Rediscover your Arms
Thursday, September 1, 2005
by: Stacy Barrows, GCFP

Section: The Shoulders

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 Shoulder Clock lesson below). 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.

Try this Shoulder Clock Awareness Through Movement® Lesson

1. Lie on your right side and support your head with a pillow or your right arm. Rest your left hand on the floor in front of you with your elbow slightly bent. Bend your knees slightly to rest comfortably on your side.
2. Observe where your shoulder blade is and feel how it responds to your breath. Does it move with your breath and how does it move?
3. Imagine a clock on the ceiling with 12:00 in the direction of your head and 6:00 in the direction of your feet. Gently slide your shoulder blade in the direction of 12:00, and back to where you started. How easily does it move? Does it move in a straight line or does it meander around? How smooth is the movement? Don’t try to over-do and instead do the movement gently to observe the quality of your motion.
4. Move the shoulder blade in the opposite direction, to 6:00. How does this compare? How does your breath move, and how does it relate to the movement of your shoulder blade?
5. Slide your shoulder blade in the forward direction, toward 3:00 on your imaginary clock. Does your body roll forward or back with this movement?
6. Slide the shoulder blade in the opposite direction, toward 9:00. Which is the easier direction, 3:00 or 9:00?
7. Gently move your shoulder blade in a circle clockwise, traveling from 12:00 to 3:00 to 6:00 to 9:00 and back up to 12:00.
8. Reverse the direction. Observe how you are breathing, the ease of your movement and how the rest of you moves.
9. Sit up and compare the two sides of your body. What differences do you notice between the two sides?
10. Lie on your left side and follow the directions, but this time just 
do the movements in your imagination. Are you able to do the movements gently and without holding your breath?
11. Sit up again and compare the two sides of your body. What differences do you feel now?
12. Stand up and walk around and feel how your arms move as you walk. Do you feel your arms swing with a new sense of ease as you walk?

Stacy Barrows, is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais PractitionerCM, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and PMA Pilates Instructor. She is the creator of the Smartroller® tools and author of Smartroller Guide to Optimal Movement, 2nd ed. Stacy co-owns Century City Physical Therapy, Inc., and specializes in movement re-education to all ages.



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