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Wellness and physiotherapy: It's not just about aches, pains and stiff joints

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Movement, balance and strength are the three cornerstones of the approach of PegasusLife’s Physiotherapist, Hannah Atkin, to keeping owners fit and healthy.

We had a chat with Hannah about the importance of Physiotherapy and how even the simplest exercises can make a big difference especially whilst staying at home in isolation. 

Can you explain a little about what Physiotherapy is and when it is used?

For me Physiotherapy is about teaching and giving exercise a purpose. I teach people about posture, movement, balance and strength, to move well and get strong and give people ownership of their situation. I prefer a hands off approach, using verbal cues, unless I need to be more hands on. It depends on the individual. Broadly, I look at people’s deficits in respect of their strength and then I can devise a programme to help that individual get stronger. It can be as much about prevention, ‘prehab’ rather than treating post injury and rehab. My aim is to reduce injury risk and maximise quality of life. There’s also a holistic element, using physio advice or signposting on to resources to improve psychosocial factors like sleep, diet or stress levels. Ultimately it’s about giving people confidence.

How can physiotherapy benefit the older generation, why is it so important?

Often it’s the small things. If turning your head to reverse your car is difficult, it can affect going out/social interaction which can become a big thing, physio can help improve your range of neck and shoulder movement.  It often boils down to biomechanics, simple movements and education to make the difference between needing help and not needing help – especially with things like getting up from a chair or lifting your arms above your head to get dressed; which can become harder as we get older. Weight bearing exercise can help with osteoporosis and there are also exercises to improve peripheral vision and help balance. A big part of it is attitude too – you’re never too old to build strength – which includes lifting weights!

Talk us through some of conditions that physio can treat? How do you tailor treatment to the individual?

In most cases I tend to treat a deficit or a weakness rather than a condition and tailor exercises to achieve lifestyle goals, using relevant verbal cues as the person moves. Parkinson’s Disease is a condition that can benefit from specific tools such as counting and working on movements of the pelvis. With Osteoporosis, I would use resistance training and start at the right level and build up gradually, which evidence shows is safe and effective. In a class setting everyone might be at a different level so I ensure each individual works to their ability. Where chronic pain is concerned often its education, understanding how the body can become hyper sensitive and send too many pain signals and managing down the response.

With self-isolation now advisable for the over 70’s can you suggest some effective ways that owners can stay fit at home?

As exercise can help with relaxation and lowering anxiety, it is important to keep active for good mental wellbeing and as importantly to help reduce the risk of falls therefore preventing any hospital visits. I’ve been delighted to be able to help keep people strong via online video sessions recently – both individual and group sessions.

I’d recommend these three simple exercises to load the joints and muscles, improve balance and strength :

  • Lean on a kitchen work surface or wall and do press ups
  • Sit-to-stand from your chair
  • Walking up and down your home will help get your breathing rate up, improve circulation and balance.

With the first two exercises (which are for building strength) build up slowly so it’s a little more challenging each time. Aim for 3 rounds with a rest of  1-2 minutes between each round. The limiting factor will be different for all so do as many repetitions as you can comfortably and look to increase as you feel able. Always remember to take care how you do an exercise and not to overdo it – strengthening exercises only need to be done 2-3 times a week to make a difference. Walking is safe to do daily.

Finally, tell us a bit more about your background and career and how you became a physio?

I studied and qualified in 2001 from Brunel University in London. After my two year rotation at Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, I specialised in neurology and brain injury rehab and spent some time working for the wheelchair service and then in Northern Ireland working on a stroke unit.  I spent nine years working in the community with neurological patients in Manchester before moving to Cheshire and starting freelance work. I was visiting a client at home who then moved into Chapelwood (one of PegasusLife’s developments) and very kindly spread the word. I got chatting with Hollie, the Wellness therapist and from there started working with other owners which I love as I feel I’m part of a team striving for the same goal of providing the best lifestyle to owners.

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