Nicky Ellis is a contemporary dance teacher and choreographer and an Osteopath with a clinic in central London.
I have been a patient of hers for a couple of years, all for BJJ related injuries.
People who injure themselves tend to train around the injury as much as possible, either because they don’t want take a break from training, or because they don’t know where to begin to fix the problem. Speaking to Nicky, we learnt the most important thing to look out for with a practitioner of Osteopathy or Physiotherapy, Chiropractor etc, is experience. Beware the professional with a host of training and educational certificates. Find the one who has hands on experience, and preferably one who knows where you are coming from when you say you want to keep training in the sport that keeps injuring you.
Firstly, what is the difference between Osteopathy and Physiotherapy and Chiropractic?
Physiotherapy looks mostly at the muscles in the body and treats them, believing them to be the cause of the pain.
Chiropractors traditionally believe in perfect symmetry, and look at the skeleton like Osteopaths.
Osteopathy addresses the physical, emotional and internal physiology, believing them to be connected. The aim is to get each body into its best form, so everything is tailored to each patient. You don’t walk out ‘healed’ though, if you break a bone, tear a ligament or cartilage, it takes a while for healing to come.
The biopsychosocial model is something Osteopaths have been using for years, and has recently been adopted by Physiotherapists too. Osteopathy looks at Naturopathy as part of their care, even though it is a less respected form of science. However, things are changing and people are starting to explore mental well-being as part of physical health.
Photographers: Pari Naderi & Belinda Lawley
About Nicky Ellis.
Nicky was a dancer, attending Ballet School when she was young, and working as a professional dancer into her late twenties. She saw an Osteopath for a knee injury when she was at London Contemporary, and he acknowledged the relationship between mental and physical wellbeing in his treatment. This form of thinking left an imprint on her choices in later life, and when she decided to diverge from being a dancer she went back to school to study Osteopathy.
Martial Arts Experience:
Nicky trained in BJJ for two years a decade ago. Her experience was tough, despite being the only girl in the class, she was restricted to only sparring with other white belts. Although thoroughly enjoying it to start, it began to feel more like she was ‘scrapping’ every week, and not improving her game. Furthermore, she was hugely discouraged as ‘[she] would see men visibly sigh when they had to fight [her]’ and if she did tap a guy out they would resort to brutal strength afterward, not to be beaten twice by a girl. Inevitably she started to get hurt, and encountered sexual harassment by some visiting men which ultimately put her off completely.
What are common injuries in Combat sports?
There is a lot of repetition and twisting and everyone has a dominant side. People might drill both sides, but in sparring they tend to favour one side. Also, it’s a very unpredictable sport, unlike running or tennis where you can guess the injuries will be in the knee or the elbow, in martial arts people will tend to be in positions that they would never be otherwise, like upside down and with different pressures. Some people teach the martial in martial arts, some people teach the art, so depending on your teacher, your body will be put under different strains.
What are the main differences between men and women:
Physically, not much.
“Guys can either be idiots and want to push through the pain in training and I have to talk them out of hurting themselves further, and others are babies about it and I have to do the opposite.”
Girls: “Some think they just have to get stronger, and actually they just need to be a bit wiser. The only difference is that some girls have had issues with their pelvises, like if they were sexually abused, or had an abortion or miscarriage. Those things leave little marks on people’s bodies. So sometimes if they had to have a termination and had a dilemma about it you can feel it in the pelvis.”
We have different motivations for our actions, and these motivations affect the injuries we get. If you do a contact sport, you might be playing but the other person is aggressive and it changes the outcome. Equally how someone is feeling on the day effects how they fight and in turn the injuries they will get.
When do you go and see someone about an injury?
Nicky says that you have to be honest with yourself. If your leg is tight and you’ve stretched, tried, massage, youtube video strengthening exercises, yoga etc, and it’s still bad or the pain comes back, then you should seek professional help. It should be when you know your body is not behaving how you know it should behave.
“People are like footballers when it comes to seeking help for injuries. When they roll on the floor screaming and holding their knee they’ll be up and running in a minute, but when someone gets tackled and they try to shake it off, they go quiet and they don’t want anyone to know they’re hurt. I think we instinctively know when we have really hurt ourselves. People don’t seek help when they really know there is trouble.”
Can you come back after a major injury?
Nicky says yes but it depends on what it is, you might have to change your game. If you’ve got something wrong with you, you have to respect that it’s there. Some of Nicky's patients won’t do anything in recovery, and others she has to say ‘not that high, and not that fast please.’ You have to listen to your body and trust your physician’s instructions. It is also very important to have good psychological as well as physical care in your recovery.
“It’s often a compromise, you have to work with what your body is capable of.”
Particularly at the start, patients will give Nicky small parts of their story, withholding information if it means they might be told they can’t do something they want to do, which in turn inhibits a speedy recovery.
If you have an injury and you train around it without seeking help, can this become a bigger problem?
Yes. It informs all other injuries that you will have in the future. Nikcy has to know the patients full injury history, as the body will compensate for those older injuries over time.
How do you incorporate emotional care in treatment?
Nicky used practitioners she liked as role models, particularly when she was starting out.
“I always ask my patients how they feel, I think that’s the best level of care. But other practitioners don’t necessarily.”
“I look, I feel how the bones are, and then I ask them how they feel. It’s like listening to music; first I listen to the lyrics, then I listen to different parts of the body. Sometimes I feel something I don’t understand, and I might ask if someone has upset them or if they are scared of something.”
In Nicky's practice she tries not to tell the body what to do, and sees it as a negotiation. When she meets somebody for the first time, it’s like walking into their house for the first time. “I’m not going to move your table if I don’t like where it is. Only when they trust me and feel safe do I move things around.”
Nicky always asks the patient before she click them, giving them the option to say no. In her practice she incorporates acupuncture (not Chinese Acupuncture), which she uses to relieve tight muscles. The needles helps blood flow into the area, and sometimes helps reboot the nervous system in that area to begin healing.
How do you find a good Osteopath?
“When you go to a practitioner sometimes you go and see someone and you don’t click with them. It’s called health care, a lot of people do the health and not a lot of people do the care.”
“I’m a big believer of trusting your instincts. Sometimes they give the wrong diagnosis. If something doesn’t feel right you have to trust your judgement.”
“I don’t speak to someone I don’t know on the phone. I don’t know anything about them until I’ve put my hands on them.”