Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Exercise Me!

I have been stretched, not necessarily to my limit, but enough that it has worn me out. This is not some psychological stretching; this is a physical stretching that happens to me every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when I am at home. On those days a Home Care worker comes to my apartment and goes through Range of Motion exercises on my legs.

The purpose of these range of motion exercises is to keep my legs as limber and loose for as long as possible. The flexibility in my legs allows me to transfer more easily, adjust in bed more easily, and move my own legs more easily whenever I have to do so. The exercises lubricate the joints in my legs and hips, and stretch the dead and dying muscles. Simply going through these exercises also works out my arms and shoulders, something that helps me keep what I have for as long as I can.

First comes a simple knee bend. I rest on my back and the care worker bends my leg up so I can grab my knee. I hold on to it for about 30 seconds then down it goes. This simple cycle is repeated five times on each leg, as are all the rest of the stretches. After that comes a vertical leg lift, where the care worker lifts my straightened leg up towards the ceiling; that's when I tell them they are making me into a ballet dancer. This particular exercise can really hurt as the muscles in the back of my legs have already started to contract; doing this exercise forces them to extend and they complain.

After leg lifts, it's a double knee bend, where the care worker hands me both my legs and I hold them in the bent knee position. With weakening arms, this is real exercise for my upper body as well as stretching for my lower body. This particular stretch reaches all the way into my lower back, an area of some pain now and again from sleeping in odd positions forced upon me by me inability to move my legs while sleeping.

Then comes my favourite; the calf stretch. In the oddity that is ALS, my calf muscles are still strong when pushing my toes downwards; not as strong as they once were, but strong enough to push back. The Home Care worker grabs the heel of my foot and forces my toes backwards, a foot position similar to that taken when you are running or jumping. Given that I can push back, I do, making this as much as exercise for the Home Care worker as it is for me. It's nice to feel at least one muscle still working in my lower legs.

The final two exercises are rotational knee bends, the kind that move my hips as well as my legs, ensuring the joint between the hips and legs stays lubricated and loose. The first is where they bend my legs halfway, put my feet down, and rotate my bent knees from side to side, first one way, then the other, while I hold my trunk even. This forces a rotation into my hips. The last is what I call the "butterfly", where still bent knees are spread apart from side to side, making my legs move like butterfly wings. Once again the Home Care worker does the work, spreading my legs and holding them in place.

These exercises do what all exercises do; they tire me out. Inevitably after a session I need to rest for a bit, recovering from the stress and strain of the physical activity. These exercises also give me a good idea of how the rest of me is doing, since I have to hold my legs and move my body during the stretches. That's why my arms hurt so much afterwards; they are getting weaker and my legs are getting harder to hold.

Soon the Home Care workers will begin working on my arms as well; they are weakening to the point where my own activity is no longer sufficient. It's no fun; it's reality.

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