StandingApril 8, 2015
Standing is often considered to be the pinnacle of conquering paraplegia and the first step towards walking. It is true that standing is an expression of our uprightness, which is an essential part of human nature, but I would not suggest that an inability to stand denies us that part of our nature; it merely denies us the ability to express that nature. There is though something very special about standing. Firstly it affords us a perspective on the world that is somehow diminished when you spend your life seated and see your surroundings from a view point 18 inches (450mm) lower than you once did. And secondly, it is a neutral position. Seated can also be a neutral position, but just as you’d long to sit down if you were forced to stand for too long, so do you long to stand when forced to spend a life sitting down.
When I left hospital, as a wheelchair user, I was given a standing frame which it was suggested I use on a regular basis. The main idea behind this is that by putting weight through your legs you keep the bones strong and that if this is neglected the bone density decreases and the bones become weak and brittle. The more I learn about the human body, the more I question not only the wisdom of this statement, but the wisdom of the so called professionals who perpetuate such dogmatic thoughts. Considering that the skeletal joints are frictionless and therefore incapable of transmitting loads, the skeleton does not bear the weight of the body. When we view the body as a tensegrity structure, then the bones are seen as discontinuous compression elements and so do indeed bear compression loads through the use of the body, but in a manner in which they float within a healthy structure and not by propping one bone on top of another with disregard for the depleted nature of the joints between them.
I have always felt the desire to straighten my body out regularly, but never really liked forcing weight through my legs in a standing frame and soon after starting ABR Therapy, I gave the standing frame back to the hospital. In order to compensate for the many hours spent sitting, I took to lying on my front to stretch my body out. This I have done from when I was first paralysed as it has always seemed the most natural of positions, conducive to that upright nature of the human.
The stronger I have got through my therapy work the more standing has come back into my life. To start with this was nothing more than a circus act, showing off from time to time. By locking my knees in hyper extension, and leaning over slightly to place my weight heavily through one hand on a firm hold, I could stand up to shake someones hand. This was a case of showing off the ability to be upright that I was slowly regaining. Probably not the best of ways to treat my body, but my knees didn’t seem to complain too much and it gave me a boost to realise how I was improving. Over the last year or so this circus act has grown into true standing once again and is a very exciting development. I usually have a little stand at the end of each therapy session, not to strengthen my legs, nor to stretch my body out, but to remind my body of what it is ‘to be in gravity’. I stand up with one hand on a firm surface and with my therapist holding my other hand. My knees no longer lock in hyper extension, but are truely capable of bearing weight. My legs still rotate in at the hips so that they bow in at the knees, but this is improving as the quality of my pelvis, and trunk in general, improves. Over the last few months I have had to raise the level of the hand hold as I seem to get more and more upright.
Standing my well be still in its infancy in its return to my life, but it is worth bearing in mind the enormous structural re-engineering we have had to complete, in my body, in order to make even the beginnings of standing a reality. I have come a long way over the years and this is becoming more and more reflected in my physical abilities. Not only does it feel great to use my body in the simple act of standing, after so long, but it is also wonderful to be able to express my inner nature through the ability to be upright and this has brought a greater sense of wholeness to my life.