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Tail wagging, the little blond dog walked into the large room, ready to befriend all she met. A Daschund mix, Hero’s legs were petite, but her right front leg was shorter and more bent than the left one, giving Hero a distinct limp.
When Angie and her family adopted this irresistibly cute dog, they were told that Hero broke her right front leg while still a young pup. The fracture was apparently untreated and so it healed into its shortened and bent state.
Now eighteen months old, Hero has adjusted well. She plays exuberantly with both the two and four-legged members of her family. Possessed with captivating eyes and a winning personality, Hero’s limp certainly hasn’t detracted from her charm!
But as a student of the Feldenkrais Method®, Angie understood that Hero’s asymmetrical gait was creating stress and strain on the dog’s body. She knew that improving the way Hero moved could minimize injuries that may occur over time from her uneven gait. So she came to my SENSE Method canine workshop to learn how to keep her dog happy and active for many years.
As I demonstrated the SENSE Method with Hero, I didn’t attempt to straighten the bent right foreleg. Instead, I focused on helping Hero move different parts of her body with greater ease and confidence. I wanted her to experience how free and easy movement throughout her body could be, even with her shortened right foreleg. And when function improves, structure often follows.
Let me explain. As can be expected after an injury, Hero had developed compensations for her fractured leg. The muscles of her right front limb were quite tight; keeping the leg shorter than it had to be. The ribs on her right side were unyielding and the movement of her shoulder blade on that side was restricted too. These neuromuscular habits were all contributing to Hero’s limp and setting her up for soreness, fatigue and possible injury.
Hero probably created those habits as a young pup to minimize the pain of her broken leg touching the ground. This was a perfectly good response at the time. But it was no longer a valid one. My job as a SENSE Method practitioner was to convince the little dog that those habits were now working against her. So with Hero lying on her left side, I passively moved her right ribs, shoulder blade and hip in easy, smooth ways. The blond dog relaxed, often closing her eyes. She was apparently relishing the freedom of movement that had been denied her virtually her whole life.
With the movements of her ribs and shoulder blade now comfortable and easy, Hero could realize that she no longer needed the protection that her chronic muscular tension once provided her. It was safe for her to release the muscles around her right front leg. And as I used my fingertips to gently coax the soft tissue of her right foreleg in delicate arcs, Hero let the muscles release. Right there at the workshop, we observed the leg getting a bit longer. Even with an old injury that produced structural change, Hero demonstrated that improvement was not only possible, but it was pleasurable too.
May we all, two and four-legged alike, experience the pleasure of new possibilities. Just like our Hero.