Saggy Jeans and Tailfeathers: How Your Pelvic Positioning Affects Your Body

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Joanna Hess PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

Wait! Marie Kondo has you throwing out your favorite jeans because the joyless saggy bottoms that your tushy cannot manage to fill out? We are seeing an epidemic flat butt among mamas, plumbers, barre fanatics, and office workers—all with strangely similar symptoms—pelvic floor dysfunction, low back and sacroiliac pain, and a tucked under pelvis. In this blog we will explore why the position of the pelvis, the maker of flat butts and the maker of less flat booties, is important and how to more easily move out of this position for benefit beyond your behind.

Besides needing a new wardrobe, why should I care about my flat bum?

The flat bum or preference towards posterior pelvic tilting shrinks the distance between the front and back of pelvic outlet which changes pelvic floor muscle tension. The body needs access to the full range of the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles. Over time, this position could cause excessive pelvic floor activity to compensate for the loss of resting tension. Think of the pelvic floor muscles simplified as a rubber band between two points, the pubic bone and tailbone. When the distance between the two points decreases, the rubber band loses its stability from resting tension. Changes in pelvic position alters stability from the pelvic floor muscles. This posterior pelvic tilt position also decreases the accessibility for hip extension and therefore the upper glute muscles get sleepy. As the top of the pelvis moves back, the sacroiliac joint in the low back opens and decreases its bony stability. Translated into everyday life, the flat butt position increases the potential for incontinence, pelvic floor muscle tension, sacroiliac pain, and decreased efficiency in movement.

The Flat Bottom. Only in the eye of the beholder?

Pelvic floor and tilt

The disagreement of the “neutral pelvis” or zero-point causes confusion when describing pelvic tilt—anterior pelvic tilt, posterior pelvic tilt, and neutral pelvis. Some argue that the neutral pelvis is when the ASIS’s (front hip bones) are level to the PSIS (back butt dimples). Others say that the pelvis is neutral when ASIS’s are in the same plane as the pubic bone. Or for those with X-ray vision, pelvic tilt is the vector of the sacral angle at S2 in relation to the vertical axis. But often, neutral pelvic position is subjective to the observer and relative to other parts of the body—namely the spine/rib cage and thigh bone. Clinically, this “neutral pelvis” is hard to find because 1) pelvis’ are shaped very differently, 2) left and right pelvis on the same person can also be quite different, 3) feeling these bony landmarks have been shown to be remarkably unreliable, 4) the neutral pelvis should be on top of vertical thigh bones. See how the eyes can be tricked confusing spinal curve focusing on pelvic tilt without also including rib position.

Rib pelvic alignmentThe inability to move in and out of posterior pelvic tilt and anterior pelvic tilt decreases efficiency and possibly results in pain and instability. Anterior pelvic tilt is when the front part of the pelvis moves forward/down. Posterior pelvic tilt is when the front part of the pelvis moves back/up. A neutral pelvis on top of vertical femurs and happy rib cage should correlate with better muscle performance.

Do I have a flat butt?

Aside from the saggy jeans, the flat butts of the world have a few other correlations.

1. The Tailfeather Test: Stand comfortably and squeeze the gluts.

a. Neutral pelvis: Thigh bones rotate.

b. Posterior tilt-ing pelvis: The butt will further tuck under and mainly access the lower glutes.

c. Anterior tilt-ing pelvis: The pelvic floor muscles will do most of the work.

2. You bear weight more in the heels

3. Back of your rib cage is behind your pelvis

4. Your Thigh bones are angled so that your pelvis is front of your knees

5. Your lower belly pooch

6. You Sit with pressure more on the sacrum/tailbone vs. sit bone

7. You have Overactive and possibly overworking pelvic floor muscles—the front to back pelvic distance decreases with your posterior tilted pelvis and loses the resting tension from length. As described earlier, this is similar to tensile strength of a slightly stretched rubber band vs. rubber band without pull/tension. Therefore, your pelvic floor muscles have to work harder to keep some type of tension for purposes like continence, stability, etc. The inability for the pelvic floor muscles to work optimally can lead to incontinence, pain, and constipation.

9. You have Breathing and abdominal pressure problems

10. You have Sacroiliac joint pain. As the pelvis tips back, the sacrum moves away from the ilium decreasing the bony stability. The hip muscles have to work harder, but as felt in the Tailfeather Test, the glut muscles aren’t in a good place to work.

Is there a better fix than butt implants?

Bodies have and love variability for posterior, anterior and “neutral” pelvic positioning. The brain likes positions where muscles and nerves work with ease and stability—life shouldn’t be so difficult—but it needs the chance to choose and learn it. Folks working with bodies have traditionally “corrected” spinal curves by changing pelvic position. From what has already been discussed, spinal and pelvic position can be altered many different ways—from the changing weight-bearing area in the feet, to position of ribs and range of breath, and even head angles with visual and vestibular input. Consider these hacks into pelvic stability until the brain learns how to access this stability in many situations and positions.

1. Standing. Bring your chin down to your neck and keep looking down until you see the front of your ankles. You’ve just untucked your pelvis and brought your ribs over your pelvis. This one is courtesy of my colleague, Stephanie Stamas. Or check in to feel where the weight is going through your feet. The front to middle of the foot is a good place to start and then do the Tailfeather Test. You might have to toggle other parts of the body because of how the body will compensate in the chain.

2. Sitting. Get your hips as far back as possible. Or put a pillow in the back of the chair so that your hips can find the pillow and you are sitting on top of your sit bones. Then, relax the trunk into the seat back/pillow. Again, you’ve untucked your pelvis and brought your ribs over the pelvis.

3. Better squats/lunges/burpees/stairs/ab work. You can do 5 sets of 20 squats, but still no junk? Take care to see if your pelvis is tucking under in the movement. If so, use an inhale to keep the pelvic floor lengthening as your hips bend in movement. Later, the movement should be dissociated with breath pattern (as long as you are breathing.)

4. See a physical therapist. Often times, the habits of pelvic tucking are a little more complicated because it is a protective and compensatory mechanism for stability. A physical therapist can help with seeing the bigger picture and how different parts of the body relate to each other. They can also help facilitate better movement through manual therapy and specialized movement.

Good luck with the joy sparking!

Fight or Flight? Rest and Digest? Optimizing your Life with the Power of your Autonomic Nervous System

Yoga or Pilates

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT, She, her, hers

You aren’t a zebra getting chased down by a lion on the Serengeti. You know that. But your body might not. Our modern day stress usually doesn’t involve us having to defend ourselves against wild animals. It often involves chronic seemingly unrelenting stress of work, relationships, and life. Stress, our perceived threats, chemically elicit the same type of response whether that is fending off a tiger or stressing over trying to care for your child while simultaneously crushing the game at work. These stress responses are governed by the sympathetic autonomic nervous system of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is a powerful system that governs virtually every function in our body to help optimize our responses to things we encounter day- to-day. It is essential to our survival. We can get into trouble if our stress response is perpetually turned on. You can’t fight or flight forever, we must transition out of that sympathetic nervous system back into our rest and digest system, the parasympathetic nervous system. In this blog we will go over the different parts of the ANS and how we can optimize it to live our healthiest and happiest lives.

Parasympathetic versus Sympathetic

In a perfect world our sympathetic and parasympathetic operate in concert to provide us with optimal functioning. When we go out for a run we need our sympathetic to quicken our heartbeat, stimulate glucose release from our liver, and allow us to sweat. After we finish our run and settle in for our post run snack, we need our parasympathetic to stimulate some saliva production, and get digestion started for us. See how the sympathetic and the parasympathetic can work perfectly together? Check out all the functions of the ANS below

Sympathetic Nervous System

  • Dilates pupil
  • Inhibits salivation
  • Constricts Blood Vessels
  • Accelerates Heart Rate
  • Stimulates Sweat Production
  • Stimulates Glucose Release
  • Stimulates secretion of norepinephrine and epinephrine
  • Inhibits urination
  • Stimulates orgasm

Parasympathetic Nervous System

  • Constricts pupil
  • Stimulates tear production and salivation
  • Slows Heartbeat
  • Stimulates digestion
  • Stimulates secretion
  • Promotes voiding
  • Stimulates erection

Health effects of stress

As you can see, the sympathetic nervous system provides us with some really important functions. But you can tell by looking at what it does for the body, that living in chronic sympathetic drive would be pretty uncomfortable. No one wants to walk around with their heart pounding and sweat pouring off their forehead. Beyond discomfort, chronic stress can deeply affect our health. Chronic stress can affect your immune system negatively making it harder for you to battle infections. Importantly for our pain patients, chronic stress can increase inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. This is important because that inflammation can actually make your pain worse. Chronic stress can also affect your digestion through a mechanism called the brain-gut-axis, which can affect how you absorb nutrients and the overall level of inflammation in your gut. You can listen to the details of how the autonomic nervous system can effect your gut on our Pelvic Messenger podcast.

Treatment

So you’ve read this far. You may now be feeling stress about being stressed, which definitely was not the intention of this blog post. Stress is part of life. Parents get sick, our kids get into trouble, money gets tight, life can be stressful. We simply cannot control events and the actions of other people that contribute to our stress. I call these things exogenous stressors, or stress that is occuring outside of ourselves. What we can attempt to control is how we react to those exogenous stressors.

That’s where mindfulness can be so helpful. Mindfulness can allow you to look at a problem without spiraling into extra stress. Let me give you an example. Say your boss gives you some negative feedback about a project at work. You can take the feedback at face value and use it as a tool to improve future projects or you can go down the rabbit hole. You can tell yourself that your boss not only didn’t like your performance on your project, but also doesn’t like you. You can create a narrative that you are inherently bad at your job, are on the verge of being fired, will not be able to afford to live in your house and so on and so on. The place you can take yourself in your mind can be so far from what actually happened. Travelling to those places can allow you to stress about things that haven’t happened or may never happen.

A way I personally learned mindfulness was through a smartphone app. I personally used Calm but 10% Happier, Buddify, and Headspace are also great. Getting into the practice of mindfulness takes… well… practice. I suggest giving it a full three weeks before throwing in the towel. There is no one cure for everyone and it is not a reflection on you, yourself personally if mindfulness is not your cup of tea.

Exercise is another great way to blow off some stress. Honestly, any exercise you do is good but throwing in some meditative movement practices to your repertoire can help up the returns you get from exercise. Meditative movement practices like Pilates, Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi have been shown to offer a host of benefits for the body and soul.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes we can shake the weight of stress ourselves. That’s when having a professional help can be so life changing. Mental health professionals can not only lift the burden of how we react to stress, but by teaching us to manage our stress responses, they can help set the stage for real and profound healing to take place and augment your treatment at someplace like Beyond Basics Physical Therapy.

As I wrap this blog up, I ask you to make time for you. Your health and sense of well-being are one of your life’s most valuable commodities and you are worth it.

Sources

Low P. Overview of the autonomic nervous system. Merk Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/autonomic-nervous-system/overview-of-the-autonomic-nervous-system Accessed May 23, 2019

Mariotti A, . The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future SCI OA. 2015 Nov; 1(3): FSO23

Won E, Kim Y. Stress, the autonomic nervous system, and the immune-kynurenine pathway in the etiology of depression. Current Neuropharmacology, 2016, 14 665-73

How to Improve Bladder Health

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Fiona McMahon, DPT

The bladder, not super complex right? Just a tupperware for pee, holding your urine until an opportune time to go. The bladder is so much more than that, integrating information from the brain, muscles of the pelvic floor, and responding to stretch to efficiently serve its purpose. We never think of the bladder until something goes wrong with it.

In this blog, we will be exploring the anatomy of the bladder, what is normal for the bladder, what can go wrong with the bladder, and how to best take care of your precious and hard working bladder.

Bladder Anatomy/ Physiology

 

Male or female, we all have the same basic structure of the bladder, with a few exceptions. Here’s what everyone has in their lower urinary tract.

  • Detrusor Muscle: Forms the body of the bladder and is responsible for squeezing the bladder to empty its contents. It spends most of its time relaxed in order to allow for bladder filling.
  • Trigone Muscle: Forms the neck of the bladder, and is a powerful sensory organ. When the trigone stretches in response to the filling of the bladder, it sends a message to the brain that it’s time to pee.
  • Internal Urethral Sphincter: Smooth muscle (involuntary) which seals off the exit of the bladder and allows for continence.
  • External Urethral Sphincter: Striated or voluntary muscles which also seals the exit of the bladder.
  • Urethra: This is the tube that leads out of the bladder and is the pathway for urine into the outside world.

Sex differences:

People with male anatomy have a prostate. The prostate is a sex organ and is responsible for keeping the semen at the right pH to fertilize a waiting egg. It wraps around the urethra and lives just under the bladder. It also provides a mechanical buttress or support for the bladder, lessening the load on the pelvic floor.  Because of its proximity to the urethra, problems with the prostate can cause problems with the bladder.  An enlarged prostate, which can be a benign part of aging, cancer, or infection, will restrict the flow of urine out of the urethra, resulting in weak stream, painful, burning urination, and difficulty urinating (the same thing happens with tight pelvic floor muscles). A prostate that has been surgically removed, most often has occurred for treatment of prostate cancer can reduce support for the bladder and lead to leaking. For more information on prostate cancer click here  and for more info on prostatitis, click here!

Another important difference between people with female and male anatomy are the respective length of their urethras. Male urethras are a lot longer than female urethras. This is one of the reasons people with female anatomy are more prone to bladder infections. In a female, bacteria have a lot easier time making the trek to the bladder because of the shorter urethra.

Conditions of the Bladder

Incontinence

Incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. There are many causes of incontinence. It’s important to know why you are leaking in order to know how to appropriately remedy it. It is possible to have more than one type of incontinence, and when that occurs we call it mixed incontinence.  Let’s go through the types together.

  • Urge incontinence occurs when you leak urine  after a sudden urge to urinate. We call it, lock in key syndrome, because certain events like unlocking the door to your home can cause urge incontinence.  This is the type of incontinence, which should be treated first in cases of mixed urge/stress incontinence.
  • Stress incontinence is the result of pelvic floor weakness that prevents the closure of the external urethral sphincter with activities that increase the pressure on the bladder, like coughing, laughing, lifting or sneezing. Pelvic floor weakness can occur if the muscles and or connective tissues are too loose to create an efficient contraction and more commonly, especially with athletes, too tight or imbalanced, to fully close the external urethral sphincter. Read more about incontinence in athletes here.
  • Functional incontinence occurs when you physically can not get to the bathroom in time to urinate. This is common in the elderly or disabled, who may have trouble ambulating to the bathroom, removing clothing, or transferring from a chair into standing. It is imperative that this type of incontinence is treated aggressively by a physical therapist or occupational therapist as it increases the risk of potentially fatal or disabling falls.

Incomplete voiding

Incomplete voiding is when the bladder does not fully empty.

In a normally functioning patient, volitional effort should not be required to empty the bladder.  A pelvic floor that is unable to relax, will have a smaller opening for urine to pass through or the voluntary muscles involuntarily contract because of muscle spasming, resulting in hesitancy, or incomplete bladder emptying.

Bladder Pain

Pain is our body’s way of telling us there is something wrong. With a new onset of bladder pain, it is important to rule out infection or an organic condition. Often times musculoskeletal conditions or general bladder irritation can mimic bladder infections.  In our practice, we often see patients who had been convinced they had an infection only to find out all of their tests for infection, where in fact, negative and the source of their pain was a tight or shortened pelvic floor.

It is important to understand the character of your bladder pain. Does your bladder hurt as it fills with urine and then feels better only shortly after voiding? If your answer is yes, you may have bladder irritation from urine that isn’t dilute enough (you are not drinking enough water), or you are consuming something irritating like spicy food, caffeine or alcohol. You may also have a condition known as painful bladder syndrome/interstitial cystitis which is contributing to your symptoms. It is important to get a handle on bladder filling pain right away, because it is the first step in treating other conditions such as frequency, urgency, incomplete emptying and retention.

If you have pain and burning during urination with no infection, it is likely the pelvic floor muscles and tissues cannot relax enough to allow urine to flow out without burning, (the pelvic floor also plays a role in bladder filling pain as well). Burning with urination that is not caused by an infection, is treatable with pelvic floor PT.

Frequency:

Everytime I hear someone say “I have a small bladder”, I have the uncontrollable urge to say, “No, you have a sensitive bladder, which can be trained to be better”. Saying you have a small bladder is 95% of the time fatalistic and just untrue. Most bladders, with few exceptions can hold 400-600 mL. Holding capacity can be diminished in cases of constipation, pregnancy and some neurological conditions, but most everyone is working with similarly sized equipment (the exception, being growing children).

Average intervoid interval, aka times between pees, is 2-3 hours, unless you chug a liter of fluid or cups of caffeine in one sitting. An example is being able to make it through James Cameron’s, Titanic, without having to excuse yourself. The trick with the bladder is it’s antsy. It informs you with the first urge to urinate when it is approximately 40% full. Over time, if you listen at that first urge, the bladder will begin to inform you earlier and earlier until you are going once every 20 minutes. Training your bladder to hold more is achieved with ignoring the urge or practicing various behavioral strategies, like deep diaphragmatic breathing with pelvic floor drops, to allow for longer intervals until your bladder capacity is within normal limits. This can be a longer process for those with a more sensitive bladder.

Bladder training is complicated by pain. Pain usually must be treated simultaneously in order to truly get the most benefit from bladder retraining. It is also important to realize that substances like caffeine and alcohol increase urgency and make bladder training more difficult.

How to Manage Bladder Issues:

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do, RIGHT now to manage your bladder symptoms. I find that in my practice and everyday life, there is a certain fatalism about bladder conditions. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard phrases like, “ I just have a small bladder”, “People my age after babies just leak”, “I am older so I pee more at night” and “it’s always been like this”. The bladder is a trainable organ and the muscles influencing it can be stretched and strengthened like any other muscle in the body. The best part is there is so much you can do for yourself at home. It’s totally worth trying and in many cases is a life changer.

Diet and fluid intake:

It may sound counter intuitive, but drinking plenty of water is good for almost all bladder conditions. Yes I am talking about leaking, urgency, incomplete emptying and frequency. Drinking lots of water keeps your urine nice and dilute, minimizing the irritation of the bladder wall as well as the reactive spasm of the detrusor muscle. You should drink approximately half your bodyweight in ounces of water a day. For example: a 150 lbs person should consume 75 ounces of water a day. You should increase this amount if you are exercising, or experience a lot of sweating or drink a lot of caffeine and or alcohol, which are both dehydrating. It is also important to be mindful of bladder irritants which can worsen bladder issues. Big irritant culprits are alcohol, caffeine, citrus, and spicy food. In children, dairy milk is a common bladder irritant.  Keep in mind that one person’s bladder irritant may not be your bladder irritant. It’s easy to look at lists of bladder irritants and get overwhelmed. Try eliminating a suspected offender for two to three days. If you feel better when you aren’t consuming that item and worse when you add it back in, consider eliminating that item from your diet.  It is also important to eat in a way that prevents constipation, as this worsens bladder symptoms and puts extra pressure on the bladder.

Posture

If you are having problems fully emptying your bladder or you have post void leakage (dribbles following going to the bathroom) consider your toileting posture. People with bladder issues should sit on the toilet ( even dudes), to allow the pelvic floor muscles to relax and allow the bladder to fully empty.

Bladder Training

If you have bladder frequency or leakage  now is the time to try and train your bladder to hold more urine. Keep in mind you should start treatment to address pain with physical therapy and in certain cases, with medication, to allow you to be successful with bladder training. I always tell my patients to start their bladder retraining at home, where a bathroom is available to take the stress out of possible leaks or not being able to find a bathroom. Start by simply waiting to go to the bathroom 5-10 minutes past your first urge to urinate. Use behavioral strategies, such as deep breathing and pelvic floor drops, mindfulness, distraction and others.  If you don’t have to go after 5-10 minutes, Great! If you do, go to the bathroom. As waiting 10 minutes becomes easy, stretch your time to 20 minutes and so on until you are able to go 2-3 hours in between urination.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is considered a mainstay and top treatment for musculoskeletal causes of bladder disorders and bladder pain.  Expert pelvic floor physical therapists are clinicians who can find the cause of your bladder issues and provide you with a customized plan that will provide you with the best results possible. PT’s can work to relax spasmed muscles, treat constipation contributing to bladder issues, improve your toilet posture, reduce tightness around the bladder, abdominal and thigh region that can contribute to bladder dysfunction, as well as strengthen weak muscles. If you are experiencing bladder issues, please come see us.  There is so much we can do to help!

Sources:

Berghmans L, Hendriks H, Van Waalwijk, et al. Conservative treatment of urge urinary incontinence in women: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. BJU Int. 2000; 85: 254-63

Chancellor, M, Yoshimura N. Neurophysiology of stress incontinence. Rev Urol. 2004; 6(Suppl3)S19-S28

Chang H, Lynm C, Glass R, et al. Urinary incontinence in older women. JAMA, 2010; 303(21): 2208

FitzGerald M, Brensinger C, Brubaker L, et al. What is the pain of interstitial cystitis like?. International Urogynecology Journal Including Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. 2005

Shafik A, Shafik I. Overactive bladder inhibition in response to pelvic floor muscle exercises. World J Urol. 2003 May; 20(6):347-7. Epib. Apr 4