Posts Tagged ‘wheelchair’

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Music & Dance

September 5, 2021

Last weekend I went to Beautiful Days music festival at Escot Park in Devon. Three days of bands, beer tents and camping. For many years such weekends have been a damage limitation exercise. Looking after myself has not always been easy. The lack of home comforts and the demands of roughing it, together with being on the go for twelve hours a day tend to take their toll. This time was different though. Sleeping on a air bed in a tent is never the most comfortable, but I woke up each morning with no aches and pains. We’d head down to the festival around midday and not return to the tent until midnight and yet I never had trouble with a sore bum or aching lower back, nor trouble with my feet swelling up. In fact I’d never felt so alive for a long time.

Switching off from everyday life and letting your hair down is always a good thing to do for a weekend and never more so than after eighteen months without getting away. I lost count of the number of performers who did there ‘ good to be back after lockdown speech’. More importantly, my body is getting so good that I’m better placed for dealing with the rigours of such a weekend and being the first weekend away for a long time this was very noticeable. My whole body has improved, since my last camping trip, from foundation in the head and neck right down to pelvic quality and flow down into the legs. There’s a sense of wholeness to my body that hasn’t existed for too long.

Music is so intrinsic to who we are and there is nothing better than live music and a crowd of people to fill you with spirit. Dance, with its rhythmical movements, has got to be one of the best forms of exercise, although, when paralysed, exercise has to be treated carefully. When I was totally paralysed from the waist down it was good to feel the rhythm in that part of my body I could still use, but difficult to gain the full experience of dance. With so much more connection in my body, dancing can be truly wonderful again. Improved capacity to the pelvis and greatly strengthened lumbar sacral junction means I can move my whole body and I even discovered new strength in the hip joints, bringing the legs into play. One band got the audience swaying from side to side with their hands in the air. I tend to shy away from such antics, but they pulled it off well so I went along with it and was pleasantly surprised by my ability to move from one bum cheek to the other, with real strength of structure and muscular function in the buttocks.

The Levellers, whose cult following I’ve been a member of since the 90’s, put on the festival each year and always headline on the Sunday night. They’re a great band to sing along to and singing is another great exercise which can improve the capacity of the chest through the vibrations of the voice box. Clapping is also a good way of inputting into the structure of the body and it’s fascinating how our social ways can be so good for our health. I spent the weekend singing, dancing, clapping, meeting new people and hugging and kissing the girls; all that has been denied us during the pandemic. Despite the struggles of getting around the site, especially in the mud of a wet Saturday, I was uplifted by the experience of the whole weekend. I left on the Monday morning having grown in stature, and in spirit.

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To Simply Be

August 3, 2021

A friend of mine is such a doer. He goes from work to the golf course, to the gym, to the pub in a never ending drive to fill each day. He doesn’t stop! I on the other hand am happy to sit in my rocking chair, outside the back door, gazing up the garden and listening to the birds. I admire my friends energy, and often wish I had more myself, but I can’t help thinking he’s somewhat lacking in the ability to ‘simply be’.

One of the toughest things about being disabled is living in a body that can deny you the ability to ‘be’. Being is not just a state of mind, it also requires sufficient structure to the body to physically be, without effort. These days I have little trouble in that respect, but that has not always been the case. Sitting used to take constant effort. Muscular involvement was necessary to make up for the lack of intrinsic capacity and the need for muscular involvement takes effort and so an inability to switch off and truly relax …and that was from the waist up. Below the waist I had no usable muscles and the structure was very collapsed, so although there was no conscious effort, that paralysed part of my body very much contributed to the struggles in what I could still consciously use. Even if there is no awareness of paralysed body, and no feeling of aches and pains, then the poor structural quality will still have a negative affect on your overall physical health and it is that wholeness of health that is so important for the ability to simply be.

These days my body is so much better that I can sit in my rocking chair and very much relax, with maybe just a slight tension in the lumbar sacral junction. Having lost the ability to be and having now very much regained it, I may have more appreciation than many of the importance of simply being. Western culture is such a culture of doing. Not only is there a constant drive to work to provide for living, there is then the tendency to find things to do to fill the rest of our time. As a society we have gone from earning money out of the work that needs doing to creating work for the sake of earning money. We find ourselves more and more embroiled in a reliance on manufactured goods and with less and less time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Is it any wonder that nature’s turning round and saying enough is enough. Maybe we all need to learn the art of being rather than doing and good physical structure plays it’s part in this.

Native Americans are the epitome of being rather than doing. Did we miss an opportunity to learn from them?

One of the things I love about the therapy work I do is that, not only does it build up the capacity to ‘be’, in it’s way of achieving improvements in structure it actually encourages the art of being. No pain no gain does not come into it. The work we do is about delivering gentle inputs into the body. It takes hours and hours of repetitive work to make the changes, but the work itself is really quite relaxing. Perhaps my friend would be wise to do a little less rushing around and give up the no pain no gain work down the gym, after all gyms are for building up strength in a well balanced body and not for getting into shape once your body has lapsed. If he’d allow me to show him how to rebuild that root of weakness in his neck and shoulder girdle and alter his ways to a more gentle therapeutic approach then maybe he’d find more pleasure in the art of simply being.

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Paradoxical Shoulder

July 8, 2021

When I moved into my cottage there was a garage / carport / workshop in the backyard. The roof, a heavy boarded felt roof, was held up with 2 x 2 uprights. For those of you not English, or too young to know inches, that’s 50 x 50 mm lengths of wood, incredible flimsy for the job. The whole thing was leaning so I anchored it to the Laurel hedge, winched it upright and braced it up. Years later in 2015 it was time to replace the uprights and build a decent side to my workshop. I laid a footing and a row of blocks, inserted much stronger wooden posts, built in a window and then came the job of cladding. I used 16 foot lengths of 8 inch feather edge, not too heavy until you have to hold them up with one hand to get the first nail in. The following morning my left shoulder was in agony.

Before
….and After

When I broke my back I also broke my collar bone to which the consultant’s answer was that collar bones mend themselves. The two halves were so overlapped that it was only possible for them to join fibrously and the more active I became the more the two halves moved. Two and a half years after breaking my back I finally persuaded a surgeon to bolt the two halves back together, but the damage was done. Having to use a wheelchair with catastrophic collapse of the core structure of your body is bad enough. Top that with a broken collar bone and you end up with serious weakness and deformation of structure. Amazingly, for nearly 20 years my left shoulder rarely troubled me, until I built my workshop wall.

The body has an incredible capacity to compensate and had locked in the weakness using the outer muscular shell to provide the necessary stability for the use of the arms. The shoulder blades, that should play a substantial part in stabilising the arms, were sunk into the body and floated around playing no functional role and yet I could use my arms for strenuous activity, albeit not in a good way. As we slowly but surely improved the structure of my trunk we opened up the collapsed structure and exposed the weaknesses that had been buried for so long. The alignment of the structure was improved but the connections so weak that all of a sudden I had to be so careful as to how I used my upper body. Nailing up the cladding to the workshop wall was too much for the newly exposed weaknesses.

Since then my shoulder has gone through so many stages. We have worked deeper into the body exposing and strengthening level after level, little by little getting to the core of the problem. Strangely, the more we rebuild the structure the more strength I find to lift my weight and move my body around while at the same time small movements can become difficult. At one point I struggled to lift a dinner fork to my mouth. The shoulder blade is so much better anchored these days and we are now exposing weakness in the connection of the humerus, at the ball and socket, and the upper arm. Although stronger than ever sometimes when sitting still my arm will lock at the shoulder joint and I physically have to lift it with the other hand to free it off. The paradox of improving strength on one hand and difficulty with gentle movement on the other is fascinating, but the great thing is I continue to improve and one day my left shoulder will cease to trouble me.

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Workout

April 5, 2021

I went for a walk with a friend the other day in the Nower in Dorking; it’s public woods and grassland. We used to go sledging there as kids so as you can imagine it’s on the side of a hill and not very wheelchair friendly. I enjoyed the walk (or wheel), enjoyed the company and it was great to be trekking around my old stomping ground again. At the end I was exhausted and it was remarked that I’d had a good workout, but was it really good for me?

Gazebo at the top of the Nower

If I did it too often it wouldn’t be good, but now and then does me no physical harm and worth it for the other benefits, although to think of it as a workout would be wrong. In terms of improving my physical condition there is absolutely nothing to be gained by struggling in a wheelchair. To overcome paraplegia you have to be a lot cleverer than that. When my body was terribly depleted, physical exertion was definitely counter productive in terms of ingraining the changes and further deforming the body. In the few years after injury (before the ABR years) I did much damage in taking my body in the wrong direction and much time and effort has been invested since to reverse this. These days I am much stronger, and more capable, while at the same time I am more sensitive and tuned in to the counter productive nature of using my body beyond its limits and I tend to shy away from such activity.

When you live in a body with insufficient structure to support certain functions it is important to improve that underlying structure rather than struggle with function that abuses the already weak structure. The work we do is all about improving the underlying structure through external mechanical inputs, building it up to the point where function becomes possible. Only then, once the functional ability is achieved, does a workout become sensible. Such an approach should not only be adopted by the severely disabled, but also by the significant number of able bodied people who find themselves out of shape.

We get many joggers down our lane. The occasional one is in good shape and it’s a joy to see a body so capable of effortlessly moving at speed, although for most it is painful to watch their misguided attempts to improve their fitness. The other day there was a women with a distinct weakness at the lumbar sacral junction. Instead of a strong trunk supporting the pelvis and allowing true articulation at the hip joints, the hips were rigid and the body twisted at the waist with every step. The inputs into the body, from the reaction of each step against the ground, could ascend no further than that weakness and could only build up bulk around the already immobile hips. I see many joggers with hunched up shoulders, and head sunk down into the body, locking up the weakness in the neck and shoulder girdle in order to gain the stability to support the lower trunk and legs. Again no inputs can work up into the weakness, it’s too locked up.

One day I’ll teach people how to strengthen their structural weaknesses and get in shape to the point that they’re then in a position to jog with ease and have the capacity to build up their fitness.