Aug 8, 2016

Neuroplasticity and Stroke Survivors: Reversing My Limbs? It's Starting to Work for Me!

I don't know what to call it. I just simply don't. A kind of neuroplasticity? Let me tell you what I came up with last week that's helping me walk better and longer.

I was having one of those days that I have every once in a while, but I was having it, whatever it was. I had a stroke in 2009 and my right side was affected. My right hand is useless, just there for the sake of it, but I walk with a quad cane that gets me where I want to go, though often relying on the wheelchair. (There are some facts right there that will signal "one of those days").

Anyway, I was daydreaming. Wouldn't it be wonderful, I thought, if my walking were improved by thinking the left leg had the problem instead of the right?

And so it was that last week I pretended my right leg was fine and my left leg had the problem. And I walked down to the laundry room--and back. And I walked up the hill that enters the parking lot. And I walked to the car. And I walked into the blood center where I am tested once a week--and back. And I walked into Giant Eagle for their salad bar and ate their fresh greens right there--and back. That was a new experience for me.

My friend stopped asking me if I was all right because, she told me later, my face was beaming. I was walking with the confidence of a human who has something wrong with her left leg. It wasn't major, just something.

Some other things happened, too. I lost 19 pounds with the help of My Fitness Pal which I downloaded to the phone so wherever I am, I can enter the foods right on my phone. It's a fact: lighter is better. I have a better state of mind, now that everything else worked out. Maybe that helped. But I have to go back to my limb reversal trick, thinking the left foot was bad instead of the right.

So I did some research. Could just thinking it make it so? Maybe. I'll tell you what I found.

Dr. Mark Hallett, Chief of the Human Motor Control Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, in a recent publication, wrote, "Body parts can compete for representation in the brain and use of a body part can enhance its representation. A body part is represented in various areas of the brain, both motor and sensory. The sensory representations are those that are active when sensory stimulation of that body part occurs. The motor representations are those whose activity produces movement of that body part."

Doctors can sometimes be fuzzy, speaking from personal experience. What the good doctor is saying is that body parts which have movement should be maximized to the nth degree and compete to the fullest. Ergo, my limb reversal makes sense.

Forward to today. I'm still doing it, thinking my left leg is worse than my right. But all strokes are different. Don't try this method unless you have a hands-on person the first 2 or 3 days. After that, maybe you'll build up confidence like I did. [Boolya!]

I have it down now. I bike 45 minutes on the stationary bike 4 times a week, sweat a lot, and move more without the wheelchair. If I keep this up.... No. I don't want to make any predictions.