The Story Behind Aligned As Designed
On January 15th of 2013 an SUV crashed into the driver's side door of my car. Over the next two years I would undergo hand, shoulder and hamstring surgery as well as five procedures and eight long post-op and recovery periods. I was continually told after the accident that I had unreasonable and unrealistic expectations in regard to my long-term prognosis. What almost everyone including my physicians didn't understand was that I didn't believe, nor did I expect my surgeries and PT to return my broken, twisted, disabled body to the way it was before the accident. I expected my surgeries and PT to give me an opportunity. Winston Churchill said, "A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty."
The crutches, leg brace, arm slings, walker and walking canes and walking sticks that I used after my surgeries and procedures bankrupted the opportunity my surgeons gave me. They forced my body to be continuously misaligned and moved in ways it was never designed for to maintain balance causing secondary disability unrelated to my car accident.
Martial Arts Basis
I am a Black Belt in the martial arts styles of Kung Fu, WuShu and Escrima. At the time of the accident I was training for my second degree Black Belt in WuShu. I began my martial arts and Qigong training in my twenties with Sifu K and Master Wong and my Defendo training with Bill Underwood at the age of twelve. The first time I met Master Wong he handed me two books. The first book was Gray's Anatomy. Sifu K told me that I needed to learn how the body was put together and how it moves. The second book was a Physics book on rotational force. Master Wong told me that the Physics book would teach me to think of the human body as a biological movement machine made up of levers/skeletal bones and fulcrums/joints.
I started relearning how to walk without crutches on April 1st of 2015. I walked one block that day and the next day I walked two. It had been two years and three months since the accident. During that time, I had eight long post-op/post-procedure periods where my movement and mobility were severely restricted for months and months at a time.
On the 14th of April of 2015, I finalized my 4-year walking plan to regain physical ability from physical disability using my martial arts and Qigong training and started my working walks. I walked six painful miles that day. It took me six hours to walk those miles and I stopped and rested more then I walked. When I came home, I asked myself what I had learned that day. Then I took inventory and cried.
I couldn't write with my right hand due to the scare tissue in my right index finger. I couldn't write with my left hand due to the ulnar nerve damage in my left arm. I had such profound nerve pain from my damaged sciatic and ulnar nerves that I couldn't sit for more than five minutes or pull my arm inward towards my side without pain radiating down my arm. I had trouble turning my head due to the damage in my cervical spine from the accident and from the way my head had been forced to be positioned in front of the rest of my body while I used crutches. I developed Kyphosis from the way the crutches forced my head and shoulders to be positioned for three and a half months to maintain balance.
During the three and a half months that my leg was bent with my foot off the ground the muscles between my hip and knee lengthened and the muscles between my knee and foot shortened including my Achilles tendon. My left hip, leg and foot became rotated outward. When I took a step, my left leg was so twisted that my left heel kept hitting the instep of my right foot. My left leg was an inch longer than my right when I started relearning how to walk, but because my Achilles tendon had shortened my left heel didn't touch the ground when I stood or walked. I had a different step, stride and gait on each side of my body. This was not from my car accident, but from the secondary disability caused from the way the crutches had continuously misaligned and forced my body to be moved to maintain balance as it healed during the three and a half months that my leg was bent and braced with foot off the ground.
After I took inventory of my body, I started creating a motion map and a series of walking and standing exercises based on my martial arts and Qigong training that would align and connect my movement and motion through the mid-line of my body as I walked. Martial arts, like the study of dance, is the memorization of movement patterns. Qigong aligns and connects motion through and to the midline of the body to maintain the body's alignment. I started my Motion Map by mapping the motion points in a body that was in postural alignment using a skeletal diagram. Then I mapped my own broken twisted body on a skeletal diagram. Next, I overlaid my map on top of the map of a body that was in postural alignment. I did that to give myself a starting point and point of reference to work from.
The motion map and the standing and walking exercises that I created from my martial arts and Qigong training were designed to help me regain an upright, balanced step, stride and walking gait. In martial arts, dance and most competitive sports you practice something until you think you know it then you keep practicing it until it knows you. When what you're practicing flows out of you without thinking then you've developed procedural memory that is automatic.
Procedural memory is a form of muscle memory. When a body is injured, or movement is restricted for a continuous length of time without interruption the afferent, efferent, interneuron highway that controls how we move and the way we move is changed. To quote Dr. Davis, "Use it or lose it."
Learning to walk again
When I started learning how to walk again my left leg felt like someone had taken my right shoe, put it on my left foot, tightened it up as tight as they could, then rotated my left leg and hip outward and wrapped it in electrical tape. I had such profound muscle atrophy in my body from the two years and three months of restricted mobility that If I leaned left I started to fall sideways. I had almost no core strength from the way the crutches continuously forced my body to be misaligned and moved to maintain balance.
When I was a kid I used to love walking forward and backward along the edge of the curb. Walking along the edge of the curb forces you to equalize your step and stride and moves your legs closer together towards the midline of your body. I started with five steps on a very low curb near my house. I set my line of sight in the distance of the direction I was moving and not down at the ground. I did that to keep my head aligned and centered over my shoulders. My shoulders aligned over my hips and to maximize my visual field to maintain my balance. Every day I added a few more steps on the edge of the curb until I was walking more steps along the edge of the curb than off.
After my hamstring surgery I would complain to my husband almost daily that my crutches were bankrupting the opportunity that my surgeons had given me. I would tell my husband almost nightly how the crutch feet on my crutches could not maintain my balance like a foot and that your underarms were not designed to carry the weight of the body. How my crutches were creating injury and disability with each step I took because they didn't keep my body aligned as designed. When I briefly used traditional canes and walking sticks after I started relearning how to walk, I would complain to my husband that you can't extend your base of support on one side of your body and lean forward or onto a cane handle to maintain balance without creating physical injury and disability throughout your body. When I told my husband after I started walking that my surgeon had told me that I would never walk normally again. He asked me what I had said to him? I told him that I said, I wasn't born walking and I wasn't born a Black Belt. My husband said to me then stop complaining about the cane your using and use your knowledge of human biomechanics to build better mobility devices.
Inventing a better cane
I started creating my mobility devices by visualizing how to align a disabled body in a way that would align movement and motion through the midline and create ability from disability when walking. When I wasn't thinking about how to align and reposition my steps to create physical ability from my physical disability during my daily working walks, I was thinking about how to invent a cane that would use the cane foot to maintain balance. That would keep the head aligned and centered over the shoulders and the shoulders over the hips. That would let the foot together with the cane foot strike the ground from heel to toe and engage the core muscles responsible for upright posture, balance and stability.
I designed all of my Patented mobility devices to create ability from disability by allowing an injured or disabled body to move the way it had been designed to move.
When I first started relearning how to walk I would use two of my canes for 30 minutes a day to gently stretch the muscles in my legs and feet while I was standing and to do core strengthening exercises. Before and after my working walks I would use my cane for fifteen minutes to walk forward and backwards. I did that to help my left foot relearn how to walk from heel to toe again and to reestablish a balanced walking gait.
It took over three years and three thousand miles to untwist my left leg and redevelop a balanced, upright walking gait. My left leg, hip and left foot are straight and aligned as designed. My legs are the same length. My step and stride on both sides of my body are balanced and my feet strike the ground from heel to toe again. I no longer have drop foot in my left foot because my cane helped stretch and lengthen my Achilles tendon and the muscles between my my mid-foot and toes. Allowing the front of my foot and my toes to stretch and bend normally again when I walk. I have one-hundred percent of my former range and mobility in my left arm and shoulder. As of April 15th, of 2019 I'd walked 4,514 miles on my daily working walks. I walk normally today despite the prognosis I was given because of great surgeons and the cane that I invented, used, and patented. I still have unreasonable and unrealistic expectations and I look forward to the day when I no longer have to live with and manage the pain from the nerve damage in my leg caused from the car accident.
Being limited in mobility is difficult and painful. After my surgeries and procedures, I used crutches, walkers, arm slings, a leg brace and canes. After using them I decided to use my knowledge of human mechanics to advance these devices and reduce the secondary disability and pain that they cause.
In January and February of 2019, I received my first two United States Utility patents, and in April 2020 I received my first US Design patent on my cane and crutch foot. My Walker/Rollator patent was issued on November 12, 2019. My US Crutch Utility Patent was issued on June 1st of 2021. My Canadian Cane Utility Patent was issued on November 3rd, of 2020. I have more patents pending in the United States and abroad and additional improved mobility items being developed. I'm excited to bring my knowledge of human mechanics and my improved mobility devices to others like me!
In 2020 The West Coast Consortium For Technology And Innovation In Pediatrics chose the 3rd Foot Cane to be a Portfolio Member.
Ardra Shepard chose The 3rd Foot Cane to be part of her 2012 Gift Guide for People With MS.