Thinking aloud: Libby Sharp


The thoughts of Libby Sharp, clinical director of ESPH Physiotherapy and Fitness Centre

Many years ago, anyone could call themselves a physiotherapist. Generally, the public associated us with the person who runs onto the football pitch with a sponge and a bucket. But the title was protected about 20 years ago—you now have to be registered with the Health Professions Council to practice as a physiotherapist.

As physiotherapists, our diagnostic skills are excellent, but we are also great at educating people about prevention exercise. I would call myself a preventionist. I feel very proud of that.

Evidence shows if you sit for long periods of time, the effect of gravity on the body is to compress the spine. When you consider how sedentary most people are these days, it’s only going to get worse.

We get a lot of queries about ankles. People often roll over on them and sprain them, but think they can keep going with a crutch and it will eventually go away. It does not go away. Something else takes the strain, and adaptive changes are really difficult to get rid of. It’s heartbreaking when you think: if only they had got that early appointment, they’d have been back on their feet in no time.

It’s common for people to feel intimidated or uncomfortable about going to the gym, particularly big commercial gyms where there are lots of weightlifting men puffing away. We made a specific decision to make sure that our gym is user-friendly for everybody. You need a nice environment, people who welcome you at the desk, classes with like-minded people. Social contact is important.

People love the idea of doing free weights, but you can easily do yourself damage. We’ve all seen somebody in the gym who’s lifting something much too heavy and going purple in the face, and we frequently treat people who have damaged a shoulder doing an exercise that just wasn’t appropriate.

I grew up in south-east Asia and swam a lot. I wouldn’t say I was a terrific sportsman, but I have always been interested in keeping fit. I ran a marathon and did a lot of running for about 10 years. We would go skiing as a family. My ex-husband played football at a high level as a young man, and our sons—who are both directors here at ESPH—have inherited that athleticism.

If you do intensive muscular activity, your muscles have got to rebuild themselves. If you don’t get enough nutrients, enough sleep, enough water, you can work yourself into injury.

People are becoming more health-conscious, which is good—there’s a little bit of fashion in exercise, and when something new comes out, everybody wants to do it. At the same time, though, we have a massive obesity epidemic. It’s a constant fight and something we desperately need to take in hand.

If you want to build muscle, you need to work at a safe, maximum resistance level and do a small number of reps. If you do 20 reps on everything at a certain level it’s not going to build muscle, it’s going to build endurance.

A weight loss programme is not something you can do over a month; it takes at least three to six months to make a difference. But a little goes a long way—the goal might be to lose two stone, but even five pounds could take you out of the danger zone.

For more information, visit ESPH