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The Art of Walking

March 21, 2011

Although I have little conception of what it is to walk, having not done so for nearly fifteen years, I remember vividly the struggles I had in the eight years prior to breaking my back and loosing the ability totally. At the age of twenty I was knocked off of a bicycle, left unconscious in the road and then run over by the following car. I suffered serious head and leg injuries, with a badly damaged left knee and a right ankle that was torn apart. I went down the conventional physiotherapy route until I was ready to soldier on back into life. For the next four years it got harder and harder to ‘soldier on’ until I was forced to reassess the situation. The answer was a renewed effort at more physio, which sparked the beginnings of developing a greater awareness of ‘the art of walking’.

For nine months I attended the leg class twice a week at the local hospital, growing stronger all the time. I had always enjoyed walking, and owned a dog, so applied myself to the task in hand. My approach was purely one of paying attention to muscular development. Our health establishment sees only that level in terms of strength. The higher level of the joints and bones of the skeletal structure they see purely as inert, possessing no quality that can be addressed and improved, and the higher level still of internal volume they fail to even recognize. I was forever questioning my physiotherapist (she soon got used to me!), but with limited knowledge had no reason to question the muscular approach. With what I have since learnt, it is now clear to me that I was dealing with serious weaknesses in the joints and the hydraulic capacity had fallen to such a low level that muscular effort could only ever further ingrain those weaknesses and do no more than compensate for them. However, the muscular approach was all I had at the time.

I began to focus on the specifics of walking, adjusting the angle of my feet and even the position of my knees. A podiatrist had told me that the arches of my feet had collapsed and made me some inserts to go in my shoes. My approach was to learn to use the muscles in my legs to hold my feet in that arched shape. I decided shoes were too inhibiting and took to walking around barefooted. It was hard on my feet to start with, but you soon toughen up; holly leaves were always the worst! We are talking, basically, of posture applied to the legs and it is amazing how, over time, you can alter the way you hold yourself. I started to question the notion that we walk on our heels.

No animal walks on its hock joints, what in a human is our heel. Many animals sit back on their hock joints when resting but always rise up onto their feet to walk. Having said that, no animal is a true upright being, not even the apes; they are all horizontal. Standing upright is what sets humans apart from the animals and so maybe walking on our heels is part and parcel of being human, an upright being.

I first came across this dilemma as a child. At the age of fourteen I ran the 1500 metres for the school (cross country was always my favourite, but track events were ok). The athletics’ teacher decided I should run in spikes and so my mother duly, albeit reluctantly, forked out for some spiked running shoes. What the athletics’ teacher failed to do, though, was to teach me to run up on my feet. I had never questioned how I ran and always put one foot in front of the other, placing my heel on the ground first. Unlike a pair of trainers, running spikes have no heel to cushion underneath yours and so the first race I ran simply tore my Achilles’ tendons. It took me over a year to get them to heal and was the end of my enjoyment of sport. If running spikes are designed to run up on your feet then it is clear that humans don’t always stomp around on their heels.

I pursued the art of walking up on my feet, taking small steps in quicker succession until I developed the ability to move almost effortlessly. You might have described it more as jogging than walking, but please don’t confuse this with that awful habit people have of hammering themselves into the ground in the name of fitness; it pains me to watch them. The movement I created I would have to describe as ‘locomotion’.

Breaking my back and becoming a paraplegic brought an end to this chapter of my life and it wasn’t until I became involved in ABR therapy (Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation) that I had a chance to reassess the way of locomotion that I had consciously created through attention to muscular effort. I had always been coping with damage to my joints and this affected the posture I developed. Using ABR techniques, despite the paralysis and after 12 years of living with those weaknesses to the joints, I have since addressed and improved those damaged joints. My right ankle was so bad that for years the foot and the heel had been locked together. After a hundred hours or so of working  on the ankle, the quality was improved to the point that the foot and ankle could once again be moved independently of each other. If only I had that knowledge all those years ago.

I am still undecided as to whether walking on our heels is part and parcel of being human or whether it is a slovenly state to which mankind has descended. I will reserve judgement until I can once more enter into the ‘art of walking’ and apply to that art the knowledge I have gained in rebuilding my spinally injured body. I do, though, look forward to attaining once again to ‘locomotion’.

One comment

  1. […] texto es una traducción de la entrada disponible en https://spinalroots.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/the-art-of-walking/, publicada por primera vez el 21 de marzo de […]



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