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From conventional to pioneering Physiotherapist

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My journey as a Physiotherapist began in 1983, although I have to say that the past 5 years have been the most rewarding. The main reason for this is that now I see so many life-changing results with people whose lives have been severely affected by chronic pain. So how did a Physiotherapist like me come to specialise in a non-hands on approach that caused a 180⁰ turnaround in my understanding and treatment of chronic pain?

First Steps

GeorgieQuite by chance, I started off specialising in Respiratory Care, becoming a Superintendent Physiotherapist within 6 years and managing the Physiotherapy Respiratory services within a large city hospital. When I had my first child I decided I didn’t want to work fulltime, and took a 6 month position covering for someone on sabbatical, but ended up staying for 15 years! The role expanded over the years, exposing me to a variety of conditions, patients and treatment approaches.

Around the year 2000, I had become frustrated with how limited we were in how we could treat pain. At this time I personally developed severe pain in both thumbs and index fingers for no apparent reason, which not surprisingly caused me problems as a Physiotherapist. My GP and I were both concerned it might be Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Having seen and treated people with severe RA, this was a very frightening prospect. However, a colleague treated me with Acupuncture and within two treatments the pain went and I had no further problems with my hands. I was so impressed with my own results that I decided I would train in Acupuncture. Looking back now, I realise I was going through a very stressful time in my own life and my recovery coincided with a Rheumatologist informing me that I had Osteoarthritis, not RA, which was a massive relief.

Pieces of the Puzzle

I then completed training in Reflexology and Adapted Reflex Therapy (AdRT), and due to exciting new results with the AdRT approach, my NHS Trust asked me to run a pilot study. This was then the start of another major change in my career as I decided to focus more on helping people resolve their pain. I therefore set up my own private clinic in 2005 and interestingly even then I wasn’t prepared to just ‘manage’ pain and called my clinic the Pain Relief Centre. I also trained in a type of Bowen Therapy, called Neurostructural Integration Technique (NST), which, alongside AdRT became my most successful treatments.

Throughout the years of using these complementary approaches I was becoming more and more aware of how important it was to treat the whole person, not just the part of the body that was hurting. I had also realised that my results were improving as my treatments became gentler and recognised that the time I was now able to spend with my patients, therefore improving the relationship and trust, played a large part. I was also perplexed by the fact that occasionally a patient would burst into tears after a treatment and they were often considerably better the next time they came!

I was becoming increasingly unsettled by the medical model’s explanation for the symptoms my patients presented with. Things just weren’t adding up and all too often there were inconsistencies between a patient’s symptoms and their diagnosis. Most patients could not recall any injury and had often just woken with pain. On top of this, symptoms very often didn’t match the physical diagnosis, for example the symptoms blamed on a prolapsed disc compressing a nerve on one side would often cause symptoms involving numerous nerves and often even swapped sides.

I was also beginning to wonder why, if core stability is so important in preventing and resolving back pain, I was seeing so many people who had often already worked for months on programmes for core stability, yet they then came to me for pain relief. Other times symptoms would move around the body, bearing no relation to any physical ‘abnormality’ that might have been found on MRI. There were also frequent occasions over the years when patients would become completely pain free, despite still having the severe degeneration that had been attributed to the pain.

Making Connections

As well as observing my patient’s anomalies I myself developed severe sciatica soon after leaving the NHS to set up my own clinic, yet I had had no injury. It soon became clear to me that this was completely related to the stress I was feeling due to setting up my own business and not having a monthly salary any more.

In 2007, after years of searching for an answer, I received an email from Amazon recommending a book by John E Sarno MD. I often don’t even look at these, but something made me click on the link and then read the reviews. I remember thinking it all sounded too good to be true, but by this point I was so open-minded I decided to buy the book anyway and see what it was all about. This was the beginning of another major change in direction for me, yet I might not have been open to it if I had read it 10 years earlier.

As it was, it answered all the questions I had about my own pain and that of so many of my patients. Briefly, Dr Sarno is a Rehabilitation Specialist in New York and has been pioneering his work since the 1970’s with the condition he called Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS). Briefly, his theory is that repressed emotions can trigger the unconscious part of the nervous system to create pain, just as emotions such as fear trigger an automatic reaction in the body. In other words, as we go through life we tend to cope, but we often bottle up how we really feel. These can build up and often during, or soon after, a stressful period the emerging emotions require an escape mechanism and the emotional brain reacts by creating pain, or another symptom, via the nervous system.  These symptoms, and often our fears related to them, often end up becoming the focus of our attention and become a distraction from the actual underlying cause.

Interestingly, while I was reading the book, I woke up one morning with severe neck pain. I was immediately able to work out what inner turmoil was causing it, although unfortunately I hadn’t reached the point in the book which told me what to do! I remained in pain for 3 days because I was unable to continue with the book, yet once the issue resolved my pain disappeared within an hour.

This was powerful enough for me to really take on board all Dr Sarno was saying in his book and I recognised that there didn’t even have to be an obviously stressful past or current ‘trauma’ to trigger a symptom. However happy our upbringing, there are always going to be situations when our ‘buttons are pressed’ and personality plays a huge part in how we react to what’s happening around us, which then effects how much inner turmoil we might feel. We are also so used to the pace of lives these days that we often don’t even recognise how ‘stressed’ we are feeling because it has become the ‘norm’ as we continue to ‘cope’ with what’s happening in our lives.

Breaking Through

Over the next few weeks and months, I came to understand just how many of my own recurring health problems were actually stress induced and was able to resolve them all. It became very interesting looking at a timeline of when I had symptoms and what was going on in my life at the time. This in itself reinforced to me the potential for this approach and I went from going for treatment for various recurring problems every three months or so, especially since setting up my own business, to none at all since that time, yet being fitter than ever.

During my research I came across numerous studies from the 1970’s to recent years which demonstrated that spinal degeneration found on MRI scans is often coincidental and that it is just as common in people with or without back pain (http://bit.ly/mriback). Studies like this, plus what I was observing with my patients and my own health, reinforced to me the importance of this work and that it wasn’t just a placebo effect.

As I couldn’t find anyone in Europe using this approach, I arranged to spend time with Dr Sarno in November 2007. On my return and with Dr Sarno’s blessing, I set up my own TMS Recovery Programme (http://www.sirpauk.com). Over the past few years, I have developed a specialism in this field by returning to the States twice more and building relationships and peer support links with the main specialists over there. There is a strong movement now to raise the profile of this concept and millions of dollars of funding have been granted for further research. I now also train other Practitioners to integrate this approach into their own work.

Although I now focus my whole work on this non-hands-on approach to chronic pain, I accept that as we are pushing boundaries and long held beliefs about the cause of chronic pain, there will continue to be resistance for a long time yet. However, just as something as simple as washing hands could reduce mortality in babies and their Mothers was initially ridiculed, I have no doubt that in time this concept will also become widely accepted.

I cannot ignore the fact that since I changed my whole understanding about the cause and treatment of chronic pain, I am not only healthier than I have ever been, but I am now able to help so many people not just manage, but resolve, their pain. I also love the fact that it is all about education and self-empowerment once an individual accepts the possibility that this might be an answer to their own symptoms, which therefore also has massive cost saving benefits.

Your Key to Recovery

 'Chronic Pain: your key to recovery', by Georgie Oldfield MCSP, the first UK-written book about this cutting edge approach.

Find out more about how you could recover from chronic pain and other persistent health problems and the click through to buy from Amazon.

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Meet Georgie

Come and visit the TherapyExpo Exhibition for therapists. Georgie will be exhibiting and speaking at this show.

Georgie's Blog

What others say ...

Hazel Cross - back pain, anxiety & depression

After suffering from severe back pain and anxiety and depression I was constantly seeking a cure for my pain which became very expensive and I was finding I had reactions to pain medication. I felt a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders when I finally met Georgie and she assessed me.  At first I was naturally skeptical, but now I realise it was the best approach. I am now virtually pain free and would highly recommend Georgie and the SIRPA programme. It all clicked into place when I read the programme and  I still read it every now and again. I am much more active now than I used to be because before I was unable to go outside. I hope you will find help from Georgie whom I highly recommend.

Irene - update 4 years after recovery

I am totally pain free in both legs .... and feel wonderful.   I enjoy life so much and will always be grateful to you and Dr. Sarno.  Whenever I get a twinge of (what used to be) sciatica, I can will it away by just using the techniques you taught me, but that happens very rarely.   I thoroughly enjoy the SIRPA newsletter you send out every month and always read it avidly. You're doing such great work and I love the fact that you're going from strength to strength, expanding and spreading your knowledge to others who need help.

L.Phillips - hand & back pain

"This is not a quick fix but if you want to get to the root of your pain and are prepared to go on a journey that will last a lifetime, then the SIRPA programme is for you. The online material will provide you with all the tools you need to understand and change your pain, but the assessment and ongoing support from Georgie was essential for me. Just knowing I could quickly email any worries if anything went wrong was a great comfort and knowing I had a regular appointment helped me maintain the momentum and keep going. I would recommend the programme to anyone who is struggling with pain that cannot be explained or has no serious underlying cause."

C. Henderson - Backpain

"The work I have done with Georgie has been life changing... I have been working through the SIRPA online program at my own pace (as I have a little baby) and booked a package of 1:1 sessions with Georgie, which we carried out on Skype. The online program is so well structured & the 1:1 sessions were a wonderful supportive lifeline, especially when I experienced setbacks. Georgie always promptly, professionally & compassionately responded to my emails in between sessions. She is hugely knowledgeable, supportive & practices what she preaches, which makes her approach so genuine." 

Sally - Sciatica

I had been following the SIRPA online programme for nearly 3 weeks before deciding that I would benefit from seeing Georgie in person. I was very glad I attended the appointment and it was well worth the 3 hour journey from London! (Which in itself was a challenge that a month prior I would never have tackled!) Seeing Georgie really helped me feel like I was less alone in my pain, I felt the face-to-face contact with Georgie spurred me forward in understanding and accepting that I have been suffering from stress-illness. Having a physical examination and Georgie talking me through different examples that were similar to my own experiences, really helped me feel motivated and encouraged in continuing my path on the online SIRPA Recovery Programme. 

L.Stoddart - patient

Georgie is absolutely dedicated to trying to improve the lives of chronic pain sufferers by helping us to understand what lies behind our pain and giving us the tools with which we can turn our lives around and end what, for some of us, has been years of pain. She is smart, enthusiastic and very approachable and will bend over backwards to give additional support when required.  From my own experience with Georgie I can wholeheartedly recommend her to all chronic pain sufferers.

Amaya from Spain

I have no words to say how thankful I am for Georgie's support. From the very first contact on the phone, she was keen to help,  inspiring me trust and confidence.  She has been key in my recovery. The fact that she has a background as a Physiotherapist really helps because she perfectly understands what you mean when speaking about physical symptoms. You can tell she is passionate for what she does and her work is enhanced by her human touch and sensitiveness.  Amaya, Spain

James Wiltshire

"I hope that all is well with you and your mission. I sent you a few emails last year and you were so incredibly helpful.  Dr Sarno's work and your help meant that I have gone from chronic RSI on statutory sick pay to going self-employed musician. I have never felt more balance and physically I really feel best ever! I would always recommend people to you Georgie."

Carol - backpain and prolapsed disc

"I've been testing and pushing myself to the limit.  e.g. climbing trees, zooming down 150 feet high zip wires, climbing over un-mentionable obstacles.  Cycling up and down some very severe hills, camping and sleeping on the floor, moving furniture and lifting and manoeuvring a very heavy wardrobe!  All of which I have not done for at least 20 years for fear of hurting and making my back worse.  Thanks once again Georgie."

Wayne Kampers MRCPsych

"Georgina has an infectious and warm disposition. She is passionate about the Mind-Body link and her dedication to establishing what is still not accepted in mainstream healthcare is admirable and refreshing. She believes she can make a difference and because her belief is unshakable she does make a difference! The world could do with a lot more people like her.” Consultant Psychiatrist

Professional Endorsements

Member of the Royal Society of Medicine