Sue Burford, Clinical Ultrasound Manager at New Cross Hospital, invited me to run an educational Study Day for her team of sonographers in the elements of Alexander’s Technique, to help enable her staff be able to practice effective Self Care in their clinical practice. This took place on Saturday 13th January 2018.
Who looks after the health care workers in Ultrasound departments? It seems that like many of their global sonographer colleagues, many of the team had succumbed to pain and injury in their professional vocation. This is a common scenario for many sonographers across the world.
I am uniquely placed to help Ultrasound practitioners learn how to use themselves well again.
Firstly, it’s my own professional medical background prior to retraining as an Alexander Technique Teacher. I was a radiographer first – I trained at Withington Hospital in Manchester 1986-1989, so I have a good understanding of bone structures and how to make that skeletal structural knowledge personal and use it dynamically in action. I then became a sonographer ( I gained my DMU in 1994, training at St Thomas’s Hospital and Kings College Hospital), most recently working as Advanced Practitioner of Obestetric Ultrasound at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey when I too succumbed to a Work Related Musculo-Skeletal Disorder of my Right Upper Limb [ scanning arm] in the summer of 2007.
I discovered Alexander Technique after my resignation, after I had tried all the conventional treatments recommended by my rheumatologist. The irony! But the timing was truly divine. It happens to be my vocation now, to teach other people how to avoid injury and pain in activity, and how to recover from those already gained. I understand the demands of clinical practice on sonographers having spent many years in the profession myself, and how all the pressures of working in the NHS may combine and lead to burn out, exhaustion and debilitating injury. But it really doesn’t have to be that way! We can educate ourselves to be able to change our behaviours and be able to use our bodies in line with their natural design at work. It’s another set of skills that we aren’t generally taught in mainstream education unless you happen to be educated in a forward thinking school that includes Alexander Technique as part of its educational philosophy. It’s a pity it’s not taught in every school ( yet!) or in every Radiography School or Ultrasound Programme. It would help many Health Care workers be able to prevent future pain and injury by understanding how to consciously manage their movement and postural patterns and habits to a more natural way of performing.
This is where I can help. My own injury healed very quickly, once I understood the ways I had been abusing my poor shoulder. My rheumatologist told me my injury would never heal. Thankfully he was wrong! Once I understood the importance of the head, neck, back relationship. Where natural movements take place from, a whole new way of behaving opened up.
In a Self Care Study Day with me, I teach everyone how to notice their own personal postural and movement habits, and then how to arrange some small and simple changes to ensure that they can start complying with our actual natural design. It’s a fascinating personal journey of discovery. Some surprises usually are revealed. Some of our daily behaviours hiding in plain sight are discovered to be unnatural!
Alexander’s Technique is a simple practical method enabling us to reorganise ourselves to behave in a natural way.
The afternoon session includes everyone having individual ‘hands on’ at the ‘scene of the crime’ i.e. in front of the Ultrasound machine itself and mocking up scenarios that we find in clinical practice. How you respond to the machine, the transducer, the patient, whether you sit, stand all impacts on your musculo-skeletal system. It helps the sonographer community to learn together in this way. We aren’t always aware of what we are personally doing when we get busy in our work. If a colleague spots us doing something unnatural at work, we can helpfully point it out, and vice versa. The more we practice this, the better we become at managing ourselves. It takes time, but is a practical way of managing Health and Wellbeing at work during clinical practice. No separate time needs to be set aside to do exercises. We simply think about what we are doing, and how we are doing it, at the time of the activity. This makes us literally more present and accountable for our actions. It’s embodied awareness and holistic mindfulness in action whenever we choose to think about ourselves in this way. And it is always a choice. But how empowering, an invisible advantage silently being applied as we go about our business!
Here are some comments from the participants….
Excellent presentation. Physically and mentally refreshing, thank you. Tracy Cockburn Midwife Sonographer New Cross Hospital
Very interesting and helpful. Will try hard to think, move and apply the principles I have learnt today. Very keen to learn more. Thank you Angela. Suzanne Bowen – Clinical Specialist Sonographer New Cross Hospital
Very good tips, will be using this method. Shama Niazi – New Cross Sonographer
Angela was excellent at presenting the technique and understood the role of a sonographer so the course was pitched perfectly to our daily job – fab! Elaine Brooks – New Cross Hospital sonographer
I found the part on grip most useful as I have tenosynivitis in my right thumb. Hopefully taking this session on board will help alleviate the problem. Becoming aware of my posture particularly the shoulder girdle will help with the pain between my shoulders and the fact that I raise them too much. Anne Thomas – Clinical Specialist Sonographer, New Cross Hospital
I’m newly qualified in scanning and feel I am still ‘finding my feet’ with regards to posture and positioning for scanning. The day has made me think about all of this and hopefully consider my posture, and make some changes or try something new! Joanna Finn- Midwife Sonographer
The session gives lots of information to take home and think about and try to put into practice. I think it would be good to have an AT teacher stood behind you during an actual U/S list since I’m sure my posture gets worse during the session / day. Tracey Pinfield – Sonographer New Cross Hospital
Enjoyed the day. Very knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher. Will definitely order new more supportive saddle stool / remove stirrup bar to get closer to the bed. Laura Minton. Sonographer – New Cross hospital
Very useful session. I will ‘think more’, adapt as taught and listen to my body!! Thank you very much. Sharon Smewing Sonographer New Cross and City Hospital.
I enjoyed the semi-supine activity. I think it was pitched at the right level, with attention to individual sonographers. It will be interesting over the coming months whether we’ll be able to change our habits and maintain a natural posture in life and scanning! Thank you! Katherine Mapes, Clinical Specialist Sonographer New Cross Hospital
Thank you for an informative session today. A good team building day for sonographers. Amanda Tyler – Clinical Specialist Sonographer RWNHS Trust
Very Best Wishes