To all social media fitness, wellness, medicinal, nutritional, alternative, and disease management influencers out there, way to go! Writing (and editing), recording (and editing), taking photos (and editing) takes a lot of time. I now understand how that becomes a full-time job for you.
My original plan was to document a daily self-care achievement. For example, I can passively rotate my left wrist a “smidge” more after 60+ days of self-care. But because MS slows me down, I don’t have the time to record, edit and do a voice-over to illustrate this illustrious achievement. Therefore, I tend to spend my days moving, not documenting how I’m moving.
I wish I did have the time. MS has taught me that if I’m patient enough, small changes will slowly lead to the goal I’m trying to achieve. Like the photo above, the more buttons I push, the closer I get to a walk signal turning on. Something I wish I knew years ago. And although documenting mini-advancements would be beneficial to many, it makes for mighty, boring content. So in lieu of that, here’s a run down of what I’ve learned and accomplished over the past 60-or-so days.
- Standing much more symmetrically along with being better able to activate the quad, hip and glute muscles on my left side.
- Walking better without constantly collapsing down into my weaker leg.
- Sitting more symmetrically.
- I can exhibit proper toe push off about 50% of the time.
- It’s getting easier to roll over while supine (laying down).
- I’m beginning to activate my hamstrings a “tad” (which I’m pretty sure is less than a “smidge”). Although that doesn’t sound impressive, they’ve been dead for about 8 years so moving them at all is pretty amazing.
- I can also internally rotate my weak leg more which is helping me walk better using my entire foot not just the outside edge and keeps me from rolling my ankle.
I did this by learning ways to modify my movements to work on midline shifting, balance, quad strength, hip flexion, hamstring activation, as well as joint mobility. Like most things in my life, I happened down an online MS rabbit hole and started clicking on YouTube videos which led to more videos which led to an awesome stroke patient resource that I hijacked for my MS. Sadly it was about 6-weeks before I realized there were playlists on this site with specific videos I could have followed in a very specific order (which I highly recommend you do). For weeks, I spent my mornings clicking and watching, then spent my afternoons trying stuff out. My favorites that help the most are: Walking Progressions Playlist; Core Max Review and Exercises; Stages of Motor Recovery; Tall Kneeling; and Abnormal Muscle Synergies.
The most important thing I’ve learned since starting this self-care challenge is that modifications matter. Telling me what to work on is great. Giving me a modification, so I can actually do the exercise you recommend, is even better. Medical professionals tend to give the best modifications. Dr. Tobias of Orlando Physical Therapy takes it a step further and recommends props and products you can buy to modify your exercise regimen at home. This has been my biggest game changer since starting.
The Core Max helps with quad strength and hip flexion. The booty bands allow me to flex my knee and activate my hamstrings. The wedge keeps me from rolling my ankle. The table takes the place of my floor so laying down and getting up is easier. The chair allows me to safely balance, stretch, squat, and do yoga poses.
Another “A-ha” moment involved understanding the importance of focusing on my joints. Working to decrease spasticity, increase muscle tone and re-create neural pathways is wonderful. But joint mobility is just as important. I been adding everything Bianca from BeFit Movement Therapy taught me last year, to the newer exercises I’m working on which is helping a lot.
Yoga teachers always talk about joint lubrication. But Functional Range Conditioning and Kinstretch trainers are the ones discussing joint capacity (making sure your joints can bear weight in all directions). If a joint can’t handle the load, the brain won’t allow the muscles and tissues surrounding it to change in terms of flexibility or strength. So it’s not merely about moving joints, but increasing isometric resistance while moving the joints.
I tend to blame MS for everything when in actuality, MS creates patterns that are often later to blame. MS makes my arm spastic. When Baclofen pills, Botox shots and stretching failed, I assumed my MS was to blame. It is the cause for sure. But shooting botulism into a bicep muscles while ignoring the joints above and below them AND refusing to strengthen the opposing muscles, the triceps, didn’t help the situation.
Adding joint work such as CARS, Rails, and Pails to my daily regimen has helped a lot. I will write about those at some point, (once I better understand them) but Google them if you’re unsure what I’m talking about. As soon as I can figure out how to Rail and Pail a non-functioning arm, I’ll let you know (if you have any ideas, please hit me up).
I do best when medical and fitness-wellness worlds collide. The medical model gives fantastic modifications and adaptations for people like me to move better. But it can only focus on therapies that have been empirically proven to work for a diagnosed condition. The fitness-wellness industries tend to offer cutting-edge stuff that has yet to be researched as viable therapy options and thus aren’t covered by insurance.
Fitness professionals are often without rehabilitation training, so they don’t necessarily think about modifications for people like me when making videos or writing books. I get it. They have plenty of able-bodied customers walking through their doors, so they don’t have to. Sometimes you’ll luck out and find an OT who teaches yoga, a Kinstretch trained PT, or a chiropractor who’s also offers NeuroKinetic therapy. These folks tend to figure out how to fuse together their medical and fitness worlds which is often the missing piece you need.
I did this myself. After becoming a 200-hour certified yoga instructor my speech therapy skills greatly improved. Breathing is your vocal power source. A yogic speech therapist is an awesome combination (if I do say so myself). Likewise, I took my anatomical knowledge and functional communication skills into the yoga studio when teaching a workshop or a class.
When I’m lucky enough to stumble across a resource that gives specific ways to modify their offerings, I try to learn as much as I can and carry those hacks over to other therapies or exercises I’m trying. If you’re NOT looking for new ways to exercise with a progressive condition, the above links are still worth checking out for the modifications alone. As your body or abilities change, it’s nice to know safe ways to adapt to those changes.
To be clear. I’m referring to changes across the spectrum in both directions. Some days you need to revise what you’re doing because of a relapse, stress, or an awful migraine that kept you up all night. Other days you need to amplify and take things up a notch to challenge yourself. Knowing how to do all versions of an exercise not only keeps you safe, but it also keeps you at peak condition.
Which brings me to my last realization. Think out of the box. Sometimes what you need to be working on just needs one little prop or modification to get you there. If I had a dollar for every time I assumed my body couldn’t do something, only to enlist the use of a prop and prove myself wrong, I’d be pretty wealthy by now (and probably much further along).
Featured Image: Unsplash / Ashim D’Silva