Carolyn Frost chats to Becky Blaauw, a Somerset West biokineticist, about what her job entails.
Q: I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering exactly what biokinetics is - please explain.
A: After 18 years in private practice, I still regularly get asked that question. One of the founders of the profession is our own "Bokkie Blaauw" in Somerset West. Professor Blaauw, who started the biokinetics centre at Stellenbosch University in 1986 with a couple of other universities, moulded the concept of biokinetics as we know it today, which is based on the use of exercise as a therapy.
Q: Is it acknowledged by the medical profession?
A: Yes, biokinetics is a medically recognised professional discipline, and to quality one needs a four-year university degree with a one-year internship. We work closely with doctors and other medical practitioners. Although biokinetics is one of the youngest health professions in South Africa, it has been recognised by the Health Professional Council of South Africa and services can be claimed from your medical aid.
Q: What examples of applications are there?
A: Our scope of practice includes many areas, such as orthopaedics. We apply scientifically-based exercises using specialised equipment to either help prevent disease, or to do final phase rehabilitation following the onset of disease or injury. To illustrate, we can use an isokinetic machine that can test muscle strength and balance to rehabilitate an athlete or anybody with a orthopaedic problem, so that they can play sport again, and have a better quality of life. Pre and post operative muscle strengthening is also recommended to facilitate optional recovery.
Q: Who are your most regular clients, and what are the kinds of conditions they present?
A: One of the most common problems we see in our practice is back problems. This is not surprising, as research shows that 80% of the world's population has or has had back problems at least once in their life time. One of the biggest problems in today's society is bad posture, which can lead to back problems. This is as a result of the modern era of sitting in motor vehicles, behind computers, wrong footwear, incorrect schoolbags and an era of children sitting for hours in front of the television. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the major culprits of back problems. We have found that a lot of adulthood problems is as a direct result of our bodies being out of alignment which causes compensation and stress on the joints. The younger we are the easier it is to rectify alignment problems. However, elderly patients have also been found to benefit tremendously from corrective exercises. Small changes in posture can make a big difference in alleviating pain. A biokineticist can do a posture analysis to determine if you have any deviations from the norm. Corrective exercises are then prescribed. Unfortunately, there are certain cases where exercise cannot prevent a back operation. We also specialise in exercised after back surgery to obtain maximum recovery.
Q: I heard you talk at a cardiac health seminar a few years back. How do heart conditions feature in your work?
A: Another very important job for the biokineticist is to treat patients with cardiac problems. There are a few reasons why a patient after major heart surgery should exercise at a biokineticist. Firstly, to ensure safety. A biokineticist has safety equipment available such as a defibrillator and has advanced CPR. Secondly, a biokineticist specialises in safe exercises for your specific condition and stage of recovery after bypass surgery. Thirdly, exercising at a biokineticist helps build up a patient's confidence and interaction with other cardiac patients helps recovery. And lastly, formal supervised cardiac exercises have been shown to have the safest and best outcome for the cardiac patient - especially after surgery - and patients have been shown to recover quicker. Exercises also help control patients with cardiovascular disease such as with high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. We work very closely with the cardiologists and the Helderberg cardiac support team to get the best continuity and possible treatment for the patients.
Q: What other lifestyle diseases can be improved by seeing a biokineticist?
A: People with arthritis and autoimmune disease can benefit hugely. When I started the practice with my husband 18 years ago there were only four known autoimmune diseases, and now there are over 80. This is unfortunately one of the fastest-growing diseases in the world.
Correct exercise can help slow this process down. Parkinson's patients have also been shown to benefit tremendously from specialised exercises. And remember, specific exercise can often do so much more than a little white pill, without the side effects.