Cerebral palsy isn’t tin. Tin is a silvery-white metal. It is a rare element often associated with a famous character from the Wizard of Oz. The Tin Man couldn’t move his extremities without the help of oil. Even with the oil, The Tin Man could experience difficulty. He needed the correct amount for his arms and legs to move fluidly. Without the oil or given a small amount of it The Tin Man would have trouble with his movements. Describing cerebral palsy has always been a difficult task. Explaining what it feels like to have CP is even more complicated and talking about the efforts I make to improve my symptoms more complex still. A couple months ago while working out with my trainer he mentioned I’m like The Tin Man. The statement struck me as unusual, so I looked at him slightly puzzled. He responded by explaining, you’re like The Tin Man and physical activities like playing golf or working out act as the oil for your body.
There is no question someone without cerebral palsy has an easier time moving their body. I can only guess if CP were somehow stripped from my body the ease of movement may be shocking. It was explained to me in this manner. If I spent a month on bedrest and someone without cerebral palsy did the same, when we each rose out of bed a major difference would occur. The person without a physical disability would likely rise with some stiffness, but for the most part be able to move around freely. I on the other hand would most likely struggle getting out of bed. The lack of movement for a month leaving me almost frozen. The extra stiffness from cerebral palsy along with the lack of movement would likely leave my body in a painful, stiff, and aching state. I find this theory to be accurate, even today the longer I’m seated the more difficult it becomes to stand. Any lack of consistent movement can lead to cramping muscles and pain in my body, even when engaging in everyday movements. The situation becomes more pronounced in colder weather.
Cerebral palsy has my muscles in a constant state of mild tension. Most of the time they are contracting onto themselves. Each muscle wants to pull itself toward the center of my body leaving me fighting an uphill battle against muscle tightness and cramping. Feelings of nervous energy makes these sensations worse leading to more tightness, causing more difficulty in movement. When my cerebral palsy is most exacerbated, it feels like my body is closing in on itself. Muscles can tighten to the point it’s almost impossible to move them in a fluid motion. The tension throughout my body feels like a frozen sensation. My limbs, which are difficult to fully extend normally become shortened and difficult to extend. Without some kind of consistent movement tightness throughout my body only gets worse. This is where the oil of exercise and stretching comes in.
We have all heard people say “you either use it or you lose it.” The statement is amplified when it comes to my journey with cerebral palsy. One of the major things I work against when in the gym is stiffness. Cerebral palsy makes it difficult to fully extend my arms and legs. The trainer is constantly reminding me to lift all the way up with my arms or stand all the way up when working my legs. My tendency is to stop at 90 percent of extension, not providing oil for the final 10 percent by fully extending the muscle. If I’m not extending out the movement, my guess is soon I’ll only be able to extend 85%, then only 80%, pretty soon the effort being put into keeping my muscles oiled and moving properly won’t extend far. The joints and muscles may only extend to 70 percent, because the stiffness of cerebral palsy will have tightened my muscles to the point I can’t extend them past 70%. It’s as if the aging process is sped up for my body.
Stretching is another equally important way of providing oil for cerebral palsy. One of the things I often find myself jealous of is the lack of stretching I see at the gym. It would be awesome to finish my work out by stepping off a machine and walking out of the gym. That action just isn’t in the cards, it would lead to more stiffness and cramping. Leading to The Tin Man affect throughout my body. The static stretching is extending the joints and muscles against their cerebral palsy tendencies, to fold in toward the center. It is moving oil from the working out through the joints, reducing the propensity for stiffness and muscle cramping. Stretching is one of the most important aspects of my exercise. Many of my trips to the gym are with the sole purpose of warming my muscles in order to stretch them out. It keeps me walking and moving with greater ease.
Like The Tin Man my muscles don’t function normally. He uses oil in order to move more closely to normal. However, in a similar way to my struggle with cerebral palsy we will never physically function just like everyone else. I use stretching and exercise helping me move as close to normally as possible. Comparing my disability to the struggles of The Tin Man may be silly or simplistic, but it seems a good way to give you an idea of what my cerebral palsy is like. CP is different for everyone, as all of us struggle with the disability to varying degrees. My limbs tend to stiffen and become more spastic without the lubrication exercise and stretching provide. Oil gives more control to The Tin Man. Exercise gives me more control.