Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Let's get vestibular

Late last year I did the rounds of occupational therapists and physiotherapists, to sort out my dodgy body awareness and motor skills. I've been building on what I learned, so it's time for a status report...

My body awareness has always been dreadful. I don't really know where I begin and end. My body's more a vague shape I go about in, of indeterminate shape and volume, than something that feels intimately part of me. My balance is woeful.  I tend to grip things too tightly and get a cramp, or too loosely and drop things.  I consistently over- and under-reach because my arms are never the length I think they are, and I stumble over steps and obstacles because my legs aren't either.

My poor body. I've treated it dreadfully, really, but it still does its best. It's in surprisingly good nick, all things considered, and I really do intend to start treating it better. But it's hard. I have all sorts of hangups about exercise, which date back to sport at school for reasons you can probably imagine. Plus with my poor balance and lack of spatial reckoning jogging is a recipe for disaster, or at least skinned knees.

So part of it is psychological, and part of it is because if I try to exercise like a normal person I'll genuinely hurt myself. So I avoid it, and lack of practice makes it even worse. And, as I discovered from the OT, weight bearing exercise like walking, jogging, weights and press ups provide vestibular feedback that helps with body awareness.

I came out of that with some exercises using those enormous exercise balls, which are quite different from the ones you see on the box.  There are lots of variations on waving one's arms and legs around while perched on the ball, and while it's too soon to say quantifiably it's having any effect, I feel better after doing it.

I also acquired a pilates balance pad, which is like the ball except flat rather than spherical, and is used in the business of wobbling around trying not to fall over.

closeup of feet standing on a pilates balance pad
Say hello to my little toes
I love this thing. It's great fun, and has a bumpy side and a smooth side depending on whether you're up for the extra sensory input of prickles or not.
It's inflated so that when you have one foot on the pad, the top sinks and your foot touches the floor. But when you add the second foot, your weight's spread over a greater area, so the top sinks less and you're left hovering. The beautiful people probably do weights while perched atop them, or cardio arm exercises or needlepoint or something. I'm happy just to wobble around.