Pelvic Health 101 is back! Come to Our First Class on September 20th

On September 20th, at 7pm we will be kicking off our fall semester of pelvic health education class, we call Pelvic Health 101 (PH101). In our first class we will be introducing you to the pelvic floor muscles, where they are, what they do, and how they relate to the health and function of your bowel, bladder, and sexual functioning. We will also be covering how things such as alignment, posture, muscle tone and nerves can affect your symptoms. This course is a great starting point to help you understand your pelvic floor and pelvic floor symptoms.

Please join us at our office at:

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY 10017
Register at: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

Here is our line up of this and future classes

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2018

Hypo-ed up? The use of Hypopressive Abdominal Exercise in Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

balloons

Joanna Hess, PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

I’m a recent transplant to NYC. For the last four years, I was living abroad and working at a interdisciplinary sports hospital. I loved learning about physiotherapy culture around the world. We each had different contributions – the Greek wheel, Scandinavian eccentrics, Australian pain science, and Spanish hypopressives. Hypopressive exercises were magic exercises that helped resolve low back pain, prolapse, incontinence, and diastasis recti abdominis. So of course, I wondered, “Are Americans missing the boat?”

What are hypopressive exercises? And how do they work?

Hypopressive abdominal exercises (HAE) were developed by Marciel Caufriez as a response to the obsession with “the core” and the corresponding exercises (primarily crunches) that would increase downward pressure. Hypopressive abdominal exercises use a pressure gradient between the thorax (the upper part of your trunk) and abdominal cavity to create a “vacuum” effect. By creating a vacuum that draws pressure upward, your body automatically recruits transverse abdominis (TrA) and pelvic floor muscles (PFM). Both the PFM and TrA are core muscles and are important in many functions. The HAE sequence begins with static positions and progresses to dynamic and difficult movements. The set up for the exercise is:

  1. Three breaths filling the ribs making sure the sides are expanding.
  2. Breathe in focused on expanding ribs out and lower ribs up while minimizing belly movement.
  3. Then, breathe out working on spinal elongation and keeping ribs up and out. Hold the exhale for creating the vacuum and relaxing the diaphragm. The belly button should start to move up.
  4. Close the throat as if you were at the end of a swallow to lift, expand, inflate rib cage further increasing the vacuum and pressure differential—like an inhale, but without taking in air.

In diaphragmatic breath, inhalation causes the diaphragm to descend which increases intra-abdominal pressure and a reflexive eccentric contraction of the pelvic floor and abdominal wall(an eccentric contraction occurs when the muscles lengthen). Exhalation is a passive return to the diaphragm’s resting position and if it is a complete exhalation, the PFM and TrA will also contribute some activity. For the hypopressive vacuum, inhalation relies on upper chest and neck muscles instead of the respiratory diaphragm and intercostals (rib muscles). The inhalation lifts the rib cage up and gives more volume. The exhalation activates the PFM and TrA to compress the abdomen which increases the pressure of the abdomen. The pressure difference between the diaphragm is augmented by the closed inspiration and creates the vacuum that creates this automatic response. With HAE, the abdominal cavity has the same increase in pressure, possibly more, than with diaphragmatic breath, but because of the suction upwards, it feels like a different pressure.

What’s the relationship between hypopressive exercises and core coordination?

As measured by surface electromyography (EMG) and dynamic ultrasound, HAE consistently have comparable or less activation of the pelvic floor muscle and transverse abdominis than isolated, well-cued exercises (1-4). However, to increase TrA contraction, HAE with pelvic floor muscle contraction recruits more fibers more than pelvic floor contraction alone (4). HAE biases activation of deeper stabilizers–transverse abdominis, internal obliques, and pelvic floor over the more superficial rectus abdominis and external obliques(6). No research has evaluated the HAE claims of decreased downward abdominal cavity pressure. While HAE are progressed with consideration for increasing challenge, they are not incorporated into everyday positions which has an impact on the body’s ability to integrate into a task.

So, will hypopressive exercises fix my problems?

The solution for downward pressure gone wrong is not forcing upward pressure, but addressing why the body lost its adaptability for life’s demands. I rarely use hypopressive abdominal exercises as treatment for problems of the pressure system–pelvic organ prolapse, stress incontinence, diastasis recti abdominis, lumbar disc herniations, and ventral hernias. Studies show that HAE do not have an advantage over conventional TrA and PFM exercises (8) in losing postpartum weight (9), improving pelvic organ prolapse symptoms (2,4,5), or correcting diastasis recti (10).

Besides being less effective than conventional exercises for strengthening and symptom relief, HAE exchange downward and outward pressure for upward pressure and compensatory muscle patterns. This could show up as gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), hiatal hernias, hyperinflated lungs with increased sympathetic drive (and immediate lightheadedness), restricted diaphragm, forward neck posture, or thoracic outlet syndrome. The respiratory diaphragm has a mechanical advantage for respiration over upper chest and neck muscles which have other postural functions.

Escaping gravity is not yet sustainable which means, normal life—breathing, digestion, walking, and laughing—includes downward pressure. If the goal is to decrease pressure on the pelvic floor, lying down with hips elevated, headstand, downward dog, or inversion table—none of these translate into movements of everyday life, but they also do not alter the body’s normal respiration and stabilization patterns. “First do no harm.”

If someone is having difficulty isolating the PFM and TrA, I would connect with diaphragmatic breath, vary effort level, try different verbal and manual cues, and modify the relative position of the pelvis to the spine (7). After correcting the mechanical “pressure problem,” I would use HAE if an individual is still having great difficulty identifying the transverse abdominis and over-recruiting the rectus abdominis. But, I then would progress out of HAE to a isolated strengthening progression integrated into functional movements. HAE is also one of many tools that can help in decreasing acute low back pain associated with muscle spasm.

I nod at the centuries of wisdom of yoga that note benefit from hypopressive practices for posture, digestion, invigoration, and automatic recruitment of core stability. But let’s also remember the time-tried basics of a healthy movement-filled lifestyle. As more studies are published, I look forward to learning more about subgroups and larger functional goals for which HAE have benefit. For now, the magic bullet for pelvic floor dysfunction is not hypopressive abdominal exercises. Isolated pelvic floor and transverse abdominis activation may be old-school, but are well-researched with strong support and are overwhelmingly more beneficial than HAE at addressing symptom alleviation and muscle strengthening.

 

Thank you so much for reading our blog, if you think physical therapy can help you. Please give us a call at either our midtown location 212-354-2622 or our downtown location 212-267-0240. We are offering free phone consultations at both offices for a short period!

Joanna Hess is a treating therapist at our downtown location

Joanna Lee Hess

References

1. Brazalez BN, Lacomba MT, Mendez OS, Martin MA. The abdominal and pelvic floor muscular response during a hypopressive exercise: dynamic transabdominal ultrasound assessment. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(Suppl 2):A22

2. Resende AP, Stüpp L, Bernardes BT, Oliveira E, Castro RA, Girão MJ, Sartori MG. Can hypopressive exercises provide additional benefits to pelvic floor muscle training in women with pelvic organ prolapse?. Neurourology and urodynamics. 2012 Jan;31(1):121-5.

3. Resende AP, Torelli L, Zanetti MR, Petricelli CD, Jármy-Di Bella ZI, Nakamura MU, Júnior EA, Moron AF, Girão MJ, Sartori MG. Can Abdominal Hypopressive Technique Change Levator Hiatus Area?: A 3-Dimensional Ultrasound Study. Ultrasound quarterly. 2016 Jun 1;32(2):175-9.

4. Stüpp L, Resende AP, Petricelli CD, Nakamura MU, Alexandre SM, Zanetti MR. Pelvic floor muscle and transversus abdominis activation in abdominal hypopressive technique through surface electromyography. Neurourology and urodynamics. 2011 Nov;30(8):1518-21.

5. Bernardes BT, Resende AP, Stüpp L, Oliveira E, Castro RA, Jármy di Bella ZI, Girão MJ, Sartori MG. Efficacy of pelvic floor muscle training and hypopressive exercises for treating pelvic organ prolapse in women: randomized controlled trial. Sao Paulo Medical Journal. 2012;130(1):5-9.

6. Ithamar L, de Moura Filho AG, Rodrigues MA, Cortez KC, Machado VG, de Paiva Lima CR, Moretti E, Lemos A. Abdominal and pelvic floor electromyographic analysis during abdominal hypopressive gymnastics. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2018 Jan 1;22(1):159-65.

7. Sapsford R. Rehabilitation of pelvic floor muscles utilizing trunk stabilization. Manual therapy. 2004 Feb 1;9(1):3-12

8. Martín-Rodríguez S, Bø K. Is abdominal hypopressive technique effective in the prevention and treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction? Marketing or evidence from high-quality clinical trials?. Br J Sports Med. 2017 Sep 4:bjsports-2017.

9. Sanchez-Garcia JC, Rodriguez-Blanque R, Sanchez-Lopez AM, et al. Hypopressive abdominal physical activity and its includence on postpartum weight recovery: a randomized control trial. JONNPR. 2017; 2 (10): 473-483.

10. Gomez FR, Senin-Camargo FJ, Cancela-Cores A, et al. Effect of a hypopressive abdominal exercise program on the inter-rectus abdominis muscle distance in postpartum. Br J Sports Med 2018;52(Suppl 2):A21

LGBTQ+ Topics: Special Considerations for People with Prostate Cancer in the LGBTQ+ Community

blue and orange light projeced on left hand of person
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT (pronouns: She, Her, Hers)-practices in our midtown office

We have talked about prostate cancer many times on this blog. It is an exceedingly common condition and represents 26% of new cancer cases in cis-men, second only to skin cancer, and 14% of cis-men will experience it within their lifetimes. Prostate cancer can affect one’s life dramatically in terms of sexuality, continence, and even their self perception. Even though prostate cancer can have such a dramatic effect on sex and sexuality, there is little information out there on prostate cancer that is not heteronormative. It is estimated conservatively that 3-12% of America’s population self identifies as lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, queer, or questioning (LGTBQ+). For people in this community navigating a heteronormative healthcare system can be alienating, frustrating, and downright dangerous. Today, we are going to take some time to discuss what is known about prostate cancer specifically in men who have sex with men as well as trans women.

Prostate Cancer Basics

Prostate cancer typically occurs later on in life. It is extremely common and its incidence is rising, likely due to a rise in prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing. Prostate cancer is a very survivable cancer with the 5 year survival rate being estimated at 84-92%. Treatment may include radiation, chemotherapy, removal of the prostate, or some combination thereof. That being said, common side effects of prostate cancer treatment include bowel and bladder incontinence, sexual dysfunction and pain. These side effects can be improved with medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. People who are at risk for prostate cancer are people who have advanced age, African ancestry, live in certain geographic locations, and those who smoke.

Are Men who Have Sex with Men at Increased Risk?

This is the first out of many examples in this blog where we need more research. There are certain conditions that have been associated with men who have sex with men that may be a risk factor or protective against prostate cancer. Men with HIV seem to be an increased risk factor for prostate cancer, however the antiretroviral therapy for it may be protective. See how this is super confusing? Additionally use of supplements, steroids may increase risk for prostate cancer.

These are all pretty strong “mays”. What we do know is that men who have sex with men are less likely to have up to date PSA testing. Black men who have sex with men are even less likely to be up to date with their PSA’s. This fact can be correlated to the subjective experience many men who have sex with men express when navigating a heteronormative healthcare field. We will talk more later about barriers to healthcare in the LGBTQ+ community and ways clinicians can work to reduce these barriers for their patients.

What About Transgender Women?

There is very little reported about trans women with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer in transwomen is relatively rare especially after removal of the testicles. That being said, it can occur if a transwoman has her medical transition later on in life. In the case study cited below, the authors posit that it may be possible for androgen receptors to become more sensitive to androgens when androgens are at a low level. Androgens are produced by the testicles and are thought to contribute to the development of prostate cancer. If small amounts of cancerous or precancerous cells were present on the prostate prior to testicle removal, they may have continued to develop in the presence of the small amount of testosterone produced elsewhere in the body.. All this being said, prostate cancer is a rare condition in transwomen, but it does beg the important questions like, do we remove a woman’s prostate when she is transitioning, which can be a source of pleasure and erotic function for some transwomen. Most experts agree that transwomen with prostates should be screened for cancer. This is an area where more research is definitely needed.

Why One -Size Fits All Fits None

Men who have sex with men and transwomen have different sexual roles and expectations than the hetero and cis-gender community, and applying heteronormative treatment approaches in the sexual rehabilitation of people recovering from prostate cancer can leave a lot to be desired. The prostate can be a huge source of sexual pleasure for some men who have sex with men and  some transwomen. Men who have sex with men are much more likely to report that the prostate as a pleasure center than their hetero and or cis counterparts. A prostatectomy can represent a loss, and should be respected as such. Also for men and trans women participating in penetrative anal sex, the erection requirements are different than those required to participate in vaginal penetration. The penis requires much more rigidity to penetrate the anus than it does the vagina, ( We should keep in mind the requirement to be able to participate in penetrative anal sex may be important for men who have sex with women exclusively.) Detailed sexual histories should be taken for every patient.

Tips for Providers

Only 68% percent of LGBTQ+ patients are “out” to their clinicians. This is an important stat to keep in mind when performing an intake and subsequent treatment with patients. Avoiding heteronormative assumptions, like assuming a man with a wedding ring is married to a woman, can be a helpful step in the right direction. Displaying a rainbow flag somewhere in your office can also set the stage for a more open conversation that can help you better address the needs of your patients. To learn more about this population check out our resources below. For people who are used to viewing the world through a heteronormative lense, this can take a concerted effort, but it is well worth it in the name of improving patient care for all of your clients!

We have offices in both midtown and downtown locations. If you are dealing with prostate cancer, please give us a call at

212-354-2622 (Midtown)

212-267-0240 (Downtown)

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT practices at our midtown location

fiona2018

Blogs: 

The Special Care Needs of the LGBTQ+ Community

Resources:

Gay & Bisexual Men Living with Prostate Cancer from Diagnosis to Recovery https://www.amazon.com/Gay-Bisexual-Living-Prostate-Cancer/dp/1939594251

A Gay Man’s Guide to Prostate Cancer

https://www.amazon.com/Prostate-Journal-Psychotherapy-Monographic-Separates/dp/1560235527

Malecare https://malecare.org/

Healthcare Equality Index: A tool to find hospitals with established and effective policies for improving LGBTQ+ care http://www.hrc.org/hei/search

Sources

Ussher J, Perz J, Simon Rosser B. R. Gay & Bisexual Men Living with Prostate Cancer from Diagnosis to Recovery. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2018. Print

Quinn G, Sanchez J, Sutton S, et al. Cancer in lesbian,gay, bisexual, transgender/transexual and queer/questioning populations (LGBTQ). CA Cancer J Clin. 2015;65(5):384-400

Rosser S, Merengwa E, Capistrant B, et al. Prostate cancer in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men: a review. LGBTQ Health(3)1. 2016; 32-41

Turo R, Jallad S, Prescott S, et al. Metastatic prostate cancer in transsexual diagnosed after three decades of estrogen therapy.

Mind the Gap Part II: Improving the Look and Function of the Mommy Tummy (Diastasis Recti)

arid-canyon-cliff-965159

Welcome to part two of Mind the Gap: Improving the look of Mommy Tummy. For Part one and more background, check out Mind the Gap: Diastasis Recti Abdominis and What We Don’t Know: Part I.

Joanna Hess, PT, DPT, PRC, WCS  (practices at our down town office)

So, about that flat tummy. I want it.

Our bodies can be amazingly resilient and are constantly adapting if given the opportunity. Think about an ankle sprain—in order for the overstretched ligaments to heal, the ankle needs be in a position without excessive strain. Conversely, limiting motion over a long period decreases the body’s signal to rebuild the area. We need the Goldilocks treatment—just enough movement and challenge without too much strain. We can use these same principles for understanding the self-resolving diastasis recti. The strained linea alba and loose skin associated with diastasis, like so many other parts of the body, will produce fibroblasts to improve collagen and elastin (the building blocks of skin and other connective tissue), if it is given appropriate mechanical load.

Here are some tips for dealing with diastasis:

1. Patience. 100% of women have a diastasis recti (DRA) at the end of the third trimester. Postpartum, 52-60% of women have a diastasis at 6 weeks, 39-45% at 6 months (1, 7) with effects on abdominal strength and endurance (10), and 33% at 12 months. Most improvement happen before 6-12 months, but can continue to 24 months without specific intervention (10,11).

2. Nutrition. This is out of my league, but understandably important, particularly early post-postpartum. Consult your favorite integrative nutritionist. But for starters, bone broth and vitamin C are widely touted to help collagen production. Also, make sure to stay hydrated. Don’t waste your time on the creams. The body needs internal signaling and cellular level building blocks to increase collagen production.

3. Dance, laugh, live. Regular and progressive 3D movement that requires the abdominal system to stabilize, to lengthen, to contract, to work is an easy way to load the system. This translates into activities like laughing really hard, reaching up for things on the top shelf, lifting a child, twisting to grab a cookie, or walking really fast with arms swinging. With some exceptions for pain and loss of the ability to do everyday tasks, limit abdominal bracing techniques such as taping, belly binding, and second skin Spanx. These push pressure elsewhere in the system and decrease the signal for the body to rebuild. We want as much motion that the body can handle without losing its stability.

4. Managing abdominal pressure. The abdominal canister—the multifidus muscles of the back, the respiratory diaphragm at the top, the pelvic floor on the bottom, and abdominals in the front—contains most of the body’s organs and manages fluctuating intra-abdominal pressures. Adopting better posture and movement patterns help manage intra-abdominal pressures taking off excess strain and help resolve DRA.

5. Breathe and wiggle the ribs. Sigh and drop those ribs. A rib flare (thank you baby, and organs that relocated into the rib cage real estate) adds a strain on the linea alba. An easy way to safely challenge the system may be as simple as raising your arms over your head while keeping your ribs down. Or spend some time doing diaphragmatic breathing adding gentle twisting on the exhale.

6. Battle of the ab exercises: Transverse abdominis vs. Rectus abdominis (RA). Women who do specific transverse abdominis exercises are less likely to have a DRA during pregnancy and postpartum as compared to women who have a general exercise program (6, 12, 13). These exercises are focused on a phrase that I like to use, coined by the Institute of Physical Art, “keeping the baby in the bucket”. Cautiously get excited about a very small study that found women who exercised during pregnancy (pelvic tilts and transversus abdominis) had a lower rate (12.5%) of significant postpartum DRA vs non-exercisers (90%) despite DRA during pregnancy (13). A systematic review notes how little we know about exercise for prevention of DRA. A prenatal abdominal exercise program will prevent 1 in 3 women from developing DRA, but unclear as to which exercises should be included (14). Almost 90% of physical therapists use transverse abdominis and pelvic floor training with their patients, and up to 63% of physical therapists use the Noble method which combines the physical approximation of the muscle bellies while doing an abdominal crunch (3).

What happens with a transverse abdominis contraction? The transverse abdominis (TrA) is typically cued with the drawing in of the abdomen keeping the upper abdominal soft. You can feel the difference in the contraction just inside the front of the inside hip—trampoline tension for TrA and hard bulge for the obliques/RA. For most people contracting the TrA will increase the space between the abs (1, 8, 15, 16) while linea alba distortion decreases (8). The decrease in linea alba distortion corresponds with an increase of tension of the linea alba. Based on a small research sample and case series, progressive pelvic floor and TrA exercises decrease the space between the abs (13, 17), possibly by vertically aligning the rectus abdominis muscles, increasing mechanical strain and increasing fibroblast activity for collagen synthesis.

What happens with rectus abdominis contraction? The abdominal crunch activates the rectus abdominis muscle. Usually when people with DRA do a crunch, the space between the abs decreases (1, 8, 15, 16), but the linea alba distortion increases as the tension is decreased (8). The RA muscle length increases during pregnancy and immediately postpartum, but not enough to decrease the ability for the muscle to generate forces vertically (18). As pregnancy and DRA progresses, the change from vertical orientation to diagonal insertion of the RA muscle fibers likely decreases the ability to generate forces effectively. Perhaps, the decrease in force transfer at the linea alba with RA contraction is more related to the orientation of the muscle fibers instead of the movement of abdominal crunch itself.

The winner is transverse abdominis! Based on what we know so far, the exercises that include recruitment of the TrA are most effective at improving the force tension and closing the DRA over time. Passive external supports can be used as part of a progression if the TrA is unable to activate on its own. The TrA needs to be trained to turn on and off which allows for the intermittent tension and internal signaling required for the linea alba and abdominals to adapt to a new position and for collagen synthesis. There are many ways to do this, but here’s a suggested progression:

1. Standing arms overhead with ribs down and diaphragmatic breathing (Irene, our personal trainer, shows a variation lying down)

2. Noble technique with diaphragmatic breathing

3. Sahrmann transverse abdominis progression

4. TrA brace with quadruped alternating arm/leg lift

5. TrA with squat to single leg squat with diaphragmatic breathing

6. TrA with Turkish get-up

7. See a specialized physical therapist. Postpartum pelvic floor therapy is the norm wellness program for most of Western Europe. Like I mentioned before, the variability of why some people do better than others is not well understood. However, a specialized physical therapist will assess how you uniquely go through everyday life and can suggest ways to improve the efficiency of your abdominal pressure system, to give more input in places that are sleepy, and to quiet the overloaded parts. We teach, monitor and appropriately progress your exercise program and functional integration to appropriately challenge without overloading deficient muscles. On a blog, it’s easy to talk about the transverse abdominis, but actually recruiting and integrating this muscle without overloading others, often requires extensive cues, sometimes manual techniques, and adjustments at other parts of the body. 59% of physical therapist use some type of manual technique to treat DRA including 21% using visceral mobilization. A case series demonstrated that the mobilization of the jejunoileum can help to resolve DRA (19). Postural education, exercise progression, abdominal pressure management, and visceral mobilization are part of our regular program for diastasis recti at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy.

We know that the body and linea alba are highly adaptable. The research is unclear regarding the risk factors of DRA, the important measures for DRA regarding function and resolution, and why the TrA seems so important for healing DRA even though its contraction temporarily widens the gap. We do not know how to best nudge the body to produce new collagen for DRA, but if it is anything like the rest of the body, it responds well to intermittent contractile loads and responds poorly to static underloading or overloading. In the meantime, we can hope to see America’s next top model with a real-life mummy tummy that shifts our cultural ideas of beauty and health.

 

Thank you so much for reading our blog, if you think physical therapy can help you. Please give us a call at either our midtown location 212-354-2622 or our downtown location 212-267-0240. We are offering free phone consultations at both offices for a short period!

Joanna Hess is a treating therapist at our downtown location

Joanna Lee Hess

References:

1. da Mota PG, Pascoal AG, Carita AI, Bø K. Prevalence and risk factors of diastasis recti abdominis from late pregnancy to 6 months postpartum, and relationship with lumbo-pelvic pain. Manual therapy. 2015 Feb 1; 20(1):200-5.

2. Lee DG, Lee LJ, McLaughlin L. Stability, continence and breathing: the role of fascia following pregnancy and delivery. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2008 Oct 1; 12(4):333-48.

3. Keeler J, Albrecht M, Eberhardt L, Horn L, Donnelly C, Lowe D. Diastasis recti abdominis: a survey of women’s health specialists for current physical therapy clinical practice for postpartum women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2012 Sep 1; 36

4. Spitznagle TM, Leong FC, Van Dillen LR. Prevalence of diastasis recti abdominis in a urogynecological patient population. International Urogynecology Journal. 2007 Mar 1; 18(3):321-8

5. Parker MA, Millar LA, Dugan SA. Diastasis Rectus Abdominis and Lumbo‐Pelvic Pain and Dysfunction‐Are They Related?. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2009 Jul 1; 33(2):15-22.

6. Bø K, Hilde G, Tennfjord MK, Sperstad JB, Engh ME. Pelvic floor muscle function, pelvic floor dysfunction and diastasis recti abdominis: Prospective cohort study. Neurourology and
urodynamics. 2017 Mar 1; 36(3):716-21.

7. Sperstad JB, Tennfjord MK, Hilde G, Ellström-Engh M, Bø K. Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Jun 20:bjsports-2016.

8. Lee D, Hodges PW. Behavior of the linea alba during a curl-up task in diastasis rectus abdominis: an observational study. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2016 Jul; 46(7):580-9.

9. Axer H, Keyserlingk DG, Prescher A. Collagen fibers in linea alba and rectus sheaths: II. Variability and biomechanical aspects. Journal of Surgical Research. 2001 Apr 1; 96(2):239-45.

10. Liaw LJ, Hsu MJ, Liao CF, Liu MF, Hsu AT. The relationships between inter-recti distance measured by ultrasound imaging and abdominal muscle function in postpartum women: a 6-month follow-up study. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2011 July.

11. Coldron Y, Stokes MJ, Newham DJ, Cook K. Postpartum characteristics of rectus abdominis on ultrasound imaging. Manual therapy. 2008 Apr 1;13(2):112-21.

12. Boissonnault JS, Blaschak MJ. Incidence of diastasis recti abdominis during the childbearing year. Physical therapy. 1988; 68(7):1082-6

13. Chiarello CM, Falzone LA, McCaslin KE, Patel MN, Ulery KR. The effects of an exercise program on diastasis recti abdominis in pregnant women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2005 Apr 1; 29(1):11-6.

14. Benjamin DR, Van de Water AT, Peiris CL. Effects of exercise on diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscle in the antenatal and postnatal periods: a systematic review. Physiotherapy. 2014 Mar 1; 100(1):1-8.

15. Pascoal AG, Dionisio S, Cordeiro F, Mota P. Inter-rectus distance in postpartum women can be reduced by isometric contraction of the abdominal muscles: a preliminary case–control study. Physiotherapy. 2014 Dec 1; 100(4):344-8.

16. Sancho MF, Pascoal AG, Mota P, Bø K. Abdominal exercises affect inter-rectus distance in postpartum women: a two-dimensional ultrasound study. Physiotherapy. 2015 Sep 1; 101(3):286-91.

17. Litos K. Progressive therapeutic exercise program for successful treatment of a postpartum woman with a severe diastasis recti abdominis. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2014; 38(2):58-73.

18. Gillard S, Ryan CG, Stokes M, Warner M, Dixon J. Effects of posture and anatomical location on inter-recti distance measured using ultrasound imaging in parous women. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 2018 Apr 1; 34:1-7.

19. Kirk B, Elliott-Burke T. The Effect of Visceral Manipulation on Diastasis Recti Abdominis (DRA): A Case Series.

 

It’s all connected: How pelvic floor dysfunction can contribute to hip pain

Yoga 2

Kaitlyn Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT (practices at our midtown office)

Hip pain can have a significant burden on function and quality of life. While there are many causes, prevailing research shows that hip pain is common in both athletic and older populations (1,2). In athletes, groin pain accounts for 10% of all visits to sports medicine centers, and groin injuries account for up to 6% of all athletic injuries (1). In older adults, a diagnosis like osteoarthritis is common, and is ranked as the eleventh highest contributor of global disability (2). While research often focuses on specific populations of people or diagnoses, when put together, it reveals that general hip pain is a common problem affecting a significant portion of the general population. There are many diagnoses that exist to describe hip pain, with the ultimate goal to develop the most effective course of treatment. Traditionally, when someone with hip pain visits a doctor, a physical examination will be performed, which includes assessing for tenderness, swelling, or redness, and determining the range of motion at the hip joint. The doctor may also recommend imaging, such as an x-ray or MRI, as well as lab tests (3). While this can provide a physician with valuable information, such examinations have the risk of missing causes of pain from nearby structures, such as the pelvic floor.

 

The pelvic floor muscles are three layers of muscles that attach to the lower aspect of each half of the pelvis from side-to-side and from the pubic bone to the tailbone, front-to-back. These muscles support the pelvic organs, as well as contribute to trunk stability, and play a significant role in bowel and bladder control and efficiency, as well as sexual function (4). The muscles that make up the deepest of the pelvic muscles, include the levator ani and coccygeus, as well as the obturator internus on the sides (5). The pelvic floor is interconnected to many key structures in the body, and dysfunction here can affect seemingly unrelated parts of the body. Below are two cases of unresolving hip pain, where assessment and treatment of the pelvic floor helped to promote a return to recreational activities.

 

Case 1: A BICYCLIST

A 32-year-old male professional cyclist came to physical therapy with complaints of pain in his right hip and groin, mainly with prolonged sitting and cycling. This began soon after he suffered severe bruising on his right hip from a fall, with a tear of two hip muscles (tensor fascia lata on the front and gluteus medius on the side). Prior to this, he had a history of multiple leg injuries due to cycling, but had never complained of any pelvic floor issues. Upon examination, decreased hip range of motion was also discovered. Initially, he received ten sessions of “standard physical therapy,” which included stretching, joint mobilization, soft tissue release, dry needling, and exercise.

However, after only minimal improvement, he was referred to a pelvic floor specialist for further evaluation where increased muscle tone and tenderness in multiple pelvic floor muscles (both obturator internus muscles and both iliococcygeus muscles) were discovered. Also, weakness of a pelvic floor contraction was also noted (6). Based on response to treatment, his hip pain decreased significantly from his current treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction, though it was completely missed in the initial testing.

But how does pelvic floor dysfunction contribute to hip pain? The correct treatment was missed because this connection was missed. Consider the anatomy and mechanics of the hip and pelvis. The gentleman described above is a professional cyclist, which means that whenever he is on his bicycle, he must flex (bend) his hip up to 90 degrees. More hip motion does not tend to occur because it would cause the pelvis to become unstable on the small seat (7). When the hip is bent, the femoral head (ball of the ball-and-socket joint) must flex (bend up), abduct (move to the side), and rotate in towards the groin (8). As the pedal is pushed downward, the hip moves into an extension (straightening) position. Although the hip never reaches a fully straightened position when cycling because he is seated, the hip moves through between 40 and 43 degrees of total motion with each cycle of the pedal (7). So, when the hip is moving into that straightened position, that femoral head must extend (move back), adduct (move sideways toward the groin), and rotate out away from the groin. While the movements of ball of the hip are small, as they are occurring with the confines of the socket in the pelvis, it is important to remember what muscles are in close proximity (8).

Besides the extensive list of hip flexors and gluteus muscles, there are several muscles that sit on the inner side of each hip and the bottom layer of the pelvis – the muscles of the pelvic floor. The two muscles that are of the most interest in this case are the obturator internus and the iliococcygeus muscles, as tightness and tenderness were found in each pair. The obturator internus muscle contributes to the walls of the pelvic floor, on each side of the pelvis. and sits on the inner side of the hip joint. The iliococcygeus muscle attaches on one end into the tendinous arch of the obturator fascia, so there is only dense connective tissue joining this muscle and the obturator internus (5).

When the hip is in a bent position the obturator internus muscle abducts the hip, or moves it to the side, away from midline; however, when the hip is extended (straightened) this muscle rotates the hip outward. For the iliococcygeus muscle, its role is one of support for the pelvic contents and lifting for the pelvic floor (5). Considering all these factors, it can be theorized that when the hip is in a bent position at the top of the pedaling cycle the obturator internus is activated through the abduction (sideways) motion of the ball of the hip, and continues to be activated as the hip straightens since the ball is rotating outward. Furthermore, because the iliococcygeus muscle is attached to the obturator internus muscle through a dense strip of connective tissue, it must work harder to help support this obturator muscle throughout the cycling activity. Thus, these muscles have become overused and shortened with regular and intense cycling required of a professional, who likely had some abnormal muscle activation or movement strategies prior to his pain due to previous injuries.

With the specially trained pelvic floor physical therapist, the pelvic floor connective tissue was mobilized internally over two treatment sessions, in addition to the cyclist performing hip stabilizing exercises. After the first session, there was an immediate and significant improvement in hip range of muscle and pelvic floor muscle contraction; furthermore, sitting pain was resolved. After the second session (7 days later) this gentleman was discharged from PT as he was pain free in sitting and cycling. In a follow up call one month after discharge, he was still pain free without altering training (6). This dramatic change occurred because the release of connective tissue in the pelvic floor decreased tension and trigger points in the obturator internus and iliococcygeus muscles. Thus, his hip range of motion and pain were normalized, and he was able to return to competitive cycling without restrictions.

Case 2: A RUNNER

A 45-year-old female was referred to physical therapy by her gynecologist with an initial diagnosis of left hamstring strain, toward the top of the thigh, related to distance running. This woman was an experienced marathon runner, who ran an average of 30-40 miles per week. She presented to her first PT appointment with pain in her left sit bone, with diffuse aching radiating into her left buttock and pubic bone; she stated her pain began about 4 months prior to her first PT session. The mechanism of injury was “pulling a muscle” while trying to avoid falling on a trail run. At that time, she immediately felt pain near her sit bone, but was able to complete her run. Eventually, as her symptoms progressed, she stopped running, and was only able to tolerate about 15 minutes of sitting. By her fourth PT visit, her pain had decreased, but continued mildly with sitting and shifted into her left pubic bone. She also reported a deep ache that could not be touched from the outside. She was referred to a pelvic floor specialist for further evaluation; upon internal assessment of the pelvic floor, significant tenderness and reproduction of the “deep ache” was found in her left levator ani and obturator internus muscles, as well as increased muscle tone. Furthermore, contraction of these muscles was weak, and she presented with poor relaxation of the same muscles. (9).

The hamstring muscles attach to the sit bone, and in running help to extend the hip and control the knee (10). Due to the location of this woman’s complaints, initial treatments focused on pain management, such as sitting on a wedge or donut to relieve pressure on her sit bone, as well as core strengthening exercises like the plank, and gluteus and hamstring strengthening exercises. Since the patient reported relief of sit bone pain, except with prolonged sitting by her fourth visit, it was logical to directly address the hamstring and gluteus muscles; however, these are not the only muscles in the area of the hip (9).

When this woman was assessed by a pelvic floor specialist, weakness, tightness, and tenderness were discovered in her obturator internus and levator ani muscles on the side of her pain (9). As discussed in the first case, the obturator internus muscle makes up part of the wall of the pelvis and sits just inside of the pelvis, past the hip joint (5). With running, an efficient hip will move between 50 degrees flexion (bending up) and 10 degrees of extension (straightening back) (10). Thus, when the hip is flexing, the obturator internus is likely assisting with abduction of the ball of the hip joint, and when the hip is extending the obturator internus muscle is likely active in outward rotation of the ball (5,8). The levator ani muscles attach from the pubic bone in the front to the back portion of the pelvis, and play an important role in stabilizing the pelvis and the pelvic contents (5). Considering the mechanics of running, the obturator internus and levator ani muscles were likely working hard to promote a good running pattern, and when she tripped on a run, these muscles were overexerted. Then they continued to overwork to compensate for the pain and weakness demonstrated by her hamstring muscles.

In addition to exercises for hamstring and gluteal muscles, internal release of the left levator ani and obturator internus muscles was performed, as well as gentle isometric contractions for strengthening and lengthening of pelvic floor for relaxation. After 7 additional sessions over a 2-month period, this woman’s pain had decreased greatly, she was able to tolerate sitting for more than two hours, she was able to hop on her left leg without pain, and her hip and pelvic floor muscle strength improved. After six months, she had returned to running, and had recently completed a marathon without pain (9).

Conclusion

In summary, augmenting treatment with the addition of direct pelvic floor interventions in each of the above cases significantly improved each person’s remaining symptoms, and allowed them to return to their prior activities without restrictions. This demonstrates the importance of considering the pelvic floor in the diagnosis and treatment of hip pain – these patients both had injuries that were initially missed because the pelvic floor was not considered as a possible cause of hip pain, yet emerging evidence is linking pelvic floor dysfunction to otherwise intuitively unrelated injuries. This also highlights the need for further research in this area to minimize the occurrence of unnecessary procedures and medications, and to ensure that individuals can return to their daily activities with minimal disruption of their quality of life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with unresolving hip pain, make an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist today for further assessment. Feel free to contact our midtown office at 212-354-2622 or our downtown office at 212-267-0240, or visit our website (www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com) for more information! We are offering free phone consultations at both offices for a short period!

Thank you so much for reading our blog.

Katie Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT practices at our Midtown Location

K5 (2)

 

SOURCES

  1. Prather H, Colorado B, Hunt D. 2014. Managing hip pain in the athlete. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic of North America, 45(4), 789-812.
  2. Cross M, Smith E, Hoy D, et al. 2014. The global burden of hip and knee osteoarthritis: estimates from the global burden of disease 2010 study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 73(7), 1323-1330.
  3. Osteoarthritis. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ osteoarthritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351930.
  4. Continence Foundation of Australia. Pelvic Floor Muscles. Retrieved from: https://www.continence.org.au/pages/how-do-pelvic-floor-muscles-help.html.
  5. Drake R, Vogel AW, Mitchell AWM. 2009. Grey’s anatomy for students. Elsevier Health Sciences.
  6. Navot S, Kalichman L. 2016. Hip and groin pain in a cyclist resolved after performing a pelvic floor fascial mobilization. Journal of Bodywork and Movement, 20, 604-609.
  7. Timmer CAW. 1991. Cycling mechanics: a literature review. Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 14(3), 106-113.
  8. McGalliard M, Sizer PS, Ezell D. 2016. Current concepts of orthopedic physical therapy, 4th edition. (p. 7) Orthopedic Section – APTA.
  9. Podschun L, Hanney WJ, Kolber MJ, et al. 2013. Differential diagnosis of deep gluteal pain in a female runner with pelvic involvement: a case report. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 8(4), 462-471.
  10. Running Biomechanics. Retrieved from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Running_ Biomechanics.

What is Neater than your Peter? A Guide to Penile Health and Function Part 1: Premature Ejaculation

blur-blurry-burst-666013

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is finally time to go for this blog and go on a deep dive to discuss at length (pun not intended), the physiology, health, and function of an amazing organ, the penis! A couple years ago we talked about testicles in our blog, All About Testicles, which remains one of our most popular blogs. Now it is time to travel north and talk about how people with penises can best care for them and how to address things that may go wrong from time to time. This blog will periodically cover different issues that can (ahem) arise with penises. Today we will go over premature ejaculation. But before we can do all that, lets review how the penis works.

As an organ, a healthy penis is an amazingly complex organ despite it’s seemingly simple exterior. It is the tail end of the urinary system, provides amazing sensation, carries sperm to the outside world, delivers a substance that can neutralize the acidity of the vagina in order to make it more hospitable to sperm, and is able to use the muscles around it to raise the blood pressure in the penis higher than that of the outside body, in order to maintain erection.

The penis is not one tissue all the way through. It has what’s called the tunica albuginea which is the wrapping for the erectile parts of the penis. This guy is really important because it closes off the vein returning blood flow from the penis to keep the penis erect during arousal. Inside the tunica albuginea is the corpus carvernosum and corpus spongiosum. No, these two tissues are not Harry Potter spells, but critical parts of penile infrastructure. The corpus cavernosum fills with blood during erection and helps make the penis hard. The corpus spongiosum keeps the urethra from getting clamped shut during erection so the sperm can get out.

How Does The Penis Get Hard?

Usually, in response to sexual stimulation, the smooth muscles (the involuntary ones, not the pelvic floor) will relax allowing the small blood vessels within the penis to fill with blood, the result is the tunica albuginea ( the wrapping of the erectile parts of the penis) will compress on the veins of the penis, thus preventing the blood returning back to the body. The trapped blood in the penis will cause the penis to get hard and stand up. The lovely muscles of the pelvic floor, specifically the ischiocavernosus will contract to further increase the blood pressure within the penis and keep the penis erect.

What Happens with Ejaculation?

Ejaculation occurs with orgasm. It is possible to have an orgasm without ejaculation if you have had a procedure like a prostatectomy. For a normally functioning penis, ejaculation occurs with orgasm and is what carries the sperm and other fluids to the outside world. The contractions felt in orgasm are what propel the sperm through the penis and to the outside world. The bulbospongiosus is responsible for these contractions and is part of the pelvic floor.

Premature Ejaculation

Here is where I would normally supply you a pithy little statistic like “ 1 in 4 men will experience premature ejaculation in their lifetime”. Unfortunately, I cannot provide any such statistic for this subject because so few people talk about this problem. The clinical definition of premature ejaculation is a little wonky too, and has not consistently been used in research, therefore prevalence data are likely inaccurate. The International Society for Sexual Medicine (ISSM) , in an attempt to improve the medical definition of premature ejaculation defines it as:

  • Ejaculation that always or nearly always occurs within about 1 minute of vaginal penetration from the first sexual experience (Defined as lifelong premature ejaculation)
    • OR
  • A clinically significant reduction in latency time, often to about 3 minutes or less (defined as acquired premature ejaculation)
  • Inability to delay ejaculation on all or nearly all vaginal penetrations; and
  • Negative personal consequences, such as distress, bother, frustration, and/or avoidance of sexual intimacy (Althof 2014)

If you are a gay or bi-man, or a man who does not have vaginal intercourse you are probably well aware how problematic this definition is. Currently, it is the ISSM’s stance that there is insufficient evidence to draw up criteria for men who have sex in ways other than vaginal intercourse.

As you can tell by the definition, premature ejaculation is divided up into 2 subgroups, lifelong and acquired. The distinction is relatively new in the research and can help patients find better ways to treat their premature ejaculation.

Potential causes of premature ejaculation include:

  • Hypersensitivity of the glans( head) of the penis
  • Issues with serotonin
  • Erectile dysfunction*
  • Either stopping or starting drugs
  • Chronic pelvic pain syndrome*
  • History of rushing early sexual encounters
  • Prostatitis*

*These are conditions treated at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

What to do about premature ejaculation?

Don’t ignore it. Performance anxiety and premature ejaculation can often become a vicious cycle, where one will promote the other. Regardless of how your symptoms started, there is a lot that can be done to improve your sex life.

If you have prostatitis or chronic pelvic pain come to physical therapy. Did you know 90-95 percent of cases of “prostatitis”/chronic pelvic pain are musculoskeletal in nature… ahem… this is one of the most common conditions we treat at Beyond Basics. Overactive muscles, those in the abdomen, legs and pelvis can contribute to symptoms of prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain, (i.e. burning urination, painful ejaculation, sitting pain, genital pain, defecatory pain, urinary or bowel frequency, urgency, retention, incomplete emptying, etc.,.). Physical therapy can go a long way to treating and curing these symptoms by relaxing and lengthening your overactive muscles and strengthening weaker muscles. Prostatitis is a vast subject that requires its own blog. Luckily for you, I already wrote one. Check it out here.

If you are experiencing erectile dysfunction along with premature ejaculation, get thee to a doctor. I already explained to you how amazing the penis is as an organ. Its function is reliant on blood flow, thus problems with erection, especially in younger people may be an early sign that something may be up with your vascular system. Once systemic causes have been ruled out, get thee to physical therapy. We spoke earlier about how the penis requires blood flow and muscles to work properly; pelvic floor physical therapy can restore the function and improve the vascular health of the muscles vital to erection. Erectile dysfunction is yet another subject that could use its own blog. Again, luckily for you, I already wrote one. Check it out here.

If you don’t think erectile dysfunction, prostatitis or chronic pelvic pain is causing your premature ejaculation, there is still a lot you and your urologist can do. There is new work revealing that certain medications and psychotherapy can really help reduce premature ejaculation. You are not alone in this and you deserve to start feeling better.

Thank you so much for reading our blog, if you think physical therapy can help you. Please give us a call at either our midtown location 212-354-2622 or our downtown location 212-267-0240. We are offering free phone consultations at both offices for a short period!

fiona2018

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT is currently practicing from our midtown location

 

 

Althof S, McMahon C, Waldinger M, et al. An Update of the International Society of Sexual Medicine’s Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Premature Ejaculation (PE). Sex Med. 2014; 2(2) 60-90

Anderson R, Sawyer T, Wise D. Painful myofascial trigger points and pain site in men with chronic prostatitis/ Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome. J Urol. 2009;182(6): 2753-8

Anderson R, Wise D, Sawyer T. Integration of myofascial trigger point release and paradoxical relaxation training treatment of chronic pelvic pain in men. J Urol. 2005;174(1):155-60

Chronic nonbacterial prostatitis (chronic pelvic pain syndrome). Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School. 2007. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/chronic-nonbacterial-prostatitis-chronic-pelvic-pain-syndrome. Accessed December 11, 2016

Dean R, Lue T. Physiology of Penile Erection and Pathophysiology of Erectile Dysfunction. Urpl Clin North Am. 2005; 32(4): 379-v

Herman H. “Male and Female Health Wellness and Sexual Function”. New York. 19-20 May 2018

Quinn P. A Multinational Population Survey of Intravaginal Ejaculation Latency Time. J Sex Med. 2005; 2(4) 492-497

Mind the Gap: Diastasis Recti Abdominis and What We Don’t Know: Part I

asphalt-communication-commuter-221310

Joanna Hess, PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

Summer holidays are approaching. You’re lounging at the beach and feeling quite proud of the ruffled swimsuit that guards the battle marks of the mom bod—the wrinkly and poochy belly. On the horizon, a woman in string bikini framing her flat tummy joins the four children sitting next to you. She must be their nanny, or maybe the children were adopted, or she probably had a surrogate. But after a short conversation, she reveals that in fact is the biological mother of these children and that she carried to full term. And when you awkwardly compliment her on the restoration of her college-era body, she nonchalantly shrugs and says, “Genetics? Maybe the coconut oil that we brought back from Bali?”

As the power of airbrushed social media images expand, the Cinderella stories of mummy tummy to model abs give hope to the many moms scrolling mindlessly on our phones passing the wee hours of childcare. These stories are powerful and inspiring, but do not reflect most of our situations, nor answer many elusive questions about diastasis recti abdominus.

What is Diastasis recti abdominis and why do we care?

Diastais recti abominis (DRA) is the excessive separation between the two sides of the rectus abdominis (the six pack muscle), which creates a pooching of the belly, particularly with difficult tasks. For this blog, the background information focuses on pregnancy related DRA while the application of the information can be used for any one with DRA. During the third trimester 100% of women have a DRA, defined as a separation >2 cm below the umbilicus (1). One answer to why we care about DRA is that we want our stomachs to look normal if not flat. The wrinkly skin stomach has not reached mass popularity on the runways. Another reason we care is because DRA has been assumed to predispose a long term sequelae of breakdown in the body. The cosmetic appearance associated with DRA improves as the inter-recti distance (IRD), the width between the bellies of the rectus abdominis, decreases.

As physical therapists, we screen for DRA in order to gain a larger understanding of how the body is working together. Many of us assume that the lack of stability in the front of the body will lead to compensations in other parts of the body—primarily the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and back. Dysfunction in these areas have been documented to be higher during pregnancy and the post-partum period (2). Physical therapists regularly address DRA when patients present with low back pain (LBP), pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence (3). A couple of studies looking at post-partum women seeking medical care for abdominal pain and pelvic floor dysfunction show a higher incidence of DRA in this populations (4,5). However, this is not to say that the DRA causes or predicts these conditions.

In recent prospective studies using ultrasound assessment, the assumption that DRA correlates to pelvic floor dysfunction and low back pain (LBP) is challenged. The findings suggest no relationship but even a possible protective mechanism of DRA during pregnancy, with no difference in LBP symptoms at one year postpartum regardless of DRA status. Of course, this is a statement of generalization to a study population and does not reflect the outliers, individual predispositions and presentation.

DRA During Pregnancy

No differences were found in pelvic floor function or in urinary incontinence between women regardless of DRA status, during or after pregnancy. Women presenting with DRA in their 2nd trimester were more likely to have higher vaginal resting pressures, strong pelvic floor muscles strength, and better endurance of pelvic floor muscles. The set of women with 2nd trimester DRA had lower BMI before pregnancy and during pregnancy with trend increased general physical activity (6)

DRA Post-Partum

Interestingly, women who at 6 weeks postpartum did not have a DRA were more likely to have a pelvic organ prolapse > Stage 2 (6). DRA status (none or mild) had no relationship with low back pain at 6 months (1) and 12 months postpartum (7). This corroborates another study showing no difference for DRA in women reporting LBP and that severity of DRA does not predict intensity of LBP when present (5). Heavy lifting >20x/week was shown to be a risk factor for postpartum DRA, but not age, pre-pregnancy BMI, 2nd trimester BMI, weight gain, caesarean or vaginal delivery, abdominal circumference at 35 weeks, hypermobility (p – 0.06), cardio and strength exercise, general abdominal and pelvic floor exercise (1). From the research available, we cannot predict from a group of postpartum women with DRA who will have symptoms that affect their daily living.

Looking a Little Deeper at Diastasis Recti Abdominis

As assumptions about DRA and its relationship to long term dysfunction start to shift, what is important to identify in a DRA presentation is also changing. The literature and clinical practice related to DRA mainly looks at the IRD, or the separation between the right and left muscle bellies of the rectus abdominis However, the focus on the widening of the linea alba may be less important than the ability of the linea alba to transfer forces and contribute to the stability of the abdominal muscles (8). A wide linea alba that holds tension and stabilizes the front of the abdomen with increased intra-abdominal pressures through functional task may be more desirable than a narrow linea alba with distortions that loses force and allows abdominal pressure to push forward through functional task. A pulled-apart and taut rubber band hold tension better than a relaxed and crumpled band. The width and depth of the linea alba need to be contextualized within the individual’s posture, daily movement, and functional core adaptability. The literature has yet to identify subgroups that would likely explain why some people have DRA that self-resolve and among those who don’t, why it impacts cosmetics and function in some people and not in others, why it seems to be a protective mechanism for some pelvic floor and low back conditions and exacerbating in others.

The linea alba is often connected to the rectus abdominis because of the focus of the IRD as a marker of DRA. However, the linea alba actually is the anatomical and functional intersection of all the abdominal muscles—the rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, and transverse abdominis, which is seen at a microscopic level with different angles of fibers in the linea alba. In a cadaver study looking at the collagen of the linea alba without DRA, previously pregnant women had thinner linea alba, but greater widths. Females who were previously pregnant had higher ratio transverse to oblique fibers—60% for females and 37.5% for males. The female cadaver that had never been pregnant had infraumbilical fibers more similar to males (9). The small size of this study limits its application, but perhaps an increase of transverse abdominis muscle activity in the lower abdominals is represented in the higher number fibers, and that this adapted activity resolved the DRA for these women.

Hormones may possibly play a role of the development of DRA for some women, but because DRA persist well after post-partum hormones return to normal. In men, hormones are unlikely to be the primary driving cause of persistent DRAs. Women who are breastfeeding do have a higher relationship with unresolved DRA until breastfeeding is concluded (5). However, no research has been conducted on this relationship and may add to another subgroup to explain the variance of women who spontaneously resolve and others who never resolved their DRAs.

 

Joanna is a treating therapist at our downtown location. Stay tuned for the next installment on this topic, Mind the Gap Part II: Diastasis Recti Abdominis: What we Can do About it.

To call and make an appointment with our expert PTs call:

212- 354- 2622 (Midtown)

212-267-0240 ( Downtown)

 

References:

1. da Mota PG, Pascoal AG, Carita AI, Bø K. Prevalence and risk factors of diastasis recti abdominis from late pregnancy to 6 months postpartum, and relationship with lumbo-pelvic pain. Manual therapy. 2015 Feb 1; 20(1):200-5.

2. Lee DG, Lee LJ, McLaughlin L. Stability, continence and breathing: the role of fascia following pregnancy and delivery. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2008 Oct 1; 12(4):333-48.

3. Keeler J, Albrecht M, Eberhardt L, Horn L, Donnelly C, Lowe D. Diastasis recti abdominis: a survey of women’s health specialists for current physical therapy clinical practice for postpartum women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2012 Sep 1; 36

4. Spitznagle TM, Leong FC, Van Dillen LR. Prevalence of diastasis recti abdominis in a urogynecological patient population. International Urogynecology Journal. 2007 Mar 1; 18(3):321-8

5. Parker MA, Millar LA, Dugan SA. Diastasis Rectus Abdominis and Lumbo‐Pelvic Pain and Dysfunction‐Are They Related?. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2009 Jul 1; 33(2):15-22.

6. Bø K, Hilde G, Tennfjord MK, Sperstad JB, Engh ME. Pelvic floor muscle function, pelvic floor dysfunction and diastasis recti abdominis: Prospective cohort study. Neurourology and urodynamics. 2017 Mar 1; 36(3):716-21.

7. Sperstad JB, Tennfjord MK, Hilde G, Ellström-Engh M, Bø K. Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Jun 20:bjsports-2016.

8. Lee D, Hodges PW. Behavior of the linea alba during a curl-up task in diastasis rectus abdominis: an observational study. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2016 Jul; 46(7):580-9.

9. Axer H, Keyserlingk DG, Prescher A. Collagen fibers in linea alba and rectus sheaths: II. Variability and biomechanical aspects. Journal of Surgical Research. 2001 Apr 1; 96(2):239-45.

10. Liaw LJ, Hsu MJ, Liao CF, Liu MF, Hsu AT. The relationships between inter-recti distance measured by ultrasound imaging and abdominal muscle function in postpartum women: a 6-month follow-up study. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2011 July.

11. Coldron Y, Stokes MJ, Newham DJ, Cook K. Postpartum characteristics of rectus abdominis on ultrasound imaging. Manual therapy. 2008 Apr 1;13(2):112-21.

12. Boissonnault JS, Blaschak MJ. Incidence of diastasis recti abdominis during the childbearing year. Physical therapy. 1988; 68(7):1082-6

13. Chiarello CM, Falzone LA, McCaslin KE, Patel MN, Ulery KR. The effects of an exercise program on diastasis recti abdominis in pregnant women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2005 Apr 1; 29(1):11-6.

14. Benjamin DR, Van de Water AT, Peiris CL. Effects of exercise on diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscle in the antenatal and postnatal periods: a systematic review. Physiotherapy. 2014 Mar 1; 100(1):1-8.

15. Pascoal AG, Dionisio S, Cordeiro F, Mota P. Inter-rectus distance in postpartum women can be reduced by isometric contraction of the abdominal muscles: a preliminary case–control study. Physiotherapy. 2014 Dec 1; 100(4):344-8.

16. Sancho MF, Pascoal AG, Mota P, Bø K. Abdominal exercises affect inter-rectus distance in postpartum women: a two-dimensional ultrasound study. Physiotherapy. 2015 Sep 1; 101(3):286-91.

17. Litos K. Progressive therapeutic exercise program for successful treatment of a postpartum woman with a severe diastasis recti abdominis. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2014; 38(2):58-73.

18. Gillard S, Ryan CG, Stokes M, Warner M, Dixon J. Effects of posture and anatomical location on inter-recti distance measured using ultrasound imaging in parous women. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 2018 Apr 1; 34:1-7.

19. Kirk B, Elliott-Burke T. The Effect of Visceral Manipulation on Diastasis Recti Abdominis (DRA): A Case Series.