The Tale of the Lame Paw
Diane was coming for private lessons to learn to eliminate chronic back pain. She also attended classes and was enthusiastic about her progress.
One day, she asked me if I worked with animals and mentioned that her one-year-old dog Scamp had been struck by a car a month earlier and was lame. I had never worked with animals and repeatedly declined the invitation to work with him. "I have no experience with animals," I said, "I don't feel qualified."
Three weeks later, she arrived for her scheduled session with Scamp who had been getting worse. He trotted around on three legs but would often try to put weight on his left front paw which hung limply. The paw had been getting twisted and lacerated, hurting him even more. Diane explained that after several visits to the vet to attend to these additional injuries, her vet had declared the paw a nuisance and insisted on amputating it. "Before he has his paw amputated, would please see if you can help him?" she begged. "Work with him instead of me today. The amputation is scheduled for later this week."
"Please,” she insisted, as I wavered, “I would like to give him a chance before his paw is cut off."
This was going to be an experiment. I silently asked myself whether a useful tactic might be to work with Scamp exactly the way I worked with my two legged clients. Would his nervous system respond positively?
Scamp was a cute and spunky mutt. I watched him running around the room, tail wagging, hobbling on three legs, occasionally putting some weight on the affected limb and I saw what happened to him when he did that. He was quite frisky nonetheless and I worried that he wouldn't sit still while I tried to work with him. I was wrong.
I had thrown an oil cloth on my dining room table (you never know...) and covered that with a soft towel. Scamp had sniffed my feet and legs and my hands and let me pet him. Diane lifted him onto the table and I positioned him so that he was lying on his affected side. As soon as I began to touch him to make calm and reassuring contact, he fell quiet and lay still for the next 45 minutes seemingly paying attention to what I was doing with him. Sometimes he closed his eyes, other times not.
I decided to begin the session as I would all my sessions: Get the person to lie comfortably on the table, support with foam or rolled towels or pillows various parts of the body to create the experience of complete comfort. Start the non-verbal inquiry and communication as far away from the injury or painful area to reduce in the recipient the fear of being hurt, and to eliminate the muscular tension that accompanies worry and fear. Use very small movements and touch lightly in order to find out which muscles are overworking and tight. Begin to explore the overall mobility or lack thereof of the skeleton by moving thighs and legs together with the pelvis, or the head, arm, shoulder and chest, together, in an undifferentiated manner. After a few such movements, begin to differentiate through easy, available movement, the various parts that can move independently of each other; Introduce non habitual directions of movement. and create subtle variations in these movement directions.
The area I moved first was Scamp's right hind limb followed by his right front limb. At first I moved the entire limb in various directions. Eventually, I articulated each section of his left leg and paw, and then his right leg and paw, in all the possible ways that it could be moved easily, including in non habitual directions. 25 minutes into the session, I turned Scamp over to lie on the side we had just explored, and to make the injured limb available. He continued to remain quiet and didn’t stir, even as I got to his lame left paw. It was only after I had moved the lame paw in every configuration possible that Scamp suddenly stretched and stood up on the table….on all four paws! While he was lying down, I didn’t get any clue that his paw was changing in muscle tone. Nevertheless, here was the dog standing up normally. The previously limp paw was bent outward, all toes spread out and fully weight bearing. In just forty five minutes it had come back to life. The dog’s brain, through the sensory-motor information it had received could now remember how to integrate the previously injured paw with the rest of the body, enabling it to function again. Diane and I looked at each other wide eyed, mouths agape, in total amazement. Our astonishment turned to joy after she put Scamp on the floor. He took off on all fours, running round and round the room, wagging his tail.
This story is an excerpt from the book I am finishing this year with the working title of The Cerebral Garden.
Eileen Bach-y-Rita is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm, author and teacher of healing modalities based on the plasticity of the human brain. In her private practice, clients with a variety of physical injuries, limitations and special needs come to see her from afar to spend full days or weeks for the rapid relearning possibilities she facilitates for them. Find out more about Eileen at feldenkraisathome.com.
Image of dog courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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10/10/2016 1:45:36 PM
Wow! I just scheduled surgery for my adopted 5yr old dog. He has avascular necrosis in the right hip joint. Now, he is living on anti-inflammatory meds. I hope that I am making the best decision for this little nine pound guy.
8/6/2016 9:26:09 AM
How wonderful! Another "miracle" of the Method. Thank you for sharing your process and amazing results! Congrats.
8/5/2016 5:40:26 PM
I love this story! Kudos to you, Eileen, for your adherence to Feldenkrais principles in the face of an unusual and challenging client (!) And kudos to the dog, for understanding and learning what you were teaching. Lovely.
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