When thinking about cerebral palsy symptoms it seems important to think about how difficult they can be to handle. Some feel like they have more of an impact than others. One of the most challenging aspects of cerebral palsy has been hand manipulation. More specifically, the manipulation of my left hand. Cerebral palsy has its greatest impact on the left side of my body. This fact makes it more challenging to use my wrist and hand on my left side. Consequently, much of life has been spent using my right hand in as many circumstances as possible. Which seems to make sense, until situations call for the use of both hands. Or, until there may be no other alternative, the offhand needs to take action. Maybe even more importantly, learning to use the left hand because it’s there to be used. Some people might not have the opportunity to use both hands if they don’t have them. So, it seems important to make attempts at developing the most challenged part of my body. It would mean attempting to strengthen the connection between my brain, with my left hand and wrist. This connection was one the trainer seemed to begin working on from the beginning. First, would be working on the stability aspect of my left hand.
When we perform, workouts using a barbell, one side of the body has the ability to help the other. This can make it possible for my left arm to be weaker, bringing in secondary muscles, and muscles from the right side of the body, to help compensate, and complete the lift. However, when working with dumbbells, our arms and both sides of the body, seem required to work more independently of each other. So, when starting with my new trainer, it was all about working with dumbbells instead of the barbell on exercises. This process doesn’t seem for everyone, as he works other clients using the traditional barbell bench press. But, when it came to my routine, the left arm required more isolation to gain strength. Most every exercise we perform, the left arm is on its own, without help from the right side of my body. The isolation of my left side can become frustrating, when my physical life has been about helping my left side with my right. When we began, my left wrist was pretty shaky and unsteady, which added to the discouragement. It took time for me to learn how to concentrate on keeping the left side steady. It was also surprising to find how much strength gets used up trying to keep things steady, when they are naturally unsteady. The more we could strengthen and stabilize my left wrist, the more weight could be lifted. So, it was advantageous to learn how to keep that left wrist stable, so it could gain strength.
As time went by, we began reaching our goal. The left wrist was becoming stronger and more stable. This was leading to weight increases with the dumbbells. It also seemed to indicate that coordination was slowly improving in my left arm. Keeping the weight from moving around before pushing it upward, also provided the feeling that motor control was slowly getting better. With control and stability in the left wrist improving, we wanted to work on control in the fingers and hand on my left side. The first thing we worked on for the left hand was balancing a small two-pound medicine ball above my head. With my left arm straight above my head, I balanced the ball in my left palm, carrying it the length of our gym floor, then back again. The largest challenge was to balance the ball in the palm of my left hand, while applying the correct amount of pressure with my fingers. In the beginning, it was difficult to apply the right amount of pressure with my fingers, causing me to squeeze a little too tight, dropping the small ball. Those moments caused frustration, as the process was much easier with the ball in my right hand. But, we had to keep working on lefty. With practice, the pressure from my fingers got better, and the ball was starting to find more rest in the palm of my hand, rather than being squeezed by the fingers. Soon it was time for a new challenge.
After becoming familiar with controlling finger pressure on the medicine ball, it was time to work with the lacrosse ball. A lacrosse ball is roughly the size of a tennis ball. The idea was going to be catching the lacrosse ball with my left hand, which was going to be challenging. When we began, the ball was simply bounced to me by the trainer. It would take one bounce, then my job was to catch the lacrosse ball using only my left hand. The process would require wrist control gained from lifting dumbbells, along with finger control developed by carrying the medicine ball above my head. The other helpful skill was learned in my youth, while learning to catch a baseball with my glove. That taught me to squeeze my left hand once the baseball hit the back of my glove. Even with all these acquired skills to help, it was still challenging to catch the lacrosse ball being bounced my way. We tried the process with one bounce in relatively close proximity, once that was going well, Bernard increased the distance between he and I, which increased the speed of the ball. The increase of speed made it slightly more challenge. But, after some practice at the increased distance, I could catch the lacrosse ball using only my left hand. There was some surprised satisfaction in accomplishing these two challenges. They were slightly discouraging to begin with, but Bernard helped me focus on watching the ball into my hand, and squeezing my fingers once it hit my left palm. After some practice with the new skills, Bernard called it a day, with more difficult tasks still to come my way.
We only worked with the lacrosse ball once per week, so it would be the following week before my new challenge was presented. This time, Bernard wouldn’t be bouncing the ball directly to me, for me to catch. He wanted me to bounce the lacrosse ball off a wall and catch it on the rebound. This task was to be done using only my left hand. It would require more dexterity from my left arm, wrist, and hand. My reaction time would also be required to increase, as my hand would need to be ready to catch the lacrosse ball after releasing it to bounce against the floor, then the wall. There would be more going on during this challenge. With a good deal of apprehension, we began. The challenge would be getting my left hand ready to catch the ball after having released it. After a few tries with minimal success, Bernard went through how to prepare myself to catch the rebound. Immediately after releasing the ball, he wanted me getting prepared to receive it off the wall. The idea was not to hesitate, after release keep my focus on the lacrosse ball, and be ready the catch. Always looking the ball all the way into the hand. The process finally started working after plenty of missed opportunities. This challenge had me learning how to keep my eye on the lacrosse ball, watching it all the way into my hand. It never became easy, but we got the hang of it. So, what would be our next adventure with the lacrosse ball.
The next step with the lacrosse ball would be continuing to speed up the reaction time of my left hand. So far, we had gone from catching it off the bounce pass from Bernard, where there was time to prepare my catch before the ball was thrown. Our next step was bouncing the ball against the wall on my own and catching the rebound. That process required a shorter window for reaction in order to catch the ball. However, it gave more time than simply bouncing the lacrosse ball on the floor, which would be our next step. In the next challenge, the ball would be bounced on the floor and caught as it bounced back up. It became too challenging to catch it left palm down as the ball bounce off the floor, so turning my left palm upward to catch the lacrosse fall would be okay, for now. This challenge seemed to require much more focus, because it was difficult to allow the ball to fall into my palm, instead of trying to catch it with my fingers. The fingers on my left had were reacting too quickly and grabbing the ball. Bernard wanted the lacrosse ball to hit the palm of my hand, then the fingers to wrap around it. If done in this manner, the exercise would increase muscle control and stability in my fingers. Again, with patience and practice, the process began getting easier. Even though it has been frustrating, with time, it too has become successful and rewarding. This form of the challenge was to be practiced at home.
Today, there is a lacrosse ball at home for me to use. Each day, the idea has been to practice bouncing the lacrosse ball and catching it with my left hand. The exercise has been truly advantageous for the dexterity in that hand. My left hand has become much easier to use in many ways, bouncing the lacrosse ball seems to warm up the movement pathway from my brain to that left hand. But, my challenges with that ball haven’t stopped. This week Bernard had me begin bouncing the lacrosse ball and catching the rebound with my left palm facing down. Similar to the way a tennis player bounces the tennis ball just before they serve. This challenge has been the most difficult with the lacrosse ball, as reaction time from throw to catch gets reduced again. However, with practice, reaction time will probably improve, and success will seem to follow. That seems to be the important thing to take away from these challenges. Whatever it might be that challenges us the most, try not to shy away from the challenge. Take it on in steps, using patience and persistence. Who knows, you might just surprise yourself.