There’s nothing quite like hurtling towards a new decade in your life to make you stop in your tracks and think ‘I need a change’.
For Kelly Norman, a bright-eyed and bubbly physiotherapist from Newcastle, it was the anticipation of turning 40 that inspired a life re-jig. After years of working on the pitch and in rented clinic rooms as a sports therapist, she found herself longing for a change of scenery.
“As much as I loved my work, I began to feel restricted and unsettled,” she says. “I was tired of lugging around my gear and setting up shop, as it were, in other people’s clinics.
“My 40th birthday was also approaching and I just thought to myself, ‘right, now’s the time to do something about it’. So I decided to go back to university as a mature student and start over.”
A diagnosis of skin cancer at 38 had also brought life into sharp focus for Kelly.
“From diagnosis, at just 38, to now, it’s been quite a journey,” she says. “I’ve had over 40 surgeries and unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be going away – but I do my best to practice what I preach and stay as positive as possible.”
To help offer up some calm, Kelly teaches patients various breathing exercises and even offers meditation classes for those struggling to find inner peace.
These methods have helped, and continue to help in areas of her own life – including dealing with her skin cancer.
Kelly completed her two-year masters programme in physiotherapy at Northumbria University and shortly after graduating, took the plunge and decided to set up her own business.
“Returning to university was hard work,” says Kelly. “It was an NHS-funded programme, so as part of my training I was working in various departments within our health service for six to eight weeks at a time.
“I was also still working as a sports therapist and running a pop-up injury clinic at my friend’s gym in Sunderland. I was knackered!
“It was a really invaluable experience, though. I learned so much, but I couldn’t help feeling held back. Working in the NHS means playing by the rules, but I wanted to give my patients more. I wanted to provide better, more specialist, care.”
And so she did. With fire in her belly and a brand new degree under her belt, Kelly, then 39, set her sights on up-for-rent office space in Stocksfield and opened her very own physiotherapy clinic – now known as Wellness Therapeutics – in the summer of 2016.
“I was always based in or around Newcastle, so making the move to Northumberland was a bit of a risk,” she says. “I was worried that my clients, who live all over the place – everywhere from Newcastle and Sunderland, to York and Berwick – wouldn’t follow me to Stocksfield, but I’m pleased to say that they all did.
“I’m really happy here – the clinic has a lovely feel about it,” she says. “It’s essentially an old barn, so it’s always warm and cosy, and the atmosphere is super relaxed – I make sure of that. I wanted to create a space that feels comfortable – not clinical.”
From her peaceful Stocksfield spot, Kelly has been able to treat patients her way – and that means going above and beyond the typical realms of physiotherapy, with a hands-on holistic approach.
“A lot of people think a physiotherapist is someone you go to when you have a bad knee or a dodgy shoulder,” says Kelly. “You see them a handful of times, you talk about your injury, they give you some exercises to try at home, and off you go. But that’s not what I do here.”
A typical working week sees Kelly, now 41, treat men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, with all kinds of health concerns. Some days, she might be helping new mums and elderly ladies with women’s health-related issues, such as pelvic pain, bladder control, or stomach muscle issues caused by pregnancy. On other days, the focus might shift to paediatric care, scar management, neuropathic pain, sports injuries or acupuncture.
“No two days are the same, but I love that aspect of the job,” says Kelly. “For example, one day last week I was working with an 80-year-old stroke survivor, who, unfortunately, still suffers from pain in various parts of the body. I’m helping him with acupuncture, for which I’m a big advocate.
“The next day, I was showing new parents how to massage their baby’s gut to stimulate its digestive system and help with problems surrounding reflux.
“People are often surprised to hear that I work with newborns and young children, but it’s actually one of my favourite areas.
“I also visit a care home in nearby Hexham, where I help dementia patients become a bit more mobile. We’ll do chair exercise, we’ll walk, sing, stretch – everything!”
As well as providing her patients with practical tips and advice in clinic, shining a light on preventative care is also high on Kelly’s agenda.
When she’s not in the clinic, you’ll find her doing free pre-hab talks about how people can help themselves before their health issues get worse.
“So often I see people with problems that could have been avoided had they’d been given the right advice and knowledge in the first place – especially when it comes to things like scars, pregnancy, or arthritis.
“That’s why educating people is really important to me. It probably makes me a rubbish businesswoman, but a pretty good physio, I think!”
With so much talk and work around muscles, joints, bones and skin, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a physiotherapist’s job stops at a person’s physical health. But not at Wellness Therapeutics. According to Kelly, the clue’s in the name.
“You don’t get a lot of training when it comes to mental and emotional health in the world of physiotherapy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important,” says Kelly. “In fact, I don’t see a separation between physical and mental health. They go hand-in-hand and can affect one each other massively.
“I think what makes my services so special is that I really do treat my patients as individuals – and I make sure they feel heard.
“I want to know as much as I can about their lifestyle – from how much sleep they get and what their diet looks like, to how they deal with everyday stress and what they have going on in their personal life.
“I also like to open up conversations about their frustrations, including how their injuries might be affecting their wellbeing and mental state – and vice versa.”“Depression, for example, can affect a person’s posture, cause joint pain and worsen existing health issues.
“Then, there are those who struggle coming to terms with their injuries or conditions. Perhaps they aren’t able to play their beloved sport anymore, exercise as much, or simply move about in the same way. All of these can cause anxiety, low-mood and social isolation, which has a knock-on affect on their physical health.
“Meditation is huge for me. I do it every day – often in-between appointments. I also practice yoga and always take my beloved dog, Norman, for a big, brisk walk on my lunch break.
“I’ve always been really sporty and I love being outdoors, whether that’s walking, or taking with my 20-month-old daughter, Cora, camping or swimming.
“There’s just something about being around nature, breathing in the fresh, country air. It helps clear my head.”
Sessions with Kelly last 45 minutes and aftercare – including follow-up phone calls, texts and emails – is free.
“Checking in with my patients in-between sessions helps me build trusted relationships with them – and I love getting calls or texts from them telling me how much better they’re feeling.
“Knowing that I’m making a difference to somebody’s quality of life is why I do what I do.”
For more information about Kelly’s services, search @WellnessTherapeutics on Facebook or call 07947 444179