Brace free lessons: Recovery steps

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on April 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

In each stage of recovery from injury, one learns to accommodate the conditions that are necessary for healing. Casts, splints, braces, crutches, canes, stitches, medications and more may all be part of the return journey to mobility and health.  Hopefully, one has intelligent co-ordination of self and expert guidance so that the temporary necessity of artificial support does not mutate to a creation of ongoing need.

Since February 18 (10 weeks, 70 days), my left leg has been confined in either a post-surgery full leg splint, or in a Bledsoe Simple leg brace.  I have used a cane for balance, as well as a signal to people about my injured status.

I accustomed myself to full leg extension, then learned that my skills no longer applied once I had been allowed partial flexion. Then I learned to move with allowed partial flexion in the brace.  I adapted my life (with generous human help) to both the splint and the brace so that I could continue to function as well as possible, within a specific set of activity limitations.

After the previously mentioned 10 weeks, I removed the brace, on recommendation of my surgeon, and according to recovery protocol.  Fear and relief held a continuing discussion.  Relief in sleep quality, overall physical comfort, clothing choices confronted large anxieties about falling down, severe muscle atrophy, and new demands on the injured knee.  All the sensory signals for safety that I had developed had become associated with the weight, feel, and constriction of the leg brace.  Without the leg brace, my vulnerability seemed overwhelming.

But, as any Alexander student (and since I am an Alexander teacher, I am always a student), I learned through experience.  After sleeping without the brace (and being unnecessarily fearful about bending my knee in the night), I bravely dared to stand up in the morning.  Nothing terrible happened.  The knee was as stiff as ever, but I didn’t fall down.  I walked up the stairs to my office with two legs (both hands on the railings) almost like a normally mobile person, just with a wince and a lurch.  It was scary and my knee ached, but I could do it.  (I still can’t descend stairs like a normally mobile person, as my knee won’t yet bend enough.)

And the cane?  I remain uneasy  about going outdoors without it, but I see now how I have been delaying a level of recovery of balance and confidence by relying on my lovely cane.  We need assistance, then continue the assistance even when the need has changed.  This seems the essence of habit as related to injury recovery.

I am not mobile in any larger way.  I am slow and often scared of falling.  I walk with a very noticeable limp. My knee aches more and differently now that the demands upon my knee have changed.  The knee ache doesn’t alarm me, but it does remind me that I can’t end-gain this recovery nor speed it with my will.

I still can’t just “run” to the store, “jump” on a bus, board a flight, squat to pick up dropped keys.  “Walk” signs remain far too briefly timed for my street crossing pace.  I can sleep more comfortably, bathe easily, wear my regular clothes (not just brace-adaptive pants) and get to know my leg again with continuously changing use.

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