My vision remains to open a residential injury rehabilitation centre, along the lines of Headley Court, so that patients who need it can undergo periods of intensive treatment. This is standard practice in the Armed Forces, but I haven’t found much that’s similar and accessible to those who aren’t either serving in the military, or elite athletes.
So I’ve been really inspired lately by a new company called Restore & Reform, run by physiotherapist Michelle Lewis and her former patient Lucy Nifontova. Their concept is to take people on a “recovery holiday”, where they provide daily physiotherapy, massage and reformer Pilates in the sun. I interviewed them when they had just come back from their first holiday in Portugal.
Lucy explains that she had persistent back pain for 20 years. She saw a spinal consultant who injected steroids into her back to reduce inflammation, but confesses “I was a terrible patient. I ate badly, I was a smoker, I didn’t do any of my rehab exercises, and I was in a highly stressful job as a wealth manager.”
Eventually, she was referred to Michelle; and over the next 18 months, she changed as a patient and started to take responsibility for her body, following Michelle’s careful Pilates-based exercise programme alongside further steroid injections.
Eventually however, it became clear that Lucy’s underlying hypermobility and degenerated discs were too severe to be managed by physio and rehab alone, and she had a single-level spinal fusion at L4/5, the base of the spine.
This was followed by lots more physio with Michelle; but 8 weeks after the fusion, back at work and with the pressure of corporate life mounting, Lucy says she hit a wall and needed to escape.
She and Michelle researched sunny holidays where she could recuperate with physiotherapy and reformer Pilates, but couldn’t find any. So when Lucy and her mother bought a ticket to Mauritius, they Skyped with Michelle twice a day, going through Pilates exercises with Michelle advising remotely.
At the end of her week’s holiday, Lucy had gone from being very weak and immobile, to doing 2h of physio-prescribed exercises and swimming each day – a massive improvement. At her 3-month checkup with her consultant, who’d warned her to expect a slow recovery due to her prior problems, he told her she was now months ahead of schedule with her recovery!
Delighted, Lucy called Michelle and a plan was born – and just over a year later in May 2018, Restore & Reform took its first group of patients to Portugal.
The daily routine on a Restore & Reform holiday is fairly simple: each patient attends two classes (with no more than 5 patients per class) per day, morning and evening. One is a “stretch” session for flexibility; and the other “restore” which Michelle explains is mat-based Pilates and conditioning exercises. You also get two individual sessions each day based on which modalities you need most: physiotherapy, soft tissue therapy, or reformer Pilates. And of course, each individual session is tailored to the patient’s needs. But Lucy and Michelle don’t lose sight of the fact that this is also a holiday, so they try to schedule individual sessions for either morning or afternoon, giving their patients a chance to do some sightseeing or sunbathing.
Both Lucy and Michelle feel that Lucy’s experience as a patient is hugely important to the success of their holidays. She is the one who points out the importance of communication between therapists, so patients don’t have to keep explaining either their history, or what the previous therapist has just done with them. She organises the welcome packs which include “please offer me a seat” badges for the Tube, advises patients to choose aisle seats on the plane so that they can move around frequently, and arranges for patients to get assistance with their luggage when they fly back to the UK (no point wrecking all that careful rehab by jerking your suitcase off the carousel!) They also contact your own physio and consultant at the end of the course, to provide a full handover. The attention to detail is impressive.
Just as impressive are the results: in their first holiday, Restore & Reform helped 7 patients, aged from 35 to 78, travelling alone or with their partners or families, and with issues ranging from knee pain to spinal fusion to one man who had had his whole foot reconstructed after a road traffic accident. All of them reported reduced pain levels by the end of the week (one had an amazing 85% reduction in pain) and each gained in mobility, strength and confidence.
So, if you’re struggling to prioritise your rehab, want to really kick start your recovery, or just want a week to focus on yourself and your own health – you might want to consider contacting Lucy and Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a chat.