

With the condition of paraplegia, and tetraplegia, there is damage to the spinal cord causing paralysis, in my case from the waist down. If it was simply a case of paralysis of the muscles , then propping yourself up on your feet would be a reasonable thing to do. When I left hospital following a spinal injury I was given a standing frame (we all were) and encouraged to use it on a daily basis. It was a wooden frame with straps to keep your knees locked, and then, when you haul yourself upright you fix a strap around your backside to keep you there. I persisted with it for a while, but never liked it and soon decided it would do more harm than good. What must be understood here is that a spinal injury is about far more than paralysis of the muscles. Alongside the paralysis there is catastrophic collapse of the structures of the body. Thanks to all the ABR Therapy my body is in pretty good structural shape these days, at least in comparison, however, when I was using a standing frame, in the past, this was not the case. My trunk was so depleted that my chest had collapsed down onto my pelvis. The lumbar region barely existed with the bottom of my ribcage sitting below the top of my pelvis. My pelvis, in turn, was so collapsed in upon itself that the hips weren’t properly inserted. So imagine the trauma to the body trying to force it into an upright position when it can’t even hold its own in a less demanding sitting position, and this is the case with paraplegics, tetraplegics and all severely disabled people.

Forcing a spinally injured and seriously depleted body into a standing position will cause enormous pressures on the weakened structure, particularly, in my case, at the lumbar sacral junction, the hip joints and the knees, but also along the length of the spine and throughout the trunk, none of which has the capacity to support such a demanding position. Even with straps and supports your body will inevitably use all its strengths to maintain the position, overshadowing and further ingraining the weaknesses, and if you’re not careful, further deforming the structure. Take that to the next level of strapping your body into an exoskeleton and you not only force it into an upright position, but you force it to articulate when it is not truly capable of doing so, dramatically increasing undue stress upon the structure. The depleted trunk and compressed spine will be severely overloaded, especially at the disconnection of the lumbar sacral junction. The hip joints can’t even work as the joints they should be due to their lack of insertion into the pelvis. Rather than articulate at the hips a spinally injured body simply hinges in that region with ventral tightness and overstretched dorsal tendons. The knees and ankle joints will have very little, if any, hydraulic capacity to them so will be incapable of supporting proper separation of the bones. All of this risks damage to the joints and the ligaments, over tightening of what muscles and tendons are still functioning, over stretching of others and is generally an extremely abusive way of treating a spinally injured body. Do I need to say any more, because I haven’t even touched upon the insertion of sensors into the skull!

At first glance the use of an exoskeleton may sound like a great thing to do, but when we see the reality it is something to run a mile from (metaphorically speaking). Many para and tetraplegics have no feeling in their bodies below the level of paralysis and may be blindly unaware of the damage they are doing to their bodies, but I can assure you, that even if they feel no pain in the short term, they will suffer in the long term. Furthermore, even if the technology was perfected and you could accept the damage you would be doing to your body and afford the high price tag, what do you actually achieve by using one? Last year there was a walk up Leith Hill, the highest point in South East England. It was a ‘Save Leith Hill’ walk as the natural beauty spot was under threat from the oil drillers. Maybe I could have walked it with a perfected exoskeleton, but it’s a big maybe. The last stretch is super steep with tree roots and loose sand. If you lost your balance you’d be in big trouble. All you actually needed, though, was a couple of straps on the front of your wheelchair and a few strong lads, which is exactly what I had. People to help you will get you places that technology never will, with no damage to the body and companionship to go with it. The buzz of getting to the top of the hill was great.

An exoskeleton is nothing more than a gimmick and a dangerous one at that.

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Structure

September 22, 2019

 

For years I’ve been asked whether I’ve ‘got the muscles working again’, ‘can I move my legs’ or ‘can I brace my knees’? I understand people’s desire to to see and hear of signs that I’m overcoming the paralysis, after all is that not the task in hand? Such questions, however, rather miss the point as to what we are really setting out to achieve. This year all that has changed. People have stopped asking questions and instead have been noticing the differences; yes in how I move my legs and move around in general, but more importantly, noticing the changes in the shape and form of my body.

I was in the pub on New Year’s Eve and a friend of mine told me I must be proud of myself for what I’ve achieved. She pointed out that my neck and shoulders now looked liked everyone else’s where before they weren’t normal with my head sunk down into the body. Not only had she noticed the structural change, but appreciated that such structural improvement, way above the level of paralysis, was something to be proud of.

The following day an old member of my bodywork team came to visit. I was squatting on a stool and leaning on my knees. “Look at you!” she said. It was not a position easily, or comfortably, obtainable for a true paraplegic. It takes sufficient pelvic structure, and capacity in the trunk, together with structure in the knees and ankles to sit like that. In one glance she appreciated the improvements that had taken place. A couple of months later when back in Dorking, my home town, a friend suggested, in exclamation, that I’d been body building! I’ve been body building for years, but not in the sense of pumping iron. All those years of work are really coming to fruition with the structural changes resulting in a greatly expanded chest, broader shoulder girdle and muscular form that reflects the improved inner capacity, although any muscle bulk is incidental. Such comments have been the theme for the year and finally I can successfully promote ABR Therapy as a way of building structural improvements and not as a means to get the paralysed muscles working again.

Getting the muscles working again is, of course, the ultimate goal. Walking will never be possible without the use of the muscles in the legs and although walking remains a distant dream and not in the forefront of my imagination, I haven’t totally given up on the possibility. Structural improvements, however, are what we work upon. They are the achievable goals. Use of the muscles is dependent upon a nerve pathway from the brain, that which is damaged in the spinal cord, and there is nothing I can do to directly address that. Scientists have been working on that very issue for decades with little or no success. But what if we could get the muscles going again; wouldn’t that solve the problem I hear you say. Well, it would be like taking a wreck of a car with worn out wheel bearings, slack ball joints, broken suspension springs, cracked chassis, leaking brake seals and rusted through exhaust pipe and thinking that getting the engine running will sort the car out.

The car analogy is exactly the scenario you have with scientists attempts to turn paraplegics into the bionic man. Julie Hill was the first to go down that road. They quite literally wired her muscles up to electric stimulation, via a computer, and although they never got her walking she did power a recumbent cycle with her legs. I happened to see her at a charity event at the time she was pursuing that approach. It was a cross country event where we the wheelchair users had a team of people dragging us around a hill (I don’t do that sort of thing any more, but it was great fun at the time). Julie’s lower legs, ankles and feet were so swollen that she strapped them, barefooted, to her wheelchair footplate. They were too swollen to put shoes on! I can only imagine that the abuse of shocking muscles into action in a structurally deficient body was more than her legs could bear. Not only was this experiment celebrated in a documentary on national television, some years later it was made into a film starring Caroline Quentin. I don’t knock Julie Hill for giving it a go or anyone involve for their quest to improve the lives of paraplegics. Personally, however, I would run a mile (metaphorically speaking) if those scientists came anywhere near me.

Conventional rehabilitation always seems to involve forcing the body into a standing position and working on what little muscle capacity remains. We work at rebuilding the underlying structure, all that is normally considered passive; the inner volume, joint capsules, ligamentous structures, skin and bone etc. In this way we recreate a structural framework that is capable of making best use of what little neurological capacity may remain. I am still totally paralysed below the knee and yet there has been substantial improvement in the structure of my ankles and feet, which is enormously beneficial, showing the importance of this work even if there is no hope for neurological improvement. From the waist down to the knees I have regained a great deal of use of my body, as a reflection of the structural improvements.

My old landlord in Brockham was sixty when I first knew him. He was arthritic then, the structure of his body abused by a hard working life, and he was still logging and fencing. He’s now in his early eighties and although he still tends his veg patch and his chickens and displays his collection of old tools at shows, he does much of it from a mobility scooter these days. He said to me, “It’s a grand life as long as you don’t get weak”. Muscles give us power, but it’s structure that gives us strength.

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Spinalroots the Movie

September 1, 2019

A film for the future of Spinal Injuries Rehabilitation

Now released online on my website, Vimeo and YouTube.

http://spinalroots.uk

http://www.vimeo.com/spinalroots/film

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJxQ3sm9dpk

or watch it here

Please share links as you feel appropriate