While there are many causes to be aware of and advocate for, one close to our hearts at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy is pelvic and abdominal pain, and we are excited to report that May is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month! This designation for May was created by the International Pelvic Pain Society last year. So let’s talk a few moments about what is abdomino-pelvic pain, how impactful the diagnosis can be, and what we can do!
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, chronic pelvic pain is described as a “noncyclical pain of at least 6 months’ duration that appears in locations such as the pelvis, anterior abdominal wall, lower back, or buttocks, and that is serious enough to cause disability or lead to medical care.”(1) While the incidence and prevalence of chronic pelvic pain in men and women are reported in an inconsistent manner,(2) some estimates compare its global prevalence to asthma (4.3%-8.6%), and another to the prevalence of low back pain (23.2 +/- 2.9%).3 Individuals who suffer from chronic pelvic pain also often present with other complicating factors such as depression, anxiety, poor sleep, difficulty with work, and/or relationship issues. Also, many people with chronic pain are commonly disabled by fear that activity will make things worse.(2) Furthermore, pelvic pain is puzzling as it is a multisystem disorder, which includes sexual, bowel, urinary, gynecological, and musculoskeletal symptoms. It is challenging to determine a clear mechanism of pain with this diagnosis, and the term “pelvic pain” does not take into account the many signs and symptoms that may be occurring outside of the anatomical pelvis.(2 )
Due to the complicated nature of this condition, there is a significant economic burden associated with management of it. In the United States, approximately $881.5 million was spent on chronic pelvic pain to cover the costs of direct healthcare. Additionally, approximately $2 billion was spent as an overall cost, which includes direct medical costs and indirect costs, such as those related to absenteeism from work.(3) Besides economic burdens on individuals suffering from chronic pelvic pain, there are also many challenges for the healthcare system to deal with. For instance, while a diagnosis of chronic pain in the United States typically yields more than 80% of physician referrals, it is estimated that only about 15% of individuals with chronic pelvic pain consult primary care providers, and only 40% of this group are referred to specialists for further investigation. (3) Furthermore, if specialist care is involved in the management of chronic pelvic pain, it is often spread between multiple specialties, such as urology, gynecology, urogynecology, colorectal services, pain medicine, and even occasionally spinal services, rheumatology, and neurology. Thus, there is a risk that patients may be passed back and forth between different teams of the same specialty, or between different specialties, and may not receive consistent or effective care.(2) In a nutshell: chronic pelvic pain can be a debilitating condition that can have significant consequences on an individual’s physical, mental, economic, and social well-being.
Hopefully, if you were not already passionate about raising awareness of pelvic pain, you now have some insight as to why this cause is so important! Now the question lies, what can you do? How can you get involved?
Please consider visiting the website for the International Pelvic Pain Society (www.pelvicpain.org) and donating funds for educational and research programs. Together, we can help bring chronic abdominal and pelvic pain into the forefront of healthcare, to ensure individuals dealing with this condition are receiving consistent and effective multidisciplinary care.
Andrews J, Yunker A, Reynolds WS, Likis FE, et al. Noncyclic chronic pelvic pain therapies for women: comparative effectiveness. AHRQ Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, Rockville (MD), 2012.
Baranowski AP, Lee J, Price C, Hughes J. Pelvic pain: a pathway for care developed for both men and women by the British Pain Society. Br J Anaesth. 2014;112(3):452–9.
Ahangari A. Prevalence of chronic pelvic pain among women: an updated review. Pain Physician. 2014;17(2):E141–7.
Having a baby is exciting, fascinating, and nerve-wracking. If you have never been through the process before, chances are you have a lot of questions and concerns about what changes your body will go through during your pregnancy, what the birthing process entails, and how your recovery will go once you’ve had your baby.
Join us and childbirth specialist, Ashley Brichter, in our Pelvic Health class to discuss the ins and outs of having a child.
Set Up: Stand with one foot on the carriage and one foot on the platform with weight distributed evenly between both legs. Slightly turn out your legs to help engage outer rotators and glutes. Lighter spring setting will focus on adductors (insides of legs) while a heavier spring setting focuses on abductors (outsides of legs).
Execution: The breath for this exercise changes based on adductor or abductor focus. For adductors- inhale to push carriage away from the platform and exhale to pull carriage back in. For abductors- exhale to push carriage away and inhale to control the carriage back in. Move the carriage out only as far as you can go while maintaining good form, as soon as neutral pelvis shifts to a tilt or a tuck, you’ve gone too far.
Focus: Be sure to keep the integrity of your form throughout the entire exercise. Keep a tall, stacked spine with ribcage over hips, neutral pelvis, and lifted arches. Think of a string lifting you up from the crown of your head. It’s common for the arches of your feet to drop, causing pronation. Keep that pinky toe connected to the machine. This will also keep the knees in correct alignment.
Importance: Great postural exercise. It’s meant to focus on either adductor or abductor strengthening depending on desired resistance. As a whole, it draws attention to weight placement and how that affects your alignment while standing.
Modifications: If you are apprehensive about balance, grab a pole or a long dowel and place that on the floor right in front of you while standing on the machine. If this exercise bothers your knees, keep a slight bend in them the whole time.
Sex should feel good… really, really good. But when it doesn’t, you may start to wonder, what’s wrong with me? Am I broken? Am I a prude? Am I frigid? Painful sex isn’t something we talk about. No one would look at you twice if were complaining of pain in your elbow, but in your genitals is a different story.
On April 9th, we at Beyond Basics are breaking down those taboos and having an educational seminar, followed by an optional question and answer session at the end. We will discuss the many causes of sexual pain and how physical therapy can help. The event will be hosted by one of our expert therapists, Stephanie Stamas. Stephanie will give a detailed seminar about pelvic health and take time to clear up some common misconceptions many people have concerning their bodies and sexual function.
The number of Americans who deal with constipation issues is massive (4 million)! It seems like every time I mention that I’m a pelvic floor physical therapist, another friend of a friend pulls me aside with bowel movement concerns. Why is it that so many people have issues? And more importantly – what can we do about it? This is the topic of our next Pelvic Health 101 seminar on April 2nd at 7pm.
Not only will constipation be discussed but other bowel conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, fecal incontinence, bloating, and hemorrhoids will be addressed. The lecture will also go in depth on the role of fiber, water intake, toilet posture and pelvic floor muscles in having a successful bowel movement. You will even go home with easy techniques that you can implement immediately to help you get that smooth move! Don’t miss out on this FREE event – it’s a MUST for anyone who struggles on the porcelain throne. Seats are going fast! Light snacks and refreshments will be served.
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.
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
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!