Neurorehabilitation in the OceanAugust 8th, 2017 by mariska
I had the great blessing of a childhood spent near a beach. It wasn’t the best beach. The water wasn’t clear, the tourist traps were tacky, and parking was a nightmare. But, I would bet that no one really fares better in childhood fun than those of us lucky enough to be raised near a body of water.
Every year, I try to do a beach trip. I opt for the Caribbean because it’s a 3-5 hour flight (depending on which island) from where I live. The water is spectacular, and the snorkeling (my favorite activity) is amazing. The photo above was taken by my husband in St. Croix on the 4th of July. He was swimming underneath me – which made me start laughing, and my mask completely filled with water. But I love the photo, because it’s of me in my happiest of happy places.
What I love best about the ocean is that I don’t have MS in the water. It literally just disappears. Of course, it’s not really gone, but I don’t feel it at all. I feel weightless and graceful and pain-free. And when I get out of the water, my walking is much better.
What is so special about the water? I spoke to my friend Theo about it (you should follow his story of spinal cord injury recovery. I dare you not to leave inspired). He does a lot of his rehab in the water.
Water is a gravity neutral environment. That means that restrictions can often float away, making movements that are difficult on land (normal gravity) much easier to practice. And in water, you’re moving against resistance, so even though it can be easier, it’s like you’re adding weight to your workouts.
There is a lot of clinical evidence supporting aquatic training for neurorehabilitation. In fact, I’m hoping to try one of those programs out soon (more on that if it happens!). But in the meantime, I am reminded that sometimes the best way to practice things like cross-patterning (an essential part of walking) is to do something else that fires those neurons – like swim. The water also connects you to your body in entirely different and profound ways. Every sense is in overdrive as you feel the water lapping around you, hear things differently with your head submerged, have to concentrate on your breath (like, really concentrate).
One of my doctors even runs scuba trips for his neuro patients because the healing he sees in so profound. Check out this video where he talks about one of his trips with injured vets.
Now, if I can just figure out a way to get an ocean… at my house… in the city.