How to Keep a Healthy Spine

Did you know that back pain is one of the most common reasons for  sickness absence in the UK*

Healthy Spine

According to the Office of National Statistics, an estimated 141.4 million working days are lost each year to sickness or injury.  With musculoskeletal problems – including back pain, neck pain and upper limb issues – often cited as the reason.  And the bad press about back pain doesn’t end there. It has also been recorded in recent years as the top cause of disability**.

The spine is our body’s central support structure. It’s a column of 26 bones — 24 separate vertebrae inter-spaced with cartilage, plus the sacrum and coccyx.  It makes up the spinal ‘scaffolding’, through which the spinal cord passes, keeps us upright and enables flexible movement.  It also sets us apart from those famous invertebrates – the jellyfish!

And it can be a master of disguise.  Back problems can be felt anywhere along the spine, from the neck to the lower back.  And they might include referred pain, which can give widespread symptoms (pain, numbness, pins & needles and weakness) into the upper or lower limbs, the head and abdominal/chest regions. And these referred symptoms can make diagnosis more difficult.

So, since prevention is better than cure, I’ve compiled a list of five everyday things we can all do to help look after our backs:

Good posture – day and night

Avoid slumping in a chair or on the sofa, hunching over a desk or walking with your shoulders up by your ears. And, of course, the 21st century curse of resting your chin on your chest while using your phone.  Instead, ensure your lower back is properly supported, sit up straight when you’re working on a computer or laptop and keep your chin up while you text!

And since we sleep for a third of our lives (hopefully), it’s also worth spending money on a good mattress and divan (slats do not support your mattress and in turn, your back).  The latter being ‘a mattress for your mattress’.  Ideally, the divan should not incorporate storage boxes as these lessen its effectiveness.

Bend at the hips

Always be sure to bend at the hips and not your back. Try to do this by keeping your upper body upright as much as possible and your chest forward. If you do a lot of lifting or bending, make sure you attend specific manual handling training.

Avoid shoulder/messenger bags

They might look fashionable but carrying heavy loads in shoulder and/or messenger bags can cause an imbalance of weight on your spine. If you lug around weighty items, like laptops and books, as a minimum, opt for a comfortable rucksack and be sure to use both shoulder straps. But ideally, do consider a rucksack with wheels.

Don’t stress – take a ‘chill pill’ (as my children kindly tell me)

As a trained Osteopath and Naturopath, I know there’s a close link between physical, mental and emotional health and that problems originating in one place can often show up as referred pain in another. And while some people manifest stress in their minds, others manifest it physically. Which causes us to tighten our muscles, particularly around our shoulders and down our spine.

Take a stand

Sitting for long periods of time has been proved to be bad for our health.  So get up, go for a walk or get a drink every 30 minutes to get your back muscles (and everything else) working.   If you spend your day at a desk, I’ve written before about the benefits of Active or Dynamic Sitting.  This is where your seating allows or encourages you to move, increases your stability and strengthens your core abdominal muscles.  There are lots of options on the market including the ‘Swopper Chair’, which I use myself.

Look after Your Spine

As we’ve discussed, the spine is a wonderful thing and it’s important to look after it.  So, if you’ve started the new year with back, neck or hip pain then Osteopathy may be the answer.
Why not get in touch for more information or to book an appointment?

We have Osteopath clinics in Central London and North London

 

*Sickness absence in the UK labour market: 2018

** Back pain is a massive problem which is badly treated

What is a meaningful connection?

At the beginning of a new year it’s natural for our minds to turn to change.  I’m sure we all feel exhausted by the volume and variety of exercise advice in the media and perhaps conflicted about whether we should do Dry January, Veganuary, or possible both!  Actually, I find it interesting that when we talk about ‘change’ we often mean physical change.  As an Osteopath and Naturopath, I’m a firm believer in the need to eat well, maintain a reasonable weight and keep active.  These things are important in helping us to live a healthy life.

But what about our attitudes and opinions?

We are all a product of our upbringing and experiences.  These things inform what we believe and often how we react to people and situations.  But, once we become adults, how often do we test these beliefs?  How many of us can say that we are open to new ideas or considering the other side of an argument?  Yet an open mind, curiosity and a willingness to learn could be considered just as vital to being a fit and healthy human.

Antagonism, division and polarisation seem to have become the starting point for what passes as debate in recent years.  There is so little respect for or curiosity about a different opinion.  Which is why I was so intrigued to learn about Megan Phelps-Roper.  Megan grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church, an American church known for its use of inflammatory hate speech, especially against the LGBT and Jewish community.  From the age of five she was regularly picketing against these groups, holding up placards that she couldn’t even read.  Obviously the pickets were often met with hate and sometimes violence.  But living the Westboro doctrines, and believing every word of them, was Megan’s life for the next 20 years.

Life changing conversations are possible

Until she joined Twitter!  Which she credits for the start of civil conversations full of genuine curiosity on both sides.  The cynical among us may say that this doesn’t sound like Twitter!  But it was absolutely Megan’s experience.  And eventually these conversations planted seeds of doubt in her mind.  As she says: “Friends on Twitter took the time to understand Westboro’s doctrines and spotted inconsistencies that I’d missed for my whole life.”

The results of these conversations with people who often represented all that Megan had been taught to hate, was that she left the Church in 2012.  She became a prominent critic of the church, its philosophy and practices and now lobbies to overcome divisions and hatred between religious and political divides.  In her Ted Talk she urges us to talk and listen to people we disagree with and gives four valuable tips for getting the most from those conversations:

Don’t assume bad intent.

This attitude cuts us off from understanding as we get stuck on anger.  Try to assume good or neutral intent and this provides a much stronger framework for dialogue.

Ask questions.

This helps you to understand where the other person is coming from. And it signals to them that they’re being heard.  Megan found that when people started to ask her questions about her beliefs, she automatically mirrored this behaviour.  And so, a conversation developed.

Staying calm.

This takes patience and practice.  It’s natural in stressful or confrontational situations to raise the temperature but this can bring any conversation to an explosive conclusion.  One of the advantages of online conversations is that (contrary to popular opinion) there is no need to reply immediately.  So, it’s a good idea in those circumstances to pause, breathe and consider before typing!

Make the argument.

We can assume that the value of our own argument is obvious if we hold strong beliefs.  And that we shouldn’t have to defend our position because it’s so clearly right and good.  The implication being that if someone doesn’t get it, it’s their problem — and it’s not our job to educate them.  But we are all a product of our upbringing, and our beliefs reflect our experiences. We can’t expect others to spontaneously change their own minds. If we want change, we have to make the case for it.

Whilst Megan’s views were obviously extreme, and the change she effected was massive, I think it’s good for us all to be open to engaging with people who hold different views from our own – a sentiment perhaps most memorably summed up by the author Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in her famous quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Life Coaching and NLP 

Aa a qualified Life Coach based in London, I work with clients towards achieving self confidence, self awareness and clarity about how to achieve their goals, all invaluable qualities and ones which Life Coaching can inspire in you.
Find out more about Life Coaching

I spent a very interesting day at the 30th annual Perrin Conference this month.

Dr Raymond Perrin is an Osteopath and neuroscientist.  He developed  The Perrin Technique™ back in 1989.  This is a manual method that aids the diagnosis and treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME.

I am trained in The Perrin Technique™ and there’s more about it on my website.  But it was very interesting to hear Dr Perrin talk about how the technique could possibly also be used to help sufferers of Lyme Disease, which can present with some similar symptoms to CFS and is ‘increasing rapidly’ in the UK, with 8,000 cases expected this year

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks. It’s usually easily treated with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed early but can cause more severe problems if it’s not caught.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Many people with early symptoms of Lyme disease develop a circular red ‘bull’s eye’ skin rash around a tick bite.  Most rashes appear within four weeks of being bitten but it can take up to three months and not everyone gets the rash.

Some people also have flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as:

  • a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
  • headaches
  • muscle and joint pain
  • tiredness and loss of energy

Sadly, some sufferers of Lyme disease develop more severe symptoms months or years later.  This is more likely if initial treatment is delayed.  Symptoms may include:

  • pain and swelling in joints
  • nerve problems – such as pain or numbness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • trouble concentrating and with short term memory

What is The Perrin Technique™ ?

The Perrin Technique™ is an osteopathic approach that manually stimulates the fluid motion around the brain and spinal cord. Manipulation of the spine further aids drainage of these toxins out of the cerebrospinal fluid. Massage of the soft tissues in the head, neck, back and chest direct all the toxins out of the lymphatic system and into the blood, where they are eventually detoxified in the liver.

Eventually with no poisons affecting the brain, the sympathetic nervous system begins to function correctly, and providing the patients do not overstrain themselves, their symptoms should gradually improve and in time some patients become totally symptom free.

If you, or someone you know suffers from these types of symptoms then please do get in touch.

International Men’s Day is about celebrating the positive value men bring to the world, their families, and communities. And they do. Every day. Which is why it’s so sad that suicide is still the leading cause of death among 20-49-year-old men**. When it comes to male mental health, there is still a lot of work left to be done.

So it was fantastic to be able to contribute some thoughts on why qualities traditionally seen as masculine can be damaging to male mental health to Balance Magazine.  You can read the full article – Poor Male Mental Health: The Physical Signs – here.

Robin Kiashek’s London Osteopathy practice is based in two clinics: in Soho, Central London W1 and North London N2/N10.  Robin works with his patients to help them make small changes to their lives which may result in a big difference to their wellbeing.

All about Robin

Robin Kiashek graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science honours degree in Osteopathic Medicine (including a Diploma in Nutrition) from what is now known as The British College of Osteopathic Medicine (formerly The British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy), an institution accredited by the University of Westminster.

Over the years, he has completed a range of additional training:

Throughout the year, he also undertakes post-graduate training (CPD) to further his knowledge in the latest Osteopathic and allied therapies.

**Office for National Statistics

I’ve always been interested in the balance of the physical, emotional and biomechanical – or the Naturopathic triangle.  I chose to study at the British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy (now the British College of Osteopathic Medicine) as I was keen to explore more than just the mechanical side of the discipline.  Since qualifying in 1996, I have further expanded my expertise to encompass a range of therapies, so I can offer a bespoke treatment to patients.  But Naturopathy – which promotes the body’s own self-healing mechanism – remains a cornerstone of my treatment plans.

21st century impact

Modern life is far removed from how we originally lived so it’s unsurprising that it can take a toll on our bodies and pose a challenge to our health:

  • burning the candle at both ends
  • the impact of the ever-present technology
  • multiple and continual calls on our time that lead to stress and anxiety
  • poor eating habits
  • sedentary lifestyles
  • modern pollutants

In fact, environmental factors – both physical and emotional ones – can even affect our genes.  This is evidenced in Epigenetics – the study of cellular and physiological traits, or the external and environmental factors, that turn our genes on and off, and in turn, define how our cells actually read those genes. Dr Bruce Lipton has written extensively about this and you can find out more here.

Who is Naturopathy for?

Naturopathy can help patients young and old and in many states of ill/health. It can help a person understand their health and well-being from a broader point of view; even with regard to chronic or acute conditions.  But its principal aim is not only addressing current symptoms but also the prevention of illness.

How does Naturopathy form part of a Robin Kiashek consultation?

Naturopathy is based on understanding the person as a whole. So, when a patient first visits me I ask them a series of questions about their lifestyle, medical history, physical and, when appropriate, emotional circumstances.

Depending on the answers and the patient’s requirements/objectives, I may then undertake a clinical examination.  Then I work with the patient to identify any factors that may be undermining their health and to develop a plan based on their needs.  The aim is to plan a future protocol that will help them move towards a healthier life.  This will likely involve looking at diet, lifestyle routines, sleep and hydration.  But I may also incorporate my other specialisms – Osteopathy, Acupuncture, Low Level Laser Therapy and Autogenic Training.

Chess but not as we know it

To return to the Naturopathic Triangle, I like to think of what I do as playing chess on a three-layered board.  With the top layer representing the physical being, the middle board the emotional and the bottom board the nutritional.  And a move on the top board will affect not only the pieces on that board but also those on the middle and bottom.

So, as a qualified Naturopathic Osteopath based in London, I can help you equip your body with the tools it needs to heal itself, or even to prevent illness from developing. Essentially, I help my patients achieve wellbeing through natural methods and treatments, allowing their bodies to fight and prevent disease, minimising the need for surgery or drugs.

To find out more on how my holistic brand of Naturopathic Osteopathy can help combat the stresses and strains of modern life, why not book an appointment at one on my clinics?

I attended a fascinating course last month by Dr Jeremy Howick about how we can use placebos to support recovery.  One of the themes we explored was the use of empathy in healthcare.  And whether, employed effectively, it could actually act as a placebo.

For many of us, ‘placebo’ may conjure up images of white coated doctors running clinical trials where one set of patients are given medication and the other are given ‘fake’ tablets.

And the official definition isn’t much different – describing a placebo as a medical treatment or procedure designed to deceive the participant of a clinical experiment. A placebo does not contain any active ingredients but often still produces a physical effect on the individual.

But their once-surprising impression on participants, known as the placebo effect, has become the focus of many studies.  This is because the inert treatments have repeatedly demonstrated a measurable, positive health response

So where does empathy fit in?

In my view, empathy plays a vital role in the treatment of patients.  It’s the cornerstone of humane, compassionate care and contributes towards the patient experience, relationship between patient and healthcare professional and potentially the treatment outcome.

Essentially, empathy is the ability to understand, acknowledge and identify with the feelings and emotional state of another without experiencing that state yourself.

When patients come to me they have often been in pain for a while and there may be a lengthy tale of different practitioners/treatments that they’ve already tried.  It’s vital that I take the time to listen and understand the journey that has brought them to my clinic.  And then, due to the holistic approach that I favour, I ask them about their diet, lifestyle and habits too.

So, before treatment has even started my patients they feel they have been heard.  And the time to listen is not a luxury that my fantastic but overworked and under resourced NHS colleagues often have.  In fact, listening is not a trait that we practice much at all in the 21st century.  People seem more likely to be head down over a screen than interacting with their nearest and dearest.

Interestingly, when patients provide me with testimonials they frequently (and very kindly) begin with how they feel they benefitted from my empathetic approach.  And they will often mention this before they talk about any treatment I have provided.

For example: “Robin is a good listener who is able to relate the situations in one’s life to its effect and treatment on the condition; felt cared for and treated very respectfully.”

How can we better incorporate empathy into everyday life?

Given to positive response I’ve seen to this approach, these are my five top tips for being more empathetic.

Listen actively

I’ve written before about my dislike for the over commercialisation of mindfulness.   But one of the key components of the practice is being present in the moment; which is vital to active listening.  As the other person talks, put yourself in their position.  Think about the feelings that would induce and how you might feel.  When it’s your turn to talk (no interrupting with active listening please!) reflect what you think you’ve heard and how that must make them feel back to them.  This provides a physical indication that you’ve listened and understood.  And the opportunity to clarify if you reflect anything incorrectly.

Life is so fast paced that we’ve become keen to race through every experience.  This often includes conversation.  If we’re honest, we’re frequently preparing our own response before someone has finished talking.  Which means that we’re not really listening.  So watch out for that.

Don’t make assumptions

‘To ass-u-me makes an ass of you and me,’ is a saying for a reason.  The people who most need our empathy are sometimes least equipped to make that known.  So, patience is required.  You may think you know the end of the sentence or even the story.  But perhaps you don’t.  And you’re unlikely to find out if you try to fill in your own blanks.

Make eye contact

21st century life is often incompatible with making eye contact.  And this can extend to a consultation environment.  There are records to be updated, notes to be taken and perhaps time constraints to be managed.  Similarly, in wider life there will always be an email to be answered, social media post to be liked or shared or a funny cat video to watch.  But how much more valuable for the person in front of you if we put the devices away and make some eye contact!

Body language

There are two sides to this.  First, be mindful of your own.  Shuffling or fiddling with props could imply disinterest.  Whilst glancing at watches or devices can signal a desire to be elsewhere.  Neither of which are likely to encourage someone to open up to you. Particularly if they are already feeling a little vulnerable.

And then there’s the other person’s non-verbal cues.  Which might be at odds with their verbal ones.  “I’m fine” is perhaps one of the most misused phrases in conversation.  Does the body language tell a different story?  Are they avoiding eye contact, is their posture closed (arms crossed, shoulders hunched etc?

It’s not all about you

Not so relevant in a healthcare environment – professionals are unlikely to counter your medical ailment with one of their own!  But very common in everyday life.  People often respond to something that someone shares by comparing it to a situation of their own.  Or of someone they know.  Which is frequently irrelevant and unhelpful.  No two divorce stories, infertility tales or chronic pain struggles will be the same and it effectively moves the conversation away from them and on to you.  Excessive positivity without acknowledging their pain and giving unsolicited advice also fall into this category I’m afraid.  Well-meaning as they may be.

So, there we have Robin Kiashek’s five top tips for being more empathetic.  Obviously, my treatment plans extend far beyond providing empathy.  I have a range of options at my disposal including traditional Osteopathy, Acupuncture, Low Level Laser Therapy, Naturopathy and Autogenic Training.  So please do call on 020 8815 0979 or get in touch through the website if you have an issue or ailment that you feel could benefit from my holistic approach.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a general term used to describe muscle, nerve and tendon pain caused by repetitive movement and overuse. It’s most commonly perceived as something that affects wrists and hands, but it can also impact forearms, elbows, neck and shoulders.

RSI can strike anyone who performs a repetitive or high intensity action for long periods without rest. It can also be exacerbated by poor posture or activities that involve working in an awkward position. At the Robin Kiashek Clinics we’ve seen sufferers from keyboard using office workers to smartphone users, sports people and musicians.

It is worth noting that poor posture whilst sitting at a desk can, with time, lead to repetitive strain and ultimately damage to the outer fibres (the annulus fibrosus) of the inter-vertebral discs, which can, in turn, lead to bulging/herniating discs, producing lower back pain.

Symptoms of RSI

The symptoms of RSI usually develop gradually and can range in severity. They often include:

  • Burning, aching or shooting pain.
  • stiffness
  • throbbing
  • tingling or numbness
  • weakness/lack of strength
  • cramp
  • Clumsiness or difficulty with day to day tasks and activities.
  • Chronically cold hands, particularly the fingertips.

At first, symptoms may only present while the action is being performed. But, left unaddressed, they can cause longer periods of pain or even become constant.

Top tips for preventing RSI

The good news is that there are a number of things that you can do to help reduce your risk of getting RSI:

  • If you work at a computer all day, make sure your seat, keyboard, mouse and screen are positioned so they cause the least amount of strain:
    • Keep feet flat on the floor and try not to cross your legs
    • Position the screen directly in front of you and at eye level
    • Consider a wrist rest to keep wrists straight and at the same level as the keys
    • Keep items you use regularly close by and so you don’t have to reach or stretch
    • If you use the phone a lot, consider using a headset rather than clamping it between your head and shoulder
  • Try to take regular breaks from the task – small and frequent is better than one long rest
  • Don’t sit in one position for too long. Get up and move around – it moves the strain from one set of muscles to another. There is some great information about the perils of sitting too long here and how you can do less of it here.

How can Osteopathy help with RSI?

RSI problems can respond very well to Osteopathy. At the Robin Kiashek Clinics we will devise a treatment plan to reduce pain, help recovery and minimise the chance of injury reoccurring.  There are three main strands:

  • On a symptomatic level, some soft tissue stretches, joint mobilisation and exercises can help bring relief from the painful symptoms
  • We will investigate around the area where the problem is presenting and establish what else is going on in the patient’s life. I’ve written on referred pain in a previous blog.
  • Finally, we would provide advice and guidance on lifestyle changes around sleep, posture, and exercise that can help prevent symptoms from reoccurring.

We have two clinics.  One in Central London and the other in East Finchley.  If you suffer from symptoms like those outlined above then why not get in touch?

In tribute to my dear friend Simon (1956-2017)

It was World Suicide Prevention Day earlier this month, and I was shocked to learn that every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide*.  With suicide still being the leading cause of death among 20-49 year old men**.

Much has been written about the general reluctance of men to ‘open up’ or talk about feelings. So, it’s heartening to see that tide start to turn as public figures such as Prince Harry become more open about their own struggles.

As an Osteopath, it’s generally a physical ailment or symptom that brings patients to my clinic. But I’ve long been a believer in the close link between physical, mental and emotional health. And for us to function properly as human beings these need to be in alignment.

Luckily, unlike often overworked and under pressure GPs, I have the privilege to properly explore the background to my patients’ issues. So, we might find out that the origins of the longstanding neck pain coincide with a painful separation or an increase in stress at work. And for men particularly, these emotional stresses and strains are still not something they often talk about.

So why don’t a lot of men talk (and some women!)?

Everyone is different but there are some common reasons why men often retreat behind a wall of silence:

  • They consider admitting to a problem or that they need help as a sign of weakness. This feeling can be underlined by society’s inclination towards expressions such as ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’
  • They worry that it’s less socially acceptable for men to express their feelings. Especially on an ongoing basis.
  • They don’t form friendships in the same way as women. Neither in terms of the number of friends they have nor in relation to the type of support they offer each other. This can leave them feeling that they don’t have anyone they can confide in.

Seeking help for the physical

But when emotional issues go unaddressed they can often develop into physical ones. And that’s when men tend to act. The most common physical manifestations of emotional include:

  • headaches, backache or other aches and pains
  • grinding of teeth, especially at night
  • the ability to heal from physical injury – from simple to complicated. Robin recalls discussing exactly this with a senior Cardiologist:

“He was intrigued why, hypothetically, ten men of the same age and with similar medical histories, would recover from identical major heart surgery in differing ways.    With some on the treadmill within a few days and others still wanting to lie in bed weeks later”

Big picture, little picture approach

Taking the time to work through a full history of how and when the problem started and what else might have been happening in a patient’s life, especially preceding the onset of symptoms, can be illuminating.  And, over the years, my holistic approach has developed so I now have a range of additional tools at my disposal to help determine and then treat the cause of a patient’s symptoms:

  • Naturopathy – based on the idea that the human body knows best how to heal itself naturally. We work with patients to identify factors that may be undermining their health and develop an individual plan to tackle problem areas.
  • Neuro linguistic programming (NLP) – enabling us to change our thought habits to enable us to alter how we feel.
  • Autogenic training – a potent relaxation therapy with powerful abilities in restoring, healing and developing mind and body. We teach patients a set of lifelong skills and exercises to use whenever and wherever they want.
  • Western Acupuncture – fine needles target trigger points associated with certain ailments to help with pain relief and so on.
  • Low Level Laser Therapy (or LLLT) –  low power or ‘cold’ laser light is used on problem areas to alter cellular function, improve outcomes and speed up the body’s natural healing process.

I have two clinics – one in East Finchley and a second in Central London.  So, if you, or someone you know, is struggling with longstanding physical issues and might benefit from a holistic approach that aims to get to the source of the problem then do book an appointment.  Either by calling 0208 815 0979 or by clicking here.

Sources

*World Health Organisation  ** Office for National Statistics

About Exercise AddictionToo much exercise can lead to obsession

We all know that physical exercise offers many health-giving benefits. These include strengthened muscles and bones, and a reduced likelihood of developing such nasties as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Not to mention its mood-enhancing and stress-busting properties. But some people take it too far and become exercise addicts. According to Katherine Schreiber and Heather Hausenblas, authors of The Truth About Exercise Addiction, a worrying 25% of all runners suffer with exercise addiction, compared with 0.3% of the general population.

Nature’s best stressbuster

Our over-complicated, over-sedentary, over-digitised 21st century lifestyles have a lot to answer for when it comes to creating stress. Exercise is certainly an effective way to counter this. Any form of physical activity releases endorphins – chemicals that enhance mood – in the brain but this is particularly true of cardiovascular exercise such as running and cycling. That’s why you get the ‘runner’s high’, and it’s also why you want to keep repeating the experience.

I’m seeing more and more highly stressed professionals self-medicating with excessive exercise. They cycle or run to work, put in a full and often stressful day, and then cycle or run home. They sign up to increasingly testing challenges – running further and in more and more difficult conditions or trekking and climbing all over the world. They’re on the brink of developing an addiction to exercise.

Symptoms of exercise addiction

  • Ever more exercise is needed to achieve the perceived benefits – the exercise ‘high’, increased self-esteem or reduction in anxiety – with addicts regularly exceeding their exercise limits.
  • Addicts experience withdrawal effects (anger, fatigue, anxiety) when they cannot work out as planned.
  • Time spent exercising is often at the expense of that spent with family and friends, at work or doing non-exercise related activities.
  • They persist with physical activity despite illness, injury, anxiety and depression and even against medical advice to take a break.

Exercise addiction and injury

If someone’s exercise goal is unrealistic or the lifestyle unsustainable then the chances of something physically ‘giving way’ eventually is high.

Which is when they appear in my Osteopath Clinic looking for an instant cure for their shin splints, muscle strain, fatigue and so on.  We are, after all, the ‘next-day delivery’ generation that expects a guaranteed recovery in just days or even hours. So, imagine their distress when I explain that the healing-time for an exercise-induced torn ligament for example, can stretch into weeks, requiring plenty of rest and patience, alongside Osteopathic treatment. My patients are then deprived of a tried and trusted outlet for their stress, which escalates.

I always look beyond the injury that brought the patient to my Clinic and probe deeper into their lifestyle and emotional wellbeing. This usually provides helpful clues for treatment and preventing a re-occurrence. As a qualified Osteopath and Naturopath, I work with patients to identify areas that might be undermining their health, such as diet, lifestyle choices, medical history, and physical or emotional circumstances. Treatment plans then encourage the body to heal itself and help guard against future illness or injury.

Give stress the boot

Since stress can be such a large part of the mix, I encourage patients to engage in new ways of managing it:

  • Autogenic therapy, a type of relaxation. I teach patients a set of simple mental and physical exercises and techniques, often incorporating this therapy into a patient’s treatment plan to help them manage their stress and/anxiety and promote greater healing of both mind and body.
  • Mindfulness. This is hugely popular and has become big business with plenty of its own apps and gadgets! But the basic idea is good – paying more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings, and the world around you. Rather than sitting cross-legged focussing on one’s breath, ‘being in the moment’ and relaxing can take many different forms – long walks, gardening, swimming or even talking to friends. All these ways of unwinding can be a refreshing break from distractions (especially electronic ones) and have huge benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing. You can find out more about Mindfulness here.

The good news is that most people who exercise are able to maintain a healthy balance with the other areas of their life. So, please get in touch if you’ve got a pain or niggle anywhere, or if you’d like any advice on how to relax, manage stress or establish healthy habits.

 

A mindful activity

Hands up who really understands what Mindfulness is?

As an activity it’s become fashionable with its own gadgets, Apps, clothing and general paraphernalia! All of which I fundamentally disagree with, which is why I dislike the word ‘Mindful’.
Having said that, I have no problem with Mindfulness as a practice, provided that a) it’s not hijacked by commerciality and b) people understand what it is – and is not.

Mindfulness explained

It’s about:

  • Being present – engaging with the here and now, paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, sensations, as well as to the world around you. Not letting your mind wander to your shopping list or what’s on TV tonight!
  • Living with intent – deliberately moving through your life rather than being on auto-pilot.
  • Accepting that life isn’t perfect, so working with what you have now, not what was or should have been.

Why should we bother?

Being Mindful can have huge benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing by:

  • providing a break from distractions (especially electronic ones)
  • reducing anxiety, stress and the (very real) possibility of burnout
  • improving attention span
  • boosting creativity
  • enabling us to manage our emotions better
  • helping to reshape our perspective, bringing us back to what’s important in life

 Main barriers to being Mindful

We simply don’t have the time or space, thanks to our fast-paced, teched-up 24/7 lifestyles. When did you last sit down and reflect quietly or walk the dog without being attached to an electronic gadget?

I swim regularly, as many of my patients know. It enables me to ‘be in the moment’. I feel the water on my body, I pay attention to my breathing and I clear my mind. For me, riding my motorbike in the countryside or walking the dog is equally good.

Recently, I spent a week in Portugal on a woodworking course, learning how to make a chair from a mimosa tree using traditional woodworking tools. The scenery was spectacular and I enjoyed the sun and warmth on my body, the feel of the wood and the creative process of making the chair. The action of planing was soothing and therapeutic. There were no bleeps, rings or reminders to do things. I just lived in the moment, on my senses. And it was wonderful.

I’m not saying that everyone should go to Portugal. Or that you need special kit or gadgets. In fact, the opposite is true – anything can be done in a mindful way by anyone!

Tips for being Mindful

  1. Sit down quietly and become aware of your senses: notice what you can you see, smell, taste, touch and hear, to help keep yourself in the moment. If your mind wanders, just notice it and gently bring it back to your senses. Try this for just a few minutes at a time.
  2. Start each day with a few deep breaths and think about your top three priorities. Check back at different points during the day to see if you’re on track for achieving these.
  3. At the beginning of each task, take a minute to breathe, refocus and get into the moment, giving it your full attention. Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task but sometimes focusing on one activity and seeing it through to its conclusion is simply better.
  4. Set boundaries so that you switch off mentally at the end of each day, giving your brain time to recharge ready for tomorrow.

So, do think about giving it a go this summer, remembering the one golden rule of Mindfulness: anytime, anywhere – and anyone!