Hypo-ed up? The use of Hypopressive Abdominal Exercise in Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

balloons

Joanna Hess, PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

I’m a recent transplant to NYC. For the last four years, I was living abroad and working at a interdisciplinary sports hospital. I loved learning about physiotherapy culture around the world. We each had different contributions – the Greek wheel, Scandinavian eccentrics, Australian pain science, and Spanish hypopressives. Hypopressive exercises were magic exercises that helped resolve low back pain, prolapse, incontinence, and diastasis recti abdominis. So of course, I wondered, “Are Americans missing the boat?”

What are hypopressive exercises? And how do they work?

Hypopressive abdominal exercises (HAE) were developed by Marciel Caufriez as a response to the obsession with “the core” and the corresponding exercises (primarily crunches) that would increase downward pressure. Hypopressive abdominal exercises use a pressure gradient between the thorax (the upper part of your trunk) and abdominal cavity to create a “vacuum” effect. By creating a vacuum that draws pressure upward, your body automatically recruits transverse abdominis (TrA) and pelvic floor muscles (PFM). Both the PFM and TrA are core muscles and are important in many functions. The HAE sequence begins with static positions and progresses to dynamic and difficult movements. The set up for the exercise is:

  1. Three breaths filling the ribs making sure the sides are expanding.
  2. Breathe in focused on expanding ribs out and lower ribs up while minimizing belly movement.
  3. Then, breathe out working on spinal elongation and keeping ribs up and out. Hold the exhale for creating the vacuum and relaxing the diaphragm. The belly button should start to move up.
  4. Close the throat as if you were at the end of a swallow to lift, expand, inflate rib cage further increasing the vacuum and pressure differential—like an inhale, but without taking in air.

In diaphragmatic breath, inhalation causes the diaphragm to descend which increases intra-abdominal pressure and a reflexive eccentric contraction of the pelvic floor and abdominal wall(an eccentric contraction occurs when the muscles lengthen). Exhalation is a passive return to the diaphragm’s resting position and if it is a complete exhalation, the PFM and TrA will also contribute some activity. For the hypopressive vacuum, inhalation relies on upper chest and neck muscles instead of the respiratory diaphragm and intercostals (rib muscles). The inhalation lifts the rib cage up and gives more volume. The exhalation activates the PFM and TrA to compress the abdomen which increases the pressure of the abdomen. The pressure difference between the diaphragm is augmented by the closed inspiration and creates the vacuum that creates this automatic response. With HAE, the abdominal cavity has the same increase in pressure, possibly more, than with diaphragmatic breath, but because of the suction upwards, it feels like a different pressure.

What’s the relationship between hypopressive exercises and core coordination?

As measured by surface electromyography (EMG) and dynamic ultrasound, HAE consistently have comparable or less activation of the pelvic floor muscle and transverse abdominis than isolated, well-cued exercises (1-4). However, to increase TrA contraction, HAE with pelvic floor muscle contraction recruits more fibers more than pelvic floor contraction alone (4). HAE biases activation of deeper stabilizers–transverse abdominis, internal obliques, and pelvic floor over the more superficial rectus abdominis and external obliques(6). No research has evaluated the HAE claims of decreased downward abdominal cavity pressure. While HAE are progressed with consideration for increasing challenge, they are not incorporated into everyday positions which has an impact on the body’s ability to integrate into a task.

So, will hypopressive exercises fix my problems?

The solution for downward pressure gone wrong is not forcing upward pressure, but addressing why the body lost its adaptability for life’s demands. I rarely use hypopressive abdominal exercises as treatment for problems of the pressure system–pelvic organ prolapse, stress incontinence, diastasis recti abdominis, lumbar disc herniations, and ventral hernias. Studies show that HAE do not have an advantage over conventional TrA and PFM exercises (8) in losing postpartum weight (9), improving pelvic organ prolapse symptoms (2,4,5), or correcting diastasis recti (10).

Besides being less effective than conventional exercises for strengthening and symptom relief, HAE exchange downward and outward pressure for upward pressure and compensatory muscle patterns. This could show up as gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), hiatal hernias, hyperinflated lungs with increased sympathetic drive (and immediate lightheadedness), restricted diaphragm, forward neck posture, or thoracic outlet syndrome. The respiratory diaphragm has a mechanical advantage for respiration over upper chest and neck muscles which have other postural functions.

Escaping gravity is not yet sustainable which means, normal life—breathing, digestion, walking, and laughing—includes downward pressure. If the goal is to decrease pressure on the pelvic floor, lying down with hips elevated, headstand, downward dog, or inversion table—none of these translate into movements of everyday life, but they also do not alter the body’s normal respiration and stabilization patterns. “First do no harm.”

If someone is having difficulty isolating the PFM and TrA, I would connect with diaphragmatic breath, vary effort level, try different verbal and manual cues, and modify the relative position of the pelvis to the spine (7). After correcting the mechanical “pressure problem,” I would use HAE if an individual is still having great difficulty identifying the transverse abdominis and over-recruiting the rectus abdominis. But, I then would progress out of HAE to a isolated strengthening progression integrated into functional movements. HAE is also one of many tools that can help in decreasing acute low back pain associated with muscle spasm.

I nod at the centuries of wisdom of yoga that note benefit from hypopressive practices for posture, digestion, invigoration, and automatic recruitment of core stability. But let’s also remember the time-tried basics of a healthy movement-filled lifestyle. As more studies are published, I look forward to learning more about subgroups and larger functional goals for which HAE have benefit. For now, the magic bullet for pelvic floor dysfunction is not hypopressive abdominal exercises. Isolated pelvic floor and transverse abdominis activation may be old-school, but are well-researched with strong support and are overwhelmingly more beneficial than HAE at addressing symptom alleviation and muscle strengthening.

 

Thank you so much for reading our blog, if you think physical therapy can help you. Please give us a call at either our midtown location 212-354-2622 or our downtown location 212-267-0240. We are offering free phone consultations at both offices for a short period!

Joanna Hess is a treating therapist at our downtown location

Joanna Lee Hess

References

1. Brazalez BN, Lacomba MT, Mendez OS, Martin MA. The abdominal and pelvic floor muscular response during a hypopressive exercise: dynamic transabdominal ultrasound assessment. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(Suppl 2):A22

2. Resende AP, Stüpp L, Bernardes BT, Oliveira E, Castro RA, Girão MJ, Sartori MG. Can hypopressive exercises provide additional benefits to pelvic floor muscle training in women with pelvic organ prolapse?. Neurourology and urodynamics. 2012 Jan;31(1):121-5.

3. Resende AP, Torelli L, Zanetti MR, Petricelli CD, Jármy-Di Bella ZI, Nakamura MU, Júnior EA, Moron AF, Girão MJ, Sartori MG. Can Abdominal Hypopressive Technique Change Levator Hiatus Area?: A 3-Dimensional Ultrasound Study. Ultrasound quarterly. 2016 Jun 1;32(2):175-9.

4. Stüpp L, Resende AP, Petricelli CD, Nakamura MU, Alexandre SM, Zanetti MR. Pelvic floor muscle and transversus abdominis activation in abdominal hypopressive technique through surface electromyography. Neurourology and urodynamics. 2011 Nov;30(8):1518-21.

5. Bernardes BT, Resende AP, Stüpp L, Oliveira E, Castro RA, Jármy di Bella ZI, Girão MJ, Sartori MG. Efficacy of pelvic floor muscle training and hypopressive exercises for treating pelvic organ prolapse in women: randomized controlled trial. Sao Paulo Medical Journal. 2012;130(1):5-9.

6. Ithamar L, de Moura Filho AG, Rodrigues MA, Cortez KC, Machado VG, de Paiva Lima CR, Moretti E, Lemos A. Abdominal and pelvic floor electromyographic analysis during abdominal hypopressive gymnastics. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2018 Jan 1;22(1):159-65.

7. Sapsford R. Rehabilitation of pelvic floor muscles utilizing trunk stabilization. Manual therapy. 2004 Feb 1;9(1):3-12

8. Martín-Rodríguez S, Bø K. Is abdominal hypopressive technique effective in the prevention and treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction? Marketing or evidence from high-quality clinical trials?. Br J Sports Med. 2017 Sep 4:bjsports-2017.

9. Sanchez-Garcia JC, Rodriguez-Blanque R, Sanchez-Lopez AM, et al. Hypopressive abdominal physical activity and its includence on postpartum weight recovery: a randomized control trial. JONNPR. 2017; 2 (10): 473-483.

10. Gomez FR, Senin-Camargo FJ, Cancela-Cores A, et al. Effect of a hypopressive abdominal exercise program on the inter-rectus abdominis muscle distance in postpartum. Br J Sports Med 2018;52(Suppl 2):A21

It’s all connected: How pelvic floor dysfunction can contribute to hip pain

Yoga 2

Kaitlyn Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT (practices at our midtown office)

Hip pain can have a significant burden on function and quality of life. While there are many causes, prevailing research shows that hip pain is common in both athletic and older populations (1,2). In athletes, groin pain accounts for 10% of all visits to sports medicine centers, and groin injuries account for up to 6% of all athletic injuries (1). In older adults, a diagnosis like osteoarthritis is common, and is ranked as the eleventh highest contributor of global disability (2). While research often focuses on specific populations of people or diagnoses, when put together, it reveals that general hip pain is a common problem affecting a significant portion of the general population. There are many diagnoses that exist to describe hip pain, with the ultimate goal to develop the most effective course of treatment. Traditionally, when someone with hip pain visits a doctor, a physical examination will be performed, which includes assessing for tenderness, swelling, or redness, and determining the range of motion at the hip joint. The doctor may also recommend imaging, such as an x-ray or MRI, as well as lab tests (3). While this can provide a physician with valuable information, such examinations have the risk of missing causes of pain from nearby structures, such as the pelvic floor.

 

The pelvic floor muscles are three layers of muscles that attach to the lower aspect of each half of the pelvis from side-to-side and from the pubic bone to the tailbone, front-to-back. These muscles support the pelvic organs, as well as contribute to trunk stability, and play a significant role in bowel and bladder control and efficiency, as well as sexual function (4). The muscles that make up the deepest of the pelvic muscles, include the levator ani and coccygeus, as well as the obturator internus on the sides (5). The pelvic floor is interconnected to many key structures in the body, and dysfunction here can affect seemingly unrelated parts of the body. Below are two cases of unresolving hip pain, where assessment and treatment of the pelvic floor helped to promote a return to recreational activities.

 

Case 1: A BICYCLIST

A 32-year-old male professional cyclist came to physical therapy with complaints of pain in his right hip and groin, mainly with prolonged sitting and cycling. This began soon after he suffered severe bruising on his right hip from a fall, with a tear of two hip muscles (tensor fascia lata on the front and gluteus medius on the side). Prior to this, he had a history of multiple leg injuries due to cycling, but had never complained of any pelvic floor issues. Upon examination, decreased hip range of motion was also discovered. Initially, he received ten sessions of “standard physical therapy,” which included stretching, joint mobilization, soft tissue release, dry needling, and exercise.

However, after only minimal improvement, he was referred to a pelvic floor specialist for further evaluation where increased muscle tone and tenderness in multiple pelvic floor muscles (both obturator internus muscles and both iliococcygeus muscles) were discovered. Also, weakness of a pelvic floor contraction was also noted (6). Based on response to treatment, his hip pain decreased significantly from his current treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction, though it was completely missed in the initial testing.

But how does pelvic floor dysfunction contribute to hip pain? The correct treatment was missed because this connection was missed. Consider the anatomy and mechanics of the hip and pelvis. The gentleman described above is a professional cyclist, which means that whenever he is on his bicycle, he must flex (bend) his hip up to 90 degrees. More hip motion does not tend to occur because it would cause the pelvis to become unstable on the small seat (7). When the hip is bent, the femoral head (ball of the ball-and-socket joint) must flex (bend up), abduct (move to the side), and rotate in towards the groin (8). As the pedal is pushed downward, the hip moves into an extension (straightening) position. Although the hip never reaches a fully straightened position when cycling because he is seated, the hip moves through between 40 and 43 degrees of total motion with each cycle of the pedal (7). So, when the hip is moving into that straightened position, that femoral head must extend (move back), adduct (move sideways toward the groin), and rotate out away from the groin. While the movements of ball of the hip are small, as they are occurring with the confines of the socket in the pelvis, it is important to remember what muscles are in close proximity (8).

Besides the extensive list of hip flexors and gluteus muscles, there are several muscles that sit on the inner side of each hip and the bottom layer of the pelvis – the muscles of the pelvic floor. The two muscles that are of the most interest in this case are the obturator internus and the iliococcygeus muscles, as tightness and tenderness were found in each pair. The obturator internus muscle contributes to the walls of the pelvic floor, on each side of the pelvis. and sits on the inner side of the hip joint. The iliococcygeus muscle attaches on one end into the tendinous arch of the obturator fascia, so there is only dense connective tissue joining this muscle and the obturator internus (5).

When the hip is in a bent position the obturator internus muscle abducts the hip, or moves it to the side, away from midline; however, when the hip is extended (straightened) this muscle rotates the hip outward. For the iliococcygeus muscle, its role is one of support for the pelvic contents and lifting for the pelvic floor (5). Considering all these factors, it can be theorized that when the hip is in a bent position at the top of the pedaling cycle the obturator internus is activated through the abduction (sideways) motion of the ball of the hip, and continues to be activated as the hip straightens since the ball is rotating outward. Furthermore, because the iliococcygeus muscle is attached to the obturator internus muscle through a dense strip of connective tissue, it must work harder to help support this obturator muscle throughout the cycling activity. Thus, these muscles have become overused and shortened with regular and intense cycling required of a professional, who likely had some abnormal muscle activation or movement strategies prior to his pain due to previous injuries.

With the specially trained pelvic floor physical therapist, the pelvic floor connective tissue was mobilized internally over two treatment sessions, in addition to the cyclist performing hip stabilizing exercises. After the first session, there was an immediate and significant improvement in hip range of muscle and pelvic floor muscle contraction; furthermore, sitting pain was resolved. After the second session (7 days later) this gentleman was discharged from PT as he was pain free in sitting and cycling. In a follow up call one month after discharge, he was still pain free without altering training (6). This dramatic change occurred because the release of connective tissue in the pelvic floor decreased tension and trigger points in the obturator internus and iliococcygeus muscles. Thus, his hip range of motion and pain were normalized, and he was able to return to competitive cycling without restrictions.

Case 2: A RUNNER

A 45-year-old female was referred to physical therapy by her gynecologist with an initial diagnosis of left hamstring strain, toward the top of the thigh, related to distance running. This woman was an experienced marathon runner, who ran an average of 30-40 miles per week. She presented to her first PT appointment with pain in her left sit bone, with diffuse aching radiating into her left buttock and pubic bone; she stated her pain began about 4 months prior to her first PT session. The mechanism of injury was “pulling a muscle” while trying to avoid falling on a trail run. At that time, she immediately felt pain near her sit bone, but was able to complete her run. Eventually, as her symptoms progressed, she stopped running, and was only able to tolerate about 15 minutes of sitting. By her fourth PT visit, her pain had decreased, but continued mildly with sitting and shifted into her left pubic bone. She also reported a deep ache that could not be touched from the outside. She was referred to a pelvic floor specialist for further evaluation; upon internal assessment of the pelvic floor, significant tenderness and reproduction of the “deep ache” was found in her left levator ani and obturator internus muscles, as well as increased muscle tone. Furthermore, contraction of these muscles was weak, and she presented with poor relaxation of the same muscles. (9).

The hamstring muscles attach to the sit bone, and in running help to extend the hip and control the knee (10). Due to the location of this woman’s complaints, initial treatments focused on pain management, such as sitting on a wedge or donut to relieve pressure on her sit bone, as well as core strengthening exercises like the plank, and gluteus and hamstring strengthening exercises. Since the patient reported relief of sit bone pain, except with prolonged sitting by her fourth visit, it was logical to directly address the hamstring and gluteus muscles; however, these are not the only muscles in the area of the hip (9).

When this woman was assessed by a pelvic floor specialist, weakness, tightness, and tenderness were discovered in her obturator internus and levator ani muscles on the side of her pain (9). As discussed in the first case, the obturator internus muscle makes up part of the wall of the pelvis and sits just inside of the pelvis, past the hip joint (5). With running, an efficient hip will move between 50 degrees flexion (bending up) and 10 degrees of extension (straightening back) (10). Thus, when the hip is flexing, the obturator internus is likely assisting with abduction of the ball of the hip joint, and when the hip is extending the obturator internus muscle is likely active in outward rotation of the ball (5,8). The levator ani muscles attach from the pubic bone in the front to the back portion of the pelvis, and play an important role in stabilizing the pelvis and the pelvic contents (5). Considering the mechanics of running, the obturator internus and levator ani muscles were likely working hard to promote a good running pattern, and when she tripped on a run, these muscles were overexerted. Then they continued to overwork to compensate for the pain and weakness demonstrated by her hamstring muscles.

In addition to exercises for hamstring and gluteal muscles, internal release of the left levator ani and obturator internus muscles was performed, as well as gentle isometric contractions for strengthening and lengthening of pelvic floor for relaxation. After 7 additional sessions over a 2-month period, this woman’s pain had decreased greatly, she was able to tolerate sitting for more than two hours, she was able to hop on her left leg without pain, and her hip and pelvic floor muscle strength improved. After six months, she had returned to running, and had recently completed a marathon without pain (9).

Conclusion

In summary, augmenting treatment with the addition of direct pelvic floor interventions in each of the above cases significantly improved each person’s remaining symptoms, and allowed them to return to their prior activities without restrictions. This demonstrates the importance of considering the pelvic floor in the diagnosis and treatment of hip pain – these patients both had injuries that were initially missed because the pelvic floor was not considered as a possible cause of hip pain, yet emerging evidence is linking pelvic floor dysfunction to otherwise intuitively unrelated injuries. This also highlights the need for further research in this area to minimize the occurrence of unnecessary procedures and medications, and to ensure that individuals can return to their daily activities with minimal disruption of their quality of life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with unresolving hip pain, make an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist today for further assessment. Feel free to contact our midtown office at 212-354-2622 or our downtown office at 212-267-0240, or visit our website (www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com) for more information! We are offering free phone consultations at both offices for a short period!

Thank you so much for reading our blog.

Katie Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT practices at our Midtown Location

K5 (2)

 

SOURCES

  1. Prather H, Colorado B, Hunt D. 2014. Managing hip pain in the athlete. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic of North America, 45(4), 789-812.
  2. Cross M, Smith E, Hoy D, et al. 2014. The global burden of hip and knee osteoarthritis: estimates from the global burden of disease 2010 study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 73(7), 1323-1330.
  3. Osteoarthritis. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ osteoarthritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351930.
  4. Continence Foundation of Australia. Pelvic Floor Muscles. Retrieved from: https://www.continence.org.au/pages/how-do-pelvic-floor-muscles-help.html.
  5. Drake R, Vogel AW, Mitchell AWM. 2009. Grey’s anatomy for students. Elsevier Health Sciences.
  6. Navot S, Kalichman L. 2016. Hip and groin pain in a cyclist resolved after performing a pelvic floor fascial mobilization. Journal of Bodywork and Movement, 20, 604-609.
  7. Timmer CAW. 1991. Cycling mechanics: a literature review. Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 14(3), 106-113.
  8. McGalliard M, Sizer PS, Ezell D. 2016. Current concepts of orthopedic physical therapy, 4th edition. (p. 7) Orthopedic Section – APTA.
  9. Podschun L, Hanney WJ, Kolber MJ, et al. 2013. Differential diagnosis of deep gluteal pain in a female runner with pelvic involvement: a case report. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 8(4), 462-471.
  10. Running Biomechanics. Retrieved from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Running_ Biomechanics.

Mind the Gap: Diastasis Recti Abdominis and What We Don’t Know: Part I

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Joanna Hess, PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

Summer holidays are approaching. You’re lounging at the beach and feeling quite proud of the ruffled swimsuit that guards the battle marks of the mom bod—the wrinkly and poochy belly. On the horizon, a woman in string bikini framing her flat tummy joins the four children sitting next to you. She must be their nanny, or maybe the children were adopted, or she probably had a surrogate. But after a short conversation, she reveals that in fact is the biological mother of these children and that she carried to full term. And when you awkwardly compliment her on the restoration of her college-era body, she nonchalantly shrugs and says, “Genetics? Maybe the coconut oil that we brought back from Bali?”

As the power of airbrushed social media images expand, the Cinderella stories of mummy tummy to model abs give hope to the many moms scrolling mindlessly on our phones passing the wee hours of childcare. These stories are powerful and inspiring, but do not reflect most of our situations, nor answer many elusive questions about diastasis recti abdominus.

What is Diastasis recti abdominis and why do we care?

Diastais recti abominis (DRA) is the excessive separation between the two sides of the rectus abdominis (the six pack muscle), which creates a pooching of the belly, particularly with difficult tasks. For this blog, the background information focuses on pregnancy related DRA while the application of the information can be used for any one with DRA. During the third trimester 100% of women have a DRA, defined as a separation >2 cm below the umbilicus (1). One answer to why we care about DRA is that we want our stomachs to look normal if not flat. The wrinkly skin stomach has not reached mass popularity on the runways. Another reason we care is because DRA has been assumed to predispose a long term sequelae of breakdown in the body. The cosmetic appearance associated with DRA improves as the inter-recti distance (IRD), the width between the bellies of the rectus abdominis, decreases.

As physical therapists, we screen for DRA in order to gain a larger understanding of how the body is working together. Many of us assume that the lack of stability in the front of the body will lead to compensations in other parts of the body—primarily the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and back. Dysfunction in these areas have been documented to be higher during pregnancy and the post-partum period (2). Physical therapists regularly address DRA when patients present with low back pain (LBP), pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence (3). A couple of studies looking at post-partum women seeking medical care for abdominal pain and pelvic floor dysfunction show a higher incidence of DRA in this populations (4,5). However, this is not to say that the DRA causes or predicts these conditions.

In recent prospective studies using ultrasound assessment, the assumption that DRA correlates to pelvic floor dysfunction and low back pain (LBP) is challenged. The findings suggest no relationship but even a possible protective mechanism of DRA during pregnancy, with no difference in LBP symptoms at one year postpartum regardless of DRA status. Of course, this is a statement of generalization to a study population and does not reflect the outliers, individual predispositions and presentation.

DRA During Pregnancy

No differences were found in pelvic floor function or in urinary incontinence between women regardless of DRA status, during or after pregnancy. Women presenting with DRA in their 2nd trimester were more likely to have higher vaginal resting pressures, strong pelvic floor muscles strength, and better endurance of pelvic floor muscles. The set of women with 2nd trimester DRA had lower BMI before pregnancy and during pregnancy with trend increased general physical activity (6)

DRA Post-Partum

Interestingly, women who at 6 weeks postpartum did not have a DRA were more likely to have a pelvic organ prolapse > Stage 2 (6). DRA status (none or mild) had no relationship with low back pain at 6 months (1) and 12 months postpartum (7). This corroborates another study showing no difference for DRA in women reporting LBP and that severity of DRA does not predict intensity of LBP when present (5). Heavy lifting >20x/week was shown to be a risk factor for postpartum DRA, but not age, pre-pregnancy BMI, 2nd trimester BMI, weight gain, caesarean or vaginal delivery, abdominal circumference at 35 weeks, hypermobility (p – 0.06), cardio and strength exercise, general abdominal and pelvic floor exercise (1). From the research available, we cannot predict from a group of postpartum women with DRA who will have symptoms that affect their daily living.

Looking a Little Deeper at Diastasis Recti Abdominis

As assumptions about DRA and its relationship to long term dysfunction start to shift, what is important to identify in a DRA presentation is also changing. The literature and clinical practice related to DRA mainly looks at the IRD, or the separation between the right and left muscle bellies of the rectus abdominis However, the focus on the widening of the linea alba may be less important than the ability of the linea alba to transfer forces and contribute to the stability of the abdominal muscles (8). A wide linea alba that holds tension and stabilizes the front of the abdomen with increased intra-abdominal pressures through functional task may be more desirable than a narrow linea alba with distortions that loses force and allows abdominal pressure to push forward through functional task. A pulled-apart and taut rubber band hold tension better than a relaxed and crumpled band. The width and depth of the linea alba need to be contextualized within the individual’s posture, daily movement, and functional core adaptability. The literature has yet to identify subgroups that would likely explain why some people have DRA that self-resolve and among those who don’t, why it impacts cosmetics and function in some people and not in others, why it seems to be a protective mechanism for some pelvic floor and low back conditions and exacerbating in others.

The linea alba is often connected to the rectus abdominis because of the focus of the IRD as a marker of DRA. However, the linea alba actually is the anatomical and functional intersection of all the abdominal muscles—the rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, and transverse abdominis, which is seen at a microscopic level with different angles of fibers in the linea alba. In a cadaver study looking at the collagen of the linea alba without DRA, previously pregnant women had thinner linea alba, but greater widths. Females who were previously pregnant had higher ratio transverse to oblique fibers—60% for females and 37.5% for males. The female cadaver that had never been pregnant had infraumbilical fibers more similar to males (9). The small size of this study limits its application, but perhaps an increase of transverse abdominis muscle activity in the lower abdominals is represented in the higher number fibers, and that this adapted activity resolved the DRA for these women.

Hormones may possibly play a role of the development of DRA for some women, but because DRA persist well after post-partum hormones return to normal. In men, hormones are unlikely to be the primary driving cause of persistent DRAs. Women who are breastfeeding do have a higher relationship with unresolved DRA until breastfeeding is concluded (5). However, no research has been conducted on this relationship and may add to another subgroup to explain the variance of women who spontaneously resolve and others who never resolved their DRAs.

 

Joanna is a treating therapist at our downtown location. Stay tuned for the next installment on this topic, Mind the Gap Part II: Diastasis Recti Abdominis: What we Can do About it.

To call and make an appointment with our expert PTs call:

212- 354- 2622 (Midtown)

212-267-0240 ( Downtown)

 

References:

1. da Mota PG, Pascoal AG, Carita AI, Bø K. Prevalence and risk factors of diastasis recti abdominis from late pregnancy to 6 months postpartum, and relationship with lumbo-pelvic pain. Manual therapy. 2015 Feb 1; 20(1):200-5.

2. Lee DG, Lee LJ, McLaughlin L. Stability, continence and breathing: the role of fascia following pregnancy and delivery. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2008 Oct 1; 12(4):333-48.

3. Keeler J, Albrecht M, Eberhardt L, Horn L, Donnelly C, Lowe D. Diastasis recti abdominis: a survey of women’s health specialists for current physical therapy clinical practice for postpartum women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2012 Sep 1; 36

4. Spitznagle TM, Leong FC, Van Dillen LR. Prevalence of diastasis recti abdominis in a urogynecological patient population. International Urogynecology Journal. 2007 Mar 1; 18(3):321-8

5. Parker MA, Millar LA, Dugan SA. Diastasis Rectus Abdominis and Lumbo‐Pelvic Pain and Dysfunction‐Are They Related?. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2009 Jul 1; 33(2):15-22.

6. Bø K, Hilde G, Tennfjord MK, Sperstad JB, Engh ME. Pelvic floor muscle function, pelvic floor dysfunction and diastasis recti abdominis: Prospective cohort study. Neurourology and urodynamics. 2017 Mar 1; 36(3):716-21.

7. Sperstad JB, Tennfjord MK, Hilde G, Ellström-Engh M, Bø K. Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Jun 20:bjsports-2016.

8. Lee D, Hodges PW. Behavior of the linea alba during a curl-up task in diastasis rectus abdominis: an observational study. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2016 Jul; 46(7):580-9.

9. Axer H, Keyserlingk DG, Prescher A. Collagen fibers in linea alba and rectus sheaths: II. Variability and biomechanical aspects. Journal of Surgical Research. 2001 Apr 1; 96(2):239-45.

10. Liaw LJ, Hsu MJ, Liao CF, Liu MF, Hsu AT. The relationships between inter-recti distance measured by ultrasound imaging and abdominal muscle function in postpartum women: a 6-month follow-up study. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2011 July.

11. Coldron Y, Stokes MJ, Newham DJ, Cook K. Postpartum characteristics of rectus abdominis on ultrasound imaging. Manual therapy. 2008 Apr 1;13(2):112-21.

12. Boissonnault JS, Blaschak MJ. Incidence of diastasis recti abdominis during the childbearing year. Physical therapy. 1988; 68(7):1082-6

13. Chiarello CM, Falzone LA, McCaslin KE, Patel MN, Ulery KR. The effects of an exercise program on diastasis recti abdominis in pregnant women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2005 Apr 1; 29(1):11-6.

14. Benjamin DR, Van de Water AT, Peiris CL. Effects of exercise on diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscle in the antenatal and postnatal periods: a systematic review. Physiotherapy. 2014 Mar 1; 100(1):1-8.

15. Pascoal AG, Dionisio S, Cordeiro F, Mota P. Inter-rectus distance in postpartum women can be reduced by isometric contraction of the abdominal muscles: a preliminary case–control study. Physiotherapy. 2014 Dec 1; 100(4):344-8.

16. Sancho MF, Pascoal AG, Mota P, Bø K. Abdominal exercises affect inter-rectus distance in postpartum women: a two-dimensional ultrasound study. Physiotherapy. 2015 Sep 1; 101(3):286-91.

17. Litos K. Progressive therapeutic exercise program for successful treatment of a postpartum woman with a severe diastasis recti abdominis. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2014; 38(2):58-73.

18. Gillard S, Ryan CG, Stokes M, Warner M, Dixon J. Effects of posture and anatomical location on inter-recti distance measured using ultrasound imaging in parous women. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 2018 Apr 1; 34:1-7.

19. Kirk B, Elliott-Burke T. The Effect of Visceral Manipulation on Diastasis Recti Abdominis (DRA): A Case Series.

Pilates and the Pelvic Floor

 

Gym CadillacKierstin Elliott, Pilates Instructor at BBPT

Breath. Breath is the common denominator for understanding how pilates can enhance the pelvic floor’s function. Reciprocally, using your pelvic floor correctly can deepen your connection to your pilates practice.

Let’s take a look at how to optimize your breath in the first place. A deep, three dimensional breath utilizes your diaphragm to its fullest extent. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts forming a dome shape under the rib cage while simultaneously lengthening the pelvic floor creating a cylindrical shape within your torso.

There are two options for the rib cage while you take this inhale. Option one involves flaring the ribs outward during the breath. Option two involves narrowing the ribs slightly down towards your ASIS (hip bones). When we breathe with a more neutral, tapered rib cage, we utilize the second option for rib placement, thus finding our Zone of Apposition (ZOA). Breathing within the ZOA provides us with the most efficient breath we can take. Once the ribs are placed properly over the pelvis, we’re able to create the cylindrical shape within the torso and the relationship between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor is optimized!

Pilates is rooted in core strengthening principles that directly correlate to breath and the ZOA. In order to keep your ribs from flaring, ultimately keeping you from finding the ZOA, you need to have a sense of abdominal control. There are a handful of ways to find the ZOA, but one of my favorite cues to use with clients is to “narrow your ribs toward your naval.” Try this on your own either lying down, sitting, or standing, and notice what happens to your abs as soon as you taper, or narrow, your ribs toward your naval. You should feel some muscle tone over your stomach. AKA your abs kicking in!

Once you’ve achieved proper rib placement, ab engagement, and optimal breath, layering various exercises into your program will be much more attainable. It requires a good amount of body awareness to be able to coordinate these three major concepts before advancing through your pilates practice. It’s also important to concentrate on how your pelvic floor is reacting to your breath and movement. In footwork, for example, you start in neutral spine and exhale as you press the carriage out feeling a slight contraction in the pelvic floor. On the inhale, knees bend pulling the carriage back to it’s starting position while the tailbone drops slightly and the sits bones widen allowing you to lengthen the pelvic floor. (Prime example of moving within your ZOA).

As you can see, the pelvic floor plays a huge role in breath and core activation which is the root foundation of all your pilates and basic core exercises! If this interests you, or utterly confuses you, schedule a pilates session with me at Beyond Basics!

Call us today at 212-354-2622

Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Pelvic 3

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

What is the sacroiliac joint?

You’ve probably heard of SI pain, but what is the SIJ and what can we do if something goes wrong?

The sacroiliac joint (SIJ) connects the sacrum, the wedge-shaped bone at the bottom of the spine, to the ilium, which is one of three bones that make up each half of the pelvis. (1) The sacroiliac joint is designated as a diarthrodial joint, which means it is a moveable joint that is surrounded by connective tissue. (2,3) Each joint is supported mainly by ligaments that lie in front and behind it, that are made up of strong, threadlike types of connective tissue. Stability is also enhanced through ligaments that connect between the spine and the sacrum (sacrospinous ligament), and the sit bone and the sacrum (sacrotuberous ligament). (2)

The SIJ helps us to walk and change positions by being stable enough to move weight from the spine to the legs, while allowing for a small amount of movement between the spine and the pelvis. This small amount of movement between the spine and the pelvis is also important as it allows for the pelvis to expand to make childbirth easier. (2,4) These functions can occur due to the unique design of the SIJ.

According to a well-known researcher named Andry Vleeming, the SIJ gains its stability in one of two ways: through form closure or force closure. Form closure refers to the stability provided by the bony surfaces of the sacrum and ilium, which fit together like a puzzle. You may use this type of stability, for instance, when you are lifting a heavy box, or pushing a very full cart of groceries; you want your SIJ to be as immobile as possible so your trunk can be stiff and rigid, allowing you to move a heavy load without overstressing any muscles in your back. Force closure describes stability occurring through the ligaments and muscles around the joint; this allows for more movement to occur. For this type of stability, think salsa dancing. In salsa dancing you need a great deal of hip and pelvic movement; however, you need those movements to be in control so you can move with precision along with the quick beat of the music. (5-7)

 

What is sacroiliac joint dysfunction?

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SIJD) is a common cause of low back pain, accounting for up to 40% of cases of nonspecific low back pain. (4,8) It can occur in any population: males and females; those with a sedentary lifestyle and those who are athletes. However, there seems to be a slightly greater occurrence in women, with the theory being that since the joint surface in women is smaller and less curved, the SIJ may become dislodged more easily. (2,4) SIJD can have a negative impact on quality of life, from being less active to having a financial impact. For instance, indirect health-care costs associated with low back pain range from $7-$28 billion per year, and individuals lose an estimated 5.2 hours of work time per week. (4)

The origin of SIJ pain is unknown; however, factors that may contribute include fractures, ligamentous injuries, or inflammation that occur with excessive stress to the SIJ. (8) Risk factors for developing SIJD include abnormal walking patterns, differences in leg length, scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine), heavy physical exertion, trauma, pregnancy, and back surgery. (8) Presentation of symptoms can vary quite a bit; however, individuals with SIJD often present with achy low back pain that can make it difficult to find a comfortable position. Pain may worsen with running, climbing stairs, or standing from a seated position. Also, if pain is truly coming from the SIJ, a person will not experience symptoms down into the leg, as is seen with sciatic nerve involvement. (4)

 

How is SIJD diagnosed?

SIJD can be very challenging to diagnose due to the complexity of the joint itself, as well as the variation in pain patterns that can be seen; thus, if you visit a healthcare provider, you may find he or she performs an array of components in an examination. Many individuals have tenderness with touch over the joint; this can help a healthcare provider rule in SIJD. (2,8). Also, various orthopedic tests can be performed that put stress on this joint, such as by putting a person’s trunk or leg in a certain position to see if it recreates symptoms. (2) Imaging can be performed in this area, but it rarely provides clear information that can help make a diagnosis; however, a doctor might recommend it if there is a concern for infection, inflammation, fracture, or other more serious conditions. (2) Injections into the SIJ itself can also be used to help diagnosis this condition, and are shown to be one of the single-most definitive diagnostic tools available. (2) Overall, effective diagnosis for dysfunction at the SIJ requires the use of multiple tools to help increase the accuracy of the condition being ruled in or out.

 

How can this impact function? Why does it matter?

It is hypothesized that SIJD can have such a significant impact on quality of life because it results in inadequate stability at the joint during movement. If the SIJ is unable to maintain an optimal level of stability, then excessive stresses will likely be placed on surrounding structures and tissues when each leg has body weight going through it. This can lead to other areas of pain, and potentially start the process of degeneration. (4) A recent research group looked at the impact of SIJD on a simple, but common functional task of rising from a chair. They found that in individuals with SIJD, there were significant differences in the amount of weight a person was putting through the leg on the painful side, as well as in the amount of bend at the hips when sitting. They also found that when individuals began to rise from a chair, muscles on the side of SIJ did not turn on right away, which means the muscles were not helping to keep the SIJ from moving too much. (4) Thus, this condition can make it challenging to use the body efficiently due to pain and weakness, which can negatively impact function throughout a given day.

 

What can physical therapy do?

Once a person is diagnosed with SIJD, what can be done? Research has shown that non-surgical treatment, such as physical therapy, can be very beneficial for someone with SIJD. If you see a physical therapist, you will likely receive some variation of joint mobilization and exercise, which is shown to help achieve significant improvements in pain, function, alignment, and muscle control. Exercise programs that emphasized pelvic stability through core, pelvic floor, and gluteus (hip and buttock) exercises, as well as increasing the strength of hip rotator muscles, decreased pain and decreased reported disability after a range of 8-12 weeks. (8,9) In other studies, an exercise program that focused mostly on gluteus maximus strengthening was utilized, since this muscle is considered one of the primary stabilizers of the SIJ. The exercises in these programs included bridging, single leg bridging, hip extension on hands and knees, fire hydrants, deadlifts, and single-leg squatting. In these studies, participants reported less pain after the course of treatment, demonstrated increased muscle strength, and returned to normal daily activities. (10,11) While there is no set exercise protocol established at this point, a strengthening program, with or without a home program, is a mainstay for treating this condition, and results in improved function.

 

Are there other treatments?

In some cases, physical therapy alone is unable to resolve the issue. In these situations, a patient may be given an injection of corticosteroids to decrease inflammation, in or around the SIJ. Prolotherapy is also sometimes used in this population to help reconstruct or regenerate damaged or weakened connective tissue. While it is helpful to know what other options are out there, it is important to note that the research in these areas is continuing to develop, and there is no consensus on dosage or who is the optimal candidate. (2)

 

Conclusion

The sacroiliac joint is a complex joint between the back and the pelvis, that allows for minimal mobility, and is required to maintain stability between the trunk and the legs. It can become painful due to direct or indirect trauma, which can have a significant impact on function and quality of life. While diagnosis can be tricky due to the wide variety of symptoms, research is finding that conservative care through physical therapy can make a significant difference by promoting optimal alignment and stability. If you or someone you know is struggling with sacroiliac joint dysfunction, make an appointment with a physical therapist today to help improve function. Feel free to contact our office at 212-354-2622, or visit our website (www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com) for more information!

 

 

Sources:

1. Ullrich, Peter F. “Sacroiliac Joint Anatomy.” Spine-Health, www.spine-health.com/conditions/spine-anatomy/sacroiliac-joint-anatomy.

2. Peebles R, Jonas CE. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction in the athlete: diagnosis and management. Current Sports Medicine Reports, vol. 16, no. 5, 2017, pp. 336-342.

3. “Diarthrodial Joint.” Biology Online, www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Diarthrodial_ joint.

4. Capobianco RA, Feeney DF, Jeffers JR, et al. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction patients exhibit altered movement strategies when performing a sit-to-stand task. The Spine Journal, 2018, DOI: https://doiorg/10.1016/j.spinee.2018.03.008.

5. Vleeming A, Stoeckart R, Volkers AC, et al. Relation between form and function in the sacroiliac joint. Part I: Clinical anatomical aspects. Spine, vol 15, 1990, pp. 130-132.

6. Vleeming A, Volkers AC, Snijders CJ, et al. Relation between form and function in the sacroiliac jt. Part II: Biomechanical aspects. Spine, vol 15, 1990, pp. 133-136.

7. Vleeming A, Schuenke MD, Masi AT, et al. The sacroiliac joint: an overview of its anatomy, function, and potential clinical implications. J Anat, vol 221, 2012, pp. 537-567.

8. Al-Subahi M, Alayat M, Alshehri MA, et al. The effectiveness of physiotherapy interventions for the sacroiliac joint dysfunction: a systematic review. J Phys Ther Sci, vol 29, 2017, pp. 1689-1694.

9. Albright J, Allman R, Bonfiglio RP, et al. Philadelphia Panel Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines on Selected Rehabilitation Interventions for Low Back Pain, Physical Therapy, vol 81, n 10, 2001, pp. 1641–1674.

10. Added MAN, de Freitas DG, Kasawara KT, et al. Strengthening the gluteus maximus in subjects with sacroiliac dysfunction. International Journal of Sports Phys Ther, vol 13, n 1, 2018, pp. 114-120.

11. Yoo WG. Effect of the single-leg, lateral oblique, decline squat exercise on sacroiliac joint pain with knee pain. J Phys Ther Sci, vol 28, 2016, pp. 2688-2689.

The Special Care Needs of the LGBTQ+ Community

Happy Pride Month!!!!

We are reposting an old post broadly discussing the LGBTQ+ community, with special focus on transgender individuals. Please keep checking back as we continue to discuss specific issues relating to the care of the LGBTQ+ community.  

Amy Stein PT, DPT and Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

rainbow flag

Who are LGBTQ+ individuals?

At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we have been meeting and studying with experts about the LGBTQ + community. LGBTQ+ refers to individuals who do not identify as heterosexual or do not identify as cis- gendered (although these two categories are not mutually exclusive). Cis-gender means you identify with the genital anatomy you were born with. People who belong to the LGBTQ+ community can be cis-gendered (meaning they identify with the genital anatomy that they were born with) and be gay/lesbian/ bisexual/ questioning etc.  They can be trans-gender and heterosexual or some combination thereof. Basically LGBTQ+ is a term that includes people who are not both cis-gender and heterosexual. LGBTQ+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and other individuals.  

Never Assume. Listen, Ask.

We were excited to understand and learn more about how we can help, specifically with patients experiencing pain or weakness in the pelvic floor. We met with an LGBTQ + advocate and he recommended the following when it comes to treating patients both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community.  First rule of thumb:  with all patients, don’t assume and be open to any questions or discussion. Ask if your patient would like you to stay away from certain terms regarding their anatomy, as well as their preferred gender pronoun. Use language that they want us to use.

 As with all patients, we need to use a biopsychosocial approach. With any patient, Richard Green at Bellevue hospital says that we always want to know exactly what is going on with our patient. We must subjectively understand why they are visiting us.  Has there been trauma, surgery, complications, or anything that has worsened their symptoms? What hormones and medications are they on? Don’t single anyone out. These questions are important for every patient.  

We want to get the medical and surgical history during or prior to the visit. There is no standard one surgical procedure or hormonal protocol in trans care. Hormones, either testosterone, estrogen, lupron, puberty blocking, testosterone suppressing can be used in many patients, but are also used specifically to aid in transition in transgender patients. Many hormones have consequences or side effects and our patients need be educated on the various options.  There is research on hormones and bodily changes, however there is no good research on how the hormones affect the pelvic region. Anti-estrogen hormones may result in vaginal drying and atrophy, more tissue tearing, and pain with penetration.  Endometriosis can be worsened with testosterone hormones.  Hormones can be administered via injection, pellets, patches, creams, gels, and pill form.  It’s important to realize side effects and risks of hormones for each patient. Dosage depends on body type, weight, previous surgeries, etc.  Hormone therapy can be given by a primary care provider or endocrinologist; however, many are not familiar with a specific protocol but at the same time each person may have different goals.  Progression of hormones can be monitored for each patient and according to patients wants and needs.  

For those who opt for surgical transition, it can result in pelvic pain and or weakness as organs are moved and or removed. Like we mentioned before, there is no one surgical protocol and it will vary from surgeon to surgeon, from changes in hormones from the removal of certain organs.  Knowing what tissues have been removed or moved and or where scar tissue could have been formed, is important to addressing a patient’s complaints. Also, it’s important to ask if the patient was having these symptoms or pain prior to any of the surgeries or hormonal medications. Surgical transition can take a long time with various surgeries and various symptoms that arise throughout. Some issues that  can occur are fistulas or fissures and when dealing with nerve implants there could be nerve damage and restrictions.

 

How is care for the LGBTQ+ community funded and regulated?

Medical coverage for the LGBTQ + community is non-regulated and different in each state. The Affordable Care Act, (ACA) covers some therapies and surgeries. You can try to appeal with each insurance which have their own policies on gender affirming care.

How can physical therapy help?

At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we specialize in abdomino-pelvic disorders, including pain, weakness, bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction.  We also specialize in orthopedics and functional manual therapy.  We treat the LGBTQ+ community and we welcome any questions at desk@beyondbasicspt.com or call 212-354-2622. We are happy to help and look forward to hearing from you!
Resources: Center of excellence for transgender health.

WPATH center for care Endocrine Society

  • speaks on hormone therapy (however some information may be out of date).

 Adolescent Health Center

Pilates Tip: Supine Toe Taps

Kierstin Elliot, Pilates Instructor, BBPT

STT5toe tap

Exercise: Supine Toe Taps

Set up: Lying on back, imprint spine, legs in table top, arms resting by sides.

Execution: Inhale to start, exhale to hinge right leg down towards floor (about 45 degrees from hip) and then return back to table top. Repeat on left side, alternating for 8-10 reps. Start with minimal range of motion and then increase once you feel more confident with the exercise.

Focus: Lower abs. It’s imperative to go slowly with this exercise to ensure isolation of the abdomen. Focus on turning off the quads and hip flexors ( the muscles in the front of the legs) as they will want to take over. In addition, be careful that your pelvis doesn’t tip sideways or your back doesn’t arch. Initiate from the lowers abs.

Importance: One of the best exercises for lower abdominal strengthening. This exercise also enhances your ability to stabilize the pelvis and lower back, isolate lower abs, and hone in on the mind/body connection.

Modifications: For a challenge, try keeping legs together. Allow yourself to hinge downward for 4 seconds and then back up to table top for 4 seconds. To make it more accessible, try placing an inflatable cushion or disk under your sacrum. This prop will add increased awareness to lower back/pelvis region as well as adding support.