The following blog is a repost of Ashley Brichter’s original blog post. Ashley is a birth educator, birth and post-partum doula, lactation counselor, and friend of the practice. She hosts many classes on childbirth, lactation, and much more. We will provide more information at the end of the post on how you can get in touch with Ashely and how you can sign up for her excellent classes.
Originally posted: January 22, 2019
Hollywood misrepresents a great deal about the childbirth process, but the fact that they show everyone delivering babies while lying on their backs in a hospital bed is accurate. As Ross clearly demonstrates above, lying down with knees apart is the most common way for someone in the United States to deliver. Here’s why you may want to question this:
A baby’s job in labor is to rotate and descend through the pelvis. If we can maximize the amount of space a baby has within the pelvis, we can not only speed this process along but minimize the stress on muscles and tissues within the pelvic bowl (and therefore minimize the risk injury).
How do you maximize the space in your pelvis to encourage the baby’s rotation and descent? The pelvis has four boney landmarks that determine the maximum circumference a baby has to fit through: the pubic bone at the front, tail bone or coccyx at the back, and two sitz bones at the bottom. Let me walk you through two very simple movements to see how you can create the most space between the pubic bone and tail bone and two sitz bones.
If you’re in a location where feeling around on your pelvis would be immodest, make a commitment to try it the next time you’re in the bathroom or back at home.
First, find the space between your pubic bone and tail bone:
Place one hand on your pubic bone (it’s very low down under the belly, right between your legs. Isn’t it wide!?). Place your other hand on your tail bone. To find your tail bone, invite your hand to feel between the crease of your behind. It is often higher up than most people realize. You can walk your fingers all the way down the bottom of your spine until you reach the end – and/or lean back on your fingers in order to feel it more.
Once you have fingers on the pubic bone and fingers on the tail bone, lean forward and feel the space between your fingers. Then lean back. In which direction to you have the most space between your fingers, between your pubic bone and tail bone? When you are leaning forward or leaning back? Try this a few time before you move on.
Then, find the space between your sitz bones:
This is best done sitting down on the edge of a chair. Place your hands underneath your bum and your should feel your sitz bones protruding down. If you don’t feel them right away wiggle side to side a bit. You should feel boney points digging into your hands.
Now, spread your knees out wide (like you’re having a baby!). Feel the space between your fingers. Then, bring your knees in close together (keeping your feet fairly separated). In which position do you have more space between your sitz bones? With your knees together, feet apart, or your knees and feet wide?
Hopefully when you tried it you were able to feel that there is more space in your pelvis when you are leaning forward and that there is more space in the pelvis when your knees are closer together than your feet.
WAIT. What? That’s right. I said it.
Most people deliver their babies on their backs with their knees spread wide because this is the most convenient position for hospital staff. If you’re thinking about a physiological birth, looking for ways to possibly shorten your labor, or looking for ways to reduce the risk of tearing, give some serious through to positions that lend themselves to forward leaning and keeping feet wider than knees!
Let’s take one more look at the tail bone specifically: leaning backwards makes the tailbone stick in. It limits the amount of space a baby has to rotate and it asks your body to push a baby uphill! Upright and forward leaning positions will allow the tailbone to get out of the way. Granted, you have to deliver with a provider and in a location that is supportive of this. But that’s for another post!
Bladder problems can be vexing, it may hurt for you to pee even though every test for infection you’ve taken has come back negative. You may find yourself incontinent after surgery or childbirth, or for no reason at all. You may find yourself waking up countless times to go, or needing to memorize every bathrooms’ location in the city because you go too often.
The bladder and the pelvic floor are intimately related and often times problems with the pelvic floor can cause real trouble with the bladder. Pelvic floor dysfunction can cause you to suffer from bladder frequency, urgency, incomplete emptying, slow stream, stream that stops and starts, bladder or urethral pain, or leaking. By the way, it’s not just a female issue. Men and children can also have these symptoms. Learn from one of our experts, Sarah Paplanus, about how exactly the pelvic floor is related to bladder function and dysfunction, what you can do about it, and about common medical conditions affecting the bladder. Join us for this great seminar on March 26th at 7pm . Register here: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com
And for those who can’t wait to learn about the bladder, check out our blog on bladder health here!
Any persistent pain or chronic back or pelvic pain can be tough. It is tough to have and often times it can be extremely isolating. Many of our patients have to go through a number of clinicians before they even get a diagnosis of pelvic floor dysfunction. If you are reading this blog, you probably have some questions about pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you.
We are here to help. If you are living in the Greater New York Area and have some questions about orthopedic, sports or pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you, I encourage you to call our office. For a limited period of time, we are offering free 15-minute phone consults with our licensed physical therapists to patients in the greater New York Area. For those of you living outside this area, a fee may apply to the consult but can be applied towards payment for a PT visit if you chose to visit us. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about your pelvic floor and what PT can do for you.
The Physical Therapists at Beyond Basics also treat orthopedic (sport and joint injuries), pediatric pelvic floor dysfunction and orthopedic injury, and much more. Give us a call to discuss how PT can help with any one of these issues!
On September 20th, at 7pm we will be kicking off our fall semester of pelvic health education class, we call Pelvic Health 101 (PH101). In our first class we will be introducing you to the pelvic floor muscles, where they are, what they do, and how they relate to the health and function of your bowel, bladder, and sexual functioning. We will also be covering how things such as alignment, posture, muscle tone and nerves can affect your symptoms. This course is a great starting point to help you understand your pelvic floor and pelvic floor symptoms.
We have talked about prostate cancer many times on this blog. It is an exceedingly common condition and represents 26% of new cancer cases in cis-men, second only to skin cancer, and 14% of cis-men will experience it within their lifetimes. Prostate cancer can affect one’s life dramatically in terms of sexuality, continence, and even their self perception. Even though prostate cancer can have such a dramatic effect on sex and sexuality, there is little information out there on prostate cancer that is not heteronormative. It is estimated conservatively that 3-12% of America’s population self identifies as lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, queer, or questioning (LGTBQ+). For people in this community navigating a heteronormative healthcare system can be alienating, frustrating, and downright dangerous. Today, we are going to take some time to discuss what is known about prostate cancer specifically in men who have sex with men as well as trans women.
Prostate Cancer Basics
Prostate cancer typically occurs later on in life. It is extremely common and its incidence is rising, likely due to a rise in prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing. Prostate cancer is a very survivable cancer with the 5 year survival rate being estimated at 84-92%. Treatment may include radiation, chemotherapy, removal of the prostate, or some combination thereof. That being said, common side effects of prostate cancer treatment include bowel and bladder incontinence, sexual dysfunction and pain. These side effects can be improved with medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. People who are at risk for prostate cancer are people who have advanced age, African ancestry, live in certain geographic locations, and those who smoke.
Are Men who Have Sex with Men at Increased Risk?
This is the first out of many examples in this blog where we need more research. There are certain conditions that have been associated with men who have sex with men that may be a risk factor or protective against prostate cancer. Men with HIV seem to be an increased risk factor for prostate cancer, however the antiretroviral therapy for it may be protective. See how this is super confusing? Additionally use of supplements, steroids may increase risk for prostate cancer.
These are all pretty strong “mays”. What we do know is that men who have sex with men are less likely to have up to date PSA testing. Black men who have sex with men are even less likely to be up to date with their PSA’s. This fact can be correlated to the subjective experience many men who have sex with men express when navigating a heteronormative healthcare field. We will talk more later about barriers to healthcare in the LGBTQ+ community and ways clinicians can work to reduce these barriers for their patients.
What About Transgender Women?
There is very little reported about trans women with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer in transwomen is relatively rare especially after removal of the testicles. That being said, it can occur if a transwoman has her medical transition later on in life. In the case study cited below, the authors posit that it may be possible for androgen receptors to become more sensitive to androgens when androgens are at a low level. Androgens are produced by the testicles and are thought to contribute to the development of prostate cancer. If small amounts of cancerous or precancerous cells were present on the prostate prior to testicle removal, they may have continued to develop in the presence of the small amount of testosterone produced elsewhere in the body.. All this being said, prostate cancer is a rare condition in transwomen, but it does beg the important questions like, do we remove a woman’s prostate when she is transitioning, which can be a source of pleasure and erotic function for some transwomen. Most experts agree that transwomen with prostates should be screened for cancer. This is an area where more research is definitely needed.
Why One -Size Fits All Fits None
Men who have sex with men and transwomen have different sexual roles and expectations than the hetero and cis-gender community, and applying heteronormative treatment approaches in the sexual rehabilitation of people recovering from prostate cancer can leave a lot to be desired. The prostate can be a huge source of sexual pleasure for some men who have sex with men and some transwomen. Men who have sex with men are much more likely to report that the prostate as a pleasure center than their hetero and or cis counterparts. A prostatectomy can represent a loss, and should be respected as such. Also for men and trans women participating in penetrative anal sex, the erection requirements are different than those required to participate in vaginal penetration. The penis requires much more rigidity to penetrate the anus than it does the vagina, ( We should keep in mind the requirement to be able to participate in penetrative anal sex may be important for men who have sex with women exclusively.) Detailed sexual histories should be taken for every patient.
Tips for Providers
Only 68% percent of LGBTQ+ patients are “out” to their clinicians. This is an important stat to keep in mind when performing an intake and subsequent treatment with patients. Avoiding heteronormative assumptions, like assuming a man with a wedding ring is married to a woman, can be a helpful step in the right direction. Displaying a rainbow flag somewhere in your office can also set the stage for a more open conversation that can help you better address the needs of your patients. To learn more about this population check out our resources below. For people who are used to viewing the world through a heteronormative lense, this can take a concerted effort, but it is well worth it in the name of improving patient care for all of your clients!
We have offices in both midtown and downtown locations. If you are dealing with prostate cancer, please give us a call at
Fiona McMahon PT, DPT practices at our midtown location
Exercise in ever tightening spandex while making frequent public toilet stops, or binge on Netflix and cronuts? Pregnancy is a great equalizer. Not even Kate Middleton can escape the hormones that can cause pregnant women to suffer from mood swings, fatigue, nausea, and achiness. Those symptoms—and modern culture—frequently encourage pregnant women to decrease movement and everyday activities. However, there is resounding support in academic literature that recreational physical activity during pregnancy is beneficial to both mother and baby.
While the pregnant woman is best suited to monitor what is beneficial for her body and baby during pregnancy, adequate information to make that decision is not always readily available. Yet around 600 studies published between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s corroborate that exercise during pregnancy is not harmful by measure of fetal birth weight, mode of delivery, preterm delivery, Apgar scores, and acute fetal well-being (1-3). What’s more, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (4) removed the limitations for intense exercises back in 1985 (5) and a literature review showed that bed rest was not beneficial for pregnancy complications. Still, 95% of ob-gyns continue to prescribe activity restrictions to certain pregnant mothers (6).
Clearer guidelines are needed for how pregnant women can decrease injury while maintaining performance and the well-being of mother and baby. While running is only one mode of boosting fetal and maternal health, many women, especially here in New York, embrace it as a key part of their overall wellness. As a recreational runner myself, I was disappointed during my first pregnancy with the foggy information regarding how to run safely during pregnancy. I found myself as a self-case study, correlating the physiological and biomechanical pregnancy changes with a shift in running mechanics. At the third trimester, I had a suspicion that I should replace running with the elliptical and restorative yoga.
The scientific literature specific to running during pregnancy is extremely limited, and in its absence, I’ve used findings for “moderate to strenuous” physical activity, in addition to clinical knowledge of pregnancy related changes in the body and running patterns to develop the recommendations below. Recently, a group of researchers published a series of five papers and combined recent literature about higher level physical activity during pregnancy for application in appropriate populations (7-8).
Pregnancy and exercise:
Pregnancy may seem like a counter-intuitive time to start an exercise program. However, research shows that 150 minutes/week of moderate exercise (9) for inactive and relatively sedentary women, and moderate to strenuous exercise for active women, has strong health benefits for both fetus and mother. Moderate exercise is recognized as 5-6 on the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), 40-59% HRR (Heart Rate Reserve = Heart rate max – Heart rate resting). Moderate to strenuous is described as 7-8 RPE, 60-84% HRR (1). So while growing a baby is not a good time to start a running program, it is a good time to increase an appropriate level of physical activity or continue an established running program. Some of the benefits of appropriately prescribed exercise are correlated to (10-16):
· Healthier gestational weight gain, which protects against complications like cesarean delivery, hypertension, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes
· Improved general healthy behaviors
· Improved psychological wellbeing – reduction in depression and anxiety, improved self-esteem, particularly for women who were previously inactive
· Improved ability of the placenta to deliver oxygen
· Increased amniotic fluid
· Healthier fetal birth weights that correlate to changes in leptin levels that continue to correlate with a healthier body fat and muscle ratio at the age of 5
· Increased gestational age
· Decreased rate of pregnancy complications, although one study showed higher use of physician assisted delivery (10)
· Faster delivery and decreased chance of Cesarean delivery in a setting that supports natural birth (11)
· Higher Apgar scores
· Lower fetal heart rate and increased fetal heart-rate variability
· Improved neonatal orientation
· Higher general intelligence and oral language skills at the age of 5
· Improved ability of baby to self-soothe after birth, (i.e. longer stretches of night sleep)
Strenuous activity is correlated to a higher rate of miscarriage during the implantation phase of pregnancy—about 20-23 days after the last menstrual cycle. Elevated body core temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit), which can be caused by strenuous activities like marathon running or exercising in hot and humid weather, can increase the risk of fetal neural tube abnormalities during its development, 35-42 days after last menstrual period. Exercising for 60 minutes in a comfortable environment will not raise core temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The pregnant woman’s heart rate should not exceed 90% of her maximal heart rate. Because of physiological changes, the pregnant runner will underestimate her heart rate based on the typical rate of perceived exertion or talk test. For this reason, the pregnant runner should modify the run intensity knowing that her heart is working harder than she perceives or wear a heart rate monitor using the HRmax = 220-age, unless she has access to laboratory equipment that can calculate HRmax without full exhaustion.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, (ACOG) has set absolute and relative contraindications to aerobic exercise during pregnancy (4).
· Hemodynamically significant heart disease
· Restrictive lung disease
· Incompetent cervix or cerclage
· Multiple gestation at risk of premature labor
· Persistent second or third trimester bleeding
· Placenta previa after 26 weeks of gestation
· Premature labor during the current pregnancy
· Ruptured membranes
· Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension
· Severe anemia (different than mild anemia)
· Unevaluated maternal cardiac arrhythmia
· Chronic bronchitis
· Poorly controlled type 1 diabetes
· Extreme morbid obesity
· Extreme underweight (BMI <12)
· History of extremely sedentary lifestyle
· Intrauterine growth restriction in current pregnancy
· Poorly controlled hypertension
· Orthopedic limitations
· Poorly controlled seizure disorder
· Poorly controlled hyperthyroidism
· Heavy smoker
Low back and pelvic girdle pain/instability, knee/hip pain, pelvic heaviness, sharp pains in the pelvic floor, urinary leakage, and regular ankle sprains are all signs that it may be time to modify running as exercise. In the clinic, I am often asked about pelvic floor symptoms, particularly urinary leakage during pregnancy, and specifically with running.
I like to think of these warning signs as a force transfer problem—something in the system is not working well. For stress incontinence and pelvic heaviness, it’s the inability of the pelvic floor to generate enough force to keep things up against the up-chain forces of running (2.5x while accepting weight after the flight phase) and down-chain forces of steadily increasing body weight + baby’s weight (around 20% of pre-pregnancy weight). But post-partum is not as simple as the forces that are generated from running or the ability to do a Kegel. Elite athletes and non-exercisers have about the same rate of post-partum incontinence. However, postpartum symptoms are more likely if exercise also caused urinary leakage during pregnancy (16).
The pregnant body is a little more complicated:
It needs to taken into account, that the 10-fold increase of relaxin and progesterone that might be responsible for more instability as forces from the ground traveling up into the falling arches of the feet, adduction of the knee, internal rotation of the hip, through the pelvic floor and gapping of the sacroiliac joint. As the fetus and breasts grow, the body’s center of gravity shifts forward, the ribs flare, and the pelvis tilts forward. While the gluteus maximus and calf muscles are getting stronger to propel the pregnant body forward, the front of the body gains significantly more mass. When this happens, the front of the diaphragm and the front of the pelvic floor are positioned so more forces are going through the front of the pelvic floor than the back. This requires more support of the bladder through the pelvic floor. As the pelvis widens, foot step width increases in walking (17), but decreases in running during the single stance phase, requiring more pelvic control. In other words, the pregnant runner’s leg strength, particularly the hip stabilizing muscles, gluteus medius and minimus, need to be exponentially stronger than in the non-pregnant runner to account for additional weight, forward weight shift, and ligamentous laxity. I primarily talk about the deficit of the gluteus group because of what I see clinically, but depending on when the woman is experiencing pain or pelvic floor instability symptoms, other muscles may also need attention.
The usual period of pain experienced by pregnant runner’s initial strike to single stance, corresponds with the biomechanical gapping of the sacroiliac joint. Alleviating such issues will require force absorption and muscle activation through the quadriceps, medial hamstrings, calf muscles, tibialis anterior, TFL, adductor magnus, iliopsoas, and gluteus medius/minimus. Symptoms of lower extremity and lumbopelvic pain, pelvic heaviness, or sharp pains in the pelvic floor have similar biomechanical and physiological causes as urinary leakage. They should be treated in a similar manner whether controlling the upward and downward loads by:
· decreasing speed of running – correlated to double flight phase, which increases upward pressures
· decreasing vertical displacement
· landing with a midfoot strike to increase shock absorption (18)
· increasing arm swing/thoracic movement – dispersing upward forces and facilitating the respiratory and pelvic floor piston
· decreasing daily physical exertion that causes increased abdominal pressure
· increasing external support with (sacroiliac joint) SIJ belts or foot orthotics – decreasing the body’s instability
· maintaining hip flexor mobility – controlling forward pelvic tilt, movement throughout the day out of sitting posture, hip flexor stretches, shifting weight back through heels, diaphragmatic vs. back breathing
An orthopedic physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor dysfunction and in prenatal and postpartum care will be able to give more specific recommendations, since each woman’s symptoms are a little different.
Expected running changes in pregnancy:
For previous recreational to elite runners, about 70% will continue to run at some point in the pregnancy with only 1/3 continuing into the third trimester. They usually cut the running volume and intensity by 50% compared to non-pregnancy training. For those who stopped running during pregnancy, over half elected to do so because of self-monitoring symptoms of wellness, about one quarter stopped due to physician’s advice, and the remainder stopped for fear of a miscarriage. Whether choosing to continue or stop running during pregnancy, most women had returned to running by 2 months postpartum, and without negative impact on breastfeeding (19).
Speed will decline as instability increases, so that the body has less time with both feet off the ground. Ankle sprains may happen intermittently because of changes in foot position, possible increased swelling, and laxity in the ankle ligaments. Resting heart rate increases 15-20%. Breathing might be more labored during running because of increased sensitivity to carbon dioxide (particularly in early pregnancy) and decreased lung capacity/rib excursion (in late pregnancy). Pregnancy-related mild anemia, which decreases available blood oxygen, affects more than 40% of pregnant women and may show up as accelerated fatigue and increased respiratory rate during running. Be sure that fatigue is not related to severe anemia or hypothyroidism, particularly in persistent symptoms. The pregnant body will improve its ability to thermoregulate with increased sweating to dissipate more heat.
Clothes won’t fit like they once did, especially the spandex. Find some appropriately fitting, breathable, loose exercise clothing that does not excessively compress around the stomach. Urinary urgency and frequency are common limitations in running as the pregnancy progresses, which requires some planning and increased water intake.
Running during pregnancy presents an opportunity to do something overwhelmingly beneficial for both mother and baby, with the added incentive of tuning into the body’s remarkable capacities. While physical activity, running or otherwise, will look different during pregnancy, the goals are similar for a healthy lifestyle. Be kind to yourself—body, mind, and spirit. You and your baby will be thankful. Happy trails. Please leave any comments or questions here!
Joanna is currently taking new patients at our downtown office.
Phone: (212)- 267- 0240
1. Szymanski LM, Satin AJ. Exercise during pregnancy: fetal responses to current public health guidelines. Obstetrics and gynecology. 2012 Mar;119(3):603.
2. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. Physical Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008. Wasington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 2008.
3. Barakat R, Stirling JR, Lucia A. Does exercise training during pregnancy affect gestational age? A randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2008 Aug 1;42(8):674-8.
4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Committee Opinion No. 650. Obstet Gynecol. 2015;126(6):e135-142.
5. Artal R, O’toole M. Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. British journal of sports medicine. 2003 Feb 1;37(1):6-12.
6. Bigelow C, Stone J. Bed rest in pregnancy. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine: A Journal of Translational and Personalized Medicine. 2011 Mar 1;78(2):291-302.
7. Bø K, Artal R, Barakat R, Brown W, Davies GA, Dooley M, Evenson KR, Haakstad LA, Henriksson-Larsen K, Kayser B, Kinnunen TI. Exercise and pregnancy in recreational and elite athletes: 2016 evidence summary from the IOC expert group meeting, Lausanne. Part 1—exercise in women planning pregnancy and those who are pregnant. Br J Sports Med. 2016 May 1;50(10):571-89.
8. Bø K, Artal R, Barakat R, Brown W, Dooley M, Evenson KR, Haakstad LA, Larsen K, Kayser B, Kinnunen TI, Mottola MF. Exercise and pregnancy in recreational and elite athletes: 2016 evidence summary from the IOC expert group meeting, Lausanne. Part 2—the effect of exercise on the fetus, labour and birth. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Sep 22:bjsports-2016.
9. US Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Department of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC: 2008.
10. Kuhrt K, Harmon M, Hezelgrave NL, Seed PT, Shennan AH. Is recreational running associated with earlier delivery and lower birth weight in women who continue to run during pregnancy? An international retrospective cohort study of running habits of 1293 female runners during pregnancy. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine. 2018 Mar 1;4(1):e000296.
11. Erdelyi GJ. Gynecology survey of female atheletes. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1962;2:174-179.
12. Prather H, Spitznagle T, Hunt D. Benefits of exercise during pregnancy. PM&R. 2012 Nov 1;4(11):845-50.[Ine
14. Clapp JH, Capeless E. The VO2max of recreational atheletes before and after pregnancy. Med Sci Sports Exerci. 1991;23:1128-33
15. Gjestland K, Bø K, Owe KM, Eberhard-Gran M. Do pregnant women follow exercise guidelines? Prevalence data among 3482 women, and prediction of low-back pain, pelvic girdle pain and depression. Br J Sports Med. 2012 Aug 1:bjsports-2012.
16. Bø K, Sundgot‐Borgen J. Are former female elite athletes more likely to experience urinary incontinence later in life than non‐athletes?. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports. 2010 Feb 1;20(1):100-4.
17. Gilleard WL. Trunk motion and gait characteristics of pregnant women when walking: report of a longitudinal study with a control group. BMC pregnancy and childbirth. 2013 Dec;13(1):71.
18. Nicola TL, Jewison DJ. The anatomy and biomechanics of running. Clinics in sports medicine. 2012 Apr 1;31(2):187-201.
19. Tenforde AS, Toth KE, Langen E, Fredericson M, Sainani KL. Running habits of competitive runners during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Sports health. 2015 Mar;7(2):172-6.
Trigger Warning: This piece briefly discusses sexual assault.
Fiona McMahon PT, DPT
Last summer, a reporter came to our office. This is usually not a tremendously unusual circumstance at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy. We often have reporters come to our office to research conditions like dyspareunia (painful vaginal intercourse), endometriosis, painful bladder syndrome/interstitial cystitis, prostatitis, and the many other conditions we treat. This time was different. This reporter was researching legitimate medically necessary pelvic floor physical therapy to put into context what was currently happening in USA gymnastics and the Larry Nassar story.
The Larry Nassar story rocked the pelvic floor world to our core. Larry Nassar was a USA Gymnastics Team physician who sexually abused girls for decades, under the guise of providing “pelvic floor treatment”. For those of us who have spent our lives promoting, educating, and treating both men and women with pelvic floor dysfunction, to see pelvic floor treatment perverted into a way to systematically abuse women and girls, it was truly heartbreaking.
We at Beyond Basics PT feel it is imperative to ensure that every patient knows his or her own rights and what to do if they feel uncomfortable. Although we are writing this in the context of pelvic floor physical therapy. Keep in mind, that much of what we talk about applies to interactions with other healthcare professionals.
Before we get started, let’s discuss why one might need to have their genital region examined in the course of physical therapy treatment. Pelvic floor dysfunction refers to a whole host of symptoms mainly felt in the pelvis, although they may appear in other parts of the body. These symptoms may include and are not limited to both male and female pelvic pain, urinary, bowel and sexual issues. Treatment may include external manipulation of the pelvic floor and genital region as well as manipulation of the pelvic floor muscles by inserting a gloved finger into the anus or the vagina. These techniques are used in combination with other osteopathic techniques to improve muscle length and strength, as well as reducing spasm within the pelvic floor and surrounding areas. To read more about what pelvic floor physical therapy is, click here. Pelvic floor physical therapy can be life changing when performed appropriately. It can allow an individual to go back to work or back to school, or the tolerance to sit on a plane to visit family, when doing so would have been too painful prior to physical therapy. It can allow an individual to have painless sex (male and female, same sex or opposite sex sex), and it can allow someone to regain continence who before was socially isolated. Pelvic floor physical therapy is a legitimate means of improving the health and quality of life of an individual. We will include peer reviewed articles below if you would like to read more.
Given the intimate nature of the treatment as well as the power dynamic that sometimes may exist between patient and clinician, it is important to discuss what rights you have as a patient in order to make yourself feel more comfortable. The following outlines your rights as a patient receiving any type of medical treatment.
When you step through the door of any medical office for the first time, you get handed what feels like fistfuls of paperwork. In that paperwork, there should always be a consent form. This form must be signed before you are treated, the exception being in medically emergent situations, when you become unconscious and consent is implied for life saving medical intervention.
Remember, just because you signed the form before treatment, doesn’t mean you consent to any and all treatment. You may always revoke your consent by saying you don’t want to participate in a procedure or intervention by saying so.
We want you to feel comfortable. If a treatment course makes you uncomfortable, tell us. Gritting your teeth and tolerating an uncomfortable treatment can sometimes do more harm than good. It is also appropriate to revoke consent to be treated if you are unsure why a treatment is being done or suspect it may not be necessary. Our jobs as clinicians are not only to treat but to educate. If you don’t know why we are doing a certain technique, we need to take time to educate you in order to do our job correctly. Revoking consent can be as simple as telling your practitioner you do not want to engage in a certain activity. Practitioners may take time to explain why they feel that intervention is necessary; however they should never make you feel ashamed for revoking consent. Remember, you are not in the clinic to please us. You are there for yourself. To get better. That is it.
Even if you truly need a pelvic floor treatment, often times there are other parts of the body that should be addressed to aid in certain pelvic conditions. Skilled practitioners can delay pelvic floor treatment by treating other parts of the body until you are ready. This can often be done while still maintaining forward progress.
Chaperones are individuals who accompany you to medical and physical therapy exams and treatments. If having a chaperone attend a visit or visits would make you more comfortable, you should be allowed to bring one. You should be able to bring a family members, or a friend into treatment. If you don’t have someone to fill this role, you can ask the facility to supply you with one, (usually asking ahead of time will ensure a staff member is available). In very few cases, such as surgery or trauma interventions, is it appropriate for a patient to be denied a chaperone if he or she requests it.
What if your clinician gives you a diagnosis or suggests a treatment that doesn’t sound right? This is where a second opinion really comes in handy. Getting a second opinion is not “cheating” on your doctor, it can allow you to explore other options or be more confident in your original provider’s course of action.
Respect and Comfort
Feeling respected by your clinician is essential to healing . If you feel that you are not getting the respect you deserve or even if you are not connecting with clinician for whatever reason, you have the right to change clinicians. You don’t have to feel obligated to explain why you are changing clinicians if you don’t want to. Most healthcare providers realize that we might not have the right clinician for every person, and we are trained to not take it personally. It is okay to put yourself first.
Red Flags in Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
Feeling coerced, bullied, or shamed into a pelvic floor treatment
Therapist does not wear gloves for treatment
Therapist insists on not allowing chaperone
Therapist fails to offer adequate reason for treating the pelvic floor
Therapist is not licensed
You therapist acts in a way to make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable
The truth is, there are so many wonderful physical therapists out there who treat the pelvic floor. Being a physical therapist is one of the greatest jobs in the world, because we get to help people do things that before were difficult or impossible. Pelvic floor physical therapy changes lives. We sincerely hope this article helps you feel empowered to go to physical therapy and know what your rights are and what to expect.