Case Histories

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My most interesting case in recent times has been Ivan Lapchevitch, a professional handball player and Olympic gold medallist (for Yugoslavia in 2000) who was forced to retire because of knee and ankle injuries and finally a broken leg. He came to me in 2007 when the doctors told him his career was finished – after I worked with him for 6 months he returned to his team, Veszprem Hungary, leading them to the league championship and the European playoffs for the next two years, and playing the full 70-game seasons injury-free, the only member of his team to do so. How did we accomplish this miracle?

With Ivan it was clear, as with many athletes, that his injuries stemmed from a lack of freedom in parts of his body distant from the affected joint. Ivan is very tall, and simply holding himself upright took a lot of effort when I met him. He also had the typical athlete’s ‘overly muscle-built’ syndrome: he had worked out so much that his muscles maintained their tonus even when there was no need for them to do so. Ivan himself was a relaxed, easygoing guy, but his muscles had a life of their own – it was as if they never slept.

In order to unlock his spine and gain flexibility through his trunk, we had first to discover mobility in his hip joints. But to get to his hip joints, we had to start at his feet. I had him lie on his back, his legs supported by soft rollers underneath knees and ankles, and I began to press a wooden board against the sole of his foot. This technique is called “the artificial floor.” It stimulates the standing reflex. When the client lies down, the usual stresses of standing erect are reduced to a minimum, so when the reflex is stimulated, much finer neurological changes can be perceived.

Ivan’s toes were chronically flexed – they literally couldn’t uncurl at all. They were so confirmed in this position that it seemed structural – that they were built that way. But I knew that this was a chronic contraction that probably had something to do with the injuries he had sustained. Things break when they can’t flex and bend. No movement in the toes indicated not enough movement elsewhere in the system.

As I pressed ever-so-gently, not enough to even move his foot at all but just to make the sensory nerves awared that there was a surface there, present, I began to notice responses in his foot. A toe might twitch for apparently no reason, or some bone in his foot might “give way” unexpectedly, as if it had just in that moment rediscovered a capacity for movement, a capacity long since thought lost forever. I kept on stimulating the soles of his feet in various gentle ways, evoking more and more of these responses and I kept coming back to the artificial floor over several sessions. In a couple of months his toes were virtually normal. They were still slightly over-flexed in their “at rest” state (some old habits die hard), but infinitely closer to a true neutral.

When the foot is moveable, it participates in standing in a completely different way. We tend to stand like statues, putting ourselves as erect as we can and then holding ourselves there stiffly. But the human body is incredibly sophisticated in its design which is to stand like a gyroscope, flexible enough to respond to even a puff of wind by moving slightly. The standing body should be in a constant state of inner flux as a multitude of constant, extremely fine calibrations and adjustments keep things dynamically in balance in stead of static verticality.

When his foot became more ‘alive,’ the repercussions echoed all the way up through his calf, knee, hip joint and even into his back and shoulders. He could feel sensations of tingling and other subtle changes as related muscles ‘woke up’ and changed their latent tonus.

Of course I went through this process with other places as well. I would lift his leg and just hold it in a position that told his CNS that it didn’t need to hold on any more. Again we could both feel the let go in the hip itself as well as elsewhere.

To get his shoulders more into the movement picture I had to work with his spine and his ribs, using gentle stimulation to evoke more bending in the spine and fuller, freer movement of the ribs in breathing.

As everything started to move more he became more vital. When he stood up he seemed even taller than his normal 210 cm! He felt like a new man. We have worked at regular intervals for several years now, and it just keeps getting richer. Fixing an injury has an end point, but there’s no limit to improvement. We keep going deeper into his core organization and using more and more subtle “non-movements” to evoke change at a very deep neuromuscular level. From being an injured, prematurely retired player he is now looking at playing until he’s 40! He plays in Valencia, Spain now but returns to Belgrade regularly for “top-up lessons” which are always fascinating for both of us. Sometimes we seem to follow movement down a path to almost molecular levels, where things seem to takes place more on an ‘energetic’ level. But the principles of Feldenkrais are still guiding the work – it is still Awareness Through Movement.

One Comment

  1. Kim DeCelles
    Posted 8 April 2014 at 22:41 | Permalink

    I have read about the artificial floor technique but had not seen it performed until viewing this video.

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