Joint Changes in Arthritis are Permanent, but Pain Does Not Have to Be

stick man

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

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:

212-354-2622 (Midtown)

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)

Building a strong foundation – Treating the pelvic floor in individuals with multiple sclerosis

By: Kaitlyn Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT

MS

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

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)

Symptoms:

The more common symptoms seen in individuals with MS are:

  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or Vertigo
  • Sexual Problems
  • Pain
  • Emotional changes
  • Walking difficulties
  • Spasticity
  • Vision problems
  • Bladder problems
  • Bowel problems
  • Cognitive changes
  • Depression(1)

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.

 

Bowel Dysfunction:

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.

Urinary Dysfunction:

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:

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.

Conclusion:

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!

Sources:

  1. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. “Sexual Problems.” National Multiple Sclerosis Society, http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms/Sexual-Dysfunction.
  10. Lowentein L, Gruenwald I, Gartman I, et al. Can stronger pelvic muscle floor improve secual function? Int Urogynecol J 2010; 21: 553-556.
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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.

Continuing our Education: Vestibulodynia, Vulvar Pain, and Beyond

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Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

In a blog a few posts back, we covered some of our new skills we developed with our friends, Kelli Wilson PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, and Sara Sauder PT, DPT in addressing issues of the male pelvic floor. In this post, we will cover the new techniques and latest information we learned in issues concerning pelvic floor dysfunction in individuals of the female anatomy.

As experienced and expert physical therapists, we are all extremely comfortable with treating disorders of the pelvic floor, but the thing is, there is so much new information coming out, that even if your latest training was two years ago, chances are, there is a lot of new information out there to discover, which can really help your patients.

One of the most interesting things we learned about was in regards to hormonally mediated vestibulodynia and vulvar atrophy. Although many of us know how to spot these conditions, learning about the specific mechanism that causes them in cases of long term birth control use was fascinating. Long term birth control use can actually suppress the production of estradiol and testosterone from the ovaries and cause the liver to increase levels of sex binding hormone globulin, which takes even more of these hormones out of circulation. When this happens, the vulvar tissue can shrink, become thin, and friable (tear easily). This can cause burning and pain. It is important for PT’s to be able to screen for this condition so we may refer our patients to MDs who can get them on a different method of birth control or prescribe them topical treatments as needed.

We also learned more about conditions such as interstitial cystitis, lichens planus and sclerosis, pelvic congestion, vaginal adhesions, as well as other current medical treatments that are now available for our patients who are in pain.

All in all, it was a great course and we look forward to bringing our new knowledge to our patients to help them be more successful in our physical therapy treatments.

For most of last year, myself, Sara, and Amy worked together to contribute a chapter to the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health latest textbook on female pelvic pain which will be available soon on Amazon, and is an essential tool for practitioners treating pelvic and sexual pain from both a medical, mental health and physical therapy perspective. Check out the following excerpts from our chapter detailing treatment of pelvic pain here:

On who is an appropriate candidate for physical therapy:

“Ideal candidates for pelvic floor physical therapy referral are patients with pelvic floor musculoskeletal dysfunction or those who have been treated by clinicians for pelvic pathology but have not experienced symptom resolution. Clinicians can identify appropriate patients by palpating the vulva, performing a digital examination of thevaginal and rectal muscles, and performing a moist cotton swab test on the vestibule. If the patient reports reproduction of any of her sexual or pelvic pain symptoms with this examination, she is likely affected by pelvic floor dysfunction”

On what pelvic floor physical therapy is:

“Physical therapy intervention for the dysfunctional pelvic floor incorporates a comprehensive approach addressing specific tissue characteristics, strength, alignment, and neuromuscular control. Manual therapy is a hands‐on approach to correct tissue restrictions, improve alignment, and enhance blood flow. Different manual techniques may be used to achieve different objectives.”

Check out the full text: Musculoskeletal Management of Pelvic and Sexual Pain Disorders available here.

 

Sources

Pukall C, Goldstein A, Bergeron S, et al. Vulvodynia: definition, prevalence, impact, and pathophysiological factors. J Sex Med. 2016; 13(3): 291-304

Burrows L. Basha M. Goldstein A., et al. The effects of hormonal contraceptives on female sexuality: a review. J Sex Med. 2012;9 (9) 2213-23

Pelvic Health 101 is back and with BRAND NEW COURSES

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Our Pelvic Health 101 courses are back! For those of you not in the know about our courses, they are informational sessions provided by top experts in the field of pelvic pain and pelvic function. These courses allow you to dive more deeply into topics such as bowel, bladder and sexual function and dysfunction, pelvic and genital pain, childbirth, diet, issues with kiddos, and much more.

This year we added a Gent’s Only Session to be a companion to our Ladies only session to help answer some of the specific questions you may have about pelvic floor function as it relates to sexual health, bladder and bowel health, as well as pain.

Our first class is “PH101: Something’s Wrong with my What?”, where our own Stephanie Stamas,will be going through the basics of anatomy of the pelvic floor, what can go wrong and how we can fix it. Our first class is on March 7th at 7pm. Register here: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com, to reserve your spot. Our classes are extremely popular so make sure you register well ahead of time.

Check out

Location:

110 East 42nd St, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Check out all the upcoming classes here:

Pelvic Health 101 Spring 2018 (2)

Pilates Versus Yoga

Pilates vs. Yoga Kierstin Elliott, Certified in Stott Pilates

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As a pilates instructor, I am often asked the question, “How is pilates different from yoga?” Although there are many similarities between the two practices, such as developing strength and flexibility, the differences are quite substantial.

Yoga is an ancient practice that has long been established throughout Indian culture. One major factor that sets yoga apart from pilates is the spiritual element. For many, yoga promotes an environment of self awareness in mind, body, and spirit. Although there are various styles of yoga, ranging from the lively flow of Vinyasa to the meditative holds of Yin, you have the freedom to explore and evolve the limitations of your body and mind within the practice.

Pilates is a more recent method of movement created by Joseph Pilates as a form of rehabilitation and was introduced to the States in 1920. Pilates wanted to create a practice in which injured soldiers could quickly rehab with bio-mechanics. Therefore, the apparatus’ used in the practice such as the Cadillac and Reformer, closely resemble hospital beds with springs, pulleys, and slings. Pilates is focused primarily on restoring the natural curves of the spine using these 8 founding principles: breath, concentration, control, centering, flow, alignment, precision and relaxation.

Both pilates and yoga offer numerous health benefits for the mind and body in addition to complimenting each other quite well. If you are looking for a more spiritual or meditative connection through movement, yoga is the choice for you. If you are looking to strengthen your core and improve posture, pilates will be right up your alley. Give them both a try and see what makes the most sense for your body. Finding a practice that not only feels good, but one that you also enjoy, is important for maintaining consistency and progress. Only with commitment and dedication to your practice will you discover the stronger, healthier, and happier version of you!

 

kierstinbbpt_smKierstin Elliot currently teaches Pilates at Beyond Basics Physical, Flex, Kinespirit, and offers in home training. Call the office at Beyond Basics at 212-354-2622 for more information on Kierstin!

Why seek out a physical therapist with advanced orthopedic training? The case for CFMT and OCS

Pelvic 3By: Kaitlyn Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT

If you have perused our website, you might have noticed that here at Beyond Basics, we have many physical therapists who have a CFMT certification, or are in the process of completing one. Now the question lies, what is a CFMT? How is this approach unique? How can this approach be of benefit to me?

The acronym CFMT stands for Certified Functional Manual Therapist. This certification is through the Institute of Physical Art (IPA), which is an organization founded by two physical therapists, Gregg and Vicky Johnson.

With the CFMT approach, we evaluate and treat every individual’s mechanical capacity (how your tissues and joints move), neuromuscular function (how your system stabilizes itself, and the coordination of muscle activation), and motor control (how an individual moves and performs daily tasks). Furthermore, we assess and retrain how these three individual components interact to ensure each person can return to the tasks/activities they need and love to do.

What this means is, when a new patient walks through our door, we don’t just focus on one small area, such as only the knee in which you report pain. Instead, we will look at the big picture by assessing your strength, amount of limb and segmental motion available to you, posture and alignment, and movement, which can be as simple as getting out of a chair, or a higher level activity such as running, weight lifting or other sport-related activity. This will allow us to get a thorough impression of what impairments you might have, and will help us determine what the cause of your symptoms and functional limitations is (what is the driver?). From here we can figure out the most effective approach to your treatment, and will apply progressive interventions that help to ensure continued benefits from each session. We have found that this approach commonly gets you back to your activity or sport faster!

Now you may be asking yourself, “Well this sounds interesting, but why does it matter?” Looking at the whole person and treating your system overall, allows us to make lasting changes, not only to a specific body part that is causing problems for you, but also with your habits of how you hold yourself and move. By becoming more aware of your body and moving with more efficiency, you will find day-to-day activities, and even sporting activities, are easier for you to perform. Furthermore, and most importantly, if you are able to move and live in a more efficient way, you are decreasing the risk of future injury.

So whether you are experiencing incontinence, pelvic pain, low back pain, or a shoulder injury, having a knowledgeable therapist work with you, can make a significant impact on your function and quality of life.

 

The Scoop When Kids Have Trouble with Poop

 

Kiddo

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

I spend a lot of my time at work talking about poop. In fact, poop discussions run in my family. My great grandmother, a nurse in the 1920’s, would always inquire about her charges and her children’s movements when they’d complain of any ailment. This scatological interest was passed to my grandfather, a civil engineer, designing and working in wastewater treatment plants, to my mother who was a nurse practitioner, who dealt with digestive issues and famously asked a guest at her parents’ dinner party when she was a child, “how are your bowel movements, lately?” This familial interest in the distal end of the alimentary canal was bequeathed unto me and I now spend much of my working life trying to help people of all ages with issues defecating to live more comfortable and full lives when it comes to bowel movements.

Anyone who has had any issues concerning their ability to poop, or to hold it, can attest to how much havoc issues with bowel movements can cause in one’s life. This is especially true when it comes to children. Children often have continence requirements to attend school, camp, and other activities. Not to mention other children may not always be very kind to another child who is experiencing difficulty with their bowels. Aside from the obvious issues of constipation and incontinence, kids with bowel issues can experience other symptoms like pain in their belly or with defecation, foul body odor, problems with their bladder, including incontinence, as well as skidmarks in their underwear or itchy bums. It really does all come down to poop.

The largest driver of bowel problems in kids is constipation. Constipation is surprisingly common and occurs in 4-36% of children. It accounts for 3% of visits to the pediatrician and 30% of visits to pediatric gastroenterologists. Constipation can be tricky to diagnose and many people who have children who are constipated, do not identify constipation as the culprit for issues like bowel and urinary incontinence, and pain. According to Afzar and colleagues, constipation would be missed nearly 50% of the time in children, if infrequent bowel movements was the only criteria used in assessing constipation in children.

So what criteria do we use to assess constipation in kiddos? We obviously look at how often a child is defecating. Two or less bowel movements a week is considered constipation, but it is important to keep in mind that a child with difficulty evacuating may move one or two small pellets multiple times a day and still be severely constipated.  Check out the Bristol Stool Chart here to determine if your child’s BM’s are normal. Types one and 2 indicated constipation. Bowel incontinence is also an indicator of constipation in children. In fact, 90% of children with constipation experience fecal soiling. Kiddos with large fecal masses felt in the rectum by a doctor or through the abdomen, those with history of painful bowel movements, and those who produce large toilet clogging poops are exhibiting symptoms of constipation. Children with constipation may also exhibit retentive posture in an effort to prevent painful bowel movements. They may go up on their toes, squeeze their butt cheeks and thighs together, cry, and rock back and forth. Retentive postures can trick parents into thinking their child is trying to defecate when in fact they are working hard to keep everything inside. If you see any of these symptoms in a child under 4 years lasting for a month, and over 2 months in kids over 4, you are dealing with constipation

Constipation can be divided into two different types, functional and constipation due to an organic or pathological cause. Around 95% of constipation in both adults and children is considered functional. Functional constipation can occur for a variety of different reasons in children. One of the most common reasons is that children can get in the habit of delaying or trying to prevent defecation. Children are often just as busy as the rest of us. They may simply be too busy in the morning to have a full bowel movement. Once they arrive at school, they are faced with bathrooms that have doors that may or may not lock, or they may have to contend with intimidating multi-stalled public toilets. Either way both are not conducive to pooping. After school is usually filled with activities and a mad dash to do homework. You can see that it may be very difficult to schedule in a good time to use the toilet. Kids also delay going to the bathroom because it hurts or may be uncomfortable to go. The more they delay their bowel movements, the more uncomfortable it can be to go. Thus creating a negative feedback loop that just feeds back on itself and worsens the constipation symptoms.

Weeks of delay whether it be secondary to pain, scheduling, or plain old distraction, can cause a big build up of poo in the very end of the digestive system, the rectum.  The accumulated fecal matter may be backed up through the  entire length of the colon. This big build up of feces in the rectum causes it to  stretch out.  A stretched out rectum is not good at holding feces in, or sensing that it is time to go to the bathroom, making the problem even worse. Furthermore, soft poo will easily slide by the hard fecal blockage and create smears or “skidmarks” in the underwear, or even more severe incontinence mistakenly labeled diarrhea. Chronic fecal impaction, and fecal withholding can alter how the muscles that control continence work (the pelvic floor), which may further worsen this constipation syndrome. Skidmarks, constipation and fecal incontinence are not anyone’s fault, especially the child’s, but it is a problem that can be solved.

So what to do about all of this? Is it too late if your child has been constipated for a long time? Tackling poo problems in kids is daunting for both parents/guardians alike. The first step is educating yourself, your doctor, and your child. My motto for the kiddos that I treat is, “Accidents are not your fault, but it is your problem to solve.” Letting children know what is happening in their body can help them further internalize this message and become more invested in the process to remedy their symptoms.

Next you have to tackle the poo situation inside of your child’s tummy, This is where a two pronged approach is key. Both physical therapy and your doctor will get you on the right track. Your doctor will screen your child for that 5% of constipation cases that are caused by organic causes like Hirshprung’s disease, thyroid issues, and notably cow’s milk allergies and gluten intolerance/ celiac disease. It is important to be screened for these allergies and food intolerance as they represent a large portion of organic constipation cases. Once organic causes are ruled out, your doctor will start medication to help clean out the bowels. Miralax (Polyethylene glycol), is a mainstay of pediatric constipation treatment and is generally best tolerated. Miralax may be first given in large amounts to clean out the bowel, and then followed with smaller maintenance and then slowly tapered off as the rectum reduces from it’s stretched out size. It is important to remember that when starting miralax, especially at “clean out”, doses will likely increase episodes of incontinence at first, so prepare both yourself and your child. Make sure to consult your doctor before attempting any sort of clean out on your own.

Next up is physical therapy. Our main goal is to keep poo moving and avoid buildups so your child’s body can heal. We will teach you ways to massage the colon through the belly to keep poo exiting and to reduce back ups and the need for laxatives. We also work to teach your child to sit on the toilet in a way that will help the poo as easily and painlessly as possible. More often than not, kiddos with constipation have pretty weak cores that make defecating difficult. As pediatric physical therapists, I humbly assert that we are the masters at dreaming up fun ways to gain a little core strength in session and at home to help make bathroom trips easier.

What Beyond Basics does that is truly unique from non pelvic floor physical therapists, is we train the muscles of the pelvic floor (the muscles that control both the the anal and urethral opening to better open and close). Kiddos with chronic constipation tend to have pelvic floors that are tight and uncoordinated. Paradoxical contraction occurs when a child tries to open their anal canal, and they truly believe they are doing so, however they are I n fact clamping it shut. We can treat this problem at Beyond Basics.

If your child would benefit from physical therapy, or an evaluation, to make pooping a bit easier, give us a call. Stay tuned for our next blog, where we will go over some practical at home tips for improving both you and your child’s pooping situation!

 

Sources

Afzal N, Tighe M, Thomson M. Constipation in Children. Ital J Pediatr. 2011; 37

 

Poddar U. Approach to constipation in children. Indian Pediatri. 2016;53(4) 319-27