Hard work and an awesome holiday…Welcome to Miami

I wish I was writing this from South Beach, Miami, but unfortunately I’m having to pretend I’m there for now.  Miami is home to another key element in my rehab package and I have been lucky enough to go there twice since my accident. The treatment that I receive there is at the Brucker Biofeedback Center, and is not massively well known about in the UK, and is quite a specific method that they only use out in Miami and also in a centre in Germany.

I somehow stumbled across this form of treatment on the internet and after speaking to my physio found out that another of his SCI clients had been going there for a few years. She couldn’t recommend it enough, and after pleading to my parents that Miami was a much better idea than Germany, I went about booking it all.  So on the 4th December 2011 we touched down in Miami, and I attended my first session there not really knowing what to expect. It is pretty hard to explain, and all I knew was that it somehow measured how much of a signal would be getting from my brain to my lower limbs. Having had the doctors in England telling me that I had substantial damage to my spinal cord I was absolutely petrified that Miami would plug me into this machine, tell me that my legs were effectively dead and then send me on my way. Thankfully this was so far from what actually happened and I haven’t looked back since.

I will attempt to explain how the treatment works, but it isn’t easy…I think if you see it then it suddenly all makes sense. So I have a very short video of the treatment as well.

The therapists place electrodes on specific muscle groups starting with the area where the injury is. So for me they started with the muscles either side of the spine at T6, which is a little bit above the waist. The electrodes do not transmit a signal to the muscles, they actually receive a signal from the muscle and output it onto a graph on a computer screen. I then have to hold certain positions that will require a contraction from that muscle group so that any signal coming from my brain via my damaged spinal cord and to the specific muscle will be detected by the electrode and transmitted onto the screen. (Sounds a LOT more complicated than it is)

Essentially, what I have to do is maintain a muscular contraction (with the help of the therapist) for 20 seconds at a time, and alter my position fractionally to see where I get the best connection to the muscle. It is beginning to sound even more complicated now so I guess it’s time for the video…

In that clip I am working the hip flexors, which are the muscles that help you draw your thigh up towards your torso (Kneeing a guy in the balls is normally my motivation for engaging with the movement). I am attempting this movement sitting down though, so the therapist has pulled my leg outwards and to the side and I have to pull it back in to a normal seated position. She is a LOT stronger than she looks and it all becomes a bit of a power struggle, where I feel like my leg is being yanked off so have to save it! It obviously works though because I showed an insanely huge improvement in this muscle group (my motivation obviously works then!!)

Starting with the spinal muscles they work downwards, and end up with the gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior (lower leg). For the abs to be tested I have to repeatedly hold a sit up whilst a therapist is trying to push me back down to the ground for 20 seconds, and it is exhausting! So even though I may not be able to feel the muscle I’m working it is so tiring!

The treatment sessions are 50 minutes per day, and the first time I went I had 11 sessions, and when I went last October I was there for almost four weeks and had 16 sessions. Luckily for me they ask that I don’t do too much other exercise while I am there as it will make me too tired, so I have to spend a lot of time sunbathing and relaxing… so after my treatment I usually spend my time like this…

A tough way to spend the afternoon after treatment!

A tough way to spend the afternoon after treatment!

So…the results of my treatment have been extremely positive and encouraging so far. Once the treatment is over they suggest that you go home and practise the different positions and exercises that showed the best connection to the muscles and then come back after a year or so and see what progress has been made. They don’t promise any form of quick miracle, but having been back a second time and seen some massive improvements in some muscle groups and not so much in other areas, it becomes apparent how my regular workouts back home are helping me to progress.

My results basically show that there is a connection to every muscle group below my injury level… they may be very small connections, but they are still there (which is more than any doctor over here has ever said), and they have improved substantially from my first visit in December 2011 to October 2012. This means I am obviously doing something right, and I am definitely ‘recovering’ from my injury in some kind of way.

And even more encouraging, and apparently quite rare according to the therapists in Miami, is that I can create a connection to each of these muscles without any help or manipulation from them. When the muscle is relaxed the graph flatlines at zero, but as soon as I try to contract the muscle whilst just sitting still a little flicker was shown on the graph and I managed to consistently hold a teeny tiny contraction; way too small to be visible as a voluntary movement. But it is nevertheless a little flicker inside my muscle telling me not to give up. So I won’t!!! I’ll be working hard and I’ll be back out there for another working holiday as soon as I’m ready!

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