Why Would a Doctor Get into the Feldenkrais Method?

Lori Malkoff, MD surfing in the annual Stone Steps contest finals 2013

Lori Malkoff, MD surfing in the annual Stone Steps contest finals 2013

I am often asked, "Why would a Medical Doctor get into the Feldenkrais Method?" Great question!!

It all started in 1993 on a surfboard. I was doing a drop knee cut back on a longer board, and I felt a pop in my left knee. My knee swelled up and hurt for a few weeks, but seemingly healed. That is unless I tried to do anything fun: run with the dog, play golf, basketball, SURF! In which case my knee would swell up and hurt all over again. I tried everything to make my knee better: physical therapy, massage, energy healing, rolfing, yoga, acupuncture, Pilates and finally SURGERY for a torn medial meniscus. Yes, I finally caved and let the surgeon in. That was desperate, and useless! Nothing helped the pain in my knee that I still had even one year after surgery. Nothing until I found a Feldenkrais Practitioner three miles from my Encinitas home, Dr. Mark Reese (RIP). Yes, I am a lucky girl!!  Not only did Mark Reese, PhD live close, he happened to be one of the best Feldenkrais Practitioners in the US. The Feldenkrais Method not only made all the pain in my knee go away, I felt better, younger and more vibrant! I was so amazed, that after several treatments, I decided to become a practitioner in 1995. I was going to be 4 years older anyway, I might as well be 4 years smarter with a certification and new level of expertise!! I loved my Feldenkrais Training with Mark, and I am proud to have graduated from his teacher training program in 1998.

In 1999, I hit a rock on my skateboard while simply cruising down my street. My left foot, the foot on the skateboard as I was pushing myself along with my right foot, came to a full stop, while my left femur (thigh bone) continued forward. Ouch, @#$&^, that hurt. I just knew I had really hurt myself. This time my knee swelled up immediately. Within one hour it was quite huge, and the pain was severe. I went to my doctor the next day, was examined (large + drawer sign) and immediately got an MRI. My ACL was completely severed, and the medial AND lateral menisci were torn. Wow, I had "blown it out"!  My primary care doctor offered me an orthopedic consult and physical therapy. But instead of conventional care, this time I used the Feldenkrais Method exclusively to heal my knee pain. After several table lessons and an immersion in Awareness through Movement lessons, two weeks later I was walking well and able to gently bike on level ground. Five weeks post injury, I was surfing. Yep, and without pain or fear of instability.

My last MRI was in 2010 after a minor skiing incident. The MRI showed that all the injuries I sustained during my skateboard accident were still present and accounted for. In fact, my MRI so confounds my surgeon given my age, activity level, and observable images of injuries, that "colorful" is the only word that comes out his mouth when he reviews it. But no new changes this time; yea!

Now it is 2017, many years post-injury. My knee remains functional and pain free!!  I still surf, play golf, and play just about anything I want. No, I do not jog. Why? Because it hurts: my body doesn't like it, so I just don't use jogging for my aerobic activity!! I do other things. My standing knee x-rays continue to show an excellent, well-preserved joint space, with a few arthritic changes.  And that's why I got into Feldenkrais...it is the most empowering decision I have ever made.

Case Study using Feldenkrais and Diet to Treat Multiple Sclerosis

A compelling new short film has just been released detailing the results of a mom with multiple sclerosis and her successful journey to maintain independence using the Feldenkrais Method. Please share this film with those you know who suffer from this disabling disease:

click here to watch!

Neurochemistry of Pain Relief Using Feldenkrais

Using the widely accepted Wall and Melzack “Gate Control Theory” of pain, Feldenkrais may work to achieve pain relief by activating pain inhibitory cells in the spinal cord.

The Gate Control theory proposes that inhibitory nerve cells in the spinal cord control whether a pain impulse coming from the periphery, such as the foot, is relayed to the brain or not.

A Swiss research team has discovered which inhibitory neurons in the spinal cord are responsible for this control function. As the study published in Neuron shows, the control cells for the gate are located in the spinal cord and use the amino acid glycine as an inhibitory messenger.

Based on everyday experience we know that gently rubbing or holding an injured extremity can alleviate pain in this area. According to Gate Control theory, non-painful contact (touch) with the skin activates the inhibitory cells. The researchers verified this hypothesis and confirmed that the inhibitory, glycine-releasing neurons are innervated by such touch-sensitive skin nerves (mechanoreceptors.)

The pharmacologists were also able to demonstrate that neurons (nociceptors) where the relay of the pain signals takes place are primarily inhibited by glycine signals. These findings identify for the first time the neurons and connections that underlie the Gate Control Theory of pain.

Pain relief is often achieved by a single simple, yet precise Feldenkrais lesson. This can now partially be explained by mechanoreceptors activated by the simple touch of a Feldenkrais practitioner. Pain relief is also achieved by the overall improvement in the body’s organization for movement, mediated in the brain by the process of neuroplasticity. 

 

How exactly does exercise work to make us healthier

Exercise makes us more fit and reduces our risk for illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. But just how, from start to finish, exercise translates into a healthier life remains perplexing.

New research informs us the answer probably lays within our DNA. A study published December 2014 in Epigenetics finds that exercise changes the shape and functioning of our genes. The human genome is astonishingly complex and dynamic, with genes constantly turning on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from the body. When genes are turned on, proteins are released that prompt physiological responses elsewhere in the body.

Scientists now know that certain genes become active or quieter as a result of exercise. Gene expression was noticeably increased or changed in thousands of the exercised muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied. Many of the changes related to exercise were on the portions of the genome known as enhancers.  These enhancers augment the genes’ expression of proteins.  This relates to hundreds of health-related proteins being expressed throughout the body. These proteins keep blood pressure and insulin low, and strength and endurance high.

We now better understand one more step in the complex process that makes exercise so good for us. “Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn’t cost much money,” lead researcher Dr. Lindholm said, “we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life.”

Therapy works just as well as fusion for disc-related back pain

Surgery for back pain does not work any better than therapy or no treatment at all. A study conducted at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital ("Operative and Nonoperative Treatment Approaches for Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Have Similar Long-Term Clinical Outcomes Among Patients With Positive Discography" - September 15, 2013) found that patients with back pain and disc disease did not demonstrate a significant difference in the outcome measures of pain, health status, satisfaction, or disability based on whether the patient elected for fusion or no surgery at all. Therapy is now a first-line option for treating chronic back pain, and the Feldenkrais Method can be recommended with confidence that it is backed by science. 

Successful brain aging

A special issue of Science looks at the mechanisms and contexts of successful brain aging. The development of the brain through one’s entire life is affected by genetic, physical, and psychological factors. One thing we know for certain, our mental lives benefit when we lead lives that are not only physically healthy, but also intellectually challenging and socially engaged.

As we age, our brains constantly reorganize in response to new experiences, a process called neuroplasticity. Reading, writing, games and puzzles are incredibly fun and helpful. Even after horrible physical or psychosocial trauma, such as a stroke or a loved one's sudden death, there is a phenomenal level of flexibility in the brain that enables an individual to compensate and cope, and return to brain health. 

How can we interpret this brain aging study? Stay healthy, be mindful, have good friends, and have novel experiences that create strength and joy. Feldenkrais Awareness through Movement is a perfect example of a novel experience leading to better overall organization and brain health. See if you can find the joy in it!

Using mental rest to improve learning

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have shown that the right kind of mental rest, which strengthens and consolidates memories from recent learning tasks, helps boost future learning. “We’ve shown for the first time that how the brain processes information during rest can improve future learning,” says Preston. “We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come”. From Mental rest and reflection boost learning.

This hypothesis could explain why we take frequent rests during a Feldenkrais lesson. And during those rests, we reflect on the changes that have occurred. The learning is enhanced by repeating this process for an entire lesson, translating into more a fluid, organized series of movements. This better organized movement translates into improved ability and reduced pain.

What does this mean for you? Slow down, breathe, and reflect frequently. Your whole life may get a lot easier!

Exercise is a key to keeping dementia away

Research reveals that exercise is one of the best ways to protect against dementia in later life and the earlier you start, the greater the effect (from Exercise and Dementia).

However, it is only those ENJOYABLE hobbies, activities, concerts, and book clubs that seem to make a difference in brain health. “The minute a provider prescribes an activity people hate doing…most likely the effect in terms of being beneficial for brain health is lost.”

“It produces so much stress in the body not wanting to do the prescribed repulsive activity that the stress becomes more harmful than the benefit of keeping the brain active.”

Would you like to exercise more for both brain and general health, but have chronic pain issues holding you back? Contact the Feldenkrais Center at 760-436-2403 and let me help you return to those activities that bring you joy.

Lori L. Malkoff, MD 

Lori L. Malkoff, MD 

Self-Awareness in Multple Sclerosis has Implications for Rehabilitation

A new study of self-awareness by Kessler Foundation researchers shows that persons with multiple sclerosis (MS) may be able to improve their self-awareness through task-oriented cognitive rehabilitation: see Multiple Sclerosis and Self Awareness. Improved self awareness leads to improved quality of life and fewer falls and accidents.

The Feldenkrais Method is an excellent modality designed to improve task-oriented cognitive function. Feldenkrais provides lessons to improve a task's efficiency and ease through the use of self-awareness. The result is improved mobility, strength and balance.

Awareness through Movement

Awareness through Movement

Feldenkrais, neuroplasticity and chronic pain relief

Neuroplasticity is a modern term that refers to our brain's ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. Scientists used to believe that changes in the brain could only take place during infancy and childhood. By adulthood, it was believed that the brain's nerves and structure was permanent. Modern research demonstrates otherwise.  The brain continues to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones in order to adapt to new experiences, learn new information and create new memories as long as we are alive. This is the basis of the Feldenkrais Method's ability to heal chronic pain: learning to adapt in new ways to the same old stimuli and stressors, to create new responses to the same movement questions, and have these new responses become permanent. These new responses create more effective environments for healing those nagging chronic pains we all seem to have. And that is really what we're after: permanent chronic pain relief!!