Feldenkrais / Anat Baniel Method – demanding tough decisions in an already difficult situation

This week I finally took my kids for their evaluation by an Anat Baniel Method / Feldenkrais Therapist. My first experience was last spring (Click here to read). I had a wonderful movement class – I left feeling very relaxed and elongated. I saw the real benefit in this therapy. So, I could not wait to get my kids in to see what might be able to be done about their Scoliosis. I pre-read an article online, written by Anat Baniel, called “Movement and learning based approach to working with Scoliosis” (Click here to read article). However, I did not realize before arriving the tough decision that would be presented to me: it’s the Movement Therapy or the Brace, but NOT BOTH! I was shocked. Every therapy we’ve participated in up to this point have been able to work together – I felt we had the best of all non-surgical worlds. So, I naturally thought that this therapy would be the same. But, the therapist, who I credit as being a wonderful, caring, professional, who has progressed herself through her work in this method from a near crippled existence to being able to function normally, told me that she wouldn’t move forward and work with my kids if they were braced. She claimed that bracing (as well as the ARC3D/Pettibon work we do) and the Anat Baniel/Feldenkrais/Movement Therapy work in opposition to each other. She claimed that my kids would be free after doing her therapy, that they would move uninhibited and that their brains would reprogram their bodies in how to move (and, ultimately, align) properly. She said that a brace “forces” the body in opposition to the way it wishes to move. And, that this “forcing” somehow programs the brain to try harder to move further in the direction we are pushing against. Interesting theory, but scary and, even though I have not read as much as I hope to on the subject (Anat’s Book, which I hope to read soon), the theory does not seem founded. For instance, in the article, Anat Baniel claims that Scoliosis is caused by muscles contracting on one side of the spine, causing the curvature. Well, I always stop and say “hmmm” when someone claims to know the cause of Idiopathic Scoliosis. The theory makes sense from a physics standpoint, but, to the best of my knowledge, a cause of Scoliosis has not been discovered, hence the term “idiopathic”.   There are MANY theories, which will probably eventually turn into a known cause, but for now it is unknown.  Also, there is not much talk of curve numbers (which is only ONE measurement of severity of Scoliosis, but not a measurement to be abandoned completely).

Back to the evaluation session: my son did ok with his “sample” hour of therapy – but, it was pretty tough for a rambunctious 7-year-old to lay and concentrate for so long. This surprised me, as the practitioner told me that the earlier the kids work on these skills, the better. But, it was tough for a young person to do what was entailed. My daughter loved it, thouh – she said “this is a therapy that I could really enjoy”. But, when she heard that she would have to “throw out” her brace, she looked panic-stricken. She probably had the same look that I did when I heard the news!

Well, after the appointment I felt truly conflicted. Not only did I have to make a choice between the two therapies, but if I stuck with bracing, I would be, according to this theory, doing the worst thing possible for my kids! Could it be that I’ve been off base this entire time?  At one point in the session, the therapist looked at me a bit “knowingly” and said, “You also have a business surrounding bracing, right?” The tone was more sympathetic – as if I would soon realize that my entire last three years was exactly in opposition to what I should be doing and that I would promptly need to reform my life. But, I felt a bit on the defensive – after all, if I felt I needed to change direction for my kids, my business would not factor into it. We do what is best for our kids, period. So, I knew I would be able to make this decision independent of my business, but I felt overwhelmed and emotional, so I came home and laid it out for my husband. His response was quicker. He quickly pointed out all the potential holes in this therapy and just said, “It doesn’t seem like this is the therapy that OUR kids need right now.” Well, I thought that was incredibly well-put. It’s ok that this therapy is incredibly effective for many people with movement issues (including Scoliosis patients), but our kids don’t have movement issues. They are very comfortable, flexible, and capable. Their midsections are not very used to moving because they are braced, but it’s the same rigidity that will, in my opinion, keep their curves from getting worse in their fast-growing years.  And, they love their braces. So, it wasn’t like we had unhappy kids on our hands that needed a change of pace. Also, quoting a couple case studies is not enough scientific proof to sway 2 Engineers from their methodology. And, throwing out the discussion of angles all together is not a comfort. Because, a person may be able to move freely and properly, but their spine may then decide to freely move in the direction you DON’T want. The therapist said that every Scoliosis patient that she’s heard of doing treatment does “better” afterward – but, “better” was only defined in terms of how well they can move, not in terms of angle improvement. Now, I’m all for thinking outside of the box, but I like to have some sort of measurement scale to work with. The most important thing that my husband said, though, was that it wasn’t right for them NOW. Maybe when they are out of their brace, if they need to re-educate their bodies in how to move, they might want to try it. Maybe if we get to a point where they are less mobile or lithe or if they suddenly are unable to tolerate their braces. But, not now – NOW they are healthy, happy, and in a routine that they can handle. Their curves are holding or improving. So, for NOW, we’ll stay the course.

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Summary of our Adventure thus far…

I’ve had a few emails recently asking me exactly what treatments we’ve undergone through our journey with Scoliosis thus far, and it occurred to me that, after about 2 years of posts, it might be helpful to do a little summary post of our adventure, culminating with our latest results at the Orthopedist (which I neglected to post when we went a few weeks ago). People should always feel free to contact me via email with questions about my experience or opinions on these, or any other, treatments. But, this will help you know where we’ve been so far – the future holds all sorts of unknowns, but, so far, we’ve had quite a varied path.

Here we go…
April, 2008 – The journey begins. My daughter was diagnosed with Scoliosis at age 6. She had a 25 degree curve (both lumbar and thoracic), and we were given the poor advice to “wait and see” for 6 months. We didn’t know much at this point about Scoliosis, so we took the word of our local Doctor – we didn’t realize that 25 degrees at age 6 is pretty significant.
October, 2008 – Daughter’s curve went to 45 degrees; We started going to a specialist at the University of Michigan medical center. We knew we needed to do bracing, but we were hesitant to do the traditional Boston Brace. I researched and found the Spinecor, and we were able to get it, but, again, we didn’t realize that 45 degrees is a bit late to go into a Spinecor – it’s better to catch curves earlier. We also started working with Dr. Morningstar, to do the Pettibon and ARC3D program. After my daughter went into a Spinecor, I invented the first bodysuit for her to be able to use the restroom and be comfortable in-brace. This would later become the foundation of my company, EmBraced In Comfort.
May, 2009 – Visit to the Orthopedist – daughter now at 55 degrees; By this point we had discovered my son’s Scoliosis (much earlier – he was 5); This was his first visit to the specialist, and he was at about 15 degrees. She wanted us to wait and see 6 months, but we pushed for 4. He went to do his MRI and was found to be clean of outside issues – Idiopathic Scoliosis once again. After his clean MRI results, we were able to start him with Dr. Morningstar’s therapy as well.
September, 2009 – Son’s curve was holding; Daughter’s curve, which was holding at about a 55 degree curve, went to 63 degrees in four months. We knew we needed to do something more aggressive for her, so we made the decision to go to Fairfax, VA (a 15 hour drive) to get a Rigo-Cheneau brace from Luke Stikeleather. She was 8. Also, EmBraced In Comfort became an official company, starting to provide Scoliosis brace undergarments to the general public.
January, 2010 – Daughter was doing much better – down to 48 degrees. Son still holding steady.
February, 2010 – went back to Fairfax, VA for new brace – daughter was down to 48 degrees and needed a new brace to fit her new, straighter, spine.
April, 2010 – made trip to Wisconsin to try the Schroth Physical Therapy method through Scoliosis Rehab. Daughter was a bit too young (at 8 and a half) to grasp many of the concepts. We set up everything at home, but had very little follow-through. We plan to pursue this more when she gets older.
May, 2010 – Both kids holding steady at around 50 degrees for daughter, just under 20 for son.
September, 2010 – holding steady
Jan, 2011 – Visited the Orthopedist – 24-hour out-of-brace x-ray: daughter was at 56 degrees, son broke into the 20 degree mark, so we decided to be ultra aggressive and have him fitted with a Cheneau on our next trip. He was nearly to his 7th birthday.
At this time, our son was also one of the first test cases for the Tornado Suit (see https://scoliosisfamilyadventures.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/amazing-and-brand-new-scoliosis-bracing-treatment/) His pre- and post -Tornado suit x-rays showed good results, and we were planning to have him wear it during the day while he wore his Cheneau brace at night, but Luke had other suggestions when we got to Virginia…
Feb, 2011 – we celebrated our son’s 7th birthday out in Fairfax, VA, while he got fitted for his first brace. He was instructed by his Orthopedist to wear a Bending brace, only at night, but Luke Stikeleather advised us to go with a full-time Cheneau for at least 4 months to see if we could pull back the curves. Our son was happy to wear a brace, because it was such a part of our family culture at that time, so he didn’t give us any trouble. We decided to take advantage of that and have him wear it as much as he was willing. At this time, our daughter got re-fitted, as she had experienced substantial growth over the year.
June, 2011 – trip to the Orthopedist – X-rays taken at 24 hours out-of-brace. Daughter at 55 degrees, Son at 25 – we did not experience much improvement for him, yet…
October, 2011 – trip to the Orthopedist – Son was below the 20 degree mark after 8 months of full time use of the Cheneau brace. Daughter got a bit worse, at 60 degrees, but the Doctor claimed that if you looked at my daughter, a trained professional would NEVER guess she has that kind of a curve – “clinically” she LOOKED great – her posture and rotation have greatly improved, which I attribute to the brace and the ARC3D therapy through Dr. Morningstar. So, while her Cobb Angle was worse, we realize that the Cobb Angle is only one measurement of progression of this disease.

What’s on the horizon:
This week we have our first evaluation for the kids with the Feldenkrais therapy.
We are scheduled to get the kids re-fitted for bracing in late December, 2011.

I hope this helps to summarize what has been 2+ years of blog posts with just the “nitty gritty” of the therapies and techniques we’ve used, as well as any progress (or setbacks) we’ve experienced. It has helped me, too, as the last few years have been a real blur – the exact dates and degrees have never been critical to me – I usually just focus on the overall journey, and the everyday work to keep us on the path to the most comfortable life possible for our kids. Every Scoliosis Adventure is different, and ours has much yet to be written. But, we trust the Lord for that and just keep doing the work we need to do and counting the blessings we have along the way.