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By Debbie Roberts, LMT

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Never Give Up: Healing Success Stories

Healing Success Stories

These are a few sweet stories about never giving up on the healing process, or the person. My experience of "never giving up" was established early in 1988 while working with stroke patients. At that time, I was doing a lot of massage therapy, specifically for the experience of treating difficult cases.

Kay: Button Sewing

One such extraordinary case happened when I was working with an elderly lady who had suffered a stroke. This not only left her wheelchair-bound, but she also suffered the loss of movement in her right hand. The most frustrating thing for her was not being able to sew; all she wanted to do was sew on a button.

I worked two to three times a week with her over a period of three months, doing massage over and over to help her hand and thumb. I used neurolinguistic programming while I moved her hand. I would talk the whole time about how her thumb was functioning better and better. I made grasping movements while talking and massaging.

Never Give Up: Healing Success Stories - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark One Sunday night I got a call at 6:30 from a very excited husband. "Debbie, guess what Kay just did? She sewed on a button, thank you so much for never giving up." She was nine years post stroke at that time. I learned such a valuable lesson — anything is possible, you just have to figure out the best way to facilitate healing for the person with whom you are working.

Herb: Dance Formula

Fast forward to 2017 and this leads me to another incredible sweet story about never giving up. This gentleman named Herb, who suffers from diabetic neuropathy, went from a hospital bed, to a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane, and then unbelievably — to dancing with me. This is where massage and exercise combined equals true therapy.

Never Give Up: Healing Success Stories - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Causes of Diabetic Neuropathy

Research suggests that diabetic neuropathy is a complication that can result from sustained high blood sugar levels. In Herb’s case the doctors thought it was caused by alcohol consumption. The explanation is that alcoholics drink instead of eat; therefore, they disrupt their blood sugar levels.

However, not everyone will develop neuropathy from high blood sugar levels, so researchers think there may be other influences. There are lifestyle factors to consider as well, such as smoking; metabolic factors; duration of diabetes and cholesterol levels; and autoimmune factors, which can inflame the nerves and cause damage.

Also, nerve and blood vessel factors can cause damage to the blood vessels, making them less able to carry oxygen and other nutrients that nerves need.  There are genetic traits that increase susceptibility. Additionally, there can be damage done to the nerves, such as in carpal tunnel syndrome.

Treating Neuropathy

We begin by trying to restore the loss of function to the peripheral nervous system. Every nerve in your peripheral system has a specific function, so symptoms will depend on the type of nerves that have been affected.

In Herb’s case, he had damage to his sensory nerves which receive sensation, such as temperature, pain, vibration or touch, from the skin. He also had damage to his motor nerves that control muscle movement, and his autonomic nerves that control functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and the bladder.

What do you restore first? The answer is proprioception. Proprioception is the cumulative sensory input to the central nervous system from all the mechanoreceptors that sense body position and limb movement. Proprioceptive exercises help the body relearn how to control the position of the joint.

Restoring our kinesthetic awareness is required for every move we make. We can train our bodies to improve proprioception within muscles just by creating different balance challenges. The following are the ones I used with Herb.

Treatments Steps

First I put Herb in a safe environment — there was always a chair behind him in case he needed to sit down. I had him boxed in at the cable column where he could easily hang on.
I put down a yoga mat and took off his shoes and socks to help him regain his kinesthetic awareness from his feet to his hips.

We would start out by using a hydrocollator pack to warm his feet up and help with circulation. This would be followed by rolling.

I initially started him off rolling his feet using just a foam roller. Then for added stimulation I incorporated a vibrating roller. (Any vibration device would work to add extra stimulation.) I started with just 15 seconds until we worked up to one minute. Please use caution, as stimulation can initially cause pain sensations that they have not felt in a long time, since the neuropathy causes numbness — so a little goes a very long way.

Herb had a drop foot, so we had to constantly work on his tibialis muscle to get it to fire again. Please note how important this is for walking. Without your tibialis muscle firing you cannot clear the ground in gait, and that is how people fall. His anterior tibialis was initially ice cold, but gradually over time and with very light pressure massage it started to warm up and respond. I would massage his anterior compartment of his leg and the top of his foot while he used a rocker board, making side-to-side and forward-to-back movements. These movements stimulate our walking mechanics of inversion, eversion, plantarflexion and dorsiflexion. I also did this with him in a standing position.

You must get the central nervous system to join in, so I used neuro-linguistic programming again here of bringing his foot up and having him focus on not letting the foot drop. Please note this is a very long, tedious process before you get the response you are looking for. He couldn’t do it at all, but now he is up to 20-second holds.

To re-establish proprioception, you start them standing with the hands hovering over the handles and ask them to close their eyes for five seconds then open for 10 seconds or longer. Keep increasing the eyes-closed time. Today, Herb can stand for a full 60 seconds with his eyes closed without falling over. In fact, today Herb can do 10 seconds with the eyes closed on a foam pad, which is incredible.

What Can Happen When You Refuse to Give Up

Herb and I have been together working on his gait with proprioceptive training and strength training for over five months now. He has good days and not-so-good days. The message here is never give up. During your massage and exercise therapy use words, movements and stimulation to reconnect the central nervous system response. I forgot to mention he is 81 and was diagnosed with pre-dementia and that has improved dramatically also. Herb wanted to be able to dance again, so in our last session and one of his good days I said, "Herb, shall we dance?" And we did. The joy on his face remains imprinted on my heart. I hope you find an Herb and you dance. Happy Therapy!   

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