In Support of Arms

EASON, Libby
Publication: IASI – Yearbook / Language: English
Year: 2009 / Vol: 1 / Issue #: 1 / Page: 69-70

Gary came to my office for Rolfing Structural Integration in 2006. His history included having Legg-Calve-Perthes in both hips (also called Perthes disease), more severely in the left. He was confined in a body cast for six months at the age of three, and subsequently walked with crutches and leg braces for the next three years until the age of seven. As children are inclined to do, Gary was able to find ways to “run” with the crutches to keep up with other children.

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease usually occurs in boys 4-10 years old. There are many theories about the cause of this disease, but little is actually known. Without enough blood to the area, the bone dies .The ball of the hip will collapse and become flat. Usually only one hip is affected, although it can occur on both sides. The blood supply returns over several months, bringing in new bone cells. The new cells gradually replace the dead bone over 2-3 years.(1) Current treatments no longer include long periods of bed rest, or body casting.

In high school, Gary ran cross country, played soccer and swam competitively.He had practiced yoga for more than five years as a means of continuing his spiritual as well as physical evolution. He also did a lot of walking for aerobic exercise. Gary has come in for periodic “tune-ups” since the completion of his original series, and he continues to practice yoga and walk regularly.

Gary had had several injuries to his hips and knees. He had experienced plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and had cartilage removed from his right knee 25 years earlier. He had a motorcycle accident with injury to his left knee as well. Gary was suffering from sciatica with pain from his left back to his toes. Sometimes his left leg would “go out” during yoga postures. He reported feeling that his body had not re-adjusted after the Perthes and subsequent injuries had healed. He stated that he wanted to “re-own” his body.

During the course of our series it was evident that Gary had difficulty accessing his legs, and he expressed the desire to have more of a sense of connection. Each session included attention to movement and awareness designed to assist him in finding that connection.

As we were doing some tracking after session two, I had the impression that he needed to have his arms tracked as a way to connect to his legs. Afterward this made sense; his arms were his means of support during the developmental years, age three to seven, when he walked with braces and crutches. His arms were his legs for those years. It was a profound insight for both of us. The tracking of his arms and hands allowed him to sink more into his legs and feet. pecifically, the tracking included palmar fascia and then forearms and elbows, calling for the movement of elbows out and in.

Gary’s shoulder girdle was noticeably more developed than his lower body, as would be expected after walking on crutches. His posture and muscular development suggested the habit of holding himself up by his shoulders, rather than resting into his legs. It was after the tracking insight that it became apparent that this also included the habit of supporting from his hands.

Each session in the remainder of the series included attention to this tracking. In the integrative sessions, when working with Gary’s hands, arms and shoulder girdle, I moved the table so that he could keep his feet anchored against the wall. By working with the perceptual and coordinative structures, Gary was able to gain options for movement, more sense of connection, and to transfer the habituated support function from his hands and shoulders to his legs and feet. This resulted in a profound change in Gary’s ability to access ground and support. It also allowed him to let his shoulder girdle rest in a new way.

Since that series, I have noticed a similar pattern in anyone who has used crutches, particularly as a child. This shows up in people who have had polio, Perthes, congenital hip malformations, as well as injuries. This is true, even if the person continues to have to use crutches. Some of the perception and coordination of support can be shifted to legs and feet, even if the majority of the support is still coming through the use of crutches.

Evoking awareness of existing patterns, and suggesting new possibilities of movement, interferes with habitual patterns. This process allows for distribution of work, in this case, support, more evenly. Dr. Rolf is quoted as saying the body is a plastic medium. What we now know from recent research is that the brain is a plastic medium as well, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. When new patterns of movement are practiced over time, the “brain map” in the motor cortex actually changes In fact, the brain is always changing, or not, depending on our habits. Attention to movement possibilities is one way to keep that change moving in a positive direction.

Much of what we think of as structure is actually function. To quote Ludwig von

“What are called structures are slow patterns of long duration, functions are quick processes of short duration. If we say that a function such as the contraction of a muscle is performed by a structure, it means that a quick and short process wave is superimposed on a long-lasting and slowly running wave.”

And C.G. Jung:

“Often the hands know how to solve a riddle with which the intellect has struggled in vain.”

And to quote an old friend of mine,

“it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

1. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health