I recently discovered the fascinating concept of muscle memory. A friend of mine told me about an interview she had seen with Michael J Fox. During the interview, Fox spoke about muscle memory. He said that when he plays hockey, he has no symptoms. His body remembers what to do and for some reason, the symptoms he typically experiences go silent. Knowing that I used to play hockey, my friend suggested that I take it up again.
Unfortunately, the hockey season is over and the ice has been taken out of the local arena, so giving hockey a try wasn’t really an option. However, I also used to play baseball, so I thought I would give that a try instead. So I grabbed my baseball glove and a rubber ball and went across the street where I tossed the ball against the wall at the back of a school and started shagging grounders. Much to my amazement, I was able to throw the ball, move back and forth and pick up the ball as it bounced towards me as if nothing was wrong. It was a thing of beauty!
Intrigued, I did some on line research, but couldn’t find the interview with MJF, nor could I find any information on similar experiences. I did find a description of muscle memory on Wikipedia … “When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task [through the creation of specific neuro-pathways … my words], eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems. Examples of muscle memory are found in many everyday activities that become automatic and improve with practice, such as riding a bicycle, typing on a keyboard, typing in a PIN, playing a melody or phrase on a musical instrument, martial arts, or performing different algorithms for a Rubik’s cube.”
I also found a chat room from a few years ago where people experiencing Parkinson’s spoke about muscle memory from the perspective of retraining muscles to perform activities, like walking. They spoke about having to consciously think about walking properly, even going so far is to exaggerate the movements in order to walk without shuffling.
This got me to thinking about a few things:
- Although I have lost the use of my left hand for most activities [I’m not able to type with it or fret my guitar], I can tie my shoes up like there is nothing wrong with it
- I shuffle walk, but I run normally
- I sometimes have difficulty moving my feet and legs [for example, when I’m standing at the counter in the kitchen and try to turn to my left, sometimes it feels like my left foot is frozen to the floor] and yet I can do knee raises and karate kicks with both legs as if there’s nothing wrong with me
- when I toss a ball back and forth between my hands, my balance is fine [otherwise, I’m like a cork in a rough sea].
While this is very puzzling, it is also very encouraging! If the body can run normally, if it can do karate kicks, if it can tie up shoes and if it can play a sport just like the good old days, it gives me great hope that it is capable of doing anything. So now, I’m on a mission to retrain my body [or perhaps, to help it remember how to function normally] by doing big, exaggerated, aggressive movements. Here are some of the things I do:
- Force myself to walk normally
- Knee raises while I walk
- Arm raises while clenching and unclenching my fists [do it as fast as possible]
- Go up the stairs two at a time
- Come down the stairs with a bounce [ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump]
- Perform various dance steps
I’m also practicing various karate kicks, strikes and blocks with more zest and enthusiasm.
The idea is to show my body that I’m in charge and at the same time, stimulate the brain cells that produce dopamine and serotonin.
While I may not understand the physiology of what I am doing [it may be that when the brain uses the neuro-pathways it has created for certain activities, the fear-based fight/flight response at the root of PD symptoms is temporarily suppressed], I know it’s helping and it’s giving my confidence and my spirit a huge lift. I also believe that it’s helping me to recover!
Have an awesomely uplifting day!