By Mary Debono
It’s horrifying to think of someone being dragged by a frightened horse, tearing four knee ligaments completely in half and breaking her lower leg in three places. But rather than resigning herself to an inactive life with a “bad leg”, Nicki Branch amazed her orthopedic physician by hiking up a mountain less than ten months after her accident. And her remarkable recovery did not involve surgery.
To put the damage into perspective, the orthopedist said it was the worst soft tissue injury he had ever seen. Nicki had torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL). In fact, Nicki’s case was so severe that it was presented at several medical conferences. The grim prognosis was that recovery would take at least 18 months and the patient could not expect to have a fully functioning knee. But the physicians didn’t know Nicki, her determination, and her network of resources.
I met Nicki Branch through our mutual love of horses. Nicki is the founder of FalconRidge Equine Rescue inValley Center,California. For years, Nicki has rescued, rehabilitated and re-homed horses. Having helped countless horses overcome lameness, near starvation, neglect and abuse, Nicki was no stranger to recovery. It’s just this time she needed to focus her recovery on herself.
To facilitate her healing, Nicki received cranial sacral work from Laurie Baker and energy work from Melissa Deedon. Nicki’s legions of friends were sending positive thoughts and rooting for her recovery.
I had the pleasure of giving Nicki her first Feldenkrais Method® session on September 25, 2012, about nine months after her injury. At that time she was still limping significantly and in pain, but her fractures had mended and her ligaments were healing.
During our Feldenkrais® session, I discovered that Nicki’s protective neuromuscular bracing, which she developed after the injury, was now working against her. Guarding and compensating for her damaged leg had become a habit, but a habit that had outlived its usefulness. Nicki was unconsciously tensing and overusing certain muscles while avoiding others. This inhibited her movement and created unnecessary strain.
It is very common for people to hold onto protective habits since they once served a useful purpose. But these unhealthy movement patterns can cause pain, stiffness and damage to joints over time. They interfere with freedom of movement and quality of life. Most people, however, don’t realize that they have these harmful movement habits.
The Feldenkrais Method works to uncover such inefficient habits of movement and help people learn how to move in a more comfortable, efficient and healthier way. Aches and pains often disappear. Flexibility, balance, posture and coordination improve. Simply put, Feldenkrais helps us develop awareness, so that we can move through life with ease and grace.
With her increased awareness, Nicki’s limp – and pain – virtually disappeared. If she felt pain starting to return, Nicki adjusted her gait and walking became comfortable again. Remarkably, just days after our second Feldenkrais session, Nicki drove to the Sierras and hiked nine miles up to 11,000 feet in elevation!
Interestingly, the Feldenkrais Method has its origins in a devastating knee injury. Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, a physicist, engineer and martial artist, had badly injured his knee playing soccer as a young man. Years later, he re-injured his knee while working on a submarine. The doctors wanted to operate, but gave him only a 50% chance of being able to walk again.
Unwilling to accept those odds, Dr. Feldenkrais set about learning how to improve himself. Ever the scientist, he used his own body as a laboratory. Making tiny, delicate movements, Dr. Feldenkrais explored how his knee functioned. He discovered that small, slow movements allowed him to feel more than larger, effortful movements. He learned how to release chronic patterns of tight, overused muscles, while re-awakening muscles that had been underutilized.
Dr. Feldenkrais’ movement became more balanced, comfortable and efficient. These movements created neurological changes in his brain, allowing the improvements to generalize throughout his whole self. Walking no longer stressed his joints. His posture and breathing improved too.
Soon Dr. Feldenkrais was working with individuals to help them overcome their varied challenges, including acute injuries and chronic conditions. Since he was so successful at transforming people’s lives, he began teaching his approach to others. There are currently about 3,000 Feldenkrais practitioners around the world.
Moshe Feldenkrais said that our greatest quality is the ability to recover. Nicki Branch, a woman who devotes so much of her life helping horses recover from dire situations, has that quality in spades. She is an inspiration to us all.
Have you recovered from a serious physical or emotional crisis? If so, what helped you? I’d love to hear your comments!
Mary Debono is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner and the originator of the Debono Moves for animals. Her life’s work is to enhance the health and harmony of animals and their people. Click for information on Mary’s educational products, workshops and services.
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Click on the video below to learn more about the Feldenkrais Method.
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