Sunday, February 7, 2010

Muscle Memory – Part II

Back in August, I wrote an article on "Muscle Memory." Wikipedia defines Muscle memory, also called neuromuscular facilitation, as the neuromuscular system's memorization of motor skills. For example, when an active person repeatedly trains movement, often of the same activity, in an effort to stimulate the mind's adaptation process, the outcome is to induce physiological changes that attain increased levels of accuracy through repetition. Even though the process is really brain-muscle memory or motor memory, the colloquial expression "muscle memory" is commonly used.

In our KDA Forum, a man references that previous memories of movements that your nervous system has used for years to coordinate your muscles no longer seem to work. His comment:

"Forgetting Previously Reflexive Movements - The realization that movements your nervous system built pathways for when you were a toddler and that you have been doing since then without conscious thought can no longer be done by reflex. The first real memory of this was 3-4 years ago. I was walking across a parking lot toward a 6-8 inch curb, when all of sudden; PANIC! I did not know how to step up onto the curb without losing my balance and falling. The last 20 feet of the walk was a series of calculations, how long is my stride, what foot will I step up on, is there anything to hold onto, how did I do this yesterday?"

His comment made me flash back to when I was still working. Our company had two buildings and rented space in a third building for training purposes. To get to the third building I had to walk across the parking lot and step up onto an island, walk another ten feet, step down off the curb, and then walk across another parking lot. The entire distance was perhaps a hundred yards. Several of my trips over to the training facility sounded something like the comment from the man mentioned above.

As I approached the curb, I found myself eyeballing the giant step (perhaps eight inches). The closer I came to the curb, the more my mind would run through all the options of how I was going to climb Mt. Everest. Fortunately, on several trips I was able to navigate my way over the obstacle, but not easily (balance when stepping up played an issue also). I always looked around before trying to step up on the curb and after making it up on the curb to make certain that no one was watching. One day as I approached the curb, my mind raced once again wondering if I could make it up and over one more time. I stopped, lifted my leg up, and placed it on top of the curb. That was it. I tried to put weight on the leg that was up on the curb, but could not. For some reason my muscles would no longer allow me to make that step up. I switched legs, but that did not help either. I tried two or three other options (i.e., side lift
and grab a branch), but I just could not step up on that curb. Talk about an embarrassing moment. I considered a couple of other options including walking all the way around the block, but finally gave up. I marched back into the building, picked up my car keys and drove over.

From that time forward, I always drove over. What was so strange about this last incident was that my muscles just did not want to respond (the quads lifting the body up).

I have had similar experiences over the years and find them frustrating. Once this happened a few times, I found that mentally focusing on the muscles … almost willing them to perform a certain way … is something that still works (until the muscle group is no longer strong enough to perform the task). As people age, many often refer to those "senior moments of memory loss" that randomly occur where they temporarily cannot remember a name or a word. Well, perhaps these experiences are "Kennedy's Disease moments of muscle memory loss." What do you think?

I would be interested in hearing from you on this subject. Have you had any experiences where something similar happened to you?


  1. Thanks Bruce, I really enjoy your blog and link to your articles on my FB page so that family and friends can better understand what "Living with Kennedy's Disease" is like. The incident I shared and you quoted, also took place at work. I embarrased myself many times at work. I once crawled into an F-150 because I could not lift myself in (two co-workers were with me). I one had to have two employees lift me up so that I could climb into a haul-truck at a quarry,because I could not get onto the first rung of the ladder. Anyway, thanks for the blog.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Jim. It would be interesting to collect all of the stories from men with KD. They would have everyone laughing.

  3. Thanks Bruce for all your blogs. A great effort on your behalf and I look forward to reading them. I too can relate to your insurmountable barriers story. I have now worked out a strategy whereby I never tackle a step or curb without some sort of hand support. It's a matter of keeping an eye out for the "path of least resistance" . I also find that a little bit of forward momentum can help for 1 step, but 1 step only!

    I also find if you think(worry) too much about what you are about to do this can have a negative effect. I can walk (slowly) up an incline at home without a lot of effort but when I'm walking up the main street of my home town, trying to look "normal" my legs seem to be held back by imaginery plastic bands. Same incline, much more effort. The mind is a powerful force.

    Cheers from Aus.

  4. Thanks, Denis for your insight and kind comments. You are right, we often tend to over-think a situation and create more problems because of it. I believe all of us have experienced the, "WOW, that was easy," probably as many times as the opposite thought, "Crap, now what!"

    Focused attention is important, but a positive attitude is also helpful. Often, I find the concern to be more for a "Now what?" situation where I am thinking what would I do if I go down and there is no one around to help.


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