Set Up: Lie on your back with knees bent, with left foot flat on the mat, and stability ball under the right foot. Arms resting by your sides. Neutral pelvis.
Execution: Inhale to prep. Exhale to lift pelvis off the mat into bridge position while pressing left foot firmly into the mat and right foot firmly into the stability ball. Hold bridge for one breath, then lower with control maintaining a neutral pelvis. Repeat 5-10 times on this side and then switch to the other leg.
Focus: Keep pelvis completely level throughout the entire exercise. Be sure to not overuse or arch the lower back. Ribs should be flush with abdomen and the knees should be reaching over the toes.
Importance: Key muscles targeted in this exercise are the glutes and hamstrings! Pelvic and core stability are also challenged due to the stability ball. If you feel only your hamstrings engaging as you bridge, move heels closer to sits bones. This should help the glutes turn on.
Modifications: If you find adding the stability ball too challenging, don’t continue using it with faulty form. Try marching slowly in a bridge position- hold the right leg up for 5 counts, then slowly transfer to left leg lifting for five counts. Keep alternating legs being sure the pelvis stays level and glutes and hamstrings are engaged. If you find you pelvis dropping on one side as you do this, then do fewer repetitions to start.
No one told you that the pain of childbirth doesn’t end with that final push and it doesn’t matter if you had a vaginal or belly birth. If you are the roughly 10% of demigoddesses who delivered without a tear, bless you and your fairy child.* If you are a mere mortal, here are some secrets for post-partum “battle wound” care.
For many mamas, the scars from delivery heal without any intervention. However, in our clinic, we often see hypersensitive or immobile perineal and cesarean scars that affect other parts of the body and can be a reason for the loss of core stability mechanisms, pain with intercourse, and urinary and fecal incontinence.
Scars are the body’s glue and use a complex set of proteins. While scars are never as strong as the original (70% of the original strength), it usually doesn’t cause a problem. The healing process after cutting your finger on that dull knife is the same for a cesarean incision and perineal tear/cut. Immediately after the injury, lots of good inflammation comes into the area to clot and start a loose frame for new tissue to develop. In the first days, collagen and other healing buddies come in to pull the wound together. It’s not particularly organized, but that’s okay because really, priorities are to keep things from getting in. In the next weeks, the collagen fibers will start organizing according to the demands of that particular tissue resulting in a pinkish or red color to the scar. It’s about this time that you can tell if things aren’t going well, namely, the scar shouldn’t be painful. We don’t know for sure why some scars cause problems and others don’t. The best guesses have to do with genetics, tissue tension, hormonal glands, and blood supply. Within 7-12 weeks, not only should the scar not be painful, but it also should move as freely as the tissue around it—without tugging at other places. The scar should be flat and slightly lighter than skin color.
MOVEMENT AND ICE
In the first days, keep good blood flow to the area while managing the pain. For perineal scars, you can work by breathing gently into your pelvic floor and changing your position regularly so that blood doesn’t stagnate in the area. For cesarean scars, working on deep breathing is a safe way to gently move the area without disrupting the healing. You want to keep big movements limited (but really, you’re a mom and movements are a part of life). Use the pain meds as needed so that your muscles continue to function normally. Things like vagsicles (frozen maxi-pads) and support belts can also help with the pain. A regular ice pack for the c-section scar is also a good option. Make sure to place a thin towel between the ice or vagiscles and the skin.
At the postpartum six-week appointment, have your physician or midwife check the mobility of the scar. If it is painful or stuck, ask if the scar healed enough to start gentle scar massage. The idea of the scar massage is to give a non-threatening stimulus for desensitizing the area and re-orienting fibers so that the tissue moves freely.
For both the perineal and cesarean scar, if the movement of the scar exceeds pain 2-3/10, start with just desensitization. This can be as simple as tapping the scar or rubbing the scar gently with a towel for 3-5 minutes/day.
For a perineal scar, use a clean finger to slightly push the scar along perineal body up towards the body to create some slack. Then, move the scar away from the center in all directions (north, south, east, west, and in between) to find out which direction is the least mobile. Hold the scar in the restricted direction for 30 seconds. The pain should not exceed more than 2-3/10. Repeat 3-5 more times. You should be able to steadily tolerate more movement within a month.
For a cesarean section scar before 3 months, lift the tissue around the scar in a generous pinch and move the scar up and down, then side to side. Continue along the length of the scar until you find an area of pain or restriction. At this point, spend a little more time and move that area of the scar 10-30 times and keep moving. Again, the pain should not exceed 2-3/10. For a cesarean section scar older than 3 months, you can mobilize the scar in the same movements by direct pressure or skin rolling—up and down, side to side, clockwise and counterclockwise and lifting with skin rolling.
For the new mama, this is easy to incorporate in the precious quiet moments in the shower.
The gold standard of stubborn scars is silicone with or without compression. For hypertrophic scars and keloids in other parts of the body, silicone sheets and gels are the primary non-invasive prevention and treatment. Silicone strips and gels are easily used over a cesarean scar. Silicone is used daily for 12-24 hours for 2-4 months to soften and decreases the height of the scar. The sheets and compression can also help with the hypersensitivity. Because of the proximity to the body cavities, silicone is not advised for perineal scars.
*If you want to try to avoid perineal tearing altogether, ask your birth team to help birth baby’s head slowly and use warm compresses during pushing, stay active during labor, deliver in a side-lying or upright position, and perineal massage in late pregnancy can all help reduce the risk of perineal tearing.
If you have tried these simple interventions and still find your scar problematic or think your scar is related to pain in neighboring areas, find a women’s health physical therapist to help manage your care. Recent studies show that in 4-8 sessions, skilled physical therapy changes the mobility and thickness of old scars to decrease pain and improve function.
Scar management is widely promoted in post-operative care in orthopedics, plastics, and dermatology—we hope that scar care will soon be standard of care in post-partum care.
Joanna practices at our Downtown location
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Comesaña AC, Vicente MD, Ferreira TD, del Mar Pérez-La Fuente M, Quintáns MM, Pilat A. Effect of myofascial induction therapy on post-c-section scars, more than one and a half years old. Pilot study. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2017 Jan 1;21(1):197-204.
Huang C, Murphy GF, Akaishi S, Ogawa R. Keloids and hypertrophic scars: update and future directions. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open. 2013 Jul;1(4).
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Set Up: Kneel on the reformer facing either right or left side of the room with a strap held in both hands. Hands should be directly in front of the sternum, and arms rounded as if holding a big beach ball. Shoulders relaxed, lats slightly engaged, lower abs lifting up and glutes engaged for stability.
Execution: Inhale to prep. Exhale to twist from waist towards foot bar while maintaining fixed upper body posture. Inhale to return back to starting position. Imagine wringing out your waist.
Focus: Obliques and TA, spinal rotation, and pelvic stability. Be sure to keep the pelvis still while twisting from your waist. Your range of motion should only be about a quarter of a pie. Initiate movement with the ribcage, not the arms.
Importance: Core strengthening, spinal mobility, pelvic stability, and overall coordination.
Modifications: If dealing with bad knees, perform the exercise while sitting on the long box. This can also be done standing on the floor with a theraband attached to a doorknob, or standing with free weights.
Just in time for your New Year’s Resolutions, here’s another awesome exercise from Kierstin Elliot, Pilates Teacher at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy!
Goal: Strengthen the glutes and balance
Exercise: Slingshot Lunges on the Reformer
Set Up: Standing on the floor with right foot near foot bar and left foot against the shoulder rest. Keep left knee straight and tilt upper body forward creating one long diagonal line from head to back toes. Use one blue spring as resistance. Belly button and chin are tucked in with neck lengthened and shoulders rounded back.
Execution: Inhale to send pelvis back into lunge bending the front knee 90 degrees while reaching arms forward and keeping the pelvis level and squared off to the front. Keep shoulders away from ears. Exhale to straighten the front knee, lower arms to sides, and return to your starting position.
Focus: Be sure to keep proper alignment throughout the spine. Lumbar spine should be elongated and supported throughout the entire exercise. Maintain core connection by dropping bottom ribs towards the top of your hips bones. Hips should also be level and squared off to the front- make sure there’s no pelvic rotation during lunges.
Importance: One of the best exercises for strengthening your glutes! This exercise also enhances your ability to stabilize the pelvis and lower back while connecting to the core for improved balance.
Modifications: Limit the range of motion in standard position, or drop back knee to the carriage. Dropping the back knee may draw more focus to the quad, making the exercise feel more like a stretch, however, the focus should still be held on standing glute. For an added challenge, grab a set of 3 pound free weights for your arms for added core control.
Low back pain is the most common cause of disability and lost work time among working-age adults in industrialized countries (1). In fact, the worldwide prevalence of chronic low back pain has been estimated to be 11.9% of the population on a given day, and 23.2% of the population in a one-month period (2). That is a significant number of people! Determining effective treatments for low back pain can be challenging for various reasons: 1. there are no clearly defined risk factors that predict the development or outcome of low back pain; 2. most patients do not present with any significant findings physiologically or anatomically; 3. and pain can generate and spread at numerous locations within the nervous system, and can constantly change (1).
Treatment of Low Back Pain
There are many challenges associated with low back pain diagnosis and outcomes. Because of this, and the fact that so many people across the globe are impacted by it, there are many options out there for treating this condition. Some methods that have been proven to be effective are spinal manipulation (a high-velocity thrust applied directly on the vertebrae, or backbones, to improve movement and decrease pain), trunk coordination, strengthening, and endurance exercises (to target deep abdominal and back muscles that help to stabilize the spine), general fitness exercise, and patient education (1). These types of interventions are certainly helpful and have allowed many individuals experiencing low back pain to return to their daily lives. However, perhaps the areas that are being addressed with these interventions are not getting to the whole story… There is another area of the body that plays a significant role in the stability of the back but does not regularly get addressed with standard treatment to low back pain: the pelvic floor.
Treating the Pelvic Floor to Address Low Back Pain
Several studies have looked at incorporating pelvic floor-specific strengthening programs in the treatment of chronic low back pain. One study looked at women who were experiencing low back pain and urinary incontinence (the involuntary leakage of urine) (3), while two others looked at individuals experiencing chronic low back pain independently in men and women (4, 5). In all three studies, investigators compared “routine” physical therapy to routine physical therapy plus the addition of pelvic floor strengthening. Results revealed that incorporating pelvic floor strengthening decreased low back pain, decreased the incidence of urine leakage in the case of urinary incontinence, improved function based on specific questionnaires, and increased pelvic floor strength and endurance (3-5). This strengthening was completed by either performing isolated pelvic floor contractions (4, 5), or performing abdominal and pelvic floor muscle contractions while performing specific stabilizing exercises (3).
The Relationship Between the Pelvic Floor and the Low Back
Why did strengthening the pelvic floor make a difference in the above studies? This is likely because the pelvic floor is one of the muscle groups that contributes to overall spine stability; the others include the diaphragm, the transverse abdominis (a lower abdominal muscle), and deep muscles in the low back (3). Several studies out of Norway and Sweden have revealed that in women without pain, the pelvic floor activates just prior to arm or leg movement (6-8). This is important because it reveals that when the pelvic floor is working efficiently, it provides stability to the trunk and pelvis, allowing for functional postures and movements to occur.
The pelvic floor is an important stabilizer of the spine and pelvis, and activates just prior to movement to allow for efficient function. When an individual is experiencing low back pain, not only do the abdominals and low back muscles require strengthening, focusing on the pelvic floor can help to eliminate pain and resume daily function.
If you or someone you know is struggling with unresolved low back pain, make an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist today for further assessment. Feel free to contact our midtown office at 212-354-2622 or our downtown office at 212-267-0240, or visit our website (www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com) for more information!
If you have questions about orthopedic, pelvic, or sports physical therapy, including back pain, BBPT is offering free phone consults to those living in the greater NYC area for a limited amount of time!
Beyond Basics Physical Therapy
212-354-2622 (42nd Street Location)
212-267-0240 (William Street Location)
1. Beattie PF. 2016. Current concepts of orthopedic physical therapy – the lumbar spine: physical therapy patient management using current evidence, 4th edition. (p. 3) Orthopedic Section – APTA.
2. Hoy D, Bain C, Williams G, et al. A systematic review of the global prevalence of low back pain. Arthritis Rheum. 2012; 64 (6): 2028-2037. doi:10.1002/art.34347.
3. Ghaderi F, Mohammadi K, Sasan RA, et al. Effects of stabilization exercises focusing on pelvic floor muscles on low back pain and on urinary incontinence in women. Urology. 2016; 93: 50-54.
4. Mohseni-Bandpei MA, Rahmani N, Behtash H, et al. The effect of pelvic floor muscle exercise on women with chronic non-specific low back pain. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies. 2011; 15: 75-81.
5. Bi X, Zhao J, Liu Z, et al Pelvic floor muscle exercise for chronic low back pain. Journal of International Medical Research. 2012; 41 (1): 146-152.
6. Sjodahl J, Gutke A, Ghaffari G, et al. Response of the muscles in the pelvic floor and the lower lateral abdominal wall during the active straight leg raise in women with and without pelvic girdle pain: an experimental study. Clinical Biomechanics. 2016; 35: 49-55.
7. Stuge B, Saetre K, Hoff BI. The automatic pelvic floor muscle response to the active straight leg raise in cases with pelvic girdle pain and matched controls. Manual Therapy. 2013; 18: 327-332.
8. Sjodahl J, Kvist J, Gutke A, et al. The postural response of the pelvic floor muscles during limb movements: a methodological electromyography study in parous women without lumbopelvic pain. Clinical Biomechanics. 2009; 24: 183-189.
Set up: Lie facedown on the box with naval pulled up towards the spine, chin tucked in with neck lengthened (as if you are holding a tangerine under your chin), glutes engaged, and legs extended. Pull yourself to back bars of the reformer and hold onto the poles with both hands. Use one blue spring for resistance.
Execution: Inhale to lengthen elbows, exhale to bend elbows.
Focus: The main muscle group targeted here are the lats. Think about pulling down from the armpits while the elbows bend and extend. This action will help stabilize the shoulders, keeping them out of the ears. Also, focus on releasing the upper traps and lengthening the back of the neck. The more work we can get from underneath the shoulder blades, rather than above, the better!
Importance: Improves posture! Strong back extensors lead to better posture, especially in this day in age where phones and computers are constantly pulling our shoulders forward and weakening our backs. Incorporate a few lat pulls into your routine and feel taller almost instantly!
Modifications: To make it easier, drop tension to one yellow spring. To make it harder, place a squishy ball between ankles and add hamstring curls or pulses between lat pull sets!
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!