Feldenkrais Method: On Plasticity and Paraplegia

On Plasticity and Paraplegia: Some Clinical Observations on the Ability to Recover from Severe Injury to the Spinal Cord – Carl Ginsburg, Ph.D.

Two remarkable instances where paraplegia begins to be overcome by force of will and sensory awareness.

Two cases are reported here of partial recovery from severe spinal cord injury involving fracture dislocations of the lower thoracic vertebrae. These are remarkable instances, since each of the two women involved had been totally and near totally paralyzed from the waist down for about ten years. The general medical view of such injury is that
recovery is unlikely and is impossible after two years post injury. Medical research into recovery methods is very scanty although Brudny has reported two instances of partial success using a biofeedback approach with quadraplegics, and some research is being done now with electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. In the Soviet Union there is more research being done on how to stimulate spinal cord growth and repair. Some of this work has been reported in the popular press.

The two women whose achievement is recorded here are not, however, the recipients of some new modern medical miracle. On the contrary, the achievements in recovery they made were the result primarily of their own efforts as encouraged by a group of therapists and teachers using various non-medical approaches which had the effect of stimulating self-recovery. These approaches included the Feldenkrais method, practiced by myself and somewhat emphasized in this report, biofeedback and imaging, practiced by Michael Leffert, Rolfing, practiced by William Zimmer and acupuncture practiced by J. Michael Moore.

All four of us worked primarily to promote the phenomenological aspects of the recovery process and to support our clients at each step of the process with as much positive energy as we had to offer. Behind our efforts were the inspiration of our teachers. I would like to give particular acknowledgement to my own teacher, Moshe Feldenkrais, who so clearly pointed the way during my training with him. Without his example I would never have attempted the seemingly impossible or encouraged anyone to do so.

The recovery process as described in these two cases involves, from a biological point of view, the ability of the nervous system to adapt at a structural level and create circuitry where apparently nerve tissue had been damaged or destroyed. (…)

First printed in Somatics, Autumn,1980. Reprinted with permission from Carl Ginsburg.

Feldenkrais Method