Pelvic Pain Awareness Month Part 1: What is Pelvic Pain

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Mayis PelvicPainAwarenessmonth

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

I don’t need to write it out. You’ve already heard it. But I will write it anyway. These are uncertain times. This May, much like March and April, is shaping up to be a May that is very different than ones we’ve ever experienced before. That said, life still marches on. May is Pelvic Pain Awareness month and it seems appropriate to take some time to recognize those who are dealing with pelvic pain as well as spread awareness to what it is and how we can make it better… even in these uncertain times.

What is Pelvic Pain?

Pelvic pain can sound really simple, it’s pain in your pelvis, but let’s explore what that really means. The pelvis is a bowl shaped set of bones, the innominate (literally meaning no name), the sacrum, and the ischium, that connect your abdomen to your legs. Within this bowl lives your reproductive organs, your bladder, and rectum. Surrounding these bones and organs you have this nifty stuff called fascia. Fascia is the organ of shape and helps to both give structures within our body form as well as help them to slide and glide past each other. Like I said, nifty. Also within the pelvis we have muscles, nerves, and blood vessels! It gets really busy down there!

Because there is so much going on in the pelvis, pelvic pain can feel a lot of different ways depending on what structures are involved and even individual differences in how the body feels pain. Pelvic pain can have the feel of a dull ache, which you can feel in your pelvic bones, genitals, and or abdomen. It could also feel sharp and “stabby”, hot and burning, itching,and/or like a bunch of pressure. It can come and go or be a constant sensation. It can be what we call provoked, meaning certain triggers elicit it, or it could come and go seemingly without any obvious cause.

Pelvic pain can come in a lot of different varieties and it can affect everyone, regardless of gender or age. Many people who hear that I am a pelvic floor physical therapist, assume that I only treat postpartum women. The truth is postpartum women are not the only ones who can experience pelvic pain.

People with male anatomy can experience pelvic pain. They may feel burning with urination or climax, pain in the tip of the penis, in the testicles, or in their rectum. Sometimes this pain limits the ability of its sufferer to sit, wear tight clothing, or have pain free sexual experiences Often these symptoms get confused as a bladder, prostate or yeast infection. Although infections can certainly cause these symptoms, many times tight and spasmed muscles within the pelvis can be the culprit. We will discuss this further in part two of this blog.

People with female genitalia can experience many of the same symptoms listed above with obvious anatomical differences. Instead of the tip of the penis, a person with female anatomy may feel pain in their clitoris, or labia. They also may have pain with sexual penetration or arousal. Patients may also experience burning urination similar to the sensation of having a bladder infection. For people who menstruate, the cramps may be so debilitating that they are unable to work or go to school through the pain. All of these different presentations fall into the category of pelvic pain.

Children can also experience pelvic pain. Oftentimes this is caused because of prolonged constipation, but it can also be caused by muscle tightness, and gynecological conditions like endometriosis or lichens planus/ sclerosis.

People with pelvic pain, regardless of age or gender may also experience pain with voiding, either urine or feces, abdominal bloating, and or difficulty sitting.

What Causes Pelvic Pain?

So now that you know what pelvic pain is, what causes it? Many, many, many different things can cause pelvic pain. As we spoke about earlier in the blog, infections can cause pelvic pain. That is why it is important to get yourself in to see a doctor if you are experiencing this type of pain. She will be able to rule out or rule in infections or other medical causes for your pain. Often the problem causing your pain may be musculoskeletal. People with this cause of pelvic pain may not feel relief with traditional medical intervention. The muscles of your pelvis include the muscles of your abdominal wall, your bottom, and the muscles that live between your pubic bone in front and your tail bone in the back, also known as your pelvic floor. These muscles may be in spasm causing the types of pain I described earlier, (yes even the burning urination pain). It may also be that a muscle group in the pelvis itself or supporting the pelvis may be too weak to do its job properly. When this is the case, it is important to get yourself in to see a pelvic floor physical therapist, who can figure out exactly why your muscles are causing your pain.

Although pelvic pain can seem really bleak, there is a lot that can be done to treat it. It’s all about finding the right qualified professional to treat it. At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy we are the experts in pelvic pain and we treat patients from all over the world. We not only treat musculoskeletal causes of pelvic pain, but also work to connect our patients with other professionals who can help to holistically treat pelvic pain. If you have pelvic pain, please remember that there is hope for you.

Alright readers, that’s the basics on what pelvic pain is and what it looks like in different people. Next week we will go Beyond the Basics (see what I did there?) and discuss how to treat pelvic pain, especially pelvic pain caused by muscle dysfunction, in the clinic and even at home.

For more reading on pelvic floor dysfunction please check out these blogs as well as Amy’s books books on pelvic pain

Treatment

How to Deal with Pelvic Floor Pain From Home

What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

What is Myofascial Release and Why do We Always Talk About it So Much?!

For People with Female Anatomy

Endo Awareness Month: How Endo can Affect your Tummy

Endo Awareness Month: Understanding Endo

Endo Awareness Month ( Part 2 of 4) : How Endo can Affect your Bladder

When it Feels Impossible to Have Sex

For people with male anatomy

All About Testicles

What’s Neater Than Your Peter? Burning Urination

Prostatitis What it is and What to do About it

Bladder Health

Pelvic Floor MythBusters! Don’t eat lemon to avoid bladder pain, true or false?

How to Improve Bladder Health

Books By Dr. Amy Stein PT DPT

Heal Pelvic Pain : available here

Beating Endo: available here

The International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS) is a multidisciplinary group working to promote awareness and education of pelvic pain, if you care to donate, click here

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

PH101: Ladies Session

By: Fiona McMahon, DPT
Hey Ladies!!! In the next installment of our Pelvic Health 101 course, we are hosting a ladies’ session to allow for a safe and non-threatening place to discuss many issues that can affect the health of your pelvic floor. This class one of Stephanie Stamas’s (the founder of PH101’s ) favorites and is definitely not to be missed. Hear more about it in her video below! Join us at 7pm on October 30th . Please register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Flyer-jpeg

How Exercise Can Help Your Recovery From Breast Cancer

awareness cancer design pink
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Have you noticed it yet? Everything is pink. Pink cups, pink pens, pink stickers, pink ribbons, pink everything. The flood of pink that happens every October and reminds us it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you are someone you love has or has had breast cancer, chances are you don’t need any reminding. At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy we have spent a good deal of our blogs discussing the ins and outs of how PT can help with the symptoms following treatment for breast cancer. But what can you do right now to help your health? Emerging research is pointing to the profound importance of exercise on so many facets of well being for individuals with breast cancer. In this blog we will discuss some of the newest findings as well as practical ways to apply these findings in your own life. I hope you choose to read on and please share this with family and friends.

What the researchers are finding:

We know that to say breast cancer treatment can be hard is an understatement. The risk of symptoms like fatigue, sarcopenia (muscle loss), osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive impairments are all elevated in individuals who are undergoing or have undergone treatment for breast cancer. These symptoms can have a profound impact on quality of life, which breast cancer survivors should not have to accept. Luckily in researching this blog, I found so many studies examining how to improve the quality of life of people going through breast cancer treatment. As a physical therapist, the studies on activity naturally piqued my interest.

Three of the studies I looked at examined how structured and monitored physical activity helped out people undergoing breast cancer treatment and those who had already undergone it. The studies included workout programs consisting of cardio, resistance training, or a combination of both. The studies showed improvements in fatigue, depression, physical fitness, and quality of life immediately following the exercise program. In one of the studies that look at how long these effects lasted, the positive benefits were lost 36 weeks after completing the exercise program.

How to use these findings:

It’s probably not groundbreaking journalism on my part to tell you that exercise is good for you. But what I do find compelling is the amount that good exercise can do, even during treatment. So the question is how to make exercise work for you. First get your doctor’s clearance for exercise, because there may be some exercises to avoid, especially if you have had a mastectomy. Most of the studies I looked at examined structured and monitored programs run by a physical therapist or other healthcare professional, which I would highly recommend especially if you are not used to exercising. A skilled physical fitness professional, like a physical therapist or Pilates instructor can not only help you progress safely through different exercises, but they can also introduce you to fun exercises you may have never thought of. That said, the best exercise is the one you will actually do. Remember, the benefits of exercise will be lost if you aren’t consistent. Cancer treatment can often feel like a full time job and adding another appointment into the mix is often not very practical. The good news is that in the study by Gokal and colleagues, walking independently for 30 minutes 5 times a week reduced self reported cognitive failures in participants. So even if you can’t make it out to see someone, there still is a lot of good you can do for yourself on your own.

Practical tips:

  1. Start slow: be kind to you body and ease yourself back into exercise. “Chunking” or breaking exercise into smaller sessions is a great way to start
  2. Spark Joy: (Shout out to Marie Kondo) but exercise should not be something you dread the thought of. If yoga, or walking makes you wanna crawl under a rock and hide, it’s not for you and that’s okay. Approach exercise curiously and you will find one you love, or at the very least, don’t hate.
  3. Buddy up: in the spirit of sparking joy, having an exercise buddy will not only help you remain accountable, it will probably make the experience a heck of a lot more fun.
  4. Get help when you need it: If you are a brand new exerciser, are in pain, or just feel like your routine is getting stale, see a fitness professional. It’s a short term investment that will pay dividends in the future by making exercise more comfortable and fun.

Keep positive, keep moving and if you have any questions, give us a call!

Dieli- Conwright C, Courneya K, Demark-Wahnefried W, et al. Aerobic and resistance exercise improves physical fitness, bone health, and quality of life in overweight and obese breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial. Breast Cancer Research. 2018; 20 1:24

Gokal K, Munir F, Ahmed S, et al. Does walking protect against decline in cognitive function among breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy? Results from a small randomised controlled trial. PLOS ONE. 2018

Penttinen H, Utriainen M, Kellokumpu-Lehtinen P, et al. Effectiveness of a 12 – month Exercise Intervention on Physical Activity and Quality of Life of Breast Cancer Survivors; Five- year Results of the Brex- study. In Vivo. 2019. 33:881-888

Witlox L, Hiensch A, Velthuis M, et al. Four -year effects of exercise on fatigue and physical activity in patients with cancer. BMC Medicine. 2018; 16:86

Ph101 Men’s Only Seminar

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

On October 23rd at 7pm we will be hosting our  “Men’s Only Seminar”. Join us as we discuss how pelvic floor dysfunction affects the male pelvic floor. Learn how your sex life can be improved by pelvic floor treatment, how to regain function after prostatectomy, and how to rid yourself of the pain of prostatitis, and avoid antibiotics for the most common type of prostatitis. This seminar is not to be missed!

For more reading on male pelvic health topics, check out:

All About Testicles

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part II

Prostatitis What it is and What to do About it

Location:

110 East 42nd Street

Suite 1504

NY NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Flyer-jpeg

 

How to Improve Bladder Health

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Fiona McMahon, DPT

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

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

Bladder Anatomy/ Physiology

 

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

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

Sex differences:

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

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

Conditions of the Bladder

Incontinence

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

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

Incomplete voiding

Incomplete voiding is when the bladder does not fully empty.

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

Bladder Pain

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

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

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

Frequency:

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

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

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

How to Manage Bladder Issues:

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

Diet and fluid intake:

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

Posture

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

Bladder Training

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

Physical Therapy

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

The Special Care Needs of the LGBTQ+ Community

Happy Pride Month!!!!

We are reposting an old post broadly discussing the LGBTQ+ community, with special focus on transgender individuals. Please keep checking back as we continue to discuss specific issues relating to the care of the LGBTQ+ community.  

Amy Stein PT, DPT and Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

rainbow flag

Who are LGBTQ+ individuals?

At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we have been meeting and studying with experts about the LGBTQ + community. LGBTQ+ refers to individuals who do not identify as heterosexual or do not identify as cis- gendered (although these two categories are not mutually exclusive). Cis-gender means you identify with the genital anatomy you were born with. People who belong to the LGBTQ+ community can be cis-gendered (meaning they identify with the genital anatomy that they were born with) and be gay/lesbian/ bisexual/ questioning etc.  They can be trans-gender and heterosexual or some combination thereof. Basically LGBTQ+ is a term that includes people who are not both cis-gender and heterosexual. LGBTQ+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and other individuals.  

Never Assume. Listen, Ask.

We were excited to understand and learn more about how we can help, specifically with patients experiencing pain or weakness in the pelvic floor. We met with an LGBTQ + advocate and he recommended the following when it comes to treating patients both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community.  First rule of thumb:  with all patients, don’t assume and be open to any questions or discussion. Ask if your patient would like you to stay away from certain terms regarding their anatomy, as well as their preferred gender pronoun. Use language that they want us to use.

 As with all patients, we need to use a biopsychosocial approach. With any patient, Richard Green at Bellevue hospital says that we always want to know exactly what is going on with our patient. We must subjectively understand why they are visiting us.  Has there been trauma, surgery, complications, or anything that has worsened their symptoms? What hormones and medications are they on? Don’t single anyone out. These questions are important for every patient.  

We want to get the medical and surgical history during or prior to the visit. There is no standard one surgical procedure or hormonal protocol in trans care. Hormones, either testosterone, estrogen, lupron, puberty blocking, testosterone suppressing can be used in many patients, but are also used specifically to aid in transition in transgender patients. Many hormones have consequences or side effects and our patients need be educated on the various options.  There is research on hormones and bodily changes, however there is no good research on how the hormones affect the pelvic region. Anti-estrogen hormones may result in vaginal drying and atrophy, more tissue tearing, and pain with penetration.  Hormones can be administered via injection, pellets, patches, creams, gels, and pill form.  It’s important to realize side effects and risks of hormones for each patient. Dosage depends on body type, weight, previous surgeries, etc.  Hormone therapy can be given by a primary care provider or endocrinologist; however, many are not familiar with a specific protocol but at the same time each person may have different goals.  Progression of hormones can be monitored for each patient and according to patients wants and needs.  

For those who opt for surgical transition, it can result in pelvic pain and or weakness as organs are moved and or removed. Like we mentioned before, there is no one surgical protocol and it will vary from surgeon to surgeon, from changes in hormones from the removal of certain organs.  Knowing what tissues have been removed or moved and or where scar tissue could have been formed, is important to addressing a patient’s complaints. Also, it’s important to ask if the patient was having these symptoms or pain prior to any of the surgeries or hormonal medications. Surgical transition can take a long time with various surgeries and various symptoms that arise throughout. Some issues that  can occur are fistulas or fissures and when dealing with nerve implants there could be nerve damage and restrictions.

How is care for the LGBTQ+ community funded and regulated?

Medical coverage for the LGBTQ + community is non-regulated and different in each state. The Affordable Care Act, (ACA) covers some therapies and surgeries. You can try to appeal with each insurance which have their own policies on gender affirming care.

How can physical therapy help?

At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we specialize in abdomino-pelvic disorders, including pain, weakness, bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction.  We also specialize in orthopedics and functional manual therapy.  We treat the LGBTQ+ community and we welcome any questions at desk@beyondbasicspt.com or call 212-354-2622. We are happy to help and look forward to hearing from you!
Resources: Center of excellence for transgender health.

WPATH center for care Endocrine Society

  • speaks on hormone therapy (however some information may be out of date).

 Adolescent Health Center

What is Myofascial Release and Why do We Always Talk About it So Much?!

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Corey works on lower back 1

If you follow anything in the physical therapy world, you probably have heard about myofascial release, or MFR if your hip to our abbreviations. It has been a darling of the manual therapist’s tool kit for some time. But did you know their many different camps of physical therapy and these different camps prefer different tools? I love coming from a field that can produce multiple solutions to any given problem. I feel it maximizes every unique individuals’ chances of finding meaningful relief through treatment, but it’s definitely fair to say that MFR does have some detractors in the physical therapy field. In this blog, I will be discussing why MFR is a wonderful tool for treatment of pain conditions and functional issues. MFR doesn’t always get the love it deserves and it is my hope, that by the end of this blog you will understand how MFR is thought to work and why it can be so helpful.

What the heck is the myofascial system?

As the name would imply, the myofascial system is the combination of the muscular system (myo) and the fascial system (fascial). Most of us have a pretty good concept of the muscular system but the concept of fascia is slightly more elusive. Fascia is the covering and connection of just about everything in the body. It wraps around organs, nerves, and muscles and allows these parts to retain their shape and function well. The composition of fascia is fascinating, even if you aren’t a total nerd, like me. We may encounter fascia when removing that filmy substance from a chicken breast while preparing it. When you see that film it looks pretty simple, but on a microscopic level that “stuff” is actually teaming with diverse and different cells all doing different things. Within fascia we have adipocytes, (fat cell makers), fibroblasts, which make collagen and elastin…. AND ARE CONTRACTILE! Yes I put this in all caps because it is amazing and it can be easy to overlook when you are thinking about fascia. Fascia also has mast cells (which make histamine) and histocytes (are part of the immune system). It’s honestly a cell party inside that stuff. Keeping with the metaphor of cell party, the house those cells are chilling in is made up of collagen (which provides support), elastin (which provides strength and flexibility), and ground substance (which is the cushioning).

All this stuff together helps fascia to accomplish some pretty cool tasks. Like I said before, fascia covers everything in the body and helps it keep its form. It also allows organs and muscles to slide and glide over each other, which is obviously very important when we are thinking of muscles. But what’s most interesting, in my opinion, is that fascia acts as a sense organ. It is innervated with type III and IV sense receptors and responds to light touch. It can contract and when fascia is stimulated it has an effect on the autonomic nervous system (think flight or fight). You probably could guess that issues within the myofascial system could wreak havoc on the rest of the body.

What goes wrong with the myofascial system and why does it get messed up?

The concept of fascia and its dysfunction contributing to pain is not necessarily a new one. People were thinking about myofascial pain although they had different words for it as early as the late 1600’s with the first description of trigger points in 1816. Trigger points have been called many different things from “nodular tumors” in the 1800’s to “muskelshweile” meaning muscle calluses, which is my personal favorite.

So where do these “muscle calluses” and trigger points come from? The reasons are myriad. Fascia can become restricted with discrete injuries (what I term, “the Oh Poo moment”, where you know you have injured yourself) or they may build quietly over time due to poor posture and other types of repetitive strain or chronic muscle holding.

Fascial restrictions and trigger points can cause a whole host of symptoms. It should seem obvious that restrictions in the fascia of a certain area of the body will restrict the movement in in that area. But fascial restrictions can present in less obvious ways.

Fascial restrictions can affect organs and dysfunction in the organs can affect fascia. This is because of the somatovisceral reflex and viscerosomatic reflex respectively. We see a lot of organ and myofascial interplay at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy. We commonly see increased trigger points in parts of the body that are innervated by similar nerve root fibers off of the spinal cord. Specifically, we may see someone who has endometriosis adhesions on their rectum experience pain and trigger points in their pelvic floor. Additionally trigger points in the pelvic floor can refer to other parts of the body and present as pain in the bladder or rectum, and other places.

Restrictions and trigger points in the fascia are linked to a whole host of symptoms. Treating the body at the level of the fascia is often very helpful at easing or resolving these symptoms. Below is a non exhaustive list of symptoms and conditions related to myofascial trigger points and dysfunction:

  • Fibromyalgia pain syndrome
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Migraines
  • Tension headaches
  • Whiplash
  • Pelvic pain
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Back pain
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence
  • Sports and orthopedic injuries

How do we treat it?

Here is where it gets “controversial” in the health community. Fascia is strong. Really, really strong. Some would say as strong as steel. There are many in the community that claim myofascial release is impossible because there’s no clinician who is strong enough and applying enough force to break through and make a difference in the knots… I mean, I have a pretty solid deadlift but you won’t be finding me bending metal beams anytime soon. This argument misses the point and fails to recognize how complex fascia is. Think back to our cell party. We are not simply trying to break through fascia; we are providing a sensory stimulus and allowing the fascia to adapt or change in response. When true myofascial release is formed correctly, very little force is being used and it is usually an extremely gentle technique that can be tolerated by many patients who may not have been able to tolerate more aggressive techniques. When performing myofascial release, the clinician engages the barrier, meaning they apply enough force to feel the first inklings of resistance, and they hold their pressure there and slowly take up slack as the barrier melts underneath them. There is nothing forceful about it. In fact, when I first learned this technique from a mentor trained in Barnes myofascial release technique, she would always say, “If you think you are working too hard, you probably are”. There’s nothing steel beam bendy about MFR at all. Myofascial release allows the tissue to respond to the input the clinician is providing, rather than aggressively stretching, mashing, or pulling it. Although the exact mechanism of how MFR works is elusive, many theories recognize the individual players and cell types within the fascia, (remember our cell party), whether that be down regulation of the autonomic nervous system, (reduced fight or flight), activation of the central nervous system, and release of chemicals from the cells within the fascia.

The fact is with physical therapy, there are so many different tools that one can use. Usually clinicians tend to gravitate towards what they are good at and what tends to help the maximum number of their patients. At BBPT we value MFR as a helpful tool in our repertoire.

Ajimsha M.S., Al- Mudahka N. Effectiveness of myofascial release: Systemic review of randomized control trials. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2015 Jan;19(1):102-12.

Horton R, “Mobilization of the myofascial layer: pelvis and lower extremity”. Raleigh, NC, USA. 9/22/2017- 9/ 24-2017. lecture.

Shah J, Thaker N, Heimur J, et al. Myofascial trigger points then and now: A historical and scientific prospective. PM R. 2015; 7(7): 746-61

May Is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month!

Mayis PelvicPainAwarenessmonth

 Kaitlyn Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT

While there are many causes to be aware of and advocate for, one close to our hearts at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy is pelvic and abdominal pain, and we are excited to report that May is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month! This designation for May was created by the International Pelvic Pain Society last year. So let’s talk a few moments about what is abdomino-pelvic pain, how impactful the diagnosis can be, and what we can do!

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, chronic pelvic pain is described as a “noncyclical pain of at least 6 months’ duration that appears in locations such as the pelvis, anterior abdominal wall, lower back, or buttocks, and that is serious enough to cause disability or lead to medical care.”(1) While the incidence and prevalence of chronic pelvic pain in men and women are reported in an inconsistent manner,(2) some estimates compare its global prevalence to asthma (4.3%-8.6%), and another to the prevalence of low back pain (23.2 +/- 2.9%).3 Individuals who suffer from chronic pelvic pain also often present with other complicating factors such as depression, anxiety, poor sleep, difficulty with work, and/or relationship issues. Also, many people with chronic pain are commonly disabled by fear that activity will make things worse.(2) Furthermore, pelvic pain is puzzling as it is a multisystem disorder, which includes sexual, bowel, urinary, gynecological, and musculoskeletal symptoms. It is challenging to determine a clear mechanism of pain with this diagnosis, and the term “pelvic pain” does not take into account the many signs and symptoms that may be occurring outside of the anatomical pelvis.(2 ) 

Due to the complicated nature of this condition, there is a significant economic burden associated with management of it. In the United States, approximately $881.5 million was spent on chronic pelvic pain to cover the costs of direct healthcare. Additionally, approximately $2 billion was spent as an overall cost, which includes direct medical costs and indirect costs, such as those related to absenteeism from work.(3) Besides economic burdens on individuals suffering from chronic pelvic pain, there are also many challenges for the healthcare system to deal with. For instance, while a diagnosis of chronic pain in the United States typically yields more than 80% of physician referrals, it is estimated that only about 15% of individuals with chronic pelvic pain consult primary care providers, and only 40% of this group are referred to specialists for further investigation. (3) Furthermore, if specialist care is involved in the management of chronic pelvic pain, it is often spread between multiple specialties, such as urology, gynecology, urogynecology, colorectal services, pain medicine, and even occasionally spinal services, rheumatology, and neurology. Thus, there is a risk that patients may be passed back and forth between different teams of the same specialty, or between different specialties, and may not receive consistent or effective care.(2)  In a nutshell: chronic pelvic pain can be a debilitating condition that can have significant consequences on an individual’s physical, mental, economic, and social well-being.

Hopefully, if you were not already passionate about raising awareness of pelvic pain, you now have some insight as to why this cause is so important! Now the question lies, what can you do? How can you get involved?

Please consider visiting the website for the International Pelvic Pain Society (www.pelvicpain.org) and donating funds for educational and research programs. Together, we can help bring chronic abdominal and pelvic pain into the forefront of healthcare, to ensure individuals dealing with this condition are receiving consistent and effective multidisciplinary care.

 

Sources:

  1. Andrews J, Yunker A, Reynolds WS, Likis FE, et al. Noncyclic chronic pelvic pain therapies for women: comparative effectiveness. AHRQ Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, Rockville (MD), 2012.
  2. Baranowski AP, Lee J, Price C, Hughes J. Pelvic pain: a pathway for care developed for both men and women by the British Pain Society. Br J Anaesth. 2014;112(3):452–9.  
  3. Ahangari A. Prevalence of chronic pelvic pain among women: an updated review. Pain Physician. 2014;17(2):E141–7.

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part II

king-sigma-wasylko-nikon-72743

Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

Welcome back to our discussion on chronic pain. In our last blog we discussed why one might experience chronic pain and some common missteps and pitfalls that have occurred in our understanding of chronic pain. If you haven’t yet read part one of this blog, I highly recommend checking it out first so you can get the most out of this post. Click here to read it now.

For chronic pain, we have drugs, surgery, mental health therapy, physical therapy, and what is called complementary alternative medicine (CAM), which includes modalities like yoga, acupuncture, and mindfulness meditation. We discussed earlier how some opioids may actually be harmful in treating chronic pain. Unnecessary surgery can also have risks of actually increasing pain post-surgically, because it can change the brain’s sensitivity to pain. Because, for most musculoskeletal conditions, a course of conservative treatment is recommended for a period of time before turning to surgery, we will focus on non-surgical, and non-medical approaches to chronic pain.

Before we dive into specific treatments, let’s talk about what puts a person at risk for chronic pain. We can divide these risks into modifiable and non-modifiable risks. Nonmodifiable risks are situations or characteristics about ourselves that we can not change. They include socioeconomic status, where you live or have lived, cultural background and genetic factors. Unfortunately, we can’t change these things, but things like alcohol intake, nutrition, and obesity are all things we can change and have been generally understood as modifiable risk factors for chronic pain. Now that we have that in mind, let’s explore different approaches for the management of chronic pain.

 

Mindfulness Practice as Pain Management

Have you tried mindfulness practice? I ask this question a lot. When I ask it, I am careful to frame it in a way that does not give the patient the impression that I think their pain is all in their head, but rather, I try and present it as part of an adjunct to the current physical therapy treatment they are receiving from myself or any of the other PT’s at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, and any other medical intervention they may be receiving.

Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation are somewhat based on eastern meditation practices.  Not all mindfulness programs are the same, but the basic premise is to allow the participant to observe their thoughts, feelings, sensations, and attitudes without judgment. Giving them the opportunity to reframe their thoughts in a positive manner.

It may sound like a small change, but research is really starting to bear out that changing your frame of mind about pain can have some very real results. In a meta-analysis done by Hilton and colleagues, mindfulness programs were found to have statistically significant positive results on pain, depression, and quality of life.

There are a lot of ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your day to day life. Apps for your phone are really helpful. I recommend both Calm and Headspace. I personally like Calm a bit better, but both are excellent. Headspace is a good starter because it breaks up meditation into more digestible nuggets, which can be a good way to start your meditation practice. Calm, as the name implies, is more soothing.  There are also guided classes you can attend in your area if that’s more up to your speed.

Be patient with mindfulness, I definitely suggest giving it the old college try. Stick with it for a week or two. If it isn’t for you, that’s perfectly okay. It’s not a moral failing, or a psychological one it’s definitely a case of different strokes for different folks.

Psychological Intervention

In a study performed by Macrae and colleagues, it was found that patients who engaged in catastrophizing type behaviors experience post-surgical pain at a significantly higher rate. Catastrophizing is envisioning a situation to be far worse than it actually is. A good example for this blog would be a patient with low back pain, jumping to the conclusion that her back pain will prevent her from being able to work and she would end up on the street, secondary to her lack of ability to secure an income. Although this is a possibility, it really isn’t a realistic one and it fails to entertain the possibility of the back pain remaining stable or getting better.

Mindfulness meditation can help with catastrophizing behaviors, but sometimes you need a little extra help. Psychological interventions, like talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, can help you get a handle on these thoughts and address your current loss of function, secondary to pain in a more productive manner. Cognitive behavioral therapy as well as other forms of therapy have shown improvement in pain symptoms and quality of life in adults and has shown even more robust effects in children.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient form of eastern medicine that is gaining a stronger and stronger foothold in the States. It has been shown to be effective in managing a number of conditions, and chronic pain is no different. Reviews of acupuncture in scientific literature have found that acupuncture can improve pain and function. The same review found that electroacupuncture had even more robust results for pain and stiffness.

Yoga

Yoga is super hip right now. In fact, it now has its own international day on June 21st of each year. It does for good reason. A consistent and solid yoga program has been shown to improve conditions such as low back pain, myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia syndrome, osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. It can be a great option to continue to add consistent exercise and pain management into your life.

Physical Therapy and Exercise

Exercise is good for you, even if you have chronic pain. The old way of thinking was to put someone on days of bedrest when they have chronic pain. No more. Evidence has shown gentle movement progressing into more functional training can really help with chronic pain. In fact, the National Institute for Healthcare Excellence’s (NICE) osteoarthritis guideline is  “exercise should be a core treatment… irrespective of age, comorbidity, pain severity and disability. Exercise should include local muscle strengthening [and] general aerobic fitness”(NICE 2014) . Geneen and colleagues found in their review and meta-analysis of the current literature that just receiving the advice to exercise alone is not sufficient to produce improvements in pain scales. That’s where the professionals like physical therapists come in, PTs have the knowledge and expertise to prescribe exercise that is not only safe and functional but hopefully kind of fun. PTs also can diagnose and treat issues such as tissues with reduced mobility and poor alignment to ensure you get the most out of your exercise.

Data show that a prescribed and monitored exercise program by a physical therapist can have good effects on pain symptoms and can help facilitate the production of your body’s own natural painkillers.  Additionally, exercise can help individuals lose weight, which can reduce the pressure on one ’s joints and further improve pain.

Aside from exercise and hands-on work, we can use modalities like Kinesio tape at physical therapy. Kinesiotape has been shown to improve not only pain but decrease trigger points, improve range of motion and improve disability rates in individuals suffering from myofascial pain syndrome.

Conclusion

Chronic pain is complex. Rarely is there a silver bullet that will cure it. Treatment requires a multidisciplinary approach, which has been shown to be more effective than traditional treatment alone. Start small, where you feel comfortable when adding something new into your treatment approach. You will find what works best for you. A good place to start is here at Beyond Basics. Our staff not only has the expertise to treat you from a physical therapy perspective, but they also have the ability to guide you towards other traditional and complementary treatments/practitioners that can help you reach your goal. Your treatment for chronic pain does not have to be and should not be passive, please call and make an appointment today to start your journey.  

 

Sources:

 

Achilefu A, Joshi K, Meier M. et al. Yoga and other meditative movement therapies to reduce chronic pain. J Okla State Med Assoc. 2017;110(1):14-16

 

Andersen T, Vægter H. A 13-Weeks Mindfulness Based Pain Management Program Improves Psychological Distress in Patients with Chronic Pain Compared with Waiting List Controls. Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. 2016;12: 49-58

 

Ay S, Konak H, Evick D, et al. The effectiveness of kinesio taping on pain and disability in cervical myofascial pain syndrome. Rev Bras Reumatol. 2017; 57(2) 93-9

 

Eccleston C, Crombez G. Advancing psychological therapies for chronic pain [version 1]; referees: 2 approved]. F1000 Faculty Rev. 2017

 

Geneen L, Moore R, Clarke C, et al. Physical activity and exercise for chronic pain in adults: an overview of Cochrane Reviews ( Review).  Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2017; 4

 

Hilton, L, Hempe; S, Ewing B. Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Behav Med. 2017. 51:199-213

 

Kamper S, Apeldoorn A, Chiarotto A, et Al. Multidisciplinary biopsychosocial rehabilitation for chronic pain ( review). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014; 9.

 

Macrae W. Chronic post-surgical pain: 10 years on. Br J Anaesth 2008;101: 77-86

 

Mayer F, Scharhag-Rosenberger F, Carlsohn A. The intensity and effects of strength training in the elderly.  Dtsch Arztebl Int 2011; 108(21):359-64

 

Neira S, Marques A, Pérez I. Effectiveness of aquatic therapy vs land based therapy for balance and pain in women with fibromyalgia: a study protocol for a randomized trial. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2017; 18(22)

 

Perry R, Leach V, Davies P, et al. An overview of systematic reviews of complementary and alternative therapies for fibromyalgia using both AMSTAR and ROBIS as quality assessment tools. Sytematic Reviews. 2017. 6(97)

 

Saxena R, Gupta M, Shankar N, et al. Effect of yogic intervention on pain scores and quality of life in females with chronic pelvic pain. Int J Yoga. 2017. 10(1): 9-15

 

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