Motion is Life – Emotion is Life

This past month, I attended two short workshops in conjunction with the American Dance Festival. They were held in the Physical Therapy department at Duke University. The teacher was a dancer named Amy Dowling. She was teaching dance students how to take dance into the community. Their teaching was a celebration of movement, music and interaction. The young dancers were learning how to create instructions and scenarios that allowed people to dance and move. They were learning this skill so that they could go to nursing homes, schools, prisons and other places where dance is unlikely and help people to discover or re-discover the joy of movement.

We were given various assignments that would turn into a dance. One was to all walk around to the music and when you felt ready you could say your name and fall backward. The group members would be there to catch you and support you. As well as making a wonderful dance, it was a lesson in trust. Another dance, which was a partner dance, consisted of us telling a story using only adjuectives while we moved our partner's limbs and body using our limbs, body and breath. We were instructed to try to avoid using our hands, if possible. With music playing, these made lovely dances that we all enjoyed.

In my practice, a very high percentage of the problems that I treat are due to joints and tissues that don't move well that should be moving. Many of these problems are caused by lack of normal movement of the human body. This lack of normal movement may be the aftermath of injury, illness, disease or some types of surgery. As a physical therapist, I look at the physiological and accessory joint movement and the bio-mechanics of the joints and muscles. I find what movements in what directions the joints and soft tissues need in order to achieve full and pain free range of motion. I start moving them gently to mobilize them in order to restore full motion in normal movement patterns. Once they have better mechanical movement, we work on strenthening and other aspects of their problems.

People ask me many questions about their problems. When they ask me how their joints got to be so bad, tight, stiff and/or painful, I tell them that one of the rules of the body is that it only moves as far as it is made to move. If you stopped reaching over your head for a month, you would lose much of the range of motion that allows you to reach over your head. The joint capsule would tighten down, the joint would loose its lubrication and the surfaces would stick together (form adhesions). This same thing happens when we stop moving due to an injury or painful condition.

We have a strong body response to avoid pain by avoiding movement. The first time I really worked on a computer, I spent 13 hours straight writing a paper. I developed a nasty tendonitis in my shoulder from this. I literally could not lift my arm over my head for several days. This was not because it was tight, but becuase it hurt so much to move that my body simply said "no way, that hurts too much, I'm not going to let you move your shoulder." This response can be helpful and protective during the acute stages of an injury but often out lives its usefulness and can start to perpetuate problems even after the injured tissue is healing. I was lucky to know that gentle, graded movement after the acute stage was necessary to keep my shoulder moving in order to prevent this problem from developing into a restricted movement problem (often referred to as a frozen shoulder.) The same lesson became apparent again when I sprained my ankle skiing. As the months went by, it was not the ligament sprain that became the primary problem, it was that the joint was very swollen, inflamed and restricted in movement. Now that I have worked hard to regain the mobility of my ankle joint, the damaged ligament does not seem to be much of a problem. Observing my own response to these injuries have helped to relate more to what people I work with are going through.

What does all this have to do with dancing? It simply gives illustrations that motion is an integral part of life. By celebrating our ability to move through dance, exercise, Tai Chi, yoga, a walk or thousands of other activities, we celebrate life. In many cass, regaining movement can mean regaining health. A Norwegian Physical Therapist, Ola Grimsby is credited with saying "our profession has the potential to create artists among us, performing the utmost of arts which is the creation of normal human motion. Motion is Life."

In the same vein that motion is life, emotion is life. We often stuff down our emotions as a protective mechanism similar to the way we guard ourselves against moving a painful, injured body part. This soon outlives its usefulness and becomes detrimental. By feeling our emotions deeply and letting go of pain, anger, fear, etc., we can create the movement, in all directions, that allow our emotional self to heal. Just as it may be diffiucult to slide and glide your own restricted joint surfaces to regain movement, it can be difficult to access and allow emotions to move freely to regain emotional movement. Fortunately, we can all get the necessary help to regain movement in the body and in the emotions when we need it. Choosing to do so is a commitment is a commitment to a stronger, healthier, happier, more fulfilling life.

Written by Krista J. Clark, PT


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