There was some great news this week about how one full year after a stroke, (and even thereafter) patients are still regaining lost or damaged brain function. I have always “supposed” this theory. That’s probably mostly because I am an optimist, but also because in my Pilates training I have learned so much about the nervous system and how we can continuously teach it to create new “paths.” Back in the 90s I had a student, Helmann, who had suffered a stroke, gone through physical therapy and left with a limp, told there was nothing further that could be done…he was as good as he was going to get. This incredibly strong-willed German man and I were on the same page. We really ignored what he told and I suggested he used his hand to help his foot make movements that weren’t happening just by the brain-nerve-muscle connection we often take for granted. My thinking was that if he manually helped his foot do the very movements his brain couldn’t make it do, over and over again, maybe—just maybe, one day some new paths in his nervous system could be created. In the meantime, he was forcing his muscles to stay strong and not allow for muscular atrophy.
Well, I am sure you can guess what happened. Helmann continued to grow stronger and better able to use his damaged side. We celebrated some small miracles together and though many years have passed, and he is no longer with us, he taught me more than I could have ever taught him. I will NEVER say “that’s as good as it gets!” NEVER. And though I am the ultimate realist, I will never assume that just because a medical person says it so, doesn’t necessarily mean that is the case. In fact, one of Mitch’s closest friends, who was diagnosed with cancer well over 10 years ago, has proved more medical professionals wrong that I can even begin to remember! We are pretty sure he will outlive all of us!
Getting back to the news on stroke patients, what this recent study revealed was that that areas next to damaged brain tissue adapted to take on the work that the damaged area could not do. This particular study dealt with the area of the brain that control speech. One third of the 26 stoke patients showed this type of recovery after 30 hours of speech therapy. There were no common denominators such as age, sex, race, etc.
While I don’t find this shocking, I think it’s a great message not just for stroke patients but for ALL OF US! This is true for ALL AREAS OF OUR LIFE. Through great discipline, desire, hard work and perhaps a little bit of luck, we can all break through and be stronger and better than we ever imagined possible. Keep raising the bar and never settle for “that’s as good as it gets.” Keep fighting for those personal bests. They feel SO AWESOME!