Team and Talent
Why our bodies matter: Wisdom from a Women’s Health Physiotherapist
Tell us a bit about you…
My name is Julia Peters Belk and I’ve been working at Bodyset as both an Advanced MSK and Women’s Health Physiotherapist for 8 years.
What are we likely to find you doing outside of work?
I am mum to a 5-year-old, 2-year-old and 2 dogs. It’s a full house so I spend much of my time looking after them! Beyond that, you’ll usually find me at Pilates or at the gym, trying to look after my body and practising what I preach.
A bit more about you… If you were a Disney character, who would you be and why?
I love this question! Hmm… well I think my Disney character has changed over the years. I’ve definitely become a Mrs Potts from Beauty and the Beast. I love tea! I’m also caring, organised and motherly in nature. Plus, I can be stern when needed!
What inspired you to become a Women’s Health Physiotherapist?
I’ve always been fascinated by women’s health. After graduating I started as a MSK Physiotherapist working in the NHS at the Royal London Hospital where I also spent time on the Obstetrics and Gynae wards and triaging MSK/Women’s Health Physiotherapy in outpatients. After moving to a private practice in London, I was introduced to more Women’s Health Physiotherapy in my MSK role.
Then came along two wonderful children and that’s when I really knew I wanted to help women pre and post pregnancy. It changed my mindset totally – what I enjoyed and what I was passionate about.
What did you study to become a Women’s Health physiotherapist?
Like most areas in physiotherapy, we are always still studying! I’ve done my Women’s Health training with the Pelvic Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapy (POGP) along with Mummy MOT specialist training becoming a certified Mummy MOT practitioner. I’ve also further training in Pilates with the Australian Physiotherapy Pilates Institute (APPI) – something I use a lot in my exercise-based programmes.
As the only Women’s Health Physiotherapist at Bodyset at when I started, I felt so supported on my journey. Bodyset really helped me in branding my specialism and gaining clients. Once you choose something you’re interested in, Bodyset helps you every step of the way. I also discovered that there is an amazing network among Women’s Health Physiotherapists and Mummy MOTs in the UK – we share our knowledge and learn so much from each other.
What sort of issues do women experience post pregnancy and childbirth in the pelvic region and why?
There’s a lot of changes to pelvic floor function as a result of pregnancy, labour and hormonal changes. Whether the labour was long or short, if it was a C-section or vaginal delivery and any scar tissue or tears associated with both. Lots goes on that can have an impact on the women’s body.
What sort of symptoms might women experience?
Many women experience MSK symptoms such as a changes in pelvic and abdominal strength and stress. This can lead to problems such as stress incontinence such as when you cough, sneeze, run or jump. It can also work the other way too, as many women struggle to relax their pelvic floor when they need to pee. They may also experience increased separation of the abdominal muscles, pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic girdle pain, lower back pain, C-section and peroneal scar tissue and issues around post-natal depression.
We often hear the term ‘strong pelvic floor’ why?
I prefer the term a ‘healthy functioning pelvic floor’. A strong pelvic floor is important. It helps prevent incontinence, support the spine and prevent pelvic organ prolapse. However, a tight or shortened pelvic floor can also be problematic, even if you haven’t had a baby. If you can’t relax your pelvic floor, then you’ll struggle to go to the toilet effectively. So, it’s not all about strength but efficiency.
Is there more to Women’s Health physiotherapy than pelvic floor strength?
Yes of course! It is a holistic approach – diet, emotions, as well as MSK. It’s for any woman at any stage of life – athletic training, motherhood, menopause and more.
Mental health is also a huge part of Women’s Health Physiotherapy that is not often communicated. Whether it’s postnatal depression, mood changes around the menopause or a result of the symptoms women experience. I love helping people overcome this and get back to feeling happy and confident in themselves.
I see Women’s Health Physiotherapy as an extension of MSK Physiotherapy – I find addressing women’s health issues is often the missing part of the jigsaw, working from the inside out. It’s so multifactual.
Are there many misconceptions about WHP?
It’s only for pre- and post-natal women. Not true! Due to women’s biology, you can’t really get away with not addressing pelvic function at some point in your life. It’s really worth being proactive about it.
Many women suffer symptoms in silence and without treatment. Why do you think that is?
Most women don’t know where to go and so many presume it’s something you have to put up with. Particularly at a time when you have children to care for – you rarely put yourself first. But the quicker you address it, the sooner you’ll sort it. It’s also never too late. 18 or 80 – your body is important.
What have been your highlights as Women’s Health Physiotherapist at Bodyset?
All my patients are highlights! It’s so emotional. I love to see people relax, feeling happy that they can finally talk to someone about their experience and be listened to – often speaking of symptoms they feel too embarrassed to talk to anyone else about. It can be emotionally draining at times but it’s so rewarding.