Clapham Osteopathy and Functional Movement

Footwear Habits Influence Child and Adolescent Motor Skill Development

child with bare feetNew research finds that children and adolescents who spend most of their time barefoot develop motor skills differently from those who habitually wear shoes. Published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, this is the first study to assess the relevance of growing up shod vs. barefoot on jumping, balancing and sprinting motor performance during different stages of childhood and adolescence. The study shows that habitually barefoot children are noticeably better at jumping and balancing compared to habitually shod children, particularly from 6-10 years of age. While these beneficial barefoot effects diminished in older adolescents, the research nevertheless highlights the importance of barefoot exercise for motor development as children grow and mature.


Read the full article, Footwear Habits Influence Child and Adolescent Motor Skill Development.

Fitness vs Movement: Science Shows Quality Training Matters

women doing bird dogsIn gyms all across the world, millions of people are unknowingly settling for sub-par fitness results, no matter how hard they work. It’s true that traditional fitness training delivers many benefits, but according to a recent study, movement-based training offers even better results with fewer negative effects. Movement training also has more “carry-over” when performing outside the gym (e.g. in real life).

So, if you want to move and perform well, in both ordinary and extraordinary situations (e.g. athletics, emergencies, etc.), this article will explain why a movement-based approach to fitness and physical performance is best, based on the findings of a recent study that challenge conventional wisdom.


Read the full article, Fitness vs Movement: Science Shows Quality Training Matters.

The Nature of Pain – Part 2

woman with headacheIn a recent blog post, we looked at the nature of pain and how often it is not an indication of damage in your tissues but an indication of the threat level in your nervous system (you can read that post here).  As discussed, treatments that reduce the threat level in the nervous system are most appropriate to relieve pain in the long term, and that a lack of core stability and poor movement patterns are often the factors driving the increased level of threat.

Here we want to explain how poor breathing and movement patterns may lead to pain in the short term,  and in the longer term may result in increased wear and tear on our joints and thus to structural damage. You can compare it to a car that is not serviced regularly. It is likely that the parts will wear out sooner as things move further out of alignment.

Babies and toddlers, assuming there is normal development, learn to breathe, create core stability and move by instinct using patterns that are laid down innately in our nervous systems.  A baby does not need lessons in how to roll, crawl and walk. With the right stimulation, it happens naturally, leading to good abdominal breathing and free and stable joints. As a side note, you don’t want to encourage babies to walk or be upright before they are ready, as that can be the start of dysfunctional movement. Most top athletes actually started to walk later than average.  However from the age of 3 or 4, posture and movement become much more dependent on the environment and models that the child sees, so they will start to copy the way their peers and parents move and hold themselves. There is also a reduction in natural movement from sitting in chairs at home and in schools and often, rather than free play, more repetitive and unnatural movements from participation in organised sport.  This means that by the time we reach adulthood we are not using our bodies in an optimal way, but have created compensation patterns ‘to get the job done’. Depending on our own particular circumstances including load and any injuries we suffer, these compensation patterns may work well for many years before we start to develop stiffness and pains, possibly that grumbling low back, tight hips, or neck.

NKT testingInitially, this pain is likely to be in the nervous system, as we have previously discussed, but if we don’t take notice of these issues then, over time, the tightness in the joints and overuse of certain muscles can lead to wear and tear and structural damage.  For example, tight hips will cause excessive wear on the joints and so in the long term result in a diagnosis of osteoarthritis; or alternatively, the inability to stabilise the spine well can lead to a disc bulge. This is why at Backs Etc we work with our clients to get to the underlying cause, ie the postural and movement pattern problem, and change that to either prevent or at least arrest any structural damage.  This approach can also work in conjunction with orthopaedic surgery if your hip or back has deteriorated to the point that surgical intervention is needed. If you don’t also work to improve the control of the hip or spine then the underlying cause remains and the wear and tear will continue making further surgeries increasingly likely.

Here at Backs Etc, we use methods, particularly NKT and breathing retraining, to ensure that the motor control centre of the brain can access all the muscles of the body and so create good pain-free movement patterns, followed by functional movement training to embed the good patterning. The training is individually tailored to help you achieve your specific health and fitness goals, whether that is running a marathon, playing a sport, losing weight, or just feeling great. Here are some kind words from a previous patient on our approach:

“I initially started seeing Sue for multiple, chronic issues that varying other therapies had not helped progressively. I was rather desperate when I went to see Sue as surgery and injections seemed to be my future. Within 3 sessions I started to see improvements and had significantly less pain. Day to day tasks had become easier and I was sleeping better. It’s been a journey and I have learned a lot, the homework Sue sets is great and gives you a better understanding of what Neurokinetic therapy is. In addition to seeing Sue, I have also started sessions with her husband, Jack. He is helping me rehab and strengthen my body. This reinforces what Sue is working on and allows me to keep progressing further. The team effort that Sue and Jack continue to put into the sessions I have is brilliant. The combination of techniques and knowledge is allowing me to make real progression, I feel stronger each time and understand my body far more than I did a few months ago. I don’t live locally but the travel time is definitely worth it. I can’t recommend both of them highly enough. A great place to start if you are suffering with chronic problems that never seem to get better.”

Jenny – Hertfordshire


Hormesis: The Good Stress

Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Or was it Conan the Barbarian? Either way, there is certainly some truth to the statement. One such way actually involves stress. Now, with good reason, we are constantly warned about the dangers of stress, both physical and psychological. Stress has been shown to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. However, the intent of this post is not to warn you about the dangers of stress – you are probably already well aware of them. Rather, we’d like to focus on a very particular kind of stress – a good stress – called hormesis.

Whereas the chronic stress from our jobs, lack of sleep, bills, antagonistic relationships, poor diet, etc. will break you down, certain low-level stressors can actually make you physically stronger, boost your immune system, improve your mood, and more. Some of these hormetic stressors are probably already very familiar to you, including such staples as exercise, sunlight, fasting, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and even certain foods. The key to hormetic stress is that it needs to come in small(er) amounts. For example, plunging into arctic water for a long period of time will ultimately probably kill you. But a cold bath or shower can actually stimulate your immune system, making you healthier. Similarly, exposure to extreme heat for a prolonged period can lead to dehydration and other issues, whereas a 20 minute sauna session can produce loads of beneficial effects, physical and mental. For a more detailed and scientific analysis of this, check out Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s article, Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis.

weightsAnother very familiar example of hormetic stress is exercise, in particular strength training. A challenging weights workout increases levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. Done in the right amount, ie not over-training, this provides a relatively low and manageable dose of muscle injury. Your body responds to this microtrauma by building new muscle fibres as well as repairing the slightly-damaged ones. Regular exercise improves your body’s ability to rebuild, making you stronger and healthier. But the key to this is not overdoing it, and ensuring proper rest and recovery between workouts. If recovery isn’t adequate, the hormetic stress becomes chronic stress and the body can’t cope with the damage. This is why so many people who insist on training super-hard too frequently often wind up feeling ‘broken.’

Fasting, especially intermittent fasting, is another hormetic stressor. Skipping meals provokes a great hormetic stress response. Additionally, fasting triggers autophagy, a process in which cells clean themselves up, getting rid of damaged or junk cells that could potentially become cancerous. Again, though, this needs to be approached correctly, as calorie deprivation combined with gruelling exercise, sleep deprivation or other chronic stress can do more harm than good. So once again, don’t over do it! Notice a trend? Dr. Jason Fung is one of the world’s foremost experts on fasting. You can check out interviews with him here and here. Even better, buy his book, The Complete Guide to Fasting. We’ve read it, and highly recommend it.

Certain foods also promote hormesis. You’ve almost certainly heard about foods rich in antioxidants. Well, antioxidants are actually hormetic stressors, which is why they are so good for you. Colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as bitter foods, tend to be high in antioxidants, so having a good amount of these types of foods in your diet can be very beneficial. Check out this article on antioxidants for more info. Some of the most popular “superfoods” – blueberries, dark chocolate, turmeric, red wine, green tea, broccoli –  contain hormetic compounds that activate adaptive stress response pathways, improving our health. But of course, moderation is still key. You certainly don’t want to go on an ‘all chocolate and wine’ diet, no matter how appealing that may sound.

Believe it or not, sunlight is even a hormetic stressor. Getting regular, small amounts of sun exposure can help reduce skin cancer and improve vitamin D levels. But again, overdoing it can have the opposite effect, so don’t get sunburnt!

In conclusion, it’s critical to note the difference between chronic stress and hormetic stress. In almost all instances, too much of a good thing can have the opposite of the desired effect. Too often we push ourselves too hard – the ‘just do it!’ and ‘no pain, no gain!’ mentality. Conversely, not having enough hormetic stressors does not enable us to develop as we should. Here at Backs Etc., we believe that balance is the key to health, fitness, and happiness, so do challenge yourself, but do it wisely.


The problems of the modern jaw

Are you or your family mouth breathers? Teeth overcrowding and poor dental health are likely related to how we breathe, as well as what we eat. In this article, Stanford’s Paul Erlich discusses how poor breathing and the lack of chewing in our modern near-liquid diet has contributed to reduced jaw sizes in children. Undersized jaws have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, hyperactivity, sleep deprivation and other issues. Make sure your kids breathe through their noses and give them some food that needs chewing.


Read the full article, Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich on the problems of the modern jaw.


More than half your body is not human

Our bodies (especially our skin and gut) are perfect environments for a vast range of micro-organisms. In fact, human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists. Because of bacteria phobia, we destroy these using anti-bacterial cleaning products and antibiotics, often without a second thought to the vast quantity of bacteria beneficial to us that are wiping out. Think of a wildflower meadow – if you covered it in pesticide, it would likely kill off most of the existing plants and that space, without some careful planting and care, would regrow with weeds. This is what happens to the microflora in our guts when we use these products, and this is intensified when we eat a diet of processed foods. Everything you eat is feeding your microflora as much as it feeds you, and we need healthy microbiome to be truly healthy.


Read the full article, More than half your body is not human.





Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day

Are you always rushing around? Take a few moments to meditate, breathe or just be alone with your own thoughts. By not giving ourselves the minutes — or hours — free of devices and distractions, we risk losing our ability to know who we are and what’s important to us, says physicist and writer Alan Lightman.


Read the full article, Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day.





The Nature of Pain

Pained figureMost new patients at Backs Etc arrive with some form of musculoskeletal pain. They are often scared that the pain is resulting from some form of tissue damage and fear that they are ‘broken’ with a fragile body that is giving up. These attitudes and fears are not surprising as they are reinforced by the media and many medical professionals.  Indeed, when you have recently had an accident, eg a car crash or heavy fall, then there will be tissue damage and inflammation (which is the body’s healing process). However, in most patients the onset of their pain was either completely unclear (came on gradually for no specific reason), or is related to an injury more than a couple of months old.  In these cases the tissue damage has healed or is just not there.

Human bodies are resilient, and it’s unlikely that anyone will structurally damage their backs by bending to pick up a sock or sleeping in a soft bed. However these innocuous events often appear to be the proximate cause for an episode of excruciating pain. So if there isn’t any tissue damage, what is going on? Modern neuroscience has identified another function of pain.  Our nervous system’s prime function when we move is to keep us safe and stable, so pain is an indication of threat levels in a person’s nervous system and is a message to try and stop us moving in a way that our brains have determined to be threatening. It is a multidimensional response; an output of the brain that weighs up a whole range of inputs not just relating to pain receptors in your back but also habitual movement patterns, sleep, anxiety, nutrition, beliefs and overall systemic health. Thus, the brain is making a decision based on all sensory inputs into your nervous system as to whether or not it feels ‘safe’ in relation to any movement you want to do with any part of your body.  If the decision is that it doesn’t feel safe, there will be restriction and/or pain in the relevant area to try and stop you. In fact, we should feel grateful for this type of pain as it is a message from our nervous system to try and persuade us to change. Unfortunately we mostly misinterpret the message and either ignore it or just suppress it with painkillers. Then, over time, our pain response can be hyper-sensitised so that it over-responds to things that considered individually are not very threatening.  This is like a fire alarm that makes the same sound whether the house is burning down or when you have burnt some toast.

Here at Backs Etc we discuss and evaluate the stressors to your nervous system with you to decode the message your brain is trying to send you.  In some cases, just reducing fear by explaining the pain science can be beneficial. Also, giving guidance in relation to managing stress and improving sleep and nutrition is part of the treatment.  However a large part of the negative inputs into the nervous system come from the neurological traces of old injuries, a lack of core stability, and poor movement patterns. These are all inputs which can be changed with treatment. NKT is particularly effective to improve motor control patterns.  We also improve movement with functional training, and gain core stability with breathing retraining. Our strategy is to reduce these movement-based threats as much as possible to return the nervous system to a state of equilibrium and so eliminate pain.


If this short post has whet your appetite, here are a few links to some further resources:

Tame the Beast – It’s time to rethink persistent pain

Body in mind – the role of the brain in chronic pain

Your Cranky Nerves: A Primer For Patients To Understand Pain