What To Do About Scars from Childbirth?

abdomen active activity belly button
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Joanna Hess PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

No one told you that the pain of childbirth doesn’t end with that final push and it doesn’t matter if you had a vaginal or belly birth. If you are the roughly 10% of demigoddesses who delivered without a tear, bless you and your fairy child.* If you are a mere mortal, here are some secrets for post-partum “battle wound” care.

For many mamas, the scars from delivery heal without any intervention. However, in our clinic, we often see hypersensitive or immobile perineal and cesarean scars that affect other parts of the body and can be a reason for the loss of core stability mechanisms, pain with intercourse, and urinary and fecal incontinence.

Scars are the body’s glue and use a complex set of proteins. While scars are never as strong as the original (70% of the original strength), it usually doesn’t cause a problem. The healing process after cutting your finger on that dull knife is the same for a cesarean incision and perineal tear/cut. Immediately after the injury, lots of good inflammation comes into the area to clot and start a loose frame for new tissue to develop. In the first days, collagen and other healing buddies come in to pull the wound together. It’s not particularly organized, but that’s okay because really, priorities are to keep things from getting in. In the next weeks, the collagen fibers will start organizing according to the demands of that particular tissue resulting in a pinkish or red color to the scar. It’s about this time that you can tell if things aren’t going well, namely, the scar shouldn’t be painful. We don’t know for sure why some scars cause problems and others don’t. The best guesses have to do with genetics, tissue tension, hormonal glands, and blood supply. Within 7-12 weeks, not only should the scar not be painful, but it also should move as freely as the tissue around it—without tugging at other places. The scar should be flat and slightly lighter than skin color.

MOVEMENT AND ICE

In the first days, keep good blood flow to the area while managing the pain. For perineal scars, you can work by breathing gently into your pelvic floor and changing your position regularly so that blood doesn’t stagnate in the area. For cesarean scars, working on deep breathing is a safe way to gently move the area without disrupting the healing. You want to keep big movements limited (but really, you’re a mom and movements are a part of life). Use the pain meds as needed so that your muscles continue to function normally. Things like vagsicles (frozen maxi-pads) and support belts can also help with the pain. A regular ice pack for the c-section scar is also a good option. Make sure to place a thin towel between the ice or vagiscles and the skin.

SCAR MASSAGE

At the postpartum six-week appointment, have your physician or midwife check the mobility of the scar. If it is painful or stuck, ask if the scar healed enough to start gentle scar massage. The idea of the scar massage is to give a non-threatening stimulus for desensitizing the area and re-orienting fibers so that the tissue moves freely.

For both the perineal and cesarean scar, if the movement of the scar exceeds pain 2-3/10, start with just desensitization. This can be as simple as tapping the scar or rubbing the scar gently with a towel for 3-5 minutes/day.

For a perineal scar, use a clean finger to slightly push the scar along perineal body up towards the body to create some slack. Then, move the scar away from the center in all directions (north, south, east, west, and in between) to find out which direction is the least mobile. Hold the scar in the restricted direction for 30 seconds. The pain should not exceed more than 2-3/10. Repeat 3-5 more times. You should be able to steadily tolerate more movement within a month.

For a cesarean section scar before 3 months, lift the tissue around the scar in a generous pinch and move the scar up and down, then side to side. Continue along the length of the scar until you find an area of pain or restriction. At this point, spend a little more time and move that area of the scar 10-30 times and keep moving. Again, the pain should not exceed 2-3/10. For a cesarean section scar older than 3 months, you can mobilize the scar in the same movements by direct pressure or skin rolling—up and down, side to side, clockwise and counterclockwise and lifting with skin rolling.

For the new mama, this is easy to incorporate in the precious quiet moments in the shower.

SILICONE

The gold standard of stubborn scars is silicone with or without compression. For hypertrophic scars and keloids in other parts of the body, silicone sheets and gels are the primary non-invasive prevention and treatment. Silicone strips and gels are easily used over a cesarean scar. Silicone is used daily for 12-24 hours for 2-4 months to soften and decreases the height of the scar. The sheets and compression can also help with the hypersensitivity. Because of the proximity to the body cavities, silicone is not advised for perineal scars.

*If you want to try to avoid perineal tearing altogether, ask your birth team to help birth baby’s head slowly and use warm compresses during pushing, stay active during labor, deliver in a side-lying or upright position, and perineal massage in late pregnancy can all help reduce the risk of perineal tearing.

PHYSICAL THERAPY

If you have tried these simple interventions and still find your scar problematic or think your scar is related to pain in neighboring areas, find a women’s health physical therapist to help manage your care. Recent studies show that in 4-8 sessions, skilled physical therapy changes the mobility and thickness of old scars to decrease pain and improve function.

Scar management is widely promoted in post-operative care in orthopedics, plastics, and dermatology—we hope that scar care will soon be standard of care in post-partum care.

 

Joanna practices at our Downtown location

Joanna Lee Hess

REFERENCES

Aarabi S, Bhatt KA, Shi Y, Paterno J, Chang EI, Loh SA, Holmes JW, Longaker MT, Yee H, Gurtner GC. Mechanical load initiates hypertrophic scar formation through decreased cellular apoptosis. The FASEB Journal. 2007 Oct;21(12):3250-61.

Agha R, Ogawa R, Pietramaggiori G, Orgill DP. A review of the role of mechanical forces in cutaneous wound healing. Journal of Surgical Research. 2011 Dec 1;171(2):700-8.

Comesaña AC, Vicente MD, Ferreira TD, del Mar Pérez-La Fuente M, Quintáns MM, Pilat A. Effect of myofascial induction therapy on post-c-section scars, more than one and a half years old. Pilot study. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2017 Jan 1;21(1):197-204.

Huang C, Murphy GF, Akaishi S, Ogawa R. Keloids and hypertrophic scars: update and future directions. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open. 2013 Jul;1(4).

Lewit K, Olsanska S. Clinical importance of active scars: abnormal scars as a cause of myofascial pain. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics. 2004 Jul 1;27(6):399-402.

Marshall CD, Hu MS, Leavitt T, Barnes LA, Lorenz HP, Longaker MT. Cutaneous scarring: Basic science, current treatments, and future directions. Advances in wound care. 2018 Feb 1;7(2):29-45.

Meaume S, Le Pillouer-Prost A, Richert B, Roseeuw D, Vadoud J. Management of scars: updated practical guidelines and use of silicones. European Journal of Dermatology. 2014 Jul 1;24(4):435-43.

Seow KM, Huang LW, Lin YH, Lin MY, Tsai YL, Hwang JL. Cesarean scar pregnancy: issues in management. Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2004 Mar 1;23(3):247-53.

Son D, Harijan A. Overview of surgical scar prevention and management. Journal of Korean medical science. 2014 Jun 1;29(6):751-7.

Wasserman JB, Abraham K, Massery M, Chu J, Farrow A, Marcoux BC. Soft Tissue Mobilization Techniques Are Effective in Treating Chronic Pain Following Cesarean Section: A Multicenter Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2018 Sep 1;42(3):111-9.

Wurn LJ, Wurn BF, Roscow AS, King CR, Scharf ES, Shuster JJ. Increasing orgasm and decreasing dyspareunia by a manual physical therapy technique. Medscape General Medicine. 2004;6(4).

Do You Speak Pelvic Floor? Guide to Antatomy Part 2: Male Genital Anatomy

woman wearing white high top shoes
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Fiona McMahon PT, DPT (Pronouns: She, Her, Hers)

Hello again and welcome to part two of the “Do you Speak Pelvic Floor Series”. In the first part, we described the most common clinical language we use to describe the genitalia of those with female anatomy. In part two we will look a little more closely at the male anatomy. The male anatomy goes beyond the ‘ol twig and berries and there are specific names for the specific parts. Many folks, when they think of about pelvic floor physical therapy, think of it only as a women’s specialty. Beyond Basics Physical Therapy has been treating male pelvic disorders since 2003! In this blog, we will discuss the structures of the male external genitalia as well as some of the conditions that can affect this anatomy. Let’s read on!

Penis– The penis is one of the male sex organs and it has some pretty cool capabilities. The penis has individual compartments in it called the corpus cavernosus which fills with blood to keep the penis hard during erection. The corpus spongiousus helps to keep the urethra from collapsing upon itself during erection. We can see many issues concerning the pelvic floor muscles, surrounding tissues, and nerves that can affect the penis. Peyronies disease occurs when the penis bends, which can be uncomfortable and painful. We have a whole blog which takes a deep dive into the causes of Peyronie’s as well as treatments. You can read more about it here.

Glans- The glans is also known as the head of the penis. The glans is highly sensitive and provides a good deal of sexual sensation during sexual activities. The glans resembles an acorn. The word glans actually means acorn in Latin. The glans is often a place that will be painful with pelvic floor dysfunction. Tight and restricted muscles of the pelvic floor often refer to this area.

Foreskin- Foreskin is a really interesting structure, (stay with me, folks). Foreskin has cultural and religious importance. Many Abrahamic religions, (Jews, Muslims, and some but not all Christians) may practice circumcision as part of their faith tradition. Whether or not someone has had a circumcision is also linked to where someone lives. In the USA circumcision is extremely common, however in many countries across the pond in Europe, circumcision is much less commonly practiced. Whether or not to circumcise is a deeply personal choice that can be affected by your religion and your nationality. There are trade-offs to being circumcised and being uncircumcised and many doctors recommend that the decision is made by the family of the child.

Urethra- The urethra transports semen and urine to the outside world. Did you know that when the penis is fully erect, only semen can travel through the urethra? This prevents urination during intercourse. Men with poor pelvic floor function may experience leakage secondary to poor closure of the urinary tract into the urethra.

Testes- I have a blog all about testicles. In fact, that’s what it is called, All About Testicles. You can read about it here. Testicles create sperm. Did you know problems with muscles and nerve irritation can cause pain in the testicles, as well other serious and non-serious conditions? Read more about testicular conditions in the blog I linked above..

Scrotum- The scrotum is the sack that contains the testicles. The skin on the scrotum can get tight and restricted and sometimes cause pain in the scrotum and penis. Skilled physical therapists can teach you how to gently mobilize this tissue to treat your pain.

 

If you are having pain in any one of these areas, physical therapy may help.

Give us a call at 212-354-2622 to schedule a free consult for those living in the Tri-State Area to find out if PT is right for you.

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT practices at our Midtown Location

fiona2018

 

 

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

cactus

Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

Why Should Everyone Care About Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is the in vogue topic of the day. It is a subject that has pushed its way into American’s awareness for very good reason. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic pain currently affects more than 1.5 million people worldwide, affecting work, sleep, and quality of life. Most importantly chronic pain has become dangerous as the opioid crisis has come to a head. Out of the 28,000 people who died of accidental drug overdose, nearly 12,000 died from painkillers, three times as many in 1999, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

What Is Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is classically defined as pain that persists more than 3 months, but it is so much more than that. When pain becomes chronic, it is actually processed in the brain differently than acute pain. This is one of the reasons chronic pain has proven to be so difficult to treat using traditional means.

Pain serves a vital function and is something we need to survive. Pain alerts us to danger like a hot stove or broken bone and compels you to take action. This “take action now” pain is acute pain. Chronic pain lingers and can be totally independent of what is actually going on in the tissue. In fact, the tissue may have healed completely and still pain persists. There are a lot of thoughts as to why pain becomes chronic. It can seem like there is nothing left to treat, and all we can do is blunt it with analgesics and painkillers. But there is more to do. All pain, whether it is acute or chronic is processed by pain receptors, the spinal cord, and finally the brain. By addressing pain at the level of the nervous systems, we can change the way stimuli are perceived in the brain, and hopefully reduce pain.

The book, Explain Pain, by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley does a really superb job explaining this concept. In the book, they explain chronic pain is the body’s response to prolonged exposure to noxious stimuli. (In non medical person terms: basically if you have pain for a long time, the body becomes much more sensitive to things that may or may not be painful or damaging). In states of chronic pain, your body can actually lower the threshold for something to become considered painful in the brain. Meaning, that simple stimuli like tight fitting clothing, or sitting can feel very painful. Your body is doing this, because it is on guard for anything that might hurt it. Chronic pain is your body’s way of looking out for you, but has gone way too far.

This blog is not long enough to dig into all of the varied nuances of how and why chronic pain occurs, but if your interest is peaked, I would highly recommend taking a look at Explain Pain or The Explain Pain Protectometer in order to dig down into the deep and fascinating science behind chronic pain.

False Leads and Dead Ends In Pain

Opiods, Addiction, and Efficacy

The nature of chronic pain has proven to be elusive for patients and healthcare practitioners alike. In the 1990’s, in an effort to finally address chronic pain, opiods became much more widely used. At the time, drugs like Oxycontin were marketed as a safe way to treat chronic pain. The manufacturer of Oxycotin, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, instructed their drug representatives to tell doctors that the rate of addiction for long term Oxycotin users was 1%, according to pharma who help fund these studies. Although one study did indeed find these numbers many other found addiction rates in excess of 40%.

Probably one of the most unfortunate aspects of the push by pharma to prescribe opioids more freely, is despite marketing to the contrary, there have been more and more studies supporting the theory that opioids may in fact be ineffective for the treatment of chronic pain. Studies of worker’s compensation patients being treated for chronic pain indicate that patients on higher opioid dose, return to work more slowly than those on lower doses. Additionally, patients with back pain, who are being treated with long term opiod therapy report greater disability than those who are not on opioids.

Opiods have their place, especially in the treatment of cancer, procedural, and end of life pain, however it is becoming more and more clear that opiods are not the miracle drug we once thought they were in the treatment of long term chronic pain. The increased risks of addiction, accidental overdose, falls and fractures, depression, and severe constipation (which can indeed worsen the pain for which the opiod was prescribed in the first place), make it clear that as a medical community, we need to find a safer and more effective way to reduce chronic pain symptoms.

First steps

If you can find a cause, but at the same time don’t get hung up on it.

This is easier said than done. Often times, by the time patients reach us here at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, they have folders that are stuffed to the brim with expensive diagnostic tests that read “unremarkable”. This can be incredibly frustrating for someone suffering with very real pain. My first word of advice is, If something doesn’t feel right with your body, don’t stop looking for help, until you find someone who can truly help you. There are many pain conditions like, chronic prostatitis and endometriosis. Which are poorly understood by many providers, that require treatment and or consultation by a specialist. This isn’t to say that the clinicians that are unfamiliar with chronic pain conditions aren’t fabulous providers, but these chronic pain conditions often require a clinician who spends his or her career treating and managing these type of pain syndromes. Basically, don’t allow yourself to be written off by any clinician who tries to tell you your pain isn’t real. It is, but most importantly there are things to be done. At Beyond Basics, we have extensive training on chronic pain conditions, additionally we have multiple connections with physicians, nurse practitioners, and other clinicians who treat chronic pain, that we will often refer too if we feel additional intervention beyond physical therapy is necessary.

I am warning you, before you read this paragraph, I am about to say something that on its face will seem mind numbingly contradictory. Bear with me please, and read the entire passage. If you do get a diagnosis, do not expect an immediate cure of pain. Chronic pain has gone past the point of solely being about tissue damage. A chronic undiagnosed infection, muscle spasm, or injury should be treated to remove the fire or proximate cause of the pain. Just because the pain is gone, does not mean the nervous system will immediately calm down. In chronic pain, treating the proximate cause enables the nervous system to begin to down regulate (or less threat sensitive) with further treatment, but does not always guarantee immediate cure.

This brings me to the problem with imaging. Imaging is a great tool and advances in the ubiquity and affordability of imaging techniques like ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are allowing more and more people glimpses inside their body. If you have ever looked at an MRI of yourself the feeling is profound. I have been fortunate enough to see both my brain and right hip in mind blowing detail on MRI. It’s amazing, but sometimes knowing where every tear, herniation, and bit of swelling is not only unhelpful, but downright dangerous to some patients.

I am not being hyperbolic simply to drive a point home. Early and unindicated MRI in cases of low back pain has been shown to result in increased time spent on disability and increased cost of care ranging between $8,000-13,000 according to the article by Webster, cited in the sources. The fact is with imaging as powerful as MRI, we get to see almost EVERYTHING and because MRIs are getting slightly cheaper and more common, we are identifying structural changes like disc herniation in people, who might not have had a reason to suspect that there was something wrong in their spine in the first place. Sometimes knowing there is a structural abnormality in your body can cause pain and hypervigilance, when prior to knowing, you may not have had the same quality or as much pain in the first place.. Reports indicate that disc herniation and narrowing of the spinal cord can be seen in up to 57% of people who have no symptoms at all. It’s not a far leap to imagine someone with pain hanging all of their problems on a slipped disc if the MRI shows it. What’s worse, is MRI results are alluring and can often lead practitioners down the wrong path of treatment, because it is an easy answer.

In physical therapy school, my professors drilled into us, with almost religious fervor, treat what you find. A fabulous Physician’s Assistant of mine also told me 90% of what you need to know is in a patient’s history of their present illness. It is so true. You can tell a lot about the origin of the pain by asking questions like, how long has it been around, what makes it worse, what makes it better, and what does it feel like. Imaging can sometimes be a bit of a red herring, rushing well intentioned clinicians towards what they think is a cure, while skipping some crucial information through gathering steps that would aid in a more accurate diagnosis.

MRI’s aren’t all bad. They can be life saving and life improving when they are used appropriately. There are many clinical practice guidelines that guide providers on when it may be beneficial to order MRI or other imaging, however, research has certainly borne out that early imaging is actually counter productive in the treatment of chronic pain.

 

If you find a cause, great. If you don’t, or still feel bad don’t despair

We place so much of our hopes on diagnosis. It seems logical that if there is a cause, there must be a cure. Unfortunately, it is not alway so simple. We went over in the opening paragraphs about how chronic pain is more than what’s going on in a specific body part, it also involves the brain. Sometimes simply curing the tissues is not enough. Sometimes we never know what the cause is. This can be so frustrating for patients. As a pelvic pain specialist, I treat a lot of patients with pelvic floor pain and spasm, who have not yet figured out what specific incident brought the pain on. Rarely, in these cases, is there the “oh, crap” moment, when you realize you have injured yourself. Sometimes the development of chronic pain is like having a water glass. We are all born with water glasses of different sizes. We pour a little water in for something like poor posture, genetics, injury, diet, stress, etc., and when our water glass has overflowed, we develop chronic pain. There is no one definitive cause in cases of the overflowing water glass. Many factors have contributed, and many factors must be addressed in order to treat it properly. That’s why the holistic, mind-body approach is really where it’s at, when we treat chronic pain.

Now that you have a grasp on pain science and how chronic pain can behave differently from acute pain, you can begin to approach treating and dealing with it in a different way. In part two of this blog we will discuss different treatments for chronic pain, including yoga, acupuncture, meditation, of course, physical therapy, and many more. Please stay tuned.

Sources:

AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain. The American Academy of Pain Medicine. http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx. [Accessed June 25, 2017]

Butler, David S, and G L. Moseley. Explain Pain. Adelaide: Noigroup Publications, 2003. Print.

Zee A. The Promotion and Marketing of Oxycotin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy. Am J Public Health. 2009;99(2):221-227

Singh P, Chaturvedi A. Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Cancer Pain Management: A Systematic Review. Indian J Palliat Care. 2015. 21(1): 105-15

Von Korff M. Long-term use of opiods for complex chronic pain. Best Pract Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Oct 27(5):663-72

Webster B, Bauer A, Choi Y, et al. Iatrogenic Consequences of Early Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Acute, Work Related Low Back Pain. Spine. 2013. 38(22) 1939-46

Pilates with Kierstin! Kneeling Side Twist

Kierstin Elliot

Exercise: Kneeling Side Twist

Set Up: Kneel on the reformer facing either right or left side of the room with a strap held in both hands. Hands should be directly in front of the sternum, and arms rounded as if holding a big beach ball. Shoulders relaxed, lats slightly engaged, lower abs lifting up and glutes engaged for stability.

Execution: Inhale to prep. Exhale to twist from waist towards foot bar while maintaining fixed upper body posture. Inhale to return back to starting position. Imagine wringing out your waist.

Focus: Obliques and TA, spinal rotation, and pelvic stability. Be sure to keep the pelvis still while twisting from your waist. Your range of motion should only be about a quarter of a pie. Initiate movement with the ribcage, not the arms.

Importance: Core strengthening, spinal mobility, pelvic stability, and overall coordination.

Modifications: If dealing with bad knees, perform the exercise while sitting on the long box. This can also be done standing on the floor with a theraband attached to a doorknob, or standing with free weights.