By: Fiona McMahon, DPT
Hey Ladies!!! In the next installment of our Pelvic Health 101 course, we are hosting a women’s only session to allow for a safe and non-threatening place to discuss many issues that can affect the health of your pelvic floor. This class one of Stephanie Stamas’s (the founder of PH101’s ) favorites and is definitely not to be missed. Hear more about it in her video below! Join us at 7pm on April 23. Please register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com
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
Aarabi S, Bhatt KA, Shi Y, Paterno J, Chang EI, Loh SA, Holmes JW, Longaker MT, Yee H, Gurtner GC. Mechanical load initiates hypertrophic scar formation through decreased cellular apoptosis. The FASEB Journal. 2007 Oct;21(12):3250-61.
Agha R, Ogawa R, Pietramaggiori G, Orgill DP. A review of the role of mechanical forces in cutaneous wound healing. Journal of Surgical Research. 2011 Dec 1;171(2):700-8.
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).
Lewit K, Olsanska S. Clinical importance of active scars: abnormal scars as a cause of myofascial pain. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics. 2004 Jul 1;27(6):399-402.
Marshall CD, Hu MS, Leavitt T, Barnes LA, Lorenz HP, Longaker MT. Cutaneous scarring: Basic science, current treatments, and future directions. Advances in wound care. 2018 Feb 1;7(2):29-45.
Meaume S, Le Pillouer-Prost A, Richert B, Roseeuw D, Vadoud J. Management of scars: updated practical guidelines and use of silicones. European Journal of Dermatology. 2014 Jul 1;24(4):435-43.
Seow KM, Huang LW, Lin YH, Lin MY, Tsai YL, Hwang JL. Cesarean scar pregnancy: issues in management. Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2004 Mar 1;23(3):247-53.
Son D, Harijan A. Overview of surgical scar prevention and management. Journal of Korean medical science. 2014 Jun 1;29(6):751-7.
Wasserman JB, Abraham K, Massery M, Chu J, Farrow A, Marcoux BC. Soft Tissue Mobilization Techniques Are Effective in Treating Chronic Pain Following Cesarean Section: A Multicenter Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2018 Sep 1;42(3):111-9.
Wurn LJ, Wurn BF, Roscow AS, King CR, Scharf ES, Shuster JJ. Increasing orgasm and decreasing dyspareunia by a manual physical therapy technique. Medscape General Medicine. 2004;6(4).
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.
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!
In this blog, our guest writer is talking about pelvic girdle pain (PGP), which can often get confused with pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD), although they are related, they are different conditions. For pelvic floor dysfunction, we often caution against just strengthening the pelvic floor. Often times the pelvic floor muscles are over tightened and tense and strengthening often can worsen the situation. Pelvic girdle pain refers to issues around the pelvic bones and sacrum. Both can occur during pregnancy but often require different treatment approaches. If you have pain, come see us at BBPT.
Exclusively written for BeyondBasicsPTBlog.com
Back in college, I used to be an avid tennis player and even had the chance of representing my school in intercollegiate tournaments. I would wake up at 5 am for three-hour training sessions all the while trying to balance my studies. But after college, the corporate life sucked me in, and I was lucky if I got to play for an hour every other week.
Then after childbirth, my life consisted of trying to raise a beautiful baby boy. I haven’t picked up my racket in months. It’s not because I don’t have time for things other than raising my child – I’ve been blessed with a husband who assumes his fair share of the responsibility. What’s holding me back is my physical state. The pelvic girdle pain (PGP) I experienced during pregnancy never really went away postpartum. In truth though, it is not uncommon. The American Physical Therapy Association notes that many women continue to have the symptoms of PGP after birth.
It’s a scary thought not to be able to do something you used to love so much. Compared to other stories I’ve heard, my case can be considered mild, but I had to seek help if I wanted to play again. Beyond Basics Physical Therapy led me to Pilates and I learned to channel my breathing in a way that it gently engages my pelvic floor [ remember this may be appropriate for PGP but not necessarily PFD]. It has been a great way to reintroduce strength to my core, considering that pregnancy has changed my body in more ways than one. When I get nostalgic and look at pictures from my glory days, I barely recognize myself. Where are the muscular legs, rock hard abs, and enviable arms? Not in this 34-year-old body of mine, that’s for sure. But I’m committed to gaining control over my body and getting back to the court.
But in the five months that I’ve been doing painstaking therapy, my sacroiliac joint feels a lot better, and I no longer feel stiff. During my recovery, Serena Williams was a great inspiration to me. For one, she’s a fantastic player, and Coral identified her as the highest paid female tennis player. More importantly, though, she’s a mom who never used her pregnancy as an excuse not to get a hold of her life. She probably even went through the same pain many other women, and I did. When I was bed-bound during my pregnancy, my idol was playing in the Australian Open while she was 8 weeks pregnant and even won the final.
Not all women’s bodies are the same or even experience pain similar to mine, but Williams continues to be my inspiration on and off the court. I have been playing tennis with my trainer—sometimes with my husband—and we sometimes play for as long as my stamina allows it. Torquing my hips doesn’t worry me anymore, in fear of a sudden crack of my bones anymore. On excellent days, I think that my backhand is even returning. Although I suspect that it will be a long time before I regain the level, I was playing at during college
Note from Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy
We are so grateful to have AvaFreya share her experience of returning to tear up the court post baby! Everyone’s story evolves so differently with pregnancy and childbirth, which is what makes it both terrifying, exciting, and momentous, all the same time. The truth is some women bounce back on their own, (lucky duckies), others find it to be much more complicated. We recommend coming to visit a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist during pregnancy and after you give birth to guide you to a program that is right for you. We often run into women, who with the very best of intentions, started down a path that actually made them worse! Often times we see this with women doing excessive Kegels when their pelvic floor is already too active secondary to weakness somewhere else in the body. Frankly, it’s a total bummer and delays getting back to the things you love. If you have recently had a baby or are currently preggers, you owe it to yourself to see a pelvic floor physical therapist who can advise you on exercises to do on your own or treat you more intensively if you need it. Your time and your health are way too precious.
For more reading on pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions, please check out these blogs: