Breath. Breath is the common denominator for understanding how pilates can enhance the pelvic floor’s function. Reciprocally, using your pelvic floor correctly can deepen your connection to your pilates practice.
Let’s take a look at how to optimize your breath in the first place. A deep, three dimensional breath utilizes your diaphragm to its fullest extent. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts forming a dome shape under the rib cage while simultaneously lengthening the pelvic floor creating a cylindrical shape within your torso.
There are two options for the rib cage while you take this inhale. Option one involves flaring the ribs outward during the breath. Option two involves narrowing the ribs slightly down towards your ASIS (hip bones). When we breathe with a more neutral, tapered rib cage, we utilize the second option for rib placement, thus finding our Zone of Apposition (ZOA). Breathing within the ZOA provides us with the most efficient breath we can take. Once the ribs are placed properly over the pelvis, we’re able to create the cylindrical shape within the torso and the relationship between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor is optimized!
Pilates is rooted in core strengthening principles that directly correlate to breath and the ZOA. In order to keep your ribs from flaring, ultimately keeping you from finding the ZOA, you need to have a sense of abdominal control. There are a handful of ways to find the ZOA, but one of my favorite cues to use with clients is to “narrow your ribs toward your naval.” Try this on your own either lying down, sitting, or standing, and notice what happens to your abs as soon as you taper, or narrow, your ribs toward your naval. You should feel some muscle tone over your stomach. AKA your abs kicking in!
Once you’ve achieved proper rib placement, ab engagement, and optimal breath, layering various exercises into your program will be much more attainable. It requires a good amount of body awareness to be able to coordinate these three major concepts before advancing through your pilates practice. It’s also important to concentrate on how your pelvic floor is reacting to your breath and movement. In footwork, for example, you start in neutral spine and exhale as you press the carriage out feeling a slight contraction in the pelvic floor. On the inhale, knees bend pulling the carriage back to it’s starting position while the tailbone drops slightly and the sits bones widen allowing you to lengthen the pelvic floor. (Prime example of moving within your ZOA).
As you can see, the pelvic floor plays a huge role in breath and core activation which is the root foundation of all your pilates and basic core exercises! If this interests you, or utterly confuses you, schedule a pilates session with me at Beyond Basics!
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.
You’ve probably heard of SI pain, but what is the SIJ and what can we do if something goes wrong?
The sacroiliac joint (SIJ) connects the sacrum, the wedge-shaped bone at the bottom of the spine, to the ilium, which is one of three bones that make up each half of the pelvis. (1) The sacroiliac joint is designated as a diarthrodial joint, which means it is a moveable joint that is surrounded by connective tissue. (2,3) Each joint is supported mainly by ligaments that lie in front and behind it, that are made up of strong, threadlike types of connective tissue. Stability is also enhanced through ligaments that connect between the spine and the sacrum (sacrospinous ligament), and the sit bone and the sacrum (sacrotuberous ligament). (2)
The SIJ helps us to walk and change positions by being stable enough to move weight from the spine to the legs, while allowing for a small amount of movement between the spine and the pelvis. This small amount of movement between the spine and the pelvis is also important as it allows for the pelvis to expand to make childbirth easier. (2,4) These functions can occur due to the unique design of the SIJ.
According to a well-known researcher named Andry Vleeming, the SIJ gains its stability in one of two ways: through form closure or force closure. Form closure refers to the stability provided by the bony surfaces of the sacrum and ilium, which fit together like a puzzle. You may use this type of stability, for instance, when you are lifting a heavy box, or pushing a very full cart of groceries; you want your SIJ to be as immobile as possible so your trunk can be stiff and rigid, allowing you to move a heavy load without overstressing any muscles in your back. Force closure describes stability occurring through the ligaments and muscles around the joint; this allows for more movement to occur. For this type of stability, think salsa dancing. In salsa dancing you need a great deal of hip and pelvic movement; however, you need those movements to be in control so you can move with precision along with the quick beat of the music. (5-7)
What is sacroiliac joint dysfunction?
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SIJD) is a common cause of low back pain, accounting for up to 40% of cases of nonspecific low back pain. (4,8) It can occur in any population: males and females; those with a sedentary lifestyle and those who are athletes. However, there seems to be a slightly greater occurrence in women, with the theory being that since the joint surface in women is smaller and less curved, the SIJ may become dislodged more easily. (2,4) SIJD can have a negative impact on quality of life, from being less active to having a financial impact. For instance, indirect health-care costs associated with low back pain range from $7-$28 billion per year, and individuals lose an estimated 5.2 hours of work time per week. (4)
The origin of SIJ pain is unknown; however, factors that may contribute include fractures, ligamentous injuries, or inflammation that occur with excessive stress to the SIJ. (8) Risk factors for developing SIJD include abnormal walking patterns, differences in leg length, scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine), heavy physical exertion, trauma, pregnancy, and back surgery. (8) Presentation of symptoms can vary quite a bit; however, individuals with SIJD often present with achy low back pain that can make it difficult to find a comfortable position. Pain may worsen with running, climbing stairs, or standing from a seated position. Also, if pain is truly coming from the SIJ, a person will not experience symptoms down into the leg, as is seen with sciatic nerve involvement. (4)
How is SIJD diagnosed?
SIJD can be very challenging to diagnose due to the complexity of the joint itself, as well as the variation in pain patterns that can be seen; thus, if you visit a healthcare provider, you may find he or she performs an array of components in an examination. Many individuals have tenderness with touch over the joint; this can help a healthcare provider rule in SIJD. (2,8). Also, various orthopedic tests can be performed that put stress on this joint, such as by putting a person’s trunk or leg in a certain position to see if it recreates symptoms. (2) Imaging can be performed in this area, but it rarely provides clear information that can help make a diagnosis; however, a doctor might recommend it if there is a concern for infection, inflammation, fracture, or other more serious conditions. (2) Injections into the SIJ itself can also be used to help diagnosis this condition, and are shown to be one of the single-most definitive diagnostic tools available. (2) Overall, effective diagnosis for dysfunction at the SIJ requires the use of multiple tools to help increase the accuracy of the condition being ruled in or out.
How can this impact function? Why does it matter?
It is hypothesized that SIJD can have such a significant impact on quality of life because it results in inadequate stability at the joint during movement. If the SIJ is unable to maintain an optimal level of stability, then excessive stresses will likely be placed on surrounding structures and tissues when each leg has body weight going through it. This can lead to other areas of pain, and potentially start the process of degeneration. (4) A recent research group looked at the impact of SIJD on a simple, but common functional task of rising from a chair. They found that in individuals with SIJD, there were significant differences in the amount of weight a person was putting through the leg on the painful side, as well as in the amount of bend at the hips when sitting. They also found that when individuals began to rise from a chair, muscles on the side of SIJ did not turn on right away, which means the muscles were not helping to keep the SIJ from moving too much. (4) Thus, this condition can make it challenging to use the body efficiently due to pain and weakness, which can negatively impact function throughout a given day.
What can physical therapy do?
Once a person is diagnosed with SIJD, what can be done? Research has shown that non-surgical treatment, such as physical therapy, can be very beneficial for someone with SIJD. If you see a physical therapist, you will likely receive some variation of joint mobilization and exercise, which is shown to help achieve significant improvements in pain, function, alignment, and muscle control. Exercise programs that emphasized pelvic stability through core, pelvic floor, and gluteus (hip and buttock) exercises, as well as increasing the strength of hip rotator muscles, decreased pain and decreased reported disability after a range of 8-12 weeks. (8,9) In other studies, an exercise program that focused mostly on gluteus maximus strengthening was utilized, since this muscle is considered one of the primary stabilizers of the SIJ. The exercises in these programs included bridging, single leg bridging, hip extension on hands and knees, fire hydrants, deadlifts, and single-leg squatting. In these studies, participants reported less pain after the course of treatment, demonstrated increased muscle strength, and returned to normal daily activities. (10,11) While there is no set exercise protocol established at this point, a strengthening program, with or without a home program, is a mainstay for treating this condition, and results in improved function.
Are there other treatments?
In some cases, physical therapy alone is unable to resolve the issue. In these situations, a patient may be given an injection of corticosteroids to decrease inflammation, in or around the SIJ. Prolotherapy is also sometimes used in this population to help reconstruct or regenerate damaged or weakened connective tissue. While it is helpful to know what other options are out there, it is important to note that the research in these areas is continuing to develop, and there is no consensus on dosage or who is the optimal candidate. (2)
The sacroiliac joint is a complex joint between the back and the pelvis, that allows for minimal mobility, and is required to maintain stability between the trunk and the legs. It can become painful due to direct or indirect trauma, which can have a significant impact on function and quality of life. While diagnosis can be tricky due to the wide variety of symptoms, research is finding that conservative care through physical therapy can make a significant difference by promoting optimal alignment and stability. If you or someone you know is struggling with sacroiliac joint dysfunction, make an appointment with a physical therapist today to help improve function. Feel free to contact our office at 212-354-2622, or visit our website (www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com) for more information!
4. Capobianco RA, Feeney DF, Jeffers JR, et al. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction patients exhibit altered movement strategies when performing a sit-to-stand task. The Spine Journal, 2018, DOI: https://doiorg/10.1016/j.spinee.2018.03.008.
5. Vleeming A, Stoeckart R, Volkers AC, et al. Relation between form and function in the sacroiliac joint. Part I: Clinical anatomical aspects. Spine, vol 15, 1990, pp. 130-132.
6. Vleeming A, Volkers AC, Snijders CJ, et al. Relation between form and function in the sacroiliac jt. Part II: Biomechanical aspects. Spine, vol 15, 1990, pp. 133-136.
7. Vleeming A, Schuenke MD, Masi AT, et al. The sacroiliac joint: an overview of its anatomy, function, and potential clinical implications. J Anat, vol 221, 2012, pp. 537-567.
8. Al-Subahi M, Alayat M, Alshehri MA, et al. The effectiveness of physiotherapy interventions for the sacroiliac joint dysfunction: a systematic review. J Phys Ther Sci, vol 29, 2017, pp. 1689-1694.
9. Albright J, Allman R, Bonfiglio RP, et al. Philadelphia Panel Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines on Selected Rehabilitation Interventions for Low Back Pain, Physical Therapy, vol 81, n 10, 2001, pp. 1641–1674.
10. Added MAN, de Freitas DG, Kasawara KT, et al. Strengthening the gluteus maximus in subjects with sacroiliac dysfunction. International Journal of Sports Phys Ther, vol 13, n 1, 2018, pp. 114-120.
11. Yoo WG. Effect of the single-leg, lateral oblique, decline squat exercise on sacroiliac joint pain with knee pain. J Phys Ther Sci, vol 28, 2016, pp. 2688-2689.
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
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. Endometriosis can be worsened with testosterone hormones. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-354-2622. We are happy to help and look forward to hearing from you! Resources: Center of excellence for transgender health.
Set up: Lying on back, imprint spine, legs in table top, arms resting by sides.
Execution: Inhale to start, exhale to hinge right leg down towards floor (about 45 degrees from hip) and then return back to table top. Repeat on left side, alternating for 8-10 reps. Start with minimal range of motion and then increase once you feel more confident with the exercise.
Focus: Lower abs. It’s imperative to go slowly with this exercise to ensure isolation of the abdomen. Focus on turning off the quads and hip flexors ( the muscles in the front of the legs) as they will want to take over. In addition, be careful that your pelvis doesn’t tip sideways or your back doesn’t arch. Initiate from the lowers abs.
Importance: One of the best exercises for lower abdominal strengthening. This exercise also enhances your ability to stabilize the pelvis and lower back, isolate lower abs, and hone in on the mind/body connection.
Modifications: For a challenge, try keeping legs together. Allow yourself to hinge downward for 4 seconds and then back up to table top for 4 seconds. To make it more accessible, try placing an inflatable cushion or disk under your sacrum. This prop will add increased awareness to lower back/pelvis region as well as adding support.
May is arthritis awareness month. Arthritis can come in many different forms. It can be a result of wear and tear or it can be a response to an autoimmune condition. There are many different types of arthritis, but the fact remains that in all of these different types of arthritis, once the damage to the joint is done, it is done. Currently, we have no way of repairing the joint outside of joint replacement. You may be thinking, if the damage is done, why bother spending my precious time and money in physical therapy? The reason is that physical therapy and lifestyle management can make a huge difference towards reducing your pain, improving your function, and even preventing the progression of joint break down. Physical therapy has been proven to help reduce pain and increase function, and in many cases, avoid surgery.
Physical therapists are movement experts. It seems obvious that they should be the providers directly involved in restoring function to individuals with diseases of the joints. For both rheumatoid conditions as well as osteoarthritis, physical activity is considered the first line intervention for improving pain and function. This is not to say that exercise will replace disease modifying arthritis drugs (DMARDs) in cases of rheumatoid arthritis. It is saying treatment is not complete until you address the strength, pain, and range of motion problems that occur with arthritis.
Physical therapy will not change the conditions of joints that have been damaged by arthritis; however, physical therapy is paramount to improving the prognosis of arthritis by helping to improve the strength around the joint, range of motion, and stability of the joint to prevent further cartilage and joint break down. Physical therapy can also have a marked effect on the pain and function, and can open up your world to things that were once too painful. In a meta-analysis study conducted by Sampath and colleagues, two common physical therapy techniques, manual therapy (work on the joints) and exercise therapy were examined to assess the efficacy of these techniques on pain and function in individuals with arthritis. The study found strong evidence that exercise therapy and manual therapy were good at reducing pain and improving function in people with arthritis.
Physical therapy is so worth the investment. It is an investment in your comfort, the ability to do the things you love, and commonly helps people stave off needing a joint replacement. Full disclosure, I’m partial to our clinic, Beyond Basics Physical Therapy (understatement of the year, I know). What makes us so special is that we have the manual therapy, exercise and orthopedic experts. We all come from various orthopedic (joint and muscle PT) backgrounds including the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) and the Institute of Physical Art (IPA) and many of us have earned advance orthopedic certifications such as the Certified Functional Manual Therapist (CFMT), Certified Orthopedic Specialist (OCS), and Postural Restoration Certification (PRC) distinctions. What this means is our therapists have the knowledge and skill set to go above and beyond the basics in our hour long treatments to treat you head to toe, improving the way your body moves and more importantly, how it feels. Click here to read more about the ins and outs of the CFMT certification and how it can take you to the a place of less pain and more function here.
Another thing to keep in mind is your weight. When it comes to management of arthritic conditions, additional pounds put additional stress on your joints and can hasten the progression of joint break down. Losing pounds can be a big task when your joints are not feeling their best. Your physical therapist can guide you through exercises that are efficient for weight loss and do not exacerbate your symptoms. We also can provide a valuable link to get you set up with proper nutritional support to help manage weight.
Once the damage is done by arthritis it is done; however, that does not mean you are condemned to pain, decrease function and continued deterioration. Get physical therapy today for pain relief and to get moving again!
We have two clinics. One in Midtown Manhattan and one Downtown. We also offer Pilates and personal training at our clinics, which can help get you back into an exercise routine.
Give us a call today to find out more:
212- 267-0240 (Downtown)
Heidari B, Rheumatoid Arthritis: Early diagnosis and treatment outcomes. J Capsian Internal Med. 2011: 2(1) 161-70
Hootman J, Murphy L, Omura J, et Al. Health care provider counselling for physical activity among adults with arthritis. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2018; 66(51-52) 1398-1401
Sampath K, Mani R, Miyamori T, et al. The effect of manual therapy or exercise therapy or both in people with hip osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Rehab. 2016; 3-(12) 1141-55
Wang Y, Lombard C, Hussain S, et al.Effect of a low-intensity, self-management lifestyle intervention on knee pain in community- based young to middle-aged rural women: a cluster randomised controlled trial. Arthritis Research & Therapy. 2018; 20(74)
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an “immune-mediated” disease, in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system (1). The cause is unknown. MS is characterized by injuries (plaques) of the myelin, which is a fatty substance that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers; nerve fibers themselves may also be attacked. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue that is called “sclerosis,” which is how the disease was named (1,2). When the myelin, or nerve fibers, are damaged or destroyed at any point on the neural pathway, nerve impulses that are traveling between the brain, spinal cord and the body are interrupted, and as a result, can create a variety of symptoms.(1)
The more common symptoms seen in individuals with MS are:
Numbness or tingling
Dizziness or Vertigo
Types of MS:
There are four disease courses that have been identified in multiple sclerosis:
Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS) – a first episode of neurologic symptoms in the central nervous system, which lasts at least 24 hours.(1)
Relapsing-remitting MS (RMSS) – the most common form of the disease, that is characterized by clearly defined episodes of new or increasing neurologic symptoms (relapses), followed by periods of partial or complete recovery (remissions).(1)
Primary progressive MS (PPMS) – characterized by a gradual worsening of neurologic function, from the onset of symptoms, without any relapses or remissions.(1)
Secondary progressive MS (SPMS) – follows a course of MS that is initially relapsing-remitting. Most people with RMSS will eventually transition into a secondary progressive course, which is when their neurologic function will gradually worsen over time.(1)
Treatment of MS:
Because of the complex nature of this condition, and because it is not a curable disease, the management of MS requires comprehensive care. One component of that care is physical therapy. A physical therapist will evaluate and address the body’s ability to move and function. Common physical therapy interventions frequently address walking and mobility, strength, balance, posture, fatigue, and pain. However, did you know that physical therapy can also treat issues with bowel, bladder, and sexual dysfunction(1)? These dysfunctions are addressed through treating the pelvic floor musculature and surrounding tissues, which is performed by specially trained clinicians, such as the physical therapists at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy.
As previously noted, patients with MS can have various symptoms, including symptoms related to pelvic floor dysfunction, such as bladder, bowel, and/or sexual dysfunction. According to one study from 2016, individuals with MS can have lower anal sphincter pressure (which limits their ability to control stool flow), as well as higher rectal sensitivity (which makes it more difficult for a person to appropriately recognize when they need to defecate). These can increase the occurrence of fecal incontinence (involuntary leakage of stool), as adequate muscle strength and tone are needed to prevent leakage, and appropriate urge is required to ensure a person can get to the bathroom when they actually need to go (3) Even in the constipated individual with MS, there is a decrease in anal sphincter tone, which results in poor muscle coordination, making the release of stool more challenging (3) With these individuals, pelvic floor relaxation is typically needed to allow for easier and complete emptying and to decrease symptoms of bowel urgency.
Several studies from the late 1990s and early 2000s have looked at using biofeedback to help retrain muscle coordination. Biofeedback was applied in two ways: through stick-on electrodes that measured the response of muscles surrounding the anus, and with feedback applied internally in the rectum, with a finger, rental sensor or balloon. With stick-on electrodes, individuals are typically connected to a machine that allows them to see the electrical activity of their muscles, so they can work on controlling them (contract or relax). With internal feedback through a therapist’s gloved finger, with a rectal sensor or balloon, individuals can improve muscle control through gaining better awareness of their pelvic floor muscles. Researchers found that the use of biofeedback yielded some improvement in patient reported disability for those experiencing either constipation or fecal incontinence (4,5). Physical therapy treatments to address muscle coordination and sensitivity can be helpful to treat those experiencing constipation or fecal incontinence related to MS; however, more research is needed to help enhance care.
As MS impacts the nerve signal transmission along nerve channels, urinary dysfunction frequently occurs (6) The most common urinary disorder seen in this population is urinary incontinence, which is involuntary leakage of urine. Urinary incontinence is related to fatigue and uncoordinated muscle recruitment, which are characteristic of MS, and can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life(2) Another common diagnosis is overactive bladder, which interrupts bladder function and causes a sudden need to urinate(6). This may occur, at least in part, due to hyperactive muscles in the pelvic floor that have become too short and tight over time.
Many groups have looked at the impact of physical therapy to directly address weaknesses that develop in the pelvic floor, and are related to urinary dysfunction (6,7) Two separate articles published in 2016 looked at groups of women with MS, and split them into groups to undergo pelvic floor muscle training with and without some form of electrical stimulation. The emphasis of this intervention was to train the pelvic floor muscles how to activate without compensation from surrounding muscles, over the course of several months (6,7) By the end of one study, women in both groups demonstrated increased pelvic floor strength and endurance, decreased symptoms of overactive bladder, and decreased anxiety and depression (6). In the other study, all three groups exhibited a decrease in pad weight, which measured the amount of urinary leakage, as well as decreased frequency of urgency and urge incontinence episodes(7). This research is showing that direct treatment to the pelvic floor muscles help to decrease urinary symptoms in people with MS, as muscle strength and endurance are increased.
Sexual dysfunction is also common in individuals with MS (affecting 40%-80%)(8). Sexual arousal begins in the nervous system with the brain sending signals through the spinal cord and nerves to the sexual organs. These pathways can become damaged due to the effects of MS on the nervous system, which in turn impacts a person’s sexual response or sensation. Symptoms of this may manifest as difficulty achieving orgasm or loss of libido, as well as erectile dysfunction in men, and altered clitoral/vaginal sensation or vaginal dryness in women (9). Other symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, muscle weakness, and spasticity also negatively impact sexual response in this population (8).
Pelvic floor muscles are responsible for rhythmical involuntary contractions during orgasm. These contractions occur when sensory information travels through nerves to these muscles. Continued, uninterrupted stimulation may allow for sexual arousal to progress and build up to a maximum point. Once this point is reached, the pelvic floor muscles, which have been gradually becoming tighter and tighter, get even tighter, hold this tension momentarily, and then release all tension; this is an orgasm (10). Through various research, it has been shown that weak pelvic floor muscles can lead to a decrease in orgasm and arousal (8) and specific pelvic floor muscle strengthening can help improve sexual function, especially in females (11,12,13).
One study that looks at MS-related sexual dysfunction is a 2014 article published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal. This article took 20 women diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, and divided them into three treatment groups: pelvic floor muscle training alone, pelvic floor muscle training with intravaginal electrical stimulation, and pelvic floor muscle training with electrical stimulation applied over a nerve in the leg. The pelvic floor muscle training in each group consisted of teaching each participant how to contract her pelvic floor without using surrounding muscles as a compensation, and then performing both fast and slow contractions, over twelve weeks of treatments. After the twelve weeks of treatment, individuals in all three groups demonstrated significant improvements in muscle power, endurance, and fast contractions of the pelvic floor. They also reported an increase in the total score, as well as the arousal, lubrication, and satisfaction subscores, of the Female Sexual Function Index.8 What this study has shown is, in women with MS, physical therapy can help to treat sexual dysfunction by enhancing muscle response and activity in the pelvic floor.
All bowel, bladder, and sexual function rely in part on strong and flexible muscles in the pelvic floor. With Multiple Sclerosis, these muscles tend to lose either mobility and then strength, and/or muscle tone and coordination. Either way, the loss of efficient tissue tension, coordination, and strength, makes the performance of these important functions much more challenging. While various medications or other interventions, may also be necessary to help individuals with MS manage their symptoms, physical therapy has been proven to be an important part of the healthcare team. Here at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, all our clinicians have specialized training to evaluate and treat the pelvic floor, so each one of us is in a strong position to help you manage these symptoms and improve function! Feel free to contact our office at 212-354-2622, or visit our website (www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com) for more information!
de Abreu Pereira CM, Castiglione M, Kasawara KT. “Effects of Physiotherapy Treatment for Urinary Incontinence in Patient with Multiple Sclerosis.” Journal of Physical Therapy Science 2017; 29(7): 1259–1263.
Marola S, Ferrarese A, Gibin E, et al. “Anal Sphincter Dysfunction in Multiple Sclerosis: An Observation Manometric Study.” Open Medicine 2016; 11(1): 509–517.
Chiotakakou-Faliakou E, Kamm MA, Roy AJ, et al. Biofeedback provides long-term benefit for patients with intractable, slow and normal transit constipation. Gut 1998;42:517–21.
Wiesel PH, Norton C, Roy AJ, et al. Gut focused behavioural treatment (biofeedback) for constipation and faecal incontinence in multiple sclerosis. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2000;69:240–243.
Ferreira, Ana Paula Silva, et al. “Impact of a Pelvic Floor Training Program Among Women with Multiple Sclerosis.” American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation 2016; 95(1): 1–8.
Lúcio A, Dʼancona CA, Perissinotto MC, et al. “Pelvic Floor Muscle Training With and Without Electrical Stimulation in the Treatment of Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms in Women With Multiple Sclerosis.”Journal of Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing 2016; 43(4): 414–419.
Lúcio AC, D’Ancona CA, Lopes MH, et al. “The Effect of Pelvic Floor Muscle Training Alone or in Combination with Electrostimulation in the Treatment of Sexual Dysfunction in Women with Multiple Sclerosis.” Multiple Sclerosis Journal 2014; 2 (13): 1761–1768.
Lowentein L, Gruenwald I, Gartman I, et al. Can stronger pelvic muscle floor improve secual function? Int Urogynecol J 2010; 21: 553-556.
Bo K, Talseth T, Vinsnes A (2000) Randomized controlled trial on the effect of pelvic floor muscle training on quality of life and sexual problems in genuine stress incontinent women. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 79(7):598–603
Beji NK, Yalcin O, Erkan HA (2003) The effect of pelvic floor training on sexual function of treated patients. International urogynecology journal and pelvic floor dysfunction 14(4):234–238
Zahariou AG, Karamouti MV, Papaioannou PD (2008) Pelvic floor muscle training improves sexual function of women with stress urinary incontinence. International urogynecology journal and pelvic floor dysfunction 19(3):401–406.