BPPT Health Tip: Best Positioning Tips for Optimal Bowel Movements

By Sarah Paplanus, DPT, PT

Are you among the 4 million Americans who suffer from constipation? Or the 1 in 5 American adults with Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Do you occasionally experience the pain and itchy feeling associated with hemorrhoids? If so, the Squatty Potty or similar stool may be the perfect addition to your bathroom! Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with any of these conditions, it is important to note that straining or holding your breath to complete a bowel movement is never normal and is usually a sign of dysfunction. Colorectal medical conditions can vary in their cause, in their presentation and in their severity, but your pelvic floor muscles will always be affected.

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Anatomy!

 

Your colon carries waste out of your body, and where the colon meets your rectum is called your anorectal angle. This anorectal angle is an important factor in continence.

Your pelvic floor muscles work together to support the rectum, change the anorectal angle and control opening/closing. One of your pelvic floor muscles (the puborectalis) forms a sling around your rectum and works to maintain the anorectal angle. If that muscle is tight, it can essentially “choke” your rectum and contribute to straining.

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What does squatting do?

Squatting straightens the anorectal angle and helps to relax the puborectalis muscle, which helps to facilitate emptying. It also decreases the amount of pressure in the abdomen, which has been shown to decrease the time and effort needed for defecation. This all helps to reduce excessive pressure and strain on your pelvic floor muscles. In cultures where squatting is still prevalent for defecation, such as parts of Asia and Africa, it has been found that bowel movements tend to be more complete and that there is a decreased incidence of colorectal dysfunctions such as hemorrhoids, constipation and hernias.

Why is straining bad?

A principle of elementary mechanics states that “any system exposed to excessive pressures ultimately sustains injury”.These injuries can be in the form of a hemorrhoid, a hernia, a muscle strain or a chronic pelvic floor dysfunction. Straining also increases your risk of the Valsalva maneuver, which is exhaling against a closed airway. This causes a sudden increase in intra-abdominal pressure which can cause abrupt changes in blood pressure.

Toilet Posture

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Using a squatty potty, stool, or even two yoga blocks can help you assume a “squat” position. Lean forward and rest your elbows on your knees. Take deep breathes in, using your diaphragm. Place your hands on your belly and feel your breathe fill up your abdomen. Keep your mouth open and jaw relaxed!

Other Strategies to Improve Bowel Health

  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Proper nutrition (see our previous post on fiber!)
  • Make sure you are drinking enough water
  • Relaxation training, diaphragmatic breathing

 

What to do if you are still suffering?

If the above tips are not helping defecate regularly and comfortably, you may be suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction. Pelvic floor dysfunction can occur when the muscles of the pelvic floor become too tight, weak, or both to do their job properly. Physical Therapy can help! Visit us at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy to help better your BM’s.

BBPT Health Tip: HOT or COLD? That is the Question

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Fiona McMahon, DPT.

 

What’s better, heat or ice? This is a question that most medical/health type professionals get all the time. The answer is, it depends. Both have fabulous benefits for different sets of circumstances. Let’s explore these cheap, safe and effective pain relievers.

Heat

In the biz, ( no one calls physical therapy “the biz” yet, but if I try hard enough, it may stick) we call heat, thermotherapy. Fancy, right? Thermotherapy is great for pain that is a result of a trigger point, or muscle spasm. Think deep neck, back pain, or pelvic pain. It’s great for menstrual cramps and can  create a nice soothing effect.

For any active inflammation or infection however, heat can be harmful and can actually make it worse. You do not want to place heat over joints affected by autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also not good for new, fresh injuries, like a muscle strain or a injury from a fall. Heat is really good for chronic long standing pain conditions.

Heat comes in types, dry and moist. Dry is the kind that’s emitted from like an electric heating pad or a microwaved heating pad. Sometimes people may find that dry heat, dries out the skin. Moist heat comes from things like moist towels or moist heating pads (these are the kind we use in our clinic). Moist heat tends to penetrate deeper into the muscles.  

 

Safety Considerations for Heat:

  1. Don’t over heat. Sounds simple, but in the throes of severe pain, many people may find themselves with the more is better mantra.  It’s not.
  2. Don’t apply to open wounds, on individuals with peripheral vascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, or on people with reduced sensation or ability to remove the hot pack.

 

Cold

Physical therapists have a fancy name for this one too. It’s cryotherapy. Sounds super futuristic doesn’t it? Ice is awesome. It really is. It is great for acute (recent) injuries like a sprain or a strain. There are actually studies that show that ice within 36 hours of injury speeds recovery better than heat. Ice can reduce pain in the area it is applied, reduce guarding and spasm, and reduce swelling.

 

Safety Considerations for Cold:

  1. Never use on people with reduced sensation, ie. Raynauds, actively healing wounds, circulatory issues, or hypertension
  2. Less is more. Keep cold packs on for 20-30 minutes once every 2 hours on newly injured body parts. Keeping the ice pack on for longer can cause increased blood flow to the area which will reduce the helpful effects of the ice.

When in doubt as to if you should use cryotherapy or thermotherapy, consult with your physical therapist or healthcare provider.  At Beyond Basics we treat injuries beyond those to the pelvic floor and we can help with your injury questions. You can also find a physical therapist with the APTA’s PT finder tool

BBPT Health Tip: Seated Hamstring Stretch

Fiona McMahon DPT, PT

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Fenitra Fuchs, of BBPT shows the correct way to perform this stretch. Notice how she doesn’t curve her back forward in order to perform the stretch

Seated Hamstrings Stretch

Hello folks! Beyond Basics Physical Therapy’s latest health tip is the seated hamstrings stretch!

Why seated you ask? In selecting this stretch over other hamstrings stretches, I wanted to pick something that most everyone can be able to do. This stretch is particularly beneficial for those of you who have difficulty getting on and off the floor. Although if you do have difficulty getting off of the floor, it is important to go to physical therapy and get the training to do so, as being able to independently get up off the floor is imperative for maintaining independent function as you age.  Another point: if you have any sciatic pain or sitting pain, please seek a physical therapist before attempting this stretch.  

Muscles involved: Hamstrings, gastroc soleus complex ( your calf) and to some extent your sciatic nerve

Stretch Type: Static: Best if performed after workouts on warm muscles. Exercise caution if stretching cold muscle, because unwarned muscle doesn’t stretch as well as warmed up muscles.  

Caution: It is possible to overdo it. Stop the stretch or ease up if you feel tingling in your legs or pain in your low back.

As always: No stretch should ever be painful. If a stretch is painful, stop and consult your physical therapist for modifications.  

 

Directions:  Sitting in a sturdy chair, ( don’t do this on a rolly stool or office chair, please!). Straighten knee of leg to be stretched and point toes up. Lean forward at the hips until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your leg. Don’t round your back. Keep in mind, for those of us with tight hamstrings, you will feel the stretch without too much of a forward bend.  So take it slow!

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Fenitra demonstrates a straight knee and pointed toe while performing her stretch

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Fenitra demonstrates this stretch

BBPT Health Tip: Sleep Better

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Fiona McMahon DPT

Anyone who has had or knows someone with a newborn knows how much sleep or lack thereof, can affect your health, comfort, and emotional well being. Here at BBPT, we see first hand how nights or even just a night of poor sleep can affect our patients’ symptoms from aches and pains, to constipation, to any chronic or acute pain condition and many more. Disrupted sleep is often the first thing we try to tackle in physical therapy because it is so integral to our patients’ health and recovery. Let’s explore some easy tips here:

Cut the screen time: There’s multiple reasons to do this. Incoming messages and news can jar us out of the relaxation we need to fall asleep. It has also been shown that the light emitted from our electronic devices can affect our sleep hormones making it harder to go to sleep.

Keep your bedroom dark: Lights emitted from chargers, light from outside can keep you awake.

Limit caffeine and alcohol intake: Both affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep

Keep your room cool: Your body cools as you sleep. A room that is too hot may prevent this. Keep your room around 65 degrees

Manage your aches and pains: Pain keeps you up at night. If an orthopedic condition like a shoulder injury is keeping you up at night, visit a physical therapist who can not only treat your injury, but allow you to find a comfortable sleeping position while you heal.

Manage your anxiety: So many of us suffer with anxiety and there are many ways to deal with it. From meditation, to deep breathing (include hyperlink), to restorative yogaand meditation, to mental health therapy, there is something that can help. Take the time to find what works for you.

Sources

https://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/see.php. Accessed: November 30, 2016

How to Improve Bladder Health

Fiona McMahon, DPT

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

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

Bladder Anatomy/ Physiology

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

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

Sex differences:

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

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

Conditions of the Bladder

Gotta_Pee_Toilet_signsIncontinence

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

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

Incomplete voiding

Incomplete voiding is when the bladder does not fully empty.

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

Bladder Pain

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

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

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

Frequency:

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

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

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

How to Manage Bladder Issues:

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

water-life-cropDiet and fluid intake:

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

Posture

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

Bladder Training

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

Physical Therapy

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

BBPT Health Tip: Eat your Fiber

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Fiona McMahon, DPT, PT

What is fiber?

Fiber, it’s the hot ticket. It is being marketed to us like crazy. But why is fiber is so important? What fiber is best? Should you get more fiber with supplements? Let’s take a closer look into the benefits of fiber in this edition of BBPT’s Health tips.

Fiber is the part of food that we cannot digest. It is separated into two types, soluble and insoluble. Both bulk up the contents of your stomach and colon, which can help you feel more full but after that, the similarities end.

As the name implies, soluble fiber dissolves in water but insoluble does not. Insoluble fiber increases the mass of the stool and helps to get things moving, in terms of passing feces. Soluble fiber absorbs water. The truth is, most people are not getting enough fiber. Less than half of people in the United States consume the recommended amount of fiber. Let’s discuss the benefits of fiber and how to make sure you are getting enough.

So what if you don’t have issues going number 2? What else can fiber help you with?

Fiber has been shown to help with reducing the risk of the following conditions:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Fiber has also been shown to:

  • Improve insulin sensitivity in people who have diabetes
  • Enhance weight loss
  • Improve GI conditions like acid reflux, duodenal ulcers, diverticulitis, constipation, and hemorrhoids
  • Enhance the function of the immune system

How much to eat and where to get it?

Men under 50 years and under should consume at least 38 grams of fiber daily, Women under 50 should consume at least 25 grams of fiber daily. Women over 50 should eat at least 21 grams and men over 50 should get 30.  Those who suffer from constipation may add more to your diet.   We suggest contacting a nutritionist for proper amounts of soluble versus insoluble in these cases and anyone with a history of GI issues.  Also, please discuss with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.  

Adding  fiber to your diet when you are not used to it can sometimes be a little difficult. If you add too much too quickly, you may experience gas and bloating. Start slow and work your way up.  Also, drink plenty of water.

Start by adding in whole wheat items (unless you have a gluten sensitivity), legumes, fruits, and vegetables slowly to your diet. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s full list of fiber rich foods here .

Sources

Anderson J, Baird P, Davis R, et al. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev. 2009. 67(4)188-205

Family Doctor.org Decermber 2010: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/food-nutrition/nutrients/fiber-how-to-increase-the-amount-in-your-diet.printerview.all.html. Accessed November 11, 2016.

Medlineplus. Soluble vs. insoluble fiber.https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002136.htm. Accessed November 17,2016.  

BBPT Health Tip: Diaphragmatic Breathing

just-breathe-in-cloudsFiona McMahon DPT, PT

WE LOVE DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING! We do, we really do and we hope you will too. What is diaphragmatic breathing you ask? Diaphragmatic breathing is a form of deep breathing where you breath deeply into your stomach. As you breath in, you will actually see your belly extend and get bigger, and as you breath out, your belly will return to it’s old spot. It’s not like our typical breathing patterns where we breath from the chest; it is a much more deep and deliberate breath.

Why We love Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing accomplishes a lot in the body. First of all, it supplies the body with a large dose of oxygen, which is pretty obvious, but it is a much more robust breath than a simple chest breath.

Diaphragmatic breathing also works wonders on the tissues of both the abdomen and the pelvic floor. By taking a big diaphragmatic breath in, the diaphragm lowers and provides a gentle stretch to the tissues and organs of the belly as well as the pelvic floor. As you breath in you are actually providing a nice stretch to the pelvic floor.

Deep breaths can also calm down the nervous system and allow you to better relax. When you are more relaxed your body can attend to the day to day tasks such as digestion and healing. It really is amazing what some deep breaths can do.

How to breathe diaphragmatically

Start off by putting one hand on your chest, at about the area of your breastbone. Place the other hand on your stomach. You can do diaphragmatic breathing just about anywhere, so get in a position that is comfortable for you. Start by slowly breathing in. In order to tell if you are using your diaphragm, you should feel the hand on your stomach move more than the hand on your chest. As you breath in, bring your awareness to your ribs and feel them expand out to the side and back.  Finish by slowly breathing out. The out breather should be longer than the inhale. It is really that easy.

How does one actually use diaphragmatic breathing?

Really you can use it in anyway you need too. Some people find it tremendously helpful to do 10 diaphragmatic breaths every hour, while others employ deep breathing techniques in times of stress or pain. The important thing about diaphragmatic breathing, or any exercise for that matter is consistency. Try to at least get in 20 deep breaths a day.