While listening to the radio today, I found out that today is International Physiotherapy (or Physical Therapy if you’re from the US) Day.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines physiotherapy as the treatment of disease, injury or weakness in the joints or muscles by exercises, massage and the use of light and heat.
As a person with Cerebral Palsy and Hydrocephalus, I grew up with doctors recommending this to help me with my strength, stamina range of movement and high muscle tone.
As a baby, I had physiotherapy sessions at home and then as I grew the sessions were at school or a Paediatric Assessment Center. I was taken to therapy in the therapy pool and my earliest sessions were that therapy and exercises focused on head control.
My other therapies were eye patching therapy to help strengthen my eye muscles and help me turn my eyes outwards as I had crossed eyes as a baby and was diagnosed with bilateral sixth nerve palsies which mean that the abducens nerve, the cranial nerve in charge of turning my eyes outwards, is paralysed. I have tunnel vision and no lateral vision because of this. I also have bilateral squint, (strabismus), nystagmus (uncontrolled involuntary eye movements) astigmatism and hemianopia (blindness in half of both eyes with a severely reduced visual field for remaining vision).
No therapies will help these eyesight difficulties since they are all caused by the damage to my occipital lobe (the vision area of my brain).
I had physiotherapy in the form of stretches for my movement. limitations.
In terms of my hydrocephalus, the therapy and advice took the form of recommendations for head and neck positioning when sleeping, since my symptoms of shunt blockage or malfunction were a very bad headache after having been asleep for a few hours and as a child I would typically wake with nausea, vomiting dizziness and disorientation at any time between midnight and 2AM which my doctors told my parents was a classic symptom of raised intracranial pressure. I would otherwise be sleepy and not very responsive.
I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus when I was two weeks old after grade 4 (severe bilateral brain bleeds).
I was born at 29 weeks, one of identical twins.
My Cerebral Palsy diagnosis came soon after and doctors and therapists focused my therapies on my whole body since I have spastic quadriplegia which affects my arms, legs and trunk as well as causes weak muscles on the left side of my face and some difficulty with swallowing pills and with eating different textures of food as well as the need for an adapted spoon, plate and cup.
My balance, strength stamina and coordination are also affected. I have subluxated (half dislocated) hips and I have scoliosis (a curved spine), kyphosis (a hunched posture) and lordosis (a larger inwards curve on my lumbar spine than is normal). My hips have a rotational deformity and this affects the position of my knees and feet. I have high foot arches which are a foot deformity associated with Cerebral Palsy and my feet turn inwards. My ankles are very tight and I can’t move my toes.
When I was diagnosed with my disabilities, most people who saw me talked about spastic quadriplegia as my diagnosis and some talked about mixed CP because of the balance and coordination issues (which are usually part of ataxic CP). Dystonia was also mentioned as I have involuntary movements.
My experience of physiotherapy is that I was always nervous about the sessions as I knew the stretches would be painful for me because I can’t relax my muscles by myself. I also knew that telling people I didn’t want to do my therapy would not help me, so I went to my sessions.
When I was five years old, therapeutic riding therapy was prescribed by my doctor and I went to two specialist riding schools between the ages of 5 and 17 for which there were long lists. These were part of the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) which is a UK organisation that helps to bring together a network of specialist horse riding schools so that children and adults with disabilities can learn to ride and learn about horse care. There are people to physically help the riders too. I have fond memories of this therapy and horses are still my favourite animals.
As an adult, I have had massage therapy and we have an infra red lamp which we use for pain relief and relaxation. This really does relax me and makes me sleepy. Other heat therapy I have is using a hot water bottle in bed in winter or placed near my feet to help my circulation.
I have therapy bands although I am unable to stretch them myself as well as a soft ball to hold in my hand and try to squeeze (I haven’t quite mastered squeezing yet).
I have had a lot of different kinds of physiotherapy in my life and am fortunate that my husband is able to keep doing that with me. The stretches will be necessary for the rest of my life.
I was encouraged to find activities I enjoy and I would encourage anyone to do the same. I love being in the pool. I have fond memories of my horse riding days.
Any kind of exercise tires me out but that’s just the way my body reacts.
It’s not unusual for me to have pain, muscle spasms and involuntary movements during exercise or afterwards and I can even be sleepy.
I have slept for hours in the past after therapy sessions at my local hospital. In my experience, sleep is healing, too and a good compliment to exercise.