Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Some simple neck stretches

 I am often asked for these so have at last got round to making a video - at home on my day off, so please forgive the lack of clinical presentation!

As ever, keep to a comfortable stretch that you can relax into. You can do all or some of the stretches shown as often as you find comfortable and useful.

neck exercises video

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Where is that tension locked up....

 Whilst indulging in my new pastime of spinning wool, I have been monitoring myself for habits that may end up limiting how long I can spin at a time - because of course I want to spin for hours, effortlessly! One habit I noticed is that I tend sub-consciously to create tension in my lower back; this gives me a nice, solid feeling of support - but is it actually going to help? 

- sustaining tension there is tiring and will probably give me back ache, limiting how long I can spin (and I don't want to associate my lovely new hobby with pain!)

- creating tension in my back affects other parts of me, for instance how easily my arms and shoulders move as I handle the wool.  

This is not a habit limited to new spinners; as I sit here typing this I notice I am beginning to do the same tensing up. So, how to support myself effortlessly as I sit at desk or wheel?

- visualise deep inner support to encourage using your postural muscles that are designed to do this kind of work all day without growing fatigued. Imagine a helium balloon is attached to the crown of your head and gently drawing you up so that your front and back lengthen equally (you may feel a slight tightening around your stomach). I also like to imagine an inner tube running up the centre of my body and being pumped full of air, or that my vertebrae are gently expanding up. Check your chin - is it remaining level? As your neck lengthens the vertebrae will move into a more neutral position, still keeping the curves of the spine but less exaggerated than when your chin pokes forward.

- take some time through out the day to allow your attention to travel through your body, identifying areas of tension. Allow that tension to ease away - easy breathing helps this - and explore how you can carry yourself with minimal effort instead.

- have a look at these videos by the physiotherapist and movement coach Joanne Elphinston (much shorter than the ones I make!) for tips on freeing up the back: 

Thigh slides to free up the upper body, great to build into your day for instance if you are sitting down at a computer:

This one really gets the upper body moving - Joanne made this video at home during the first lockdown:

This one explores easy posture with that inner support:

Sunday, 8 August 2021

A new obsession....

 As many of my clients know, I have a slight (ahem!) obsession with wool and knitting. I have loved everything about wool from a very young age, and have always sought out quality woolen textiles. I did learn to knit aged eight, but then forgot about it until my 30s when I was inspired to take up the needles again by younger friends who took their knitting to the climbing crag and on camping trips. One thing led to another, I became obsessed with learning about sheep breeds and sourcing wool from small, sustainable non-intensive UK farms and began to fill every moment of spare time with knitting or reading about knitting and all things wool related. From there it was a small step to spinning on a spindle, and then this happened:

Wheel on the day of arrival (excuse the mess!)

My lovely sister-in-law and her mother loaned me a spinning wheel! I am now practicing on it every day.....

My first spinning effort

.....and of course this has opened up another delicious world of spinning techniques, raw wool, combing and carding.....

On a professional note, I am going to have to watch out for my back and hamstrings. As a beginner I tend to tense up with concentration which tightens up my muscles; experienced spinners recommend learning to relax as you want to be able to sustain the momentum for hours(!) Also, as with driving, there is a tendency for the leg that is doing the work to tighten up through the hamstring, just as drivers often notice happens when they are having to change gear and speed frequently. I am working out how to become more relaxed and will report back once I have found a solution...

Sunday, 11 July 2021

How to help your knees when walking downhill...

Image: Frantisek Duris

I often hear from my clients that they experience pain at the front of the knee when walking downhill, especially steep slopes. It's worth having someone look at you when this is happening, to see if you are leaning backwards; this pushes your weight through the knee and puts it under pressure. It also makes it harder for your gluteal muscles to do their share of the work, and you're more likely to slip as your weight is not over your feet.

These two videos from Joanne Elphinston, a wonderful physiotherapist and movement coach, demonstrate and explain this beautifully (the first link is to a post on her website, but if you read through you will find the link to the video; the second is an instagram post). She shows how to flex at your hip so that your torso stays up and over your hips and feet, allowing the gluts to do their work whilst the hip, knee and ankle joints flex to absorb the load.

JEMS knee pain walking downhill

You can also find my own video on Vertical Hip Release on my website, if you scroll down this page:

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Hours update and a useful link for runners looking for home exercises.

I hope you are well and enjoying the long June days. 

First, a quick update: I am now working Mondays as well as Tuesday - Friday (early closing on Wednesday). I am continuing to arrange my own bookings so please use the contact details on my website to book an appointment:

I am often asked about exercises; I do give these as part of my treatment plan for my clients but I thought I would include this link to a blog post by Mike James, a physiotherapist specialising in endurance sport, where he looks at the value of strength training for runners, and then gives six exercises you can do at home with no or minimal equipment:

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Are you getting enough Magnesium?

Photo by HowToGym on Unsplash

 Some professional literature dropped through my letterbox, including an article on magnesium. This is an essential mineral for us humans, used in a large number of ways including metabolism and energy production, synthesis of fatty acids and proteins and the transmission of nerve impulses; the article quotes it is used in 300 enzymatic reactions, and gives seventeen clinical uses for magnesium. Magnesium supports bone health as well as being involved in heart, nerve and muscle function and blood sugar regulation.

Surveys have found that many people in the UK are deficient to a varying extent in this important mineral; causes of this may be insufficient levels in the diet together with the tendency for levels to be depleted by common factors such as stress, caffeine and alcohol consumption, sweating or menstruating heavily, or poor digestive function. The challenges of the last year may have caused an increase in these factors for many of us! Some chronic health conditions may also cause deficiency. 

As with so many health issues it isn't easy to know if you are deficient but possible signs to look out for include fatigue; brain fog/lack of concentration; restless leg syndrome; muscle cramps/twitches; palpitations; PMS and/or menstrual cramps; anxiety; headaches/migraines; insomnia; feeling easily startled; vertigo; poor coordination; constipation/IBS symptoms; cravings for salt and/or caffeine. If you are experiencing these, are concerned and are not sure of the cause you may wish to consult a health professional.

I notice that I get some of these symptoms when I drink too much coffee or am stressed; reducing my caffeine intake, doing some self care and increasing my dietary sources of magnesium usually resolves most of the issues quickly. I have now developed a feeling for which foods help me and what I need to cut back on (although I still drink tea and one cup of coffee every day - some habits are very hard to change!) 

Dietary sources of magnesium include:

  • legumes (such as chickpeas, peas, lentils, beans)
  • dark green leafy vegetables (such as kale, broccoli, spinach) 
  • fruit (such as bananas)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish (such as mackerel and salmon)
  • Whole grains (such as oatmeal, whole wheat, barley, buckwheat, quinoa)
  • Dark chocolate :-)
There are also magnesium supplements available although I would always recommend looking to obtain through the diet first and then supplement if there is still a need. Magnesium citrate is generally thought to be the easiest absorbed. I don't give advice on how much to take other than to aim to eat a range of foods from the above list every day and maybe take a supplement, following the manufacturer's recommendations; I leave more detailed prescription to those more qualified than myself in nutrition. 

The BBC Good Food website has a useful article on magnesium:

Information obtained from:
'Magnesium - the most essential mineral for your practice' by Lamberts Healthcare 
'Human Nutrition, a health perspective' by Mary E Barasi 

Monday, 24 May 2021

More thoughts on running easier...

 I have been avoiding running for the last few weeks as breathing deeply whilst I ran through the woods was bringing on hayfever symptoms - not great when you do close contact work! Next year I will have my herbal remedy made up in advance but this year I just opted for long, brisk walks instead as I didn't want to miss out on the beautiful displays of wild flowers.

Today I noted that the pollen count was low and with the day off I decided to go for a morning run; a gentle run a bit, walk a bit to see how my irritable Achilles was doing whilst covering enough distance to see the bluebells in four nearby woods. As I ran I wanted to keep my upper body relaxed and rotating easily, and my posture optimal. This helps to distribute the effort more evenly rather than over-working certain muscle groups. I aimed for a running pace where I could still keep up a conversation if I had a companion. What worked for me:

  • Checking what my neck was up to. When I am putting in effort my chin tends to go forwards, causing my neck to go into cervical lordosis. Stick your chin forward and experiment with rotating your torso whilst looking forward; now bring your chin back to a neutral, relaxed position and repeat the movement. Which one feels easier? For me, neutral gives more movement so I use various visualisations to help bring me into that position, for instance imagining being lifted gently by the scruff of my neck, or my spine expanding upwards as if being pumped up with air like a bike tire. Others like to visualise a helium balloon supporting them from the crown of the head. Bringing my neck into this position also helps improve my centre of gravity as well as effortlessly bringing my shoulders back and opening my chest; have a go and see what you notice. Make a note too of what the back of your neck feels like when the chin is forward compared to neutral - you may notice that the spine disappears into a steep sided valley when the chin is forward!
  • Shortening my stride so that my centre of gravity is over my footstrike - this is less effortful than over-striding so I am less likely to stick my chin forward!
  • Ensuring that my palms are turned in to face my sides. I find this opens my shoulders and frees up my rotation compared to palms down towards the ground.
  • Visualising that my elbows are connected by a band to my ribs so that as my elbows move back my ribs follow and I get more torso counter-rotation which helps make me more energy efficient compared to if just my shoulders are moving whilst my torso stays put. 
I had a lovely run, such a great feeling! After a couple of hours I noticed that my right hamstrings were feeling tight followed by the sole of my right foot so I eased off and walked the rest of the way - I had a wind proof with me in case this happened as I knew I was pushing the distance, but it was such a sunny morning that I didn't need it. The tight hamstring is linked to a back/pelvis issue that Pilates helps with - a reminder to do some exercises....