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Wimbledon Clinics

Off piste and personal… with Tania Cotton, founder of Movement Wise

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How did you get into what you’re doing?

I was very fortunate to be asked to speak at the Swiss Annual Sports Medicine Conference – specifically about my work looking at movement and function. One case that I presented was a sprinter, who had suffered from the same injury three years running. It was the start of a journey for me – helping people understand that ‘if we do the same thing, we get the same result’.  So if we want to improve our health and performance outcomes we often need to have the courage to do things differently. This sprinter had been looked at, in the past, as ‘an injury’, but not as a whole person in the context of a real life. The body is connected, and assessing the whole movement system is crucial. My approach is centred on looking at an athlete’s movement ‘software’ in the brain, their movement patterns.  But our software is affected by our thoughts and beliefs, how we sleep, what medication or drugs we take, what we eat…. all of these things have an effect on how we perform activities in our every day life and in sport, and this influences our health and performance outcomes. For the sprinter, I presented my assessment findings and ‘whole body’ management approach one year later, at the next Sports Medicine Conference. After this event I was asked to see more clients and, basically, I never went home! I’ve been living in Saint Gervais, near Chamonix ever since working as a consultant for the Swiss Olympic Sports Medicine Centre in Geneva.

Why the mountains?

I always dreamt of living in the Alps. Environment affects us a lot and as a therapist, the mountains bring out the best in me. This is why I try to see people outside of the hospital environment. Visiting people at their homes, at work or in their ‘natural habitat’ (for example, seeing a runner at the track). It allows you pick up on issues immediately that you may miss in the clinic. With the sprinter, I was able to gain critical information into what was driving his injury from watching him simply go through his warm up drills on the track.

What’s your background?

I trained as a British Chartered Physiotherapist at King’s College London as a mature student. I had previously looked after a freestyle skier who suffered a spinal cord injury, and from being a healthy, active athlete he had to cope with being ‘a quadriplegic’. I went on to do a Master’s module in movement analysis, realising more and more that ‘how’ people move can have a big impact on their health and performance outcomes. I wanted to be able to identify and understand the cause of an individual’s pain, pathology and performance failure. I studied movement impairment syndromes thanks to the work of Professor Shirley Sahrmann who identified three main causes of pain and disability:  ‘congenital pathologie’s’: things you’re born with (like rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis or skeletal abnormalities); ‘accidental injuries’ (such as tearing your anterior cruciate knee ligament skiing); but the most common cause for our bodies to ‘breaking down ‘ is the result of ‘poor, habitual movement patterns’ in our every day lives. I believe we need not only to identify the ‘physical’ drivers but also the ‘emotional drivers’ and limiting beliefs that can have a big influence on the way we move and our ability to recover.

 Tell me about Movementwise?

I set up Movementwise.org to make people more aware of just what is possible and to help them embrace the expertise that is out there.  ‘There are many people who don’t know that they have a problem that has a solution and that this solution can have a significantly positive effect not only on their own lives but on the lives of those around them’. We have been filming true stories on Health and Human Performance, that show how individuals, including elite athletes, have overcome health and performance challenges.  On March 8, our first short film will be shown publically. It follows the journey of Kate, whose true story shows how she turned a threat into an opportunity when, having overcome her breast cancer, she decided to embark upon a 160km road bike ride from Olympic Park to Buckingham Palace.  She had never ridden a road bike before. She is about to do it again for the third year running with her whole family! She needed help at every step, from deciding which bike to buy, to learning to clip in and out of the pedals, to learning how she would ride efficiently, and in a way that was good for her body and her self-belief. She learned everything in seven weeks!

What else is in the pipeline?

We’ve also produced a film about Kate’s husband, Dave, entitled ‘Downward Spiral’. He went through a critically difficult time in his career, as CEO of a company, at the same time as Kate was diagnosed with cancer. Their daughter, Sam, was the impetus for a film called ‘Health is a Journey not a Destination’. Presenting these individual’s as a ‘family’ with different health needs shows how inexplicably linked physical performance and human emotion are. We’ve done 12 films so far and have a further three in the making.  The idea is to allow individuals and athletes to tell their stories, to show how you can overcome health challenges and to give people the courage to come forward and inspire others with their own journeys. It’s empowering for everyone involved.

Have you had any injuries yourself?

A few years back, I had a very serious bike accident and damaged my knee, fractured my spine and broke my jaw. I couldn’t cycle for two years. The first time back skiing, I damaged my knee again. Then 3 months later, walking up a mountain path, a huge Labrador ran down a steep slope ‘through’ my knee, tearing ligaments and the meniscus again. So, I know what it’s like to be knocked down repeatedly. What it shows, however, is just how adaptable the body really is – if you feed the correct movement into it and stress it in the right way.

Safety tip on the mountains?

The most important thing is to be prepared. People don’t always realise the amount of preparation that high-level athletes go through to get ready to ski or perform at other sports. It’s about creating a lifestyle that exposes you to a broad range of movement experiences and teaches you postures and movement skills that don’t just prepare you for sport but also for life. We need to train to be adaptable and not become adapted. There are lots of reasons that your body can get ‘set in its ways’, and when we put on skis and are faced with unexpected challenges, it’s important that our bodies can adapt to the unpredictable. If you don’t have a foundation of ‘movement literacy’ or neuromuscular fitness, your body will struggle and you will put yourself at risk. Plus, you’re taking away the enjoyment that you could and should be having!

Do you ski?

Yes, I’m a passionate off-piste skier and I love ski touring. The attraction is the freedom, being out there in nature and being able to ski the whole mountain. Getting from one place to another is a real adventure, not just skiing downhill then getting on a lift at the bottom! And the animal spotting is unsurpassed: the marmots, the chamois, the bouquetins the buzzards….

Do you spend time in the mountains in the summer?

Yes, and it’s even more beautiful – from spring into summer there are different flowers every week. You can enjoy mountain biking, walking, climbing… and the road biking here is fantastic. You can enjoy a really active lifestyle, and that’s something that I believe is good for me and for other people. It ‘adds life to your years’ – I love that expression. I often see people in Geneva getting ‘old before their time’ – so I want to work with them and show them that they are capable of so much more than they ever thought possible.

Who are your clients?

It runs the gamut from white-collar workers (for example, Proctor and Gamble professionals, people at the UN (United Nations) and the WHO (World Health organisation) – most of them are based in Geneva) to track and field athletes, martial artists, ice skaters and mountain sports enthusiasts. A multi-disciplinary partnership is key however, it’s rewarding working with other good professionals and bringing the right expertise together for each patient. To me, the definition of a good therapist is someone who knows their limitations, as well as their strengths.  We all need to learn from each other and it is our patients and our athletes who are our greatest teachers.  They challenge our beliefs and stretch our minds as we work together to find sustainable solutions to their health and performance challenges. (movementwise.org)

The Movementwise.org website will go live on 30 May 2017 – You can preview some of the film clips on the website holding page.