Mineral, Vegetable, Animal, Human

July 8, 2012

Paraplegia is a truly terrible condition. There are worse, I’m sure, and in a strange way it does give some comfort at times to think that there is always someone worse off than you, not that you would wish such misfortune on anyone. It is easy to think of paraplegia as a condition affecting the legs, but this is far from the reality of the condition. Paraplegia is the result of an injury to the trunk and primarily affects the core of the body, its intrinsic nature and capacity for basic functions. Before breaking my back, I lived for eight years with damage to my right ankle and left knee and am only too aware of how debilitating injuries to the limbs can be, but such damage has little affect on the core strength of the body and its intrinsic nature. It was always possible for me to put my feet up, take the weight off my legs and feel comfortable in my ability to exist in this world without effort, with core strength that supported my body without conscious muscular use. Since breaking my back, this has never been truly possible and is not possible for anyone with a spinal injury or other disability affecting the core of the body to such a deep level.

This lack of ability to simply ‘be’ is at the heart of just how terrible such disability is. Living without the use of the legs is not such a burden as you may imagine. Providing you have reasonable use of the arms, then getting used to a wheelchair is not so difficult. It requires the right set up, many houses are not suitable and many places become inaccessible, but overcoming such difficulties takes only good organisation and an acceptance that some things are no longer possible. Living with severely reduced intrinsic capacity to the core of the body is another matter altogether and requires near constant effort making relaxation and the ability to simply ‘be’ very difficult indeed. Many disabled people will spend their days slumped in a wheelchair using no muscular effort to maintain posture, but this by no means implies that they are relaxed and comfortable and further more, prolonged poor posture will eventually lead to further deformation and decline in structure. Others, myself included, take on that daily battle to hold and use a body well, having to rely on constant effort from those muscles not paralysed to compensate for both paralysed muscles and more importantly a lack of core strength. I have often watched tetraplegics, whose paralysis and lack of intrinsic capacity is far more extensive than my own, adjusting their position, often several times a minute, throughout the day in an effort to attain to a level of comfort through attention to posture. Such demand on the body is extremely tiring and a drain on inner resources. Luckily I have never had to struggle to such an extent, but the battle I have fought on a daily basis for the last sixteen years is the same. A battle that, I’m glad to say has got easier as we slowly but surely improve the condition of my body through ABR Therapy.

It is important to understand just how damaged the core of the body is by a spinal injury. The spinal cord is at the centre of the trunk and damage there affects every level outside it. Following a spinal cord injury the trunk is essentially reduced to a ‘vegetable’ state. Please don’t confuse this with people with brain injuries that are described as vegetable due to their lack of cognitive ability. We are talking here, not of cognitive ability, but of bio-mechanics; the physical structure of the body. The spine becomes very flat and stiff taking on the nature of a plant stalk or tree trunk. You often see severely disabled people in wheelchairs with their bodies very board like. Although my active nature meant that my body never really stiffened up into this board like condition, my body did descend into a ‘vegetable’ state, with a flat spine devoid of its curves. If the body should descend below the vegetable state then unfortunately you reach the ‘mineral’ state where the life force is extinguished and death occurs.

As we improved my body through the therapy program we began to bring the spine back to life and re-engage it as a structural element. As this happened my spine developed a curve to it and my body ascended into an ‘animal’ state of being. All vertebrate animals possess a ‘primary curve’. This is essentially a single curve to the spine although the more evolved the animal the greater the variation along that single curve theme.

We have now come so far through the therapy that my spine has developed the beginnings of the ‘super curve’, returning my body once again to a ‘human’ state. The super curve is the alternating convex and concave nature of the human spine and is that extra level of development that sets us apart from the animals. All animals are essentially horizontal beings. Those that have the ability to rear up on their hind legs can do so only briefly and those, such as the marsupials, that develop much stronger hind legs than front legs, still remain horizontal, four legged animals despite being able to power themselves forward using only their hind legs. It is the super curve that allows the human to be upright and two legged, freeing are arms for truly dextrous work.

Redeveloping the ‘super curve’ and returning my body to a ‘human’ state has been a significant milestone in the rebuilding of my body. I must stress that this stage is in its infancy and there is still much work to do, but there has been that switch from ‘primary curve’ to ‘super curve’ bringing with it a new way of being. For the first time in nearly sixteen years my body has an ability to support itself in an upright position with very little muscular effort. Ok, upright as in sitting upright not as in standing, but nonetheless one more important step in the process. That daily battle to support my body through conscious muscular effort is beginning to come to an end and with it comes a greater level of comfort and a return of the ability to ‘be’, freeing me, to some extent, from the confines of disability and raising me up to a higher physical, and more spiritual, level of existence and bringing far more relaxation to my life.


  1. It has always fascinated me that we experience uprightness despite the fact that our spine has this super curve as you call it, since in my teaching uprightness was very important in what i taught in eurythmy. I really concur with the freedom you describe it seems like a wonderful dream. keep it up!

  2. I just found your blog. I am struck by your negative assessment of what you can and cannot do as a paralyzed man. I am intrigued however by your efforts to work on your bodily core. And in this I agree–SCI is less about the inability to walk than the problems associated with our core. I for one do not worry about what my body can no longer do–this seems pointless to me. I maximize what I can do. I also rail against social injustice that is commonplace. I am a T-3 paraplegic since 1978. Been healthy as ox with once exception in 2010. You might want to check out Bad Cripple where I write about disability rights.

    • My assessment was realistic and I’m sorry if you found it negative. It’s easy to gloss over the problems associated with paraplegia, but if we don’t understand the true nature of the condition then there is little hope of conquering paraplegia and returning a damaged body to full health; something that I am well on the way to doing.

      • Of course one needs to be realistic. I did not suggest one should gloss over problems associated with SCI. Prevention of common issues is basic–daily skin checks, regular visits to a urologist etc. And yes one needs to be intimately familiar with their body. But this can be said of pretty much any person with a chronic condition. I am perplexed by paralyzed people interested in what you call full health. I have never considered myself to be sick. Does full health mean a cure for SCI?

  3. Yes, full health does mean curing SCI, although I am uncomfortable with the term ‘cure’. There are no magic cures, but through a way known as ‘Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation’ I have found a strategy that is heading me that way and I have no reason to think that I won’t one day be able bodied again. If you haven’t arrived at my blog through my website then you may be interested to visit http://www.spinalroots.net where you will find more information and links to ABR websites. Thank you for your intersest.

    • I wish you the best of luck. “Cure” is a word I too am uncomfortable with. I find your views interesting as they are so different from mine.

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