Movement is Earned

Movement is Given, Lost, then Earned- Joe LaVacca PT, DPT

As infants, we begin as passive little bundles of adorable snuggles, and bit by bit, day by day we strengthen the muscles of our neck, slowly lifting our heads, extending our back, growing arm and shoulder strength to push ourselves upright…. Movement appears to be the birthright of childhood.

However, this is not about how infants develop neuromuscular patterning. This is about what happens after. What happens after we have been taught to sit in chairs for 8 hours a day in school and work? What happens when we outgrow the monkey bars and don’t raise our arms above our heads again for years? Or, as in my case, what happens when you suffer an injury that takes all these naturally, seemingly effortless, movements away?

We can adapt to a new container and limit our movement. We learn that limited movement comes with the consequence of limited function and increased pain. We manage. We cope.

Or we learn just how hard earned that movement was in the first place. The grand arrival of baby’s first steps was actually the product of slow, deliberate strengthening that became a moment to be celebrated and shared. 

When I was an baby, I suffered and recovered from spinal meningitis. In the mid 80s survival rates were low and I am forever grateful for the medical interventions that saved my life. However, the movement that I was given as an infant, was lost along with most of my hearing. I have spent most of my 3 decades on this planet retraining my body to access core control, stability, and strength in ways I was told I would never accomplish. My earliest memories were in a Physical Therapy office learning to regain control of my body so I could sit up again, then crawl, then walk. I recovered to where I could walk and run (though I fell often and dramatically). I was unable to stand on one leg and my childhood gymnastics career ended when I couldn’t conquer the balance beam. I had chronic back pain, leg pain, and shoulder pain. But it was all manageable, and so I was “good enough.” It was not until my late 20s that I found doctors and movement therapists that met me at a functional level and taught me what I had always instinctively known- that I could heal more and do more with my body.

I have learned just how hard and subtle it is to do nothing more than contract and move one muscle at a time so that your brain learns to use it. I have learned how rewarding it is to feel strong and free in my body and how not settling for “good enough” allows me to do things that always felt painfully out of reach.

Most importantly, my years in practice have taught me that I am not so different than my patients. We are all learning to move again. People come to my office with complaints of back, leg, and shoulder pain. Whether their pain arrived after years of sedentary disuse, overtraining one motion, or their own injury, we are all in the same boat. It’s time to slowly and deliberately train one muscle at a time, until we have the results we want and a body that can move freely once more.

Last month, I checked an item off my “it’s impossible” bucket-list and climbed up some aerial silks (an activity that requires core strength and stability far out of my reach until recently) . Of course, I took some pictures to document the moment- but the smile on my face tells more of the story. The story of how movement is given, lost, and then earned.

What is in your “impossible” bucket? And how can we help rewrite the story?

Always in Service,

Dr. Carly