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Helping People to “Rediscover Their Arms”

By Stacey Barrows, GCFP

As a physical therapist that specializes with shoulders, I have seen problems following surgeries, accidents and poor usage. My training as a therapist has helped me find ways for people to jump-start their recovery but as a Feldenkrais® practitioner, I have found ways to help them rediscover their arms.

A woman came to me because of severe pain in her shoulder. She was unsuccessful with stretching and regular exercise. “Susan” was a piano player and had deep wishes to return to her playing but, because of her shoulder pain, she was unable. She had had a surgery that repaired the rotator cuff tendons of her shoulder, but after rehabilitation and many exercises, she was unable to do what she wanted to do: play the piano without pain. From her physical therapy, Susan understood what good mechanics were for her shoulder, but she was unable to actually perform these mechanical changes.

We started with her touching her arm and feeling for the areas that gave her pain. She was amazed to find out that these same areas seemed to be vague in her sense of her body. There was a significant scar that she was massaging too strongly, so I had her soften her touch. Next, I invited her to notice how her shoulder blade felt with the movement with her breath. She came to notice that the blade rose and fell with her breath, as if it were something riding a wave or current. This seemed to allow her to sense her shoulder blade more clearly. I had her drawing a circle with the motion of her shoulder blade (See Shouler Clock lesson in this issue). While lying on her side, we also related the movement of her shoulder blade to movements of her fingers. She began to create piano scales with a new awareness of her upper body. We progressed to exploring her abilities to sit with ease and use less of her neck muscles so her arm could work more efficiently. This enabled her to start using the computer with little pain. Next, I had her imagine piano scales using this newly found ease with her arm. She then progressed to playing tunes and asked when she could return to playing the piano.

Finally, we returned to playing the piano to find that she not only was able to play with much less pain but with a more coordinated feeling with her fingertips. I have found that people who come to improve their shoulder mechanics through the Feldenkrais Method® not only discover ways to move the arm with more ease and comfort but discover that many of their daily habits create interference. I have become a better physical therapist by using the Feldenkrais Method and I love the creative ways I can assist my students to make the best recovery possible.

Stacey Barrows is a physical therapist and co-director of Century City Physical Therapy, Inc.

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