All About Testicles

tennis ball isolated

By Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

Testicles have long held a special place in our society.  In fact, the word testis means “witness of virility” in Latin. They help produce the hormones that spark puberty. They are responsible for body hair, the growth of the penis, and sex drive.

Testicles are gonads. Gonads are sex organs that produce sex cells.  People with male anatomy produce sperm and  people with female anatomy produce ova (eggs). Testicles also produce the hormone testosterone, which as stated earlier is responsible for people with male anatomy’s secondary sex characteristics, like body hair, muscle bulk, and sex drive.

Testicles are housed in the scrotum, a sack of skin just behind the penis. Within the scrotum, the testicles are covered by a fibrous sheath called the tunica vaginalis and tunica albuginea. The testicles are composed of many tightly bound tubules called the seminiferous tubules. These tubules give the testicles their uneven feel. Each testicle is held in the scrotum by the spermatic cord, which is composed of the vas deferens, blood vessels, and lymph vessels.

Anyone who has watched an Adam Sandler movie knows that testicles are delicate and sensitive creatures. Even just a jostle can be enough to double one over in pain. But sometimes your testicles may hurt for no apparent reason.  Acute scrotum is the technical name given to sudden onset testicular pain without swelling. There are many medical reasons your testicles may hurt.  Testicular pain can be a serious condition and should not be ignored.

Testicular torsion is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment in order to save the testicle.  Testicular torsion is most common in people with male anatomy under the age of 25. It occurs when the spermatic cord twists cutting off blood supply to the testes. Usually testicular torsion is spontaneous and cause pain great enough to wake a one out of sleep and induce vomiting.

In some people testicular torsion is contributed to by what is known as a bell clapper deformity. A bell clapper deformity occurs when there is a lack of fixation in the tunica vaginalis. Because of this lack of fixation, the testis is free to rotate around on itself and obstruct blood flow. Bell clapper deformities are present in 12% of males and in males with bell clapper deformity 40% have bilateral derformity. In neonates, extravaginal torsion can occur when the tunica vaginalis and the testes both twist in the inguinal canal. Any case of sudden and severe testicular pain should be considered testicular torsion until proven otherwise and treated as a medical emergency.

Testicular cancer is usually painless but in 20% of cases pain can be a symptom. The pain caused by testicular cancer is typically due to hemorrhage. In the overall population testicular cancer is relatively rare, however it is the most common form of cancer in young males between the ages of 15 and 35. Signs of testicular cancer include a dull ache in the abdomen and groin, heaviness in the scrotum, lump in the testicle, enlargement of the breast tissue, or back pain. Any of these symptoms warrant a visit to your general practitioner.

So what about testicular pain that is not cancer or testicular torsion? Testicular pain can also be caused by other medical conditions like epididymitis, orchitis, urinary reflux, urinary tract infection, or sexually transmitted infection. Again as stated before, any acute testicular pain that occurs out of the blue warrants immediate medical attention.

There are some people however who suffer from acute and recurrent testicular pain for which a medical cause has not been established. For these people, not having concrete answers for what is going on can be especially distressing. In a paper by Anderson and colleagues, trigger points elsewhere in the body have been found to cause pain in the testicles, shaft of the penis, and other areas in the genital region.

Trigger points are defined as areas of hypersensitive and painful spots within the muscle that can be felt as a tough or tight band. In their study, Anderson and colleagues found that testicular pain could be elicited in 80% of men with testicular pain with no other medical cause, when trigger points in the external obliques were palpated. The study also found other trigger points referring to the shaft of the penis, and the perineum (the bicycle seat area of the body). Myofascial restrictions can refer pain to testicles as well as reduce blood flow to the genitals, making erections difficult or painful.

Irritated nerves can also be the cause of testicular and penile pain. The pudendal nerve is most commonly associated with male pelvic pain. The pudendal nerve supplies sensation to many of the pelvic structures including the penis, scrotum, and anorecatal region. This nerve can become inflamed or strained for a variety of different reasons. Straining with constipation, boney alignment that stresses the nerve, as well as tight ligaments and muscles that surround the area can all stress the pudendal nerve and cause scrotal, anal, or penile pain.

Other nerves such as the Iliohypogastric can cause suprapubic and gluteal pain. The inguinal nerve can cause pain in the inner thigh, and lateral scrotal skin. The genital femoral is also associated with the skin of the scrotum and thigh.

If you find yourself with testicular or penile pain that has not been resolved with medical intervention, it may be time to find your way to a licensed pelvic floor physical therapist. Physical therapists can work with you to break up your trigger points, provide postural education to correct alignment, reduce constipation with bowel training, and incorporate relaxation and postural changes to prevent your pain from coming back. At Beyond Basics, we have a great team of therapists who treat pelvic floor disorders who can help treat your testicular pain.

Sources:
Anatomy and physiology of the testicle. Canadian Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/testicular/anatomy-and-physiology/?region=on. Accessed June 10, 2015
Anderson R, Sawyer T, Wise D, Morey A. Painful myofascial trigger points and pain sites in men with chronic prostatitis/ chronic pelvis pain syndrome. The Journal of Urology, 182;6 2753-58
Jefferies M, Cox A, Gupta A et al. The management of acute testicular pain in children and adolescents. BMJ. 2015
Mayo Clinic Staff. Testicle Pain. Accessed June 8, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/testicle-pain/basics/causes/sym-20050942
Mayo Clinic Staff. Testicular Cancer. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/testicular-cancer/basics/definition/con-20043068. Accessed June 10, 2015

What’s Neater Than Your Peter? Burning Urination

#3MalePelvicFloor_Nolabel_copyright
 copyright Amy Stein 2008

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

It’s been a while since we’ve done a “What’s Neater than Your Peter” series so it’s definitely time for another addition! Today we will cover urethral burning. For people with penises, this can be an alarming symptom. By itself it can be a pretty non- specific symptom. Thus, for anyone experiencing urethral burning, it is important to visit your healthcare provider right away, to find out what is causing your symptoms. In this blog we review potential causes of urethral burning, which is by no means an exhaustive list, and discuss what can be done for urethral burning caused by musculoskeletal conditions as well as some food items that can irritate the urethra.

If you are saying “ureth- what?” you are not alone. Both people with male and female anatomy have a urethra. The urethra, or the “pee hole” as it is colloquially known, the passageway from the bladder to the outside of the body. In people with male anatomy, the urethra also transports ejaculate out during ejaculation. Nifty. For people with penises, your urethra is longer than those of us with female anatomy, which is somewhat protective against urinary tract infections(UTIs), you lucky duck, you.

Pain and stinging in your urethra could indicate a lot of things. Things that you definitely don’t want to wait on treating include; sexually transmitted infection (i.e herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhea), bladder infection, which untreated can progress to kidney infection, reaction to personal care products, prostatitis, and pelvic floor dysfunction, which can cause non- bacterial prostatitis), amongst other conditions.

The thought of potentially having an STI can keep people away from the doctor secondary to embarrassment, cost barriers, etc. According to an up to date article cited in the sources, more than half of the United States population who is eligible for screening fails to do so. Don’t let it be you. The complications of untreated STIs can be much worse than the initial infection, not to mention the risk of harming your future partners. Also know that STI’s are fairly common and having one does not make you a “dirty” or “bad” person. It’s so common! Nearly 1 in 2 people will acquire an STI in their lifetime, so if you do have one, you aren’t alone and you deserve to feel better.

So what happens if you’ve ruled out STI, bladder infection, prostate infection, and reactions to personal care products? What in the actual heck could be causing your urethral discomfort? At this point it is important to look at your pelvic floor and your diet.

Let’s talk about diet first. There are some substances that can irritate the bladder and urethra, and give the feeling of burning in the urethra as well as increased urinary frequency and urgency. I write about bladder irritants in my recent blog and you can check out a list of bladder irritants here. (INSERT BOTH BLOG AND bladder irritant list). But if you are too busy to read the whole blog, the long and short of it is, not every irritant on this list will bother your symptoms. Be mindful when eating foods with these irritants. If your symptoms flare 2-3 hours following eating an irritant, consider eliminating it from your diet and see how you do. The most common irritants we see at BBPT are caffeine, citrus, alcohol and spicy food.

Now let’s talk about urethral burning and its relationship to the pelvic floor, shall we? The pelvic floor is the area of muscles that live between the pubic bone in front and the tailbone in back. Like an onion, the pelvic floor has layers: three to be precise. The outermost layer contains a muscle called the bulbospongiosus (bulbo), along with its buddy the ischiocavernosus, and the superficial transverse perineum. The bulbo surrounds the urethra and is at the base of the penis. If it is tight, it can make it harder to pee and also cause urethral burning with urination and ejaculation. In addition, the layer below: the urogenital diaphragm and the layer below that, which consist of a whole bunch of muscles called the levator ani, can contribute to these symptoms as well. In fact, dysfunction in these muscles causes almost 95% of non bacterial prostatitis cases. Wowzah, no? I discuss prostatitis in much more detail in this blog (INSERT). How can you tell if your muscles are tight? The best way to tell is getting yourself to a skilled pelvic floor physical therapist, who can accurately diagnose issues with the pelvic floor as well as provide you with a plan to start feeling better.

Sources:

American Sexual Health Association. Statistics. http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/ [ Accessed January 14, 2020]

Ghanem K, Tuddenham S. Screening for sexually transmitted infections. Up to Date. October 11, 2019

Mayo Clinic. Painful urination (dysuria). https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/painful-urination/basics/causes/sym-20050772. [Accessed January 14, 2020]

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

Prostatitis What it is and What to do About it

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Fiona McMahon DPT

Introduction

Prostatitis is a common diagnosis we see at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy. If I have a new evaluation on my schedule, who is male and between the ages of 18-40, we can place a pretty good bet that they are coming to see me for issues pertaining to non-bacterial prostatitis. It is estimated that 35-50% of men are reported to have prostatitis symptoms  in their lifetime (Rees). Prostatitis can be classified into different types based on their causes and response to treatment. Prostatitis is a vexing condition for many patients. In cases of non-bacterial prostatitis, which makes up 95% of all prostatitis, it’s often very difficult to determine what brought it on, and often times our patients have been bouncing from practitioner to practitioner trying to find answers and effective treatment. Let’s dive into the causes, symptoms, and treatment in order to help shed light on this condition.

 

Prostatitis Symptoms,

Although there are different types of prostatitis, the symptoms of prostatitis are mostly the same between types. That isn’t to suggest that every man with prostatitis experiences the same symptoms, quite on the contrary. Men with prostatitis may experience almost all of the symptoms listed below or they may only notice one or two. This melange of symptom possibilities can add to the confusion of having prostatitis and getting down to an effective cure.

 

Symptoms:

  • The sensation of having a golf ball stuck in the rectum
  • Hesitant urinary stream (having trouble getting the urine to start flowing)
  • Post void dribble (spotting of urine on underwear following voiding)
  • Pain that radiates into the abdomen (this is one of the differences from symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia)
  • Erectile dysfunction and decreased libido
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Genital pain: penile, testicular, groin and perineal pain

 

Types of prostatitis:

Here’s where it gets a little more complicated. There isn’t one type of prostatitis. There are four. Each type of prostatitis is a little different in terms of etiology (how it developed) and how it’s treated.

Type 1: Acute bacterial prostatitis

This type of prostatitis is caused by an infection by a microbe. It is relatively rare. In addition to the symptoms above, a person with this type of prostatitis will feel the symptoms of an ongoing infection, including pain in the body, fever, and chills. This type of prostatitis generally response well to antibiotic treatment.

Type 2: Chronic bacterial prostatitis

Chronic bacterial prostatitis can occur after multiple infection or when there is an ongoing low grade infection. The symptoms, particularly those of infection are dampened in this form of prostatitis than those of type 1. Type 2 is often more tricky to treat and may require multiple courses of antibiotics

Type 3: Chronic Prostatitis/ Chronic pelvic pain syndrome (the most common making up 90-95% of all prostatitis and WHAT WE TREAT!)

This type of prostatitis occurs with no evident infectious cause and makes up the majority of cases. This is the classification that is one of the more frustrating for patients to deal with because the causal agent is much harder to ascertain; however the majority have musculoskeletal dysfunction, which we now know can be treated effectively through expert pelvic floor physical therapy.  Type III prostatitis can be further categorized based on the presence or absence of white blood cells in the urine or prostatic fluid, inflammatory and noninflammatory respectively.

Type 4: Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis

As the name implies, this type of prostatitis is usually not noticed unless semen or urine analysis is being performed to diagnose another condition. Typically this type is left untreated.

 

Causes

Here’s one of the universal questions that patients with prostatitis have: “why do I have this?”  Sometimes patients may find themselves blaming their prostatitis on something they have done in the past, like masturbating or poor hygiene habits as children. The fact is, prostatitis can occur for a multitude of reasons, and it’s usually something one has no control over like a fall on the bottom or an infection. It’s unfortunately something that happens, and as noted in the introduction of this blog, it is quite common. Here are some possible causes:

 

  • In chronic nonbacterial prostatitis/ chronic pelvic pain syndrome 90-95% of cases- no definitive cause ( or very difficult to ascertain); however pelvic floor dysfunction is a prevalent contributor.  
  • Bacterial infection, which can have good results with antibiotics
  • Chronic bacterial prostatitis, recurrent infection
  • Inflammation to the pelvic area
  • Central and peripheral sensitization- meaning a past injury in the area caused your pelvic nerves to perceive non painful stimuli as painful
  • Trigger points (irritable points of muscle) in the pelvic floor and abdomen

 

Treatment

Treatment is evolving in prostatitis. Increasing evidence supports a multimodal approach to treating prostatitis and its symptoms, meaning that not only is medical intervention used, but psychological, nutritional, and physical therapy.

From a medical perspective the first line of treatment for prostatitis is the “3 A’s”, antibiotics (especially the quinolone class), anti-inflammatories, and alpha blockers. Antibiotics obviously clear up any infection that might be causing your symptoms, anti-inflammatories to bring down the pain and discomfort, and alpha blockers to improve urine flow. Sometimes this is just what the doctor ordered (literally), especially in individuals with type 1 prostatitis and they are on their way with no further treatment needed. Since the vast majority of people with chronic prostatitis fall outside of the type one category and into more difficult to treat types, their recovery may require a more involved intervention to effectively treat their symptoms and the 3 A’s may not be the answer, or the complete answer for these patients.

 

Physical Therapy: Anderson and his colleagues described the relationship between the presence of myofascial trigger points and symptomatic prostatitis. They also showed that physical therapy intervention, including manual release of these trigger points was effective in reducing symptoms of prostatitis. The benefit of physical therapy was shown again to be more effective than placebo in a 2011 paper by Nickel. In addition to treating the trigger points themselves, PT’s work to determine what lead up to the formation of the trigger points in the first place, whether that be poor habitual posture, poor strength, or tight muscles in other parts of the body. They also teach patients how to avoid clenching their pelvic floor to prevent exacerbating symptoms.  This type of therapeutic approach was found to be effective in reducing pain in 72% of participants in a study conducted by Anderson and colleagues in 2005. The therapists at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy work to go beyond simple treatment of the trigger points themselves.  We develop plans and treatments to prevent their recurrence in the future.   Some other effective physical therapy techniques that we use include but are not limited to, joint mobilization to assist proper structural alignment, therapeutic exercise, postural and neuromuscular re-education and a detailed and individualized home exercise program.

 

Dietary Modifications:

Avoiding irritants to the bladder and gastrointestinal system is another simple and effective place to start. In some men, avoiding spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine can work wonders in making symptoms more manageable.   

 

Phytotherapy:

Preliminary data shows that there is evidence to support the use of saw palmetto, quercetin and bee pollen extract in reducing the pain of prostatitis. If supplementation interests you, consult with your general practitioner or urologist.

 

Stress Reduction

As clinicians who have seen a lot of cases of prostatitis, high stress is a contributor that we see with the vast majority of our patients. Studies have shown that high levels of stress are correlated with higher pain and disability scores in individuals with prostatitis. Stress can also perpetuate unhealthy holding or clenching in the pelvic floor, which causes or contributes to trigger points discussed earlier in this section. Stress reduction is a key component to expediting your recovery and is something we recommend to nearly all of our patients.

 

Final Thoughts

  • Prostatitis is a common and aggravating condition to be living with, and the fact is, every case of prostatitis is different. You may fall into the category were a course of antibiotics does the trick or you may fall into the category where you require physical therapy alongside medical intervention which can be much more slow going. Regardless of where you fall, be patient, there usually is a lot that can be done to help the more complex cases of prostatitis clear up. If you are suffering with this condition, make an appointment with an expert pelvic floor physical therapist today. There is so much we can do.

 

Sources

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

Duclos A, Lee C, Shoskes D. Current treatment options in the management of chronic prostatitis. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2007; 3(4):507-12

 

Rees J, Abrahams M, Doble A et al. Diagnosis and treatment of chronic bacterial prostatitis and chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome: a consensus guideline. BJU Int. 2015; 116(4):509-25

 

Nickel J. Prostatitis. Can Urol Assoc J. 2011; 5(5): 306-15

Pilates with Kiertsin! The Saw

Kierstin Elliott, Pilates Rehab Specialist

Exercise: Saw

Set Up: Seated with legs extended mat distance apart and arms extended out to the side.

Execution: Inhale to prep, exhale to rotate torso right as you flex forward (nose toward knee) reaching your left hand toward the outside of the right foot. Reach the pinky finger to the pinky toe a little further 3 times (creating a saw like action) before rolling up through the spine. Inhale as you pass through center and rotate left as you repeat the same actions on the left side. Complete 3 rounds.

Focus: Focus on anchoring the opposite hip to the mat while reaching toward the foot. Be sure to keep a flexed spine versus an extended spine while folding forward over the leg. Lastly, keep shoulders out of the ears (IE. Relax your shoulders) while reaching toward foot.

Importance: Spinal rotation and hamstring length! It’s so easy to track improvement with this one 🙂

Modifications: For extra tight hamstrings or hip flexors, sit on a bolster or a couple yoga blocks to elevate the pelvis.

Pilates with Kierstin! Thoracic Mobility

Kierstin Elliott

Exercise: Thoracic Mobility

Set Up: Set up your foam roller vertically (so it runs up and down your spine). Sit on a mat with the end of the foam roller placed right between the bottom tips of your shoulder blades. Lean back into the roller with arms stretched back so hands are gently placed on either side of roller. Place feet flat on the mat, parallel.

Execution: Inhale to prep, exhale to lift hips off the mat, finding extension through the psoas. Inhale to lower hips down. After about 3-5 hip lifts, reposition the roller a couple inches further up the back, mid shoulder blades. Repeat hip lifts. Pause here with hips on the mat and take a few lateral bends right and left, allowing the roller to become an extension of your spine. After about 4-6 reps on each side, reposition the roller one more time towards the top of your thoracic spine (upper shoulder blades), being careful not to place it on the neck. Repeat the hip lifts.

Focus: Focus on stabilizing your pelvis during lateral flexion and connecting to breath during the hip lifts.

Importance: Mobilizing the thoracic spine! This alone comes with so many benefits: deeper, expansive breath, more accessible spinal rotation, mobile shoulders, greater spinal extension and flexion, better connection to core, etc.

Modifications: Place a small pillow or towel roll under head if neck support is needed. Take a few moments after the lateral flexion for some snow angels to stretch the pecs and open the chest.

How to Start an Exercise Routine When You Have Pelvic Floor Issues

woman running with white backgorund
Photo by Tim Savage on Pexels.com

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

New Year New You! It’s all well and good, but if you are dealing with pelvic pain or dysfunction this can be an especially tough time of year when you want to get fit, but the gym can feel like it is off limits. Do you have to stay on the sidelines until you get better? Or is there a way to integrate a workout routine into your recovery from pelvic dysfunction?

The first thing I would suggest is to get a good pelvic floor physical therapist. Before we become pelvic floor physical therapists, we receive broad based education in sports physical therapy. What that means, is we have the ability to think about and treat the pelvic floor as it relates to sports and exercise. We also can take a close look at the health of the pelvic floor and assess if there are any exercises you probably shouldn’t be doing right now. If you do try something and you symptoms flare, it is an excellent opportunity for you and your physical therapist to determine why and help correct the issue so it doesn’t happen again.

The tricky thing with writing this blog, is there are no hard and fast rules, no “don’t do that” or yes “definitely do this” in terms of exercise. The literature out there is really varied. There are many studies that sing the benefits of exercise for the pelvic floor, while others caution against it. Before we get into some exercise guidelines, let’s look at what the data say.

The Research

I read a few studies about the impact of exercise on the pelvic floor and thought the data are mixed, I did come away with some important takeaways. The first of these takeaways is that pelvic floor dysfunction is exceedingly common with a prevalence of 1 in 4, which most of us in the field would feel is on the low side, given how personal the subject is and that many people may not want to talk about it. Because pelvic floor dysfunction is so common, it is something all fitness professionals should at least think about when recommending exercise programs.

The next consideration that honestly I did not need to read a study for, nor do you need to read to in this blog to learn is that exercise is overwhelmingly good for you! Exercise can improve health in a multitude of different ways from heart health, bone health, even mental health. There are huge potential benefits to be gained from starting an exercise program.

What was unclear are the risks. One hypothesis is that exercise can strengthen the pelvic floor and leave it nice and healthy well into your old age. The next hypothesis is that exercise can increase the burden on the pelvic floor which may be rough on the pelvic floor. SO WHAT DO I DO?!

Freak out. No don’t do that. Let’s just put on our critical thinking hat and dissect the second hypothesis a bit more, shall we? “Exercise may increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which may be harmful to the pelvic floor.” Okay so what does that mean? There are certain but not all exercises that increase the pressure from your abdomen down on your pelvic floor. A good example is a person in the upper echelons of powerlifting holding their breath to make their core stiffer to lift up a massive weight. Can you imagine the grunt? That breath holding serves a purpose to allow the weightlifter to crush her competitors and put up the most weight, but also creates a heck of a lot of downward pressure on the pelvic floor (increased IAP). We also see increases in IAP in sports that involve jumping, think running (which is essentially a hop from one foot to the next), basketball, or trampoline training. These increases in IAP may actually worsen pre-existing pelvic conditions for a number of reasons. If you are already suffering from prolapse the pressure coming down on your pelvic organs may worsen it. If your pelvic floor is weak from being either too tight or too loose, you will likely experience as loss of urine with your workout. It may worsen pelvic floor tightness and make pain worse.

Total bummer right? Seems like it, but all is not lost. Not all exercises dramatically increase IAP and they are really lovely places to start when returning to fitness. One study found that the mean IAP increase with Pilates exercises was less than that of getting up out of a chair (seems like a safe activity to do!) I would suggest going to a 1 on 1 session (Pilates Rehab, ideally), a few times before jumping into a group class so you can explore how your body likes to work with Pilates. We offer Pilates at Beyond Basics with special focus on pelvic floor patients. Other exercises that are pretty gentle are the elliptical machine, walking (especially on a slight incline if you want to get your sweat on), and swimming.

I can hear some of you yawning in the back. For the high intensity people who do like running and crushing weights at the gym, I hear you! There are ways in physical therapy where we can train your body to both absorb more of the ground impact force and thus decrease IAP as well as improve your pelvic floor’s response to increased IAP. A good pelvic floor physical therapist can help you develop better pelvic floor mobility, length and strength to deal with IAP appropriately, as well as strengthening other muscles in your body to share more of the burden. This ultimately results in a decrease in load on your pelvic floor. The caveat being is sometimes you do have to be patient and work on some of the fundamentals before you can really let it rip with more intense exercise. But as a previously injured athlete, I can assure you the wait is worth it.

 

Start Slow

When adopting a new exercise it can be really easy to go all in. But I highly advise you to go slow. This allows for a few things. One for your body to get used to the increased activity, and two for you to develop a sustainable routine. I would strongly encourage those of you with pain and dysfunction in your pelvic floor to consult with your local pelvic floor PT to help guide you to safely returning to exercise.

Stretch

Don’t skip it! I am so guilty of this and have paid the price more than once. Stretching after a workout is so helpful. Amy, the founder of BBPT has some excellent stretches in her book, Heal Pelvic Pain.

Last Thoughts

There is a way to make exercise work for you if you are suffering with pain or dysfunction. Reach out to your PT to help guide you and have fun out there.

Sources:

Dias N, Peng Y, Khavari R. Pelvic floor dynamics during high-impact athletic activities: a computational modeling study. Clin Biomech. 2017;41: 20-27

Gephart L, Doersch K, Reyes M, et al. Intraabdominal pressure in women during Crossfit exercises and the effect of age and parity. Baylor University Medical Proceedings. 2018; 31(3) 289-93

Karmakar D, Dwyer P. High Impact exercise may cause pelvic floor dysfunction FOR: Scale, strengthen, protect. BJOG Debate.

Kruger J. Against: is high-impact exercise really bad for your pelvic floor. BJOG Debate.

What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

marigold-2117436_960_720By Amy Stein, DPT and Fiona McMahon, DPT

As physical therapists who specialize in abdomino-pelvic pain disorders, one of the toughest parts of the job is meeting men and women who have suffered with pelvic pain for years, only to be told by their doctors/healthcare providers that there is no help for them. It is not uncommon to meet a patient who has suffered for 5- 10 years without help before finding us. Musculoskeletal causes of abdomino-pelvic pain are treatable conditions and often times we can start to improve a patient’s symptoms within just a few visits. Please read on to see how we can help you with your pain.

What do pelvic floor physical therapists actually do? Why do they do what they do? What can you expect from your first physical therapy visit?

Physical therapists (PTs) are experts in movement and function, which sounds like a pretty broad topic to be an expert in, and it is. After physical therapists graduate PT school (now-a-days at the doctoral level), they find their niche and specialize. You can find PTs working with high-level athletes, children, infants, people who are recovering from injuries, people with neurological conditions, and many other types of clients.

Pelvic floor physical therapists specialize in the muscles, nerves and connective tissues that live between your legs, also known as the pelvic floor. They gain their expertise through a series of post-graduate continuing education classes, certifications, and training. Their training allows them to perform both internal and external pelvic exams, and broadens their knowledge of conditions which affect the pelvic floor. Sometimes, people who specialize in modalities like biofeedback or dilator therapy, advertise themselves as pelvic floor therapists, but don’t have any hands on experience treating the sensitive and often reactive muscles of the pelvic floor. If you are seeking pelvic floor physical therapy, it is important to inquire about the experience and level of training your potential physical therapist has had in this specialty.

What is the pelvic floor and what is pelvic floor dysfunction?

Who needs pelvic floor PT? The pelvis performs many important functions of the body. The muscles, nerves, connective tissues and skeletal structures of the pelvic floor help to keep us continent, aid in sexual performance and function, and assist in core stability.

When some or all of these structures of the pelvic floor are not functioning properly, they can cause a multitude of different symptoms. People who are suffering from bowel, bladder, and or sexual problems, as well as those who are suffering from pain in the pelvis, upper legs, abdomen or buttocks most likely have pelvic floor impairments contributing to their pain.

Issues with the pelvic floor can arise from a multitude of reasons. Infections, previous surgeries, childbirth, postural and lifting problems, and trips and falls can all bring on pelvic floor dysfunction. Pelvic floor pain can persist well after the cause of it has been removed. So it is entirely possible to feel the effects of an old infection, surgery or injury, days to years after it occurred. Anyone who has had long standing abdomino-pelvic pain, or pain that they can’t seem to get rid of after seeking the help of medical doctors or other healthcare providers is a good candidate for a pelvic floor physical therapy evaluation and possible curative treatment.

What is Pelvic Floor Physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a practice of healing that restores function and reduces pain through the use of techniques to improve bony alignment, reduce trigger points, and improve muscle coordination and strength. Pelvic floor physical therapy is a branch of physical therapy and is built upon these same principles.

What sets pelvic floor physical therapists apart is their in depth understanding of the muscles and surrounding structures of the pelvic floor, beyond what was taught in physical therapy graduate school. What that means for a patient who is seeking the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist, is that his or her pelvic floor issues will be examined and treated comprehensively with both internal and external treatment, they will be provided  with lifestyle modifications to help remove any triggers, and receive specific exercises and treatment to help prevent the reoccurrence of pain once he or she has been successfully treated.

What exactly do Pelvic Floor Physical Therapists Do?

The elephant in the room with pelvic floor physical therapy is the internal exam/ treatment. It can seem a little daunting, especially if you have pelvic floor pain, but pelvic floor therapists are trained to be as thorough as possible while minimizing discomfort.

During the internal exam, your physical therapist will place a gloved finger into your vagina or rectum to assess the tone, strength, and irritability of your pelvic floor muscles and tissues. Internal exams and internal treatment are invaluable tools that are taught to pelvic floor physical therapists. It can tell us if there are trigger points (painful spots, with a referral pattern or local); muscle/tissue shortening; nerve irritation and/or bony malalignment that could be causing your pain directly or inhibiting the full function of your pelvic floor muscles. We can also determine if your pelvic floor has good coordination during the exam. A pelvic floor without good coordination, may not open and close appropriately for activities such as going to the bathroom, supporting our pelvis and trunk, sexual activity, and keeping us continent.

It is essential that we, as pelvic floor physical therapists, also include other assessments when we are examining our patients for the very first time. We employ the tried and true physical therapy exam practices to determine if there is an underlying condition elsewhere in your body, such as a strength deficit or alignment issue that could be affecting your pelvic floor. It’s wild to think of it, but something as seemingly unrelated as a flat foot or a hip injury can be enough to set off pelvic and abdominal pain!

Some pelvic floor physical therapists may have the opportunity of getting a lot of time to speak one-on-one with a patient to determine possible causes of his or her symptoms, educate the patient and to guide them to other practitioners who may optimize their physical therapy results if necessary. We truly can find out so much by just listening to what our patients have to say. A fall, or infection can be significant as well as a patient’s feelings and knowledge about their current condition.

Once we determine the cause of our patient’s pelvic floor dysfunction, we design a plan tailored to the patient’s needs. At Beyond Basics, we have a diverse crew of physical therapists who bring their own training and background into each treatment. What is really beautiful about that, is that all teach and help each other grow as practitioners. It will be difficult to go over every single type of treatment in one blog post, but we will review some of the main staples of pelvic floor rehab.

Manual Techniques

As physical therapists, are our hands are amazing gifts and phenomenal diagnostic tools that we can use to assess restrictions, tender points, swelling, muscle guarding, atrophy, nerve irritation and skeletal malalignment. We also use our hands to treat out these problems, provide feedback to the muscles, and facilitate the activation of certain muscle groups. There have been a great number of manual techniques that have evolved over the course of physical therapy’s history. Let’s go over a few.

Myofascial Release

Myofascial release was developed by John Barnes to evaluate and treat the myo-fascia throughout the body. The myofascial system is the connective tissue that coats our muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and bones, and runs throughout our bodies. Any tightness or dysfunction in the myofascial system can affect the aforementioned structures and result in pain and or movement dysfunction. By treating the fascia directly, therapists can improve their patient’s range of motion, reduce pain, and improve a patient’s structure and movement patterns.

Myofascial release is a more gentle technique that can be useful in cases where a patient is already experiencing a great deal of pain. The therapist will hold gentle pressure at the barrier of the tissue (the point where resistance is felt) for a short period of time, usually less than 2 minutes until the therapist feels the tissue release on its own. The therapist does not force the barrier.

Scar Tissue Manipulation

Scars are almost always a fact of life. From surgeries, to accidents, to conditions like endometriosis, or certain STI’s, almost everybody has one. What doesn’t have to be a fact of life are the muscle, nerve and skin restrictions and overactivity that they can cause. By releasing scar tissue in physical therapy, it has been shown that the surrounding restrictions also decrease their resistance and adherence to the deeper tissues and surrounding organs.

Myofascial Trigger Point Release

Discussed extensively in Travel and Simon’s two volume series, trigger points are taut (firm) points in the muscle that have a consistent referral pattern (they transmit pain to the another part of the body). Trigger points are not only important because they cause pain, they also can affect how the muscle works. This is one of the main reasons our therapists at Beyond Basics are fastidious about ensuring all trigger points are released in the abdomen, back, legs and pelvic floor before transitioning to any core stabiltiy or strengthening exercises that can re activate a trigger point.

People with trigger points in their pelvic floor and surrounding areas can experience pain in the rectum, anus, coccyx, sacrum, abdomen, groin and back and can cause bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction. When physical therapists find a trigger point they work to eliminate it and lengthen it through a myriad of techniques. Recent literature has found that trigger point release alone can achieve an 83% reduction in symptoms.

Connective Tissue Manipulation

Skin rolling, ie. rolling of the skin over another layer helps to improve the movement of those two layers and reduce the tension and pulling between them. It feels like a scratch or ‘nails’, and in cases where a patient has more restrictions, the sensation may be more amplified.

One of the great benefits to skin rolling is it increases the circulation in the area to which it was applied. Often times, areas that are tight or restricted are receiving reduced blood flow and oxygen. By bringing blood flow to the area, toxins can be cleared and the healing contents of the blood are brought to the injured area. Skin rolling can also restore the mobility of surrounding joints and nerves, which can help to restore normal function. By allowing the skin to move more freely, pelvic congestion, heaviness and aching can be effectively treated.

Neural, Visceral, and Joint Mobilization

Nerves, organs, and joints can lose their natural mobility over time and cause a whole host of symptoms from pain, to loss of range of motion, and poor functioning of the bodily symptoms. Skilled and specialized therapists can use a variety of active techniques (patient assisted) and passive techniques to free up restrictions in these tissues and organs and improve overall function.

Neural mobilization as the name implies, involves the restoration of neural structures back to their normal mobility: to glide and slide. Neural structures that cannot move properly can cause pain that can radiate down an extremity or into the trunk and can give the sensation of burning, zinging, and stabbing. Some orthopedic therapists practice this type of mobilization; common examples include the sciatic nerve in the leg and the ulnar nerve in the arm. Pelvic floor PTs focus on these nerves when they cause issues, but they also pay attention to nerves that innervate the perineum and genital region (bicycle seat area), such as the pudendal, iliohypogastric, obturator, ilioinguinal, genitofemoral and the femoral cutaneous nerves. By allowing these nerves to move freely, symptoms such as vulvovaginal, penile, rectal, clitoral and testicular pain, itching and burning can be greatly improved.

Visceral mobilization restores movement to the viscera or organs. As elucidated earlier in our blog, the viscera can affect a host of things even including how well the abdominal muscles reunite following pregnancy or any abdominal surgery. Visceral mobilization aids in relieving constipation/IBS symptoms, bladder symptoms, digestive issues like reflux, as well as sexual pain. Visceral mobilization can facilitate blood supply to aid in their function, allow organs to do their job by ensuring they have the mobility to move in the way they are required to perform their function, and to allow them to reside in the correct place in their body cavity. Evidence is beginning to emerge to demonstrate how visceral mobilization can even aid in fertility problems.

Joint mobilization is a common and favorite tool of most orthopedic physical therapists. We love it so much because it can have so many different benefits depending on the type of technique used. Maitland describes types of joint mobilization on a scale between 1 and 5. Grade 1 and 2 mobilizations are applied to a joint to help to lessen pain and spasm. These types of mobilizations are typically used when a patient is in a lot of pain and to help break the pain cycle. On a non-painful joint, grade 3, 4, and 5 (grade 5 requires post graduate training) mobilizations can be used to help restore full range of motion. By restoring full range of motion within a restricted joint, it is possible to lessen the burden on that and surrounding joints, thereby alleviating pain and improving function.

Neuro-education of the Pelvic Floor and Surrounding Structures

The muscles of the pelvic floor must work together and in coordination to perform specific tasks. The pelvic floor has to contract, elongate and relax in very precise ways to perform basic functions like urination, defecation, support the pelvis and organs, and sexual function and pleasure. If your pelvic floor muscles and/or nerves fail to do what they are supposed to do at the right time, problems like painful sex, erectile dysfunction, constipation, and incontinence can occur.

Biofeedback is a modality that allows you to learn how to better control your muscles for optimal function. Biofeedback shows you what your muscles are doing in-real time. It is helpful to teach patients to lengthen and relax the pelvic floor for issues like general pelvic pain, painful sexual activity and constipation or to contract the pelvic floor in order to prevent leakage with activities like coughing, laughing, lifting, running or moving heavy objects. However, biofeedback does not demonstrate shortened muscles and tissues; therefore, in certain cases the biofeedback may seem to be within normal limits but yet the patient has 10/10 pain. In these incidences, manual palpation is more appropriate to identify restricted and shortened tissues and muscles, and myofascial trigger points.

HEP: Home Exercise Program

 

Home exercise programs are essential for each patient. In the case of weakness, a patient will require more pelvic floor, core and functional strengthening and stability exercises. For overactive and pain conditions, the HEP typically consists of relaxation techniques, self-massages (both external and internal), gentle stretching, cardiovascular fitness as tolerated, and eventually pain-free core stability exercises. Both require postural and behavioral modifications and self-care strategies. For more information and detail, check out the book: Heal Pelvic Pain, by Amy Stein or her DVD: Healing Pelvic and Abdominal Pain here.

Conclusion

As you can now see, there is so much out there that can be done for people suffering with pelvic floor dysfunction. This blog is by no means extensive, and there are even more options you and your physical therapist can explore to help manage your pain or other pelvic issues. Pelvic floor dysfunction requires a multidisciplinary approach for most of our patients. Hopefully, this blog helped to paint a picture of what you will experience with a pelvic floor physical therapist. We advise that you seek out an expert and experienced pelvic floor physical therapist in order to help better your life and improve your function.

Sources

FitzGerald M, Kotarinos R. Rehabilitation of the short pelvic floor I. Background and patient evaluation.

Padoa A, Rosenbaum T. The Overactive Pelvic Floor. Springer. 2016

Simons DG, Travell JG, Simons LS. Travell and Simons’ Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Volume 1 Upper Half of Body. 2nd ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins; 1999.

Stein, Amy. Heal Pelvic Pain. McGraw-Hill. 2008

Stein, Amy. Healing Pelvic and Abdominal Pain. Video: www.healingpelvicandabdominalpain.com 2013

Travell, Janet G. and Simons, David G., MYOFASCIAL PAIN AND DYSFUNCTION. THE TRIGGER POINT MANUAL, Volume 2, The Lower Extremities, Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, 1992.

Valovska A. Pelvic Pain Management. Oxford University Press. 2016

Weiss J. Chronic pelvic pain and myofascial trigger points: manual therapy for interstitial cystitis and the urgency-frequency syndrome. J Urol. 2001; 166(6) 2226-31

Pilates with Kierstin! Kneeling Side Leg Series with Stability Ball

Kierstin Elliott, Pilates Rehab Specialist

Exercise: Kneeling Side Leg Series with Stability Ball

Set Up: Kneeling on mat, place right forearm on stability ball and extend left leg out parallel creating a long diagonal line from the head to your left foot. Extend left arm overhead, knit ribs together and engage glutes.

Execution:

  1. Inhale to prep, exhale to lift left leg and lower left arm toward each other and then return to starting position. Complete 8-10 reps and hold the leg up.
  2. Place left hand on hip. Inhale to sweep left leg forward and exhale to sweep leg back. Complete 8-10 reps and hold the last rep back.
  3. With leg extended back, roll ball slightly forward and place both hands on the ball. Square off hips and shoulders to the ball and engage lats. Lift and lower back leg about 8-10 times holding the lift on the last rep.
  4. Exhale to bend both elbows pulling ball towards chest and then pressing ball away from chest. Complete 8-10 reps.

Focus: Stability! It’s imperative to keep the core, glutes, and lats engaged throughout the entire exercise in order to focus on moving the correct body part at hand while stabilizing everything else. Connect movement to breath. Exhale on the hard parts! It will help you through 🙂

Importance: Stability, strength, and coordination. There is a lot going on in this exercise. The challenge is to not only perform the exercise with correct alignment, but to make the transitions as seamless as possible.

Modifications: To add greater challenge, add an ankle weight to moving leg. To simplify, take the ball away and place your hand on the floor for steps 1 and 2. If you have wrist or shoulder sensitivities, lie on the floor and proceed with Side Lying Series.

How to Stay Whole During the Holdiays

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Fiona McMahon PT DPT (She, her, hers)

It feels like it started early this year, didn’t it? The day after Halloween the Bryant Park Christmas fair was up and running. Little wreaths and twinkly lights adorn the downtowns of the tri-state area. Yesterday, (I am sitting down to write this blog on November 11th) I saw an adorable little boy absolutely losing his mind with joy over a Santa statue at my local drug store. It was excessively adorable. It’s a sweet time of year, filled with beauty and love, but it can also be a super stressful time of year filled with obligations, travel, shopping, expectations, and the bittersweet longing for those who cannot celebrate with us this year. In short, the holidays are loaded. There are elements of the holiday that will never not be stressful. It is stressful to fling yourself from event to event while trying to maintain some modicum of self-care, but in this blog, we will discuss practical tips to protect your holiday and better yet your peace of mind during this time of year.

Boundaries

Oh the B-word. Boundaries. Much like a fence, boundaries can be protective and can provide your friends and family with a clear set of expectations for how you want to be treated and what they can and cannot expect from you. Sounds a tad harsh, but what’s harsher is getting upset with your loved ones when they do things that they had no idea would bother you. Boundaries should be clear cut and judgement free. A good example, for most families is discussing politics. If political discussions, especially if your family’s views vary greatly from yours, are stressful, you may want to set up some boundaries around it. You may say, “ I would prefer not to discuss politics tonight at the holiday table, if we do discuss politics, I will excuse myself to the living room”. Excusing yourself to the living room is not meant to be punitive. You are not punishing your relatives for discussing politics, you are simply excusing yourself from a potentially divisive and argument starting topic that will upset you. You cannot control the actions of others, but you can control how you react to those actions, hopefully with kindness while keeping your boundaries intact.

Another way to set boundaries is setting boundaries with your time. For most of us with the crazy schedule of the holidays there are certain rituals that fall by the wayside. It’s okay to have some elements of your routine be non negotiable, like your 30 minute jog or morning meditation session, Holding onto the activities that bring you peace can best allow you to show up and be present for all of the holiday festivities.

Planning

You don’t have to do it all. Not every party requires your attendance, not every bake sale requires your dessert, and you can allow some things to slide. At the beginning of the season decide what is really important to you. Is the “coats for kids” fundraiser really meaningful? Put it up on your list, but could you let your work friend’s party slide? Cool, buy yourself some extra time. Look at your weeks and decide what is not only realistic, but healthy for you. Maybe if there are a few parties you want to go to, you could give yourself a day or two off from your workout routine and (here’s the important part) be kind to yourself about taking a break. You can say no. I believe holiday cheer to be a finite resource so save it up for what matters to you.

Diet

Loaded, loaded, loaded topic. But the holidays are where we can fall into some really unhealthy eating habits, which can make us feel really crappy. Try to mix in some healthy food with your holiday treats. I’ve quoted this Oscar Wilde quote (which I have misattributed to Mark Twain, full disclosure), “everything in moderation, including moderation.”, which I think is an excellent mantra to take into the holidays. Sometimes you gotta have a little fun and indulge, but being mindful of how much and how often, can help us to feel our best during the holidays. Make sure along with your cookies you are getting some vegetables and lean protein to keep your blood sugar stable. Limit alcohol to the best of your abilities as it can decrease the quality of your sleep, to avoid the trap of over caffeination and requiring a nightcap to sleep.

Self care

Leave time if you can for exercise and movement and time just for yourself. It allows you time to check in with yourself and see how you are doing as well as time to sit back and reflect/appreciate the holidays.

Self Kindness

The holidays and year’s end can be a time when we look back at our year and evaluate how far we have come. It can be easy to dwell on our shortcomings, and although they can provide important direction for our future goals, it is also a brilliant time to reflect on your achievements. You have successfully gotten yourself through another year, Heck! Another decade, where you have grown and learned valuable lessons, which makes you all that more deserving of some good ol’ holiday cheer.

Happy Holidays from the Beyond Basics Family.

hollerday!

 

 

BBPT Health Tip: How Not to Mess Up Your Back this Holiday Season

Fiona McMahon DPT

low angle photography of atlas statue
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Chances are doing some traveling over the coming months. The holidays are a time when we haul luggage through airports, Christmas trees and boxes of decorations through your house, or load massive turkeys into the oven. With all this lifting on the docket, I have a pretty good hunch you don’t want to start the new year with a heating pad and lying down in bed, so I am going to share with you, some of my favorite lifting tips.

Get close to what you are lifting:

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I mean really close. Maybe hug it if you can. The reason why we should get close to what we are lifting calls back to high school physics. The force on the spine equals the weight of the object being lifted by the distance it is away from the spine. Therefore, the farther an object is away from you, the harder it is on the spine to lift. My co-workers use the term “T-Rex arms” to describe how close they want their patients to be holding what they are lifting.

 

Squat

Don’t lift with your back. You have all heard it a million times, but if you bend forward with your back to pick up what you are lifting, you will end up placing a tremendous strain on the muscles and bones of your spine. Just don’t do it. Instead, bend with your knees to get to what you want to lift, and push through your legs to stand back up.

Don’t be a Hero

Ask for help if something seems too heavy to lift. In the long run, everyone will be better off. Knowing when to ask for help is sometimes the most challenging part of safe lifting practices.  If you feel you are asking for more help than you would like or you have back pain that is not resolving, come see us at Beyond Basics to help you get back into lifting shape.  The sooner, the better.  You don’t want it to become a chronic problem.  

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT practices at our Midtown location

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