In Which I Try Something New

You may recall a while back (October to be precise), I began having trouble with my left arm. The first thing I noticed was how painful it was to put my car into second gear. I thought I had probably pulled a muscle, but when it wasn’t getting better a month or so later, I went to see the osteopath. He said it was a pinched nerve in my neck, manipulated my spine, and the whole thing went from being an irritating nuisance to a big, painful problem that involved me spending way too much time pressing a bag of frozen sweetcorn to my neck. I then went and saw a physiotherapist, who said that the nerves down my arm were too tight, and that there was a posture issue; my shoulder was too far forward and I needed to pull my shoulder blades in at every opportunity. Well, for a while I saw both of them, was rubbed and cracked and generally pulled about and submitted to all manner of awkward exercises. As the months have gone by, I have gradually improved at the exercises, but my arm has not stopped hurting. These days, I can change into second gear okay, but if I hold my arm out straight, I can’t bend it out to the side from the elbow.

I stopped seeing the physio when his treatment didn’t seem to make the least bit of difference, and I have also decided recently not to go back to the osteopath because I really loathe being cracked, and there isn’t much else he likes to do. Plus, between you and me, he’s a bit of an insufferable smartie-pants.

And then last week, I realised my right arm was starting to cause me trouble too. Quite different this time, in that it was mostly my little finger that was feeling sort of numb and tingly, and sometimes there’d be a twinge in my right shoulder. Well, after spending some time with my head on the desk thinking, I cannot go on, I decided to look for a new practitioner. For a while I considered a pilates class, but the problem there is that if I can’t do half the exercises because of my dodgy left arm, I won’t actually be improving anything. And then I saw a link to an Alexander Technique teacher and I recalled the lovely Susan saying that she was a convert; so I thought I’d give it a try.

I nearly backed out before I’d even begun. When I rang the woman to make an appointment and told her about my immobile left arm she said, ‘Gosh, how strange! I’ve never heard of that before.’ Which did not inspire me with confidence, I can tell you. Then when it came to the day itself, I was tired and had one of those skull-tightening headaches that do not make a person pleased to be out in the world. But the prospect of never being able to high five anyone ever again was just enough to propel me into the car and across town.

My teacher was by no means a spring chicken, but she certainly had exceptional posture. The room I entered was quite bare apart from a chair, a treatment bed and a small skeleton that hung at such an odd angle from its hook that I had to wonder if it hadn’t been tap-dancing while alone and was then obliged to freeze mid-shuffle when we came in. It was so quiet that all I could hear was the pounding of my headache in my temples. My teacher ushered me into the seat and had me stand and sit down a few times. Then she began patting and smoothing me down with her hands, often one (blissfully cool) hand on my forehead, while the other traced the pattern of my bones. Every once in a while, she would pat a little more firmly, and another piece of my skeleton would slide into a quite different position. It was extraordinary.

‘Yes,’ she said after a while. ‘You don’t look bad from the outside, but in fact, on the inside it’s all quite asymmetrical.’ She did another pat and slide and shift. ‘There, that’s nice.’

‘Story of your life, isn’t it?’ said Mr Litlove when I was recounting the session to him later. ‘You look all right from the outside, quite a viable human being, even. And then inside is a mess.’

‘Thank you, dear,’ I said.

I gave my teacher a potted history of my life. Academia, then years off with chronic fatigue, and now writing full time. Those years of being ill when I did nothing but lie about on beds and sofas would have ruined any muscle tone I had. And then the gradual return to work saw me hunched over a laptop (which everyone has agreed fervently are the work of the devil, as far as one’s spine is concerned) for what has been now, astoundingly, the past six years. It’s no wonder I’m all out of alignment. She showed me how lightly attached are the collar bones and the shoulder blades, floating almost above the ribcage and easy to displace. The skeleton hung its head sympathetically and I kept a close eye on it – I imagined its lethargy was faked and it might break into a spirited rendition of 42nd Street at any moment.

The exercise I’ve been given is to lie flat on the floor, my knees bent, with a book about two inches thick under my head for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, several times a day. Finally, an exercise I can embrace wholeheartedly! When I read, I have to prop the book up on cushions so I’m not taking the weight of it in my arms. The toughest thing at the moment is the fact that both reading and typing definitely make my shoulders and elbows twinge and my little finger go numb. Reading and typing are what I do; they are what I am, and I don’t really want voice recognition software as I think through my fingers. So somehow, some way I simply have to get this fixed. I have no idea whether the Alexander Technique will help me more than the other solutions I’ve tried, but it was certainly a most restful and soothing experience. I left without a headache and feeling strangely light on my feet. And I’m looking forward to going again. Back in the days when I took Chinese medicine I used to love having my pulse taken, and this feels analogous. It’s a special pleasure to have another person being gently attentive to the internal machine.

 

46 thoughts on “In Which I Try Something New

  1. Hi, I’ve had Alexander Technique lessons for over two (three?)years now and it has certainly helped me in many ways. Let’s talk about it when we meet up!

  2. I love finding things which speak to me… if they of themselves don’t work they generally end up pointing me to some thing which does. Which is to say I wish you luck and a healthy, naturally-moving and flexible arm and shoulder!

    P.S. My left shoulder gives me trouble on and off as well… I’m doing a bit of yoga postures that’s helping and try to remember to sit with back up-right (and also walk without slouching) but I’m also wishing for some guidance that addresses this from the inside out!

    • Juhi, thank you for your lovely message. You are so right that following the trail is the important thing and often leads to surprising discoveries. I haven’t tried yoga yet – tai chi is my thing at the moment and I’m hoping to do pilates in time, but I hear wonderful things about how beneficial it can be!

  3. Off to the osteopath again tomorrow for a very similar problem, although mine seems to have been aggravated this time by a new bed that is supposed to be for people with mobility problems. I thought they were supposed to help them not cause them!!! I do hope this helps you and if it does I may well look into it myself. And do think about getting one of those book stands I mentioned before. I couldn’t read any longer if it wasn’t for mine.

    • You know that irony rules my life, right? So I know exactly where you are coming from! Mister Litlove is booked to make me a book stand, it’s just getting tradesmen to find time in their schedules, you know? But I am most definitely getting me a book stand – they are definitely the way forward. Do hope that the osteopath is helpful to you – take very good care of yourself.

  4. Glad to see this is helping. I’ve had similar problems for years (issues with shoulders probably caused by a separated rib), and only after years of physio did a new therapist get me to try PULLING exercises i.e. dumbbell rows. My front was too strong for my back and was pulling on my shoulders, pinching the ulnar nerve down my arms, giving me the same numbness in my hands.

    • Hah, how interesting. Why does it take so long sometimes to track down the real origin of the problem? These things can be so complex, I guess. I’m really glad you found a solution and thank you for the solidarity!

    • And the best thing is that lying on the floor is GREAT. It really works! You know what I mean about the cracking – it is not nice for those of us with a sensitive, artistic disposition! Thank you for the lovely comment, Charlotte!

  5. Goodness, the human body is a crazy thing. I hope this does help you litlove, it sounds excruciating. I must say that the approach to exercise strikes me as most sensible.

    • Me too! And yes, the human body is madness, so robust and yet so fragile all at once, sigh. I prefer philosophizing about it to having to fix it, however!

  6. Hope this works for you. I have numb fingers at times and a sore elbow when I’ve been digging, but that’s just age I think, so no suggestions for you I’m sorry to say. Keep taking the skeletonics and hope for the best!

    • If only I had some good, hard physical exercise to blame it on! Or even, something to show for it…. But hey, I’ll find an answer in the end, and will keep taking the skeletonics (heh) until then. (ps will be in touch about your review very soon – sorry to be slow, but because it doesn’t need much doing to it, it’s been pushed down the list a little!)

  7. That was lovely. I have a friend who goes to see a woman who does this technique, and it certainly helps her, so good luck. Brilliant description of the skeleton. I love picturing him tap dancing.

    • Thank you – it’s always really good to know that it helps other people! And thank you for the compliment; that skeleton just made me laugh – I am still sure it is up to no good!🙂

  8. Mr. Litlove cracks me up! Sorry to hear your arm is still not better and that the right one is trying to join the party. I hope the new treatment works! And definitely, keep an eye on that skeleton!

    • Why thank you. I was hoping to be able to say I’d gotten hold of your book, but a scheduled meeting with my son didn’t come off last week (I was surpassed for something better – you know how it is!). But when I get hold of it, I’ll let you know!

  9. Sounds good and reminds me just how bad modern life is for the alignment of the body and how we need to remember to take care of ourselves. It’s a wonder we’re not all worse off, the way we neglect ourselves.

    • Well you are so right! I do wonder how many people are like me, hunched over keyboards and books all day and not realising how much damage it does ultimately!

  10. That treatment sounds quite pleasant! I have never liked chiropractic or even massage therapy — too painful in the short term. This sounds nice and easy in the short term, yet effective in the long term as well. I don’t have any soft tissue or skeletal issues at the moment, but if I ever do (and I might, since reading and writing on the laptop also is my life), I shall seek out somebody who practices this. I hope it works wonders for you!

    • Why thank you! I’ll be writing about how it goes over time. I discovered that the 48 hours after the treatment are a tad painful as everything shifts into new positions, but once that was over, I was certainly moving more freely last week. So cross your fingers. I’m also peddling book stands and raised writing desks – they make literary life MUCH easier on the bones!

  11. It sounds at least substantially more restful than the osteopath — glad you broke up with him! I hope your restful exercises and everything are helpful and that you can get some relief. Poor you!

  12. I’m so glad that you’re giving the Alexander Technique a try and I do hope it works. I know I have a tendency to proselytise – as all converts do – but suffice to say I’m free of back pain after many years of struggling with it. Good luck!

    • I’m so glad you mentioned it! And after years of back pain it is no wonder that you are a convert. It’s so difficult to fix this and it can take so long that anything that really works feels a bit like a miracle!

  13. I have a chronic shoulder problem (rotator cuff) due to falling off my motorbike back in my 20s, that’s caused by debris in the joint so cortisone injections have been my magic lubircating treatment, but you’re only allowed 3 and I have one to go… The Alexander Technique sounds like my kind of physiotherapy, so much more than the others. Good luck with it Victoria.

    • Oh Annabel, I didn’t know – you are so stoic! (I was impressed by your sang-froid over your dentist tale, too). You will have to tell me about your wild motorbike riding days as well… I can feel a special SNB feature coming on!😉

      • The shoulder comes and goes, and it’s not playing up at the mo luckily, so I’m fine. I was a biker chick for a while though – but don’t have a photo of me in my leathers (red) sadly.

  14. I absolutely love your watching, tap-dancing skeleton … and I’m so glad the Alexander Technique might actually be working. FInding someone to be ‘gently attentive to the internal machine’ is crucial.

    • That skeleton! He is a cheeky one and no mistake. I do think I was moving more freely last week than I have been in a while, so keep your fingers crossed. I would LOVE to fix this shoulder problem.

  15. I’ve heard really great things about the Alexander technique. I think it really does work. Fingers crossed! x

  16. That does actually sound quite soothing–I wonder if I can try it for stress? Hmm. I am sorry to hear that things have not improved since we last chatted–there is nothing worse than feeling chronically ill–it does throw you off in more ways that one. And I am glad you have stopped going to the other doctors/physio therapists if they are not helping in any way–it seems like a bad idea to be poked and prodded and feel bad when you leave when they are meant to be giving some sort of relief. Did she say what she thinks caused it–just general stress causing the bad posture? It really does make you wonder if you maybe pulled something badly without realizing it? In any case, whatever the cause, I do hope she is able to help things improve!

    • In fact, they say it’s better for people who don’t have anything painful happening but who just want to sleep better, move more freely and release tension from their frame. So I would say yes, it’s definitely worth a go! The cause for me is having hunched over my laptop for four solid years – plus loads of taking notes with the books on my lap on the sofa, all twisted around, oh and reading with my left elbow tucked into my side – so it’s not exactly a repetitive strain injury, more a case of repetitive bad posture! All I can say is that it was fun at the time…… I do think I was a bit better last week and I’ll let you know how it goes!

  17. Good luck with the Alexander Technique. I believe I’ve benefited in a lasting way from lessons quite a few year ago. And are you still working on a laptop? If so, I HIGHLY recommend investing in a laptop stand, external ergonomic keyboard and ‘evoluent’ mouse for when you’re at your desk. Not cheap, but worth every penny – all my increasing pain in arm, wrist and shoulder went away. Got mine from this excellent and helpful shop: http://www.back2.co.uk/

    • Jean that is SO helpful, thank you! I have been thinking about investing in just that sort of equipment and didn’t know where to look for it. Thank you!!

  18. I actually have a skeleton in my office. He was a trial exhibit about 20 years ago and we became friends and colleagues. I call him Napoleon-Bony-Parts. I do hope the treatment works and you feel much better very soon.

    • Yup, I can think of a lot of reasons why a skeleton might be a better work colleague than most…. a few summers ago I saw a student in Cambridge with a full sized skeleton sitting in the basket on the front of her bike. He was wearing a flower garland and I presumed they were off to a garden party together. Skeletons are the new perfect date, clearly!🙂

  19. I’m glad you kept trying options – even with osteopaths/chiropractors. Just because one doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean another practitioner couldn’t have the answer. What is odd/funny is that I woke up this morning with a neck that feels like it needs to be popped into place but it is Sunday so I will have to try my own (gentle!) ideas – I am going to try the floor and book idea you mention. Yoga, too, is gentle and all about proper alignment. BEST to both of us! I am also going to look up Alexander Technique. Thx

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