March is Endometriosis Awareness Month

abstract-art-background-1020317Amy Stein BCB-PMD, IF (Pronouns: She, Her, Hers)

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT (Pronouns: She, Her, Hers)

 

We’ve written a lot of blogs over endometriosis (endo) over the years. It is a common diagnosis at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, and frankly, out in the world. The current estimate is 1 in 10 people with female anatomy have endometriosis, and the average time for a proper diagnosis is 11 years. This number may be subject to change as currently laparoscopic surgery is the gold standard for diagnosis. We write extensively about what endometriosis is, and how it is thought to develop in this blog, But the cliff notes version is that endometriosis is the deposition of endometrial-like cells outside of the uterus. There actually was some degree of controversy about what the deposits actually are. It was originally thought that the deposits were endometrium (the lining of the uterus), but now the endo community is moving away from that thought. The deposits can cause a whole host of symptoms, or none at all. Symptoms severity is not related to the number/amount of endometrial deposits someone has.  We still don’t know why some people with large amounts of endometrial implants and or adhesions can experience little to no symptoms, while others who have a relatively small amount of endometrial deposits may experience debilitating pain.

For most people who know anything about endometriosis, they know it is associated with painful periods. Although this is true, if we look at painful periods, we may be missing a lot of other endometriosis-related symptoms.  Endo can affect the urinary system, resulting in urinary pain, hesitancy, frequency, urgency, and incomplete emptying. It can cause painful defecation and constipation, and it can affect your sex life causing pain with penetration and or orgasm. Endo can present itself in so many diverse ways and two people with endo may present completely differently.

For individuals with symptoms from endo, there is a lot that can be done to help minimize pain. But the same approach is not always effective for everyone. It is really important to look at your own goals when deciding on what to focus on so you can express them to your care team.

There is no magic pill or treatment that works on every endo patient. Oral medicines, surgery, physical therapy, nutrition, and lifestyle changes can all help with symptoms of endo. Often times treating endo requires some combination of all of these things and the frustrating part is what may have worked for someone else may not necessarily work for you. We will take a little look, (by no means exhaustive) at each one of these interventions with the intention of piquing your interest and hopefully facilitating a discussion about these options with your healthcare provider.

Endometriosis is thought to be an estrogen-driven condition. Some people with endo may find relief from medications that affect hormone levels. Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs)  are an example of medication used to affect hormone levels. There are other options beyond OCPs that work to alter hormone levels. For some people with endo, this approach can be helpful for symptom management, although hormone altering medication won’t cure endo.  You do have to consider the side effects of all the medication options however because some of the side effects can be worse than the medication’s positive effects.

Excision surgery is both treatment and the gold standard for diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis. Surgery works by cutting out the endometrial deposits. Performing biopsies on these deposits allows the practitioner to know if the deposit is Endo.  Ablation surgery has been shown to only clear part of the endometrial implants and is not nearly as comprehensive as excision surgery. As a result, repeat surgery is commonly required with ablation, and in many cases, multiple repeat surgeries.

So we’ve just explained to you that endo is an estrogen-dependent condition that causes deposits in the abdominal cavity. Logically it makes sense that getting rid of these deposits via surgery or slowing their growth with medication could help treat endo and the pain associated with it. But what does physical therapy have to do with the treatment of endometriosis? The answers range from simple to complex, with the complex delving into some pretty heady neuroscience. Why don’t we start with the simple first, and get more complex as we go.  

 

The deposits created in the abdominal cavity by endo can cause the tissues of the abdomen to get stuck and not slide and glide freely, we call those stuck areas, tissue restrictions or adhesions. The scars created by endo removal surgery cause adhesions. Sounds pretty bleak, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Physical therapists have been treating scars for eons (actually since the start of the civil war, but we digress). Whether or not you have had surgery, chances are you will benefit from some myofascial release, which can help reduce endo and surgery related adhesions. Although most physical therapists know their way around scar massage, it is important to go to one who has been specially trained in pelvic floor conditions and ideally has been trained in visceral mobilization. This training will allow your PT to address adhesions of the viscera (your organs) as well as allow them to work on adhesions in the pelvic bowl by performing intravaginal and intrarectal release.

Here’s where it gets heady, bare with me. Let’s start with defining my subheading. Trigger points are taut bands of muscle that are extremely irritable. Trigger points can be described as “latent”, meaning they are painful when touched, or they may be an active myofascial trigger point, which is constantly angry and can refer pain elsewhere in the body. Trigger points in the abdominal-pelvic region can radiate to some funny places far away from where they actually are. Someone may feel the referred pain from a trigger point in their belly or back, near their bladder, or in their “ovary”, as well as other places.  Physical therapy can help relieve these trigger points by performing myofascial release as well as using techniques like biofeedback to help you learn how to relax your pelvic floor and prevent trigger points from reoccurring.

People who have been in pain for a long time may experience a phenomenon called central sensitization. What that means is the body, in an effort to protect you, starts perceiving things that wouldn’t necessarily be painful as painful. No one actively does this, and it is not in your head. It actually happens in the spinal cord and brain. This is what I mean by endo lowering pain thresholds. Physical therapy can be instrumental in improving pain thresholds through a process of desensitization.

What we just discussed are some of the most common things physical therapists address in patients with endometriosis. But let us not forget that everyone with endo experiences it differently. Pelvic floor physical therapists may address issues with urination, sex, and bowel movements directly as well as other issues like weakness, joint pain, and instability. It really is specific to the individual with endo.

Many people find relief in making adjustments to their lifestyle and diet. There have been numerous studies on the benefits of yoga on endo pain, as well as making changes in diet such as avoiding gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine or committing to an IC and anti-inflammatory diet. In my experience, different things will work better for different people, but we have seen these changes be extremely helpful for some people. We write more about these changes in this blog.

We hope this blog was helpful to you. Having endo can really suck (we can’t think of a better word for it). If you think you may have endo, talk to a gyno who specializes in the treatment of endometriosis, because there is something you can do about your symptoms. Endo is a disease which requires much more research and awareness. Please take time this March to wear some yellow and do your part to spread endo awareness to physicians and other healthcare providers, to high schools and to your community.  

endo
This is the cover from Dr. Amy Stein and Iris Obruch’s latest book on endometriosis, available soon

 

Alimi Y, Iwanga J, Loukas M, et al. The clinical anatomy of endometriosis: A review. Cureus. 2108

 

Aredo J, Heyrana K, Karp B, et al. Relating chronic pelvic pain and endometriosis to signs of sensitization and myofascial pain and dysfunction. Semin Reprod Med. 2017; 35(1):88-97

 

Mayo Clinic. “Endometriosis”.

. Accessed on February 19, 2019  

 

Mehedintu C, Plotogea MN, Ionescu S. Endometriosis is still a challenge. Journal of Medicine and Life. 2014. 7(3); 349-57

PH101: Running to the Bathroom Again?!

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

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via Pexels

Bladder problems can be vexing, it may hurt for you to pee even though every test for infection you’ve taken has come back negative. You may find yourself incontinent after surgery or childbirth, or for no reason at all. You may find yourself waking up countless times to go, or needing to memorize every bathrooms’ location in the city because you go too often.

The bladder and the pelvic floor are intimately related and often times problems with the pelvic floor can cause real trouble with the bladder. Pelvic floor dysfunction can cause you to suffer from bladder frequency, urgency, incomplete emptying, slow stream, stream that stops and starts, bladder or urethral pain, or leaking.  By the way, it’s not just a female issue. Men and children can also have these symptoms. Learn from one of our experts, Sarah Paplanus, about how exactly the pelvic floor is related to bladder function and dysfunction, what you can do about it, and about common medical conditions affecting the bladder. Join us for this great seminar on March 26th at 7pm . Register here: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

And for those who can’t wait to learn about the bladder, check out our blog on bladder health here!

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Spring 2019

PH 101 Something’s Wrong with my What?

 

You’ve waited and waited, now finally Pelvic Health 101 is BACK!

On March 19, 2019 at 7pm we will be kicking off our fall semester of pelvic health education classes. We have a lot planned this year, so get pumped. In our first class, we will be introducing you to the pelvic floor muscles, where they are, what they do, and how they relate to the health as well as the function of your bowel, bladder, and sexual muscles and organs. We will also be covering how things such as alignment, posture, muscle tone, and nerves can affect your symptoms. This course is a great starting point to help you understand your pelvic floor and pelvic floor symptoms.

Please join us at our office at:

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY 10017
Register at: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

Here is our line up of this and future classes:

Pelvic Health 101 Spring 2019

 

Do You Speak Pelvic Floor? Guide to Antatomy Part 2: Male Genital Anatomy

woman wearing white high top shoes
Photo by Du01b0u01a1ng Nhu00e2n on Pexels.com

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT (Pronouns: She, Her, Hers)

Hello again and welcome to part two of the “Do you Speak Pelvic Floor Series”. In the first part, we described the most common clinical language we use to describe the genitalia of those with female anatomy. In part two we will look a little more closely at the male anatomy. The male anatomy goes beyond the ‘ol twig and berries and there are specific names for the specific parts. Many folks, when they think of about pelvic floor physical therapy, think of it only as a women’s specialty. Beyond Basics Physical Therapy has been treating male pelvic disorders since 2003! In this blog, we will discuss the structures of the male external genitalia as well as some of the conditions that can affect this anatomy. Let’s read on!

Penis– The penis is one of the male sex organs and it has some pretty cool capabilities. The penis has individual compartments in it called the corpus cavernosus which fills with blood to keep the penis hard during erection. The corpus spongiousus helps to keep the urethra from collapsing upon itself during erection. We can see many issues concerning the pelvic floor muscles, surrounding tissues, and nerves that can affect the penis. Peyronies disease occurs when the penis bends, which can be uncomfortable and painful. We have a whole blog which takes a deep dive into the causes of Peyronie’s as well as treatments. You can read more about it here.

Glans- The glans is also known as the head of the penis. The glans is highly sensitive and provides a good deal of sexual sensation during sexual activities. The glans resembles an acorn. The word glans actually means acorn in Latin. The glans is often a place that will be painful with pelvic floor dysfunction. Tight and restricted muscles of the pelvic floor often refer to this area.

Foreskin- Foreskin is a really interesting structure, (stay with me, folks). Foreskin has cultural and religious importance. Many Abrahamic religions, (Jews, Muslims, and some but not all Christians) may practice circumcision as part of their faith tradition. Whether or not someone has had a circumcision is also linked to where someone lives. In the USA circumcision is extremely common, however in many countries across the pond in Europe, circumcision is much less commonly practiced. Whether or not to circumcise is a deeply personal choice that can be affected by your religion and your nationality. There are trade-offs to being circumcised and being uncircumcised and many doctors recommend that the decision is made by the family of the child.

Urethra- The urethra transports semen and urine to the outside world. Did you know that when the penis is fully erect, only semen can travel through the urethra? This prevents urination during intercourse. Men with poor pelvic floor function may experience leakage secondary to poor closure of the urinary tract into the urethra.

Testes- I have a blog all about testicles. In fact, that’s what it is called, All About Testicles. You can read about it here. Testicles create sperm. Did you know problems with muscles and nerve irritation can cause pain in the testicles, as well other serious and non-serious conditions? Read more about testicular conditions in the blog I linked above..

Scrotum- The scrotum is the sack that contains the testicles. The skin on the scrotum can get tight and restricted and sometimes cause pain in the scrotum and penis. Skilled physical therapists can teach you how to gently mobilize this tissue to treat your pain.

 

If you are having pain in any one of these areas, physical therapy may help.

Give us a call at 212-354-2622 to schedule a free consult for those living in the Tri-State Area to find out if PT is right for you.

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT practices at our Midtown Location

fiona2018

 

 

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

cactus

Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

Why Should Everyone Care About Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is the in vogue topic of the day. It is a subject that has pushed its way into American’s awareness for very good reason. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic pain currently affects more than 1.5 million people worldwide, affecting work, sleep, and quality of life. Most importantly chronic pain has become dangerous as the opioid crisis has come to a head. Out of the 28,000 people who died of accidental drug overdose, nearly 12,000 died from painkillers, three times as many in 1999, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

What Is Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is classically defined as pain that persists more than 3 months, but it is so much more than that. When pain becomes chronic, it is actually processed in the brain differently than acute pain. This is one of the reasons chronic pain has proven to be so difficult to treat using traditional means.

Pain serves a vital function and is something we need to survive. Pain alerts us to danger like a hot stove or broken bone and compels you to take action. This “take action now” pain is acute pain. Chronic pain lingers and can be totally independent of what is actually going on in the tissue. In fact, the tissue may have healed completely and still pain persists. There are a lot of thoughts as to why pain becomes chronic. It can seem like there is nothing left to treat, and all we can do is blunt it with analgesics and painkillers. But there is more to do. All pain, whether it is acute or chronic is processed by pain receptors, the spinal cord, and finally the brain. By addressing pain at the level of the nervous systems, we can change the way stimuli are perceived in the brain, and hopefully reduce pain.

The book, Explain Pain, by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley does a really superb job explaining this concept. In the book, they explain chronic pain is the body’s response to prolonged exposure to noxious stimuli. (In non medical person terms: basically if you have pain for a long time, the body becomes much more sensitive to things that may or may not be painful or damaging). In states of chronic pain, your body can actually lower the threshold for something to become considered painful in the brain. Meaning, that simple stimuli like tight fitting clothing, or sitting can feel very painful. Your body is doing this, because it is on guard for anything that might hurt it. Chronic pain is your body’s way of looking out for you, but has gone way too far.

This blog is not long enough to dig into all of the varied nuances of how and why chronic pain occurs, but if your interest is peaked, I would highly recommend taking a look at Explain Pain or The Explain Pain Protectometer in order to dig down into the deep and fascinating science behind chronic pain.

False Leads and Dead Ends In Pain

Opiods, Addiction, and Efficacy

The nature of chronic pain has proven to be elusive for patients and healthcare practitioners alike. In the 1990’s, in an effort to finally address chronic pain, opiods became much more widely used. At the time, drugs like Oxycontin were marketed as a safe way to treat chronic pain. The manufacturer of Oxycotin, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, instructed their drug representatives to tell doctors that the rate of addiction for long term Oxycotin users was 1%, according to pharma who help fund these studies. Although one study did indeed find these numbers many other found addiction rates in excess of 40%.

Probably one of the most unfortunate aspects of the push by pharma to prescribe opioids more freely, is despite marketing to the contrary, there have been more and more studies supporting the theory that opioids may in fact be ineffective for the treatment of chronic pain. Studies of worker’s compensation patients being treated for chronic pain indicate that patients on higher opioid dose, return to work more slowly than those on lower doses. Additionally, patients with back pain, who are being treated with long term opiod therapy report greater disability than those who are not on opioids.

Opiods have their place, especially in the treatment of cancer, procedural, and end of life pain, however it is becoming more and more clear that opiods are not the miracle drug we once thought they were in the treatment of long term chronic pain. The increased risks of addiction, accidental overdose, falls and fractures, depression, and severe constipation (which can indeed worsen the pain for which the opiod was prescribed in the first place), make it clear that as a medical community, we need to find a safer and more effective way to reduce chronic pain symptoms.

First steps

If you can find a cause, but at the same time don’t get hung up on it.

This is easier said than done. Often times, by the time patients reach us here at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, they have folders that are stuffed to the brim with expensive diagnostic tests that read “unremarkable”. This can be incredibly frustrating for someone suffering with very real pain. My first word of advice is, If something doesn’t feel right with your body, don’t stop looking for help, until you find someone who can truly help you. There are many pain conditions like, chronic prostatitis and endometriosis. Which are poorly understood by many providers, that require treatment and or consultation by a specialist. This isn’t to say that the clinicians that are unfamiliar with chronic pain conditions aren’t fabulous providers, but these chronic pain conditions often require a clinician who spends his or her career treating and managing these type of pain syndromes. Basically, don’t allow yourself to be written off by any clinician who tries to tell you your pain isn’t real. It is, but most importantly there are things to be done. At Beyond Basics, we have extensive training on chronic pain conditions, additionally we have multiple connections with physicians, nurse practitioners, and other clinicians who treat chronic pain, that we will often refer too if we feel additional intervention beyond physical therapy is necessary.

I am warning you, before you read this paragraph, I am about to say something that on its face will seem mind numbingly contradictory. Bear with me please, and read the entire passage. If you do get a diagnosis, do not expect an immediate cure of pain. Chronic pain has gone past the point of solely being about tissue damage. A chronic undiagnosed infection, muscle spasm, or injury should be treated to remove the fire or proximate cause of the pain. Just because the pain is gone, does not mean the nervous system will immediately calm down. In chronic pain, treating the proximate cause enables the nervous system to begin to down regulate (or less threat sensitive) with further treatment, but does not always guarantee immediate cure.

This brings me to the problem with imaging. Imaging is a great tool and advances in the ubiquity and affordability of imaging techniques like ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are allowing more and more people glimpses inside their body. If you have ever looked at an MRI of yourself the feeling is profound. I have been fortunate enough to see both my brain and right hip in mind blowing detail on MRI. It’s amazing, but sometimes knowing where every tear, herniation, and bit of swelling is not only unhelpful, but downright dangerous to some patients.

I am not being hyperbolic simply to drive a point home. Early and unindicated MRI in cases of low back pain has been shown to result in increased time spent on disability and increased cost of care ranging between $8,000-13,000 according to the article by Webster, cited in the sources. The fact is with imaging as powerful as MRI, we get to see almost EVERYTHING and because MRIs are getting slightly cheaper and more common, we are identifying structural changes like disc herniation in people, who might not have had a reason to suspect that there was something wrong in their spine in the first place. Sometimes knowing there is a structural abnormality in your body can cause pain and hypervigilance, when prior to knowing, you may not have had the same quality or as much pain in the first place.. Reports indicate that disc herniation and narrowing of the spinal cord can be seen in up to 57% of people who have no symptoms at all. It’s not a far leap to imagine someone with pain hanging all of their problems on a slipped disc if the MRI shows it. What’s worse, is MRI results are alluring and can often lead practitioners down the wrong path of treatment, because it is an easy answer.

In physical therapy school, my professors drilled into us, with almost religious fervor, treat what you find. A fabulous Physician’s Assistant of mine also told me 90% of what you need to know is in a patient’s history of their present illness. It is so true. You can tell a lot about the origin of the pain by asking questions like, how long has it been around, what makes it worse, what makes it better, and what does it feel like. Imaging can sometimes be a bit of a red herring, rushing well intentioned clinicians towards what they think is a cure, while skipping some crucial information through gathering steps that would aid in a more accurate diagnosis.

MRI’s aren’t all bad. They can be life saving and life improving when they are used appropriately. There are many clinical practice guidelines that guide providers on when it may be beneficial to order MRI or other imaging, however, research has certainly borne out that early imaging is actually counter productive in the treatment of chronic pain.

 

If you find a cause, great. If you don’t, or still feel bad don’t despair

We place so much of our hopes on diagnosis. It seems logical that if there is a cause, there must be a cure. Unfortunately, it is not alway so simple. We went over in the opening paragraphs about how chronic pain is more than what’s going on in a specific body part, it also involves the brain. Sometimes simply curing the tissues is not enough. Sometimes we never know what the cause is. This can be so frustrating for patients. As a pelvic pain specialist, I treat a lot of patients with pelvic floor pain and spasm, who have not yet figured out what specific incident brought the pain on. Rarely, in these cases, is there the “oh, crap” moment, when you realize you have injured yourself. Sometimes the development of chronic pain is like having a water glass. We are all born with water glasses of different sizes. We pour a little water in for something like poor posture, genetics, injury, diet, stress, etc., and when our water glass has overflowed, we develop chronic pain. There is no one definitive cause in cases of the overflowing water glass. Many factors have contributed, and many factors must be addressed in order to treat it properly. That’s why the holistic, mind-body approach is really where it’s at, when we treat chronic pain.

Now that you have a grasp on pain science and how chronic pain can behave differently from acute pain, you can begin to approach treating and dealing with it in a different way. In part two of this blog we will discuss different treatments for chronic pain, including yoga, acupuncture, meditation, of course, physical therapy, and many more. Please stay tuned.

Sources:

AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain. The American Academy of Pain Medicine. http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx. [Accessed June 25, 2017]

Butler, David S, and G L. Moseley. Explain Pain. Adelaide: Noigroup Publications, 2003. Print.

Zee A. The Promotion and Marketing of Oxycotin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy. Am J Public Health. 2009;99(2):221-227

Singh P, Chaturvedi A. Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Cancer Pain Management: A Systematic Review. Indian J Palliat Care. 2015. 21(1): 105-15

Von Korff M. Long-term use of opiods for complex chronic pain. Best Pract Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Oct 27(5):663-72

Webster B, Bauer A, Choi Y, et al. Iatrogenic Consequences of Early Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Acute, Work Related Low Back Pain. Spine. 2013. 38(22) 1939-46

Demystifying Persistant Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD)

PGAD photo

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Hello, everyone. Today I want to discuss a condition called Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD). PGAD is an often sensationalized, painful, and disruptive condition that causes unwanted genital arousal, which doesn’t typically get better with orgasm and if it does, orgasm only brings relief for a short period of time. The key feature of this disorder is the genital arousal is unwanted and can cause deep psychological distress.

Typically when I write blogs, I will spend the lion’s share of my time sifting through scholarly articles, health articles targeted at the general public, and maybe I will read one or two essays or editorials written by people with that particular condition. The process of writing this blog went a bit differently.

I was researching a condition that had only been first classified in 2001. There really was a small pool of articles from which to pull. I also had to sift through a lot of garbage. There were titles like “ Woman has 100 orgasms a day”, click bait, on click bait, on click bait. I thought of my patients and women and men, who are just starting their journey, not knowing where to start. Frankly, I was sad. I can’t think of a more eloquent way to say it: the web can be a real garbage pit sometimes. I can imagine how hopeless it might feel scouring the Internet for answers.

The good news is, I did not end my research sad. I ended up finding some great articles, but most importantly I listened to a fabulous Pelvic Messenger podcast with our very own Stephanie Stamas PT, DPT with guest Dr. Irwin Goldstein, MD, on PGAD. I ended my research feeling empowered, and it is my hope through this blog and additional resources I have provided, that you will too. If you have found your way here because you have or think you may have PGAD, please, do yourself a massive favor and give this podcast a listen. I will be breaking down some of its points in this blog, but what the podcast does so well, is give hope.

Let’s go ahead and read on, and learn more about PGAD and how to manage it.

What Causes this Condition?

PGAD can affect people with both male and female anatomy. As Dr. Goldstein explains in the pelvic messenger podcast, It is more common in individuals with female anatomy, secondary to the fact the people with female anatomy have a shorter refractory period after orgasm. The term refractory period refers to the interval of time that is required between an individual’s first orgasm and when they are able to become sexually aroused again. People with male anatomy tend to have longer refractory periods, allowing them some relief between bouts of arousal.

There are many factors that are thought to contribute to PGAD. It used to be considered more of a psychological disorder. Over the past 17 years, researchers have found that the development of PGAD can be influenced by stress, but there usually is some sort of anatomical or physiological factor contributing to the development of this condition.

The Role of the Brain

Like we discussed before, stress is a contributor and trigger to PGAD symptoms. Additionally, one of the criteria in diagnosing PGAD is that the genital arousal causes distress. Examining stress triggers and managing the stress of the disorder itself is paramount to effectively managing PGAD, especially if it is taking time to determine what physiological intervention will help treat the symptoms.

There also is some discussion that the sensations that trigger PGAD are processed differently in the brain. Disruptions in the vulvar, penile, or scrotal tissue, nerve compressions, pelvic congestion, etc may be processed in the “action” areas of the brain and may be interpreted as or cause arousal, when in fact, there is a physical condition irritating that delicate tissue that must be addressed.

Studies have also found a connection with PGAD suffers and individuals with restless leg syndrome. In a 2008 study, PGAD and restless leg syndrome were found to be correlated. Restless leg syndrome bears some similarities to PGAD in that sufferers often feel they need to take action, like moving their legs, adjusting their position, and in individuals with PGAD, obtain orgasm for momentary relief. These findings amongst others support the theory that the brains of individuals with PGAD may interpret sensory signals differently than those without the condition.

Medication, Pearls, Back Problems, and Cysts

Now that we have talked about a potential explanation for persistent genital arousal as it relates to the brain, let’s talk about some of the physiologic contributors. The first factor found to be correlated with PGAD has to do with what we put in our mouths. There had been some evidence to support that increased soy intake may affect the development of PGAD. Also, certain medications and withdrawal from them may also contribute to PGAD. Trazadone has been found to contribute to priapism (persistent and painful erection of the penis) in individuals with male anatomy and may also contribute to PGAD in individuals with female anatomy. There also has been a correlation with sudden withdrawal from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, (SSRI’s), a form of antidepressant, and the development of PGAD. We always have to remember the old adage that is familiar to anyone who has been taught to consume scientific literature that, “Correlation does not equal causation”. It’s really important to remember that phrase with PGAD, because there are many correctable physiological conditions that also contribute to PGAD.

Keratin pearls, sounds lovely, right? Not so much, and these bad boys are a big factor in the development of PGAD and other pelvic pain syndromes. Keratin pearls develop when the normal products of the vulvar tissue collect and harden under the clitoral hood. As you can imagine, having a keratin pearl is super irritating to this extremely sensitive tissue, not unlike having a piece of sand caught in your eye. This constant stimulation can certainly contribute to PGAD symptoms. Keratin pearls can be removed by an experienced doctor and bring relief for PGAD.

In pelvic floor physical therapy land we think a lot about the pudendal nerve. The pudendal nerve transmits sensory information from our genitals to our brain and gives our pelvic floor muscles instruction from the brain. The pudendal nerve comes off the sacral nerve roots, S2, S3, and S4, (remember this for later). This nerve can become compressed from tight muscles and fascia and can cause PGAD symptoms.

Physical therapists and other clinicians also think about the various “dynias”. Dynia is the Greek word for pain. In relation to PGAD we often think of clitorodynia, vulvodyina, and vestibulodynia referring to pain in the clitoris, vulva, and vestibule respectively. These “dynias” can be caused by irritated nerves, hormonal conditions and overactive pelvic floor muscles and should be addressed in order to help treat PGAD. Additionally, other pelvic syndromes like pelvic congestion can contribute to PGAD.

Do you remember the nerve roots for the pudendal nerve? It’s okay if you don’t. They are the sacral nerve roots S2, S3, S4. Your sacrum is part of your spine and problems in your back like a slipped disc, irritable facet joint, stenosis can all be culprits in irritating these very important nerve roots.

There are these things called Tarlov’s Cysts which recently have been found to be huge in the development of PGAD. Tarlov’s cysts are little sacs filled with cerebrospinal fluid and they can irritate those important nerve roots, S2, S3, and S4. In 2012, it was found that the rate of Tarlov’s cysts is exceptionally high in individuals with PGAD. Management of these cysts can help with this disorder.

Treatment Options and Finding the Correct Practitioner to Connect you to Those Options

So there is a lot of stuff to sort through when trying to figure out where your PGAD is coming from. It requires a skilled clinician to separate the signal from the noise. At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we are especially poised to help you get started on the correct treatment path.

Unlike many other clinicians, we are comfortable assessing things like the mobility of the clitoral hood, the mobility of the structures surrounding the pudendal nerve and other pelvic nerves, as well as being able to treat issues involving the back and tailbone. We also have strong and robust connections to physicians who are pioneers in the treatment of PGAD and can help facilitate access to complementary medical treatment.

The most important part of treating PGAD is finding the cause or the driver. Once the driver or drivers are found, you can begin the process of treating them and reducing PGAD symptoms. Dynias, clitoral adhesions, pelvic floor congestion, back issues and irritation to a pelvic nerve can be treated by physical therapy or a combination of physical therapy and medical intervention. Tarlov’s cysts may require surgery to correct. Additionally, medication to reduce the symptoms, mental health therapy and relaxation techniques can be helpful.

PGAD used to be such a mystery and in some respects, it still is; however, we are in a very exciting time, where knowledge about PGAD is growing as well as our ability to diagnose and treat this disorder. The internet is a very scary place to research PGAD and it can be hard to find almost anything hopeful or positive, but there is hope. Give the Pelvic Messenger Podcast a listen and make an appointment to see us here at BBPT today.

Charitable Giving Options to Support Research and Treatment

Like many pelvic pain conditions, PGAD is under-researched. Research is an essential weapon to help us fight PGAD and improve individual’s lives. Please consider donating to the following organizations to fund the development of diagnosis and treatment protocols for PGAD and other pelvic conditions. Also, consider having your company or a friend’s company match your donation.

Donate to support pelvic pain research here:

International Pelvic Pain Society: IPPS https://wjweis.association-service.org/securesite/ipps/donations.aspx

International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health ISSWSH; http://www.isswsh.org/about/endowment-fund

Sources

Aswath M. Pandit L, Kashyap K. et al. Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder. Indian J Pyschol Med. 2016; 38(4)

Jewell T, Legg T. What is persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD?). Healthline. 2017 [Accessed: November 13, 2017]

Komisaruk B, Lee H. Prevalence of Sacral Spinal (Tarlov) Cysts in Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder. J Sex Med. 2012 Aug;9(8):2047-56.

Stamas, Stephanie. “ Dr. Irwin Goldstein: Treating Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD).” Audio Blog Post. Pelvic Messenger Podcast. Blog Talk Radio. March 2017

Waldinger M, Schweitzer D. Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder in 18 Dutch Women: Part II- A Syndrome Clustered with Restless Legs and Overactive Bladder. J Sex Med. 2008

Pilates with Kierstin! Slingshot Lunges on the Reformer

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.