Two wild horses

Recently, more and more time in each session of my rehab has been dedicated to doing a variety of exercises in a standing position. This is following on the work I’ve done using the Neuro Kinetic Pilates method that I’ve learned in Maui and almost always using the Core Align, an amazing piece of Pilates equipment that allows me to push my limits in a standing position while remaining safe and secure and minimizing the risk of falling. (See this previous link to remember what I’m referring to)

By finding new ways to establish movement through my lower body, I’ve encountered a new challenge. I call it the shakes. Put simply, my legs start to shake… and shake… and shake… and just when I think I may be done, my legs shake more. The video below is a perfect example of what I’m talking about and it occurs after some 15-20 minutes of doing squats or lunges or any of the other exercises I’ve been doing recently to target my quads and improve my standing stability.

It took me a while to really understand what this was. At first, when I would tell some people experienced with SCI, they would shrug it off and say that it’s simply clonus and just another typical example of the cervical level injury that I suffered. Clonus is defined as “involuntary and rhythmic muscle contractions” and it is commonly seen in many people with spinal cord injuries. But, like the doctor testing your reflex by tapping your knee with a hammer, clonus is also a reflexive result and can be tested for and replicated by a practitioner. After doing these tests with me, the PT scratched her head in confusion and confirmed that I definitely didn’t have signs of clonus.

So what’s with the shakes?

As with nearly everything else in my path of recovery from SCI, I’ve had to figure it out myself.

To put it as simply as possible, until recently, the controlled movements that I had in my legs were all based on a single movement pattern. Since I was first able to start bridging and standing up independently with a walker, I’ve contracted my leg muscles using a specific pattern of engaging them and it’s gotten me really far.

But since I started doing some new standing exercises a few months ago that target completely different muscles, I’ve established a new pattern of movement and carved out a new neurological pathway. Muscles that haven’t really contracted or have only had minor contractions and been overpowered by other dominant muscles are finally being forced to contract. And since my spinal cord can’t manage the communication between my brain and my legs as effectively as possible, those muscles start freaking out and shaking like crazy. It often feels like I’m trying to stand on two wild horses hell-bent on roaming the countryside.

It takes an extraordinary amount of mental effort for me to keep working these new patterns and strengthening these new neurological connections but it’s a great sign that I’m able to gain new movement and work underutilized muscles that are being forced to step up to the plate and show their stuff.

While I get annoyed with the shaking since it forces me to slow down and struggle through the movements, I still take it as a positive thing. If establishing new neurological connections, gaining strength in previously underperforming muscles and finding new ways of movement mean that I have to deal with two wild horses shaking like crazy, then so be it.

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13 thoughts on “Two wild horses

  1. While I don’t understand all the implications of SCI and clonus, surely if your legs shake in this way when forced to do new standing exercises, it’s a sign that the neural pathways are being challenged (and some sort of message is getting through).

    Having followed your healing journey so far, I still find it amazing the improvement since that first day your little ‘pinky’ twitched.

    Remember that day and I’m sure you’ll agree that all this exercise is worth every pound of sweat.

    1. I remember that day all the time. It inspires and motivates me all the time. All of this is absolutely worth all the blood, sweat and tears…

      Thanks for the encouragement as always -AB

  2. Dear Arash, thank you so much for this and your other updates. It is always great to hear from you. I think the shakes sounds like a great sign – it has me smiling and feeling happy for you. I remember reading Ilchi Lee saying that when he fell off a horse and doctors said he had to stay very still in bed – instead he started to rock gently from side to side – he said all movement is healing and he got better – yes I think this is a great sign. I am hoping it is signifying a speed up in your recovery from now on….. Standing with you and cheering you on, Melanie

    1. Thank you Melanie. Yeah it’s hard to know what to make of it all but I trust my gut and my instincts and they tell me that this movement is a good thing and it feels like new connections are being made. I agree with the guy who said that all movement is healing. -AB

  3. I am not sure if my comment posted or not – I just looked at the video and can only repeat – I think this is a great sign of healing and heralds a new faster pace in your recovery. Keep going! Thank you so much for the blogs.

  4. I think your muscles are working and they are weak and get tired. If you keep doing it then those muscles will probably get stronger and will start shaking after 5 min then 10 min then 15 min later and on and on. Then also it might force the other muscles to become stronger.

    1. I completely agree! That’s what it feels like for me, like the right muscles are working but they just get tired. Thanks for sharing your thoughts -AB

  5. I admire your determination and love how that determination has paid off! I, too, suffered a spinal cord injury to do a tumor at T 3-4. I was paralyzed, but eventually movement returned and I had to rebuild all my muscles. Through my rehab, I walked in water and it was so encouraging to me. I love floating in water as it relaxes all my muscles and takes the pain away. I am able to walk now, but more like a toddler or as you described…Frankenstein. In public I use a cane. This happened 3 1/2 years ago. Because of the injury I am left with extreme tingling (neuropathy) and painful spasticity. You spoke of pain and I was wondering what kind of pain you were dealing with and from what. I am happy to be walking but the pain is hard to deal with.

    1. Congrats to you to regaining the ability to walk. I’m still working on that. I don’t have much neuropathic pain but I have a lot of discomfort and pain from sitting and the limited mobility (because I can feel everything) so I’m constantly battling against that everyday. -AB

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