Yoga for Chronic Pelvic Pain

crop faceless lady sitting in zen pose on yoga mat
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Kathryn Ahuja PT, DPT RYT200

Patients with chronic pelvic pain (CPP) often ask, “Is there anything else I can do?” They have often been living with pain for a long time and are eager to feel better as quickly as possible. The truth is that there is no fast lane to healing CPP. Healing should integrate the biomechanical, psychological, and social factors, which can all play a part in your symptoms. Yoga can be a very effective way to address each of these players and move you towards increased freedom and function.

Biomechanical factors: How can yoga help?

Previous blog posts,Pelvic Pain Awareness Month Part 1: What is Pelvic Pain  and Pelvic Pain Awareness Month: Part 2: Hope for Chronic Pelvic Pain  have discussed how the muscles of your pelvic floor can lead to CPP. If you have lived with pain in the pelvis, genitals, reproductive and urinary organs, coccyx, or pubic bones for a long time, the pain can alter the way you move in everyday life. People with CPP tend to be less active than their peers, have altered postures, (usually with a more posteriorly tilted pelvis (a tucked tail bone) and an increased thoracic kyphosis (hunch in upper spine), and they tend to adopt ways of sitting or standing that is protective of their painful spots (Zhang 2015). It makes sense! Pain in this area of the body makes us just want to curl up in a ball and stay there!

Being curled up like a cashew all day has a real influence on your pain. Our bodies are designed to move and when we stay in one place for a long time our joints get stiff, blood flow to and from our tissues is impaired, and the muscles that should help us stand tall become weak and tight. It can become difficult to actually differentiate the pain that is coming from your pelvic floor and the discomfort you may feel because of the adaptations you have made because of this pain.

Practicing yoga poses called asanas is an effective, safe way to get you moving again. Standing poses like warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) and crescent lunge (Anjaneyasana) simultaneously lengthen and strengthen the muscles of your legs and hips. When these muscles regain their function, it can help your pelvic floor muscles to back off any chronic holding patterns. Backward bends like cobra (Bhujangasana) or camel pose (Ustrasana) help restore the natural curves of your spine while lengthening any tension in the abdominal muscles. This may make it a little easier to keep your body in an upright posture throughout your day. Supine stretches like butterfly (Baddha Konasana) or happy baby (Ananda Balasana) can help ease tension in the muscles of the inner thighs (adductors) while you are supported by the floor. When these muscles relax, there can be a noticeable reduction in pain since trigger points in the adductors can refer to the genitals and pubic bone.

In a study performed in India, 30 women who attended a 1-hour yoga class five times weekly for eight weeks saw significant reduction in their pelvic pain ratings compared to the start of the intervention. These women also showed a significant reduction in pain scores compared to women who only took NSAIDS for pain relief over the same time. The researchers theorized that the intervention was effective not only due to the effects of the stretching and strengthening, but also because of the relaxation exercises which “modify neurological pain perception which could be the mechanism for pain reduction” (Saxena, 2017). This research suggests that yoga is doing something more than addressing the muscles. It may actually change the brains of those who practice.

Psychological factors: How can yoga help?

Ask any regular yogi and they will tell you that there is much more to the practice than just the asanas. It turns out, there is some really interesting science behind the feel good vibes you might experience after a yoga class.

Yoga is different from many other forms of exercise because there is an intentional focus on your breath. In Hindu philosophy, prana means not only breath, but “life force.” It is believed that one’s breath has tremendous power and in performing pranayama (breathing exercises) we can strengthen and harness that energy. Today, we understand that breathing does more for our bodies than move air in and out and we have even greater appreciation for this ancient philosophy.

You are probably familiar with the idea that slow, deep breathing can help to calm you down. The mechanism that drives this response is called the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Deep, slow breathing sends a message to your brain that you are not under a direct threat. The PNS then works to shift you out of “fight or flight” mode and into a calmer, more peaceful state. If you have CPP, your body might live in a constant state of fight or flight. Pranayama exercises have been shown to help quiet those signals and strengthen the signals from your PNS. With a consistent practice of slow, deep breathing you can actually shift your whole body towards a parasympathetic dominant state (Gerritsen, 2018).

Depression and anxiety are common comorbidities for people with CPP. Yoga can help to shift your mood which may also have an effect on your perceived pain. A randomized control trial evaluated the levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA in people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and in a healthy control group. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to regulate important cortical functions including mood. When compared to the control group, those with MDD had significantly lower levels of brain GABA. After completing a 12-week yoga program however, there was no difference in these levels between groups. Even more importantly depressive symptoms decreased significantly in the MDD group and anxiety levels improved for both groups (Streeter, 2018).

These stunning changes do not seem to be attributable to all forms of exercise. In comparison to people who walked for one hour, those who did yoga for the same amount of time had greater increases in GABA as well as improvements in mood scores (Streeter, 2010). While this study was small, it makes a great case for future research to determine if yoga may be a suitable alternative to medication for those with serious anxiety or depression.

Social factors: how can yoga help?

Persistent pain can have a profound effect on how you interact with the world. Symptoms of CPP are not visible to others and we tend to not talk about them with most friends and colleagues. Throbbing, aching, and stinging sensations can make you more irritable, less willing to put on certain clothing, or cause you to avoid aggravating activities. This can put a real strain on all your relationships. Emotional distress from fraying relationships can be difficult to manage when you are trying to heal and could even stress you to the point of making your symptoms worse.

If you are limited in your daily functions or feel that your quality of life suffers due to CPP symptoms, there is evidence to support using yoga to intervene. Women with pelvic pain had improved emotional well being and sexual function scores after a 6-week yoga course consisting of about 3 hours of yoga per week. At the end of the program, 75% of the participants indicated they felt the yoga program was something they could continue to do without guidance (Huang, 2017). It can be quite empowering to feel like you have control of your symptoms and are not reliant on a doctor or PT to “fix” you. Additionally, a yoga class can be a nice way to socialize while doing something positive for your body.

Yoga may not totally eliminate the pain you feel, but it may help you to manage your symptoms more elegantly. Breathing techniques can assist when symptoms strike at work. Mindfulness about your body can help you determine when it is appropriate to push yourself and when you need to rest. Mastering a tricky posture is very rewarding and may encourage you to open up to other novel challenges.

Ready to give it a try?

As with all new forms of exercise, if you are looking to try yoga for CPP you should seek out a class with a knowledgeable instructor who can offer modifications and cue your alignment appropriately. Start slow and never be afraid to ask your teacher a question if something does not feel right in your body. At first, the hardest part might just be learning to be still and breathe deeply: that’s ok, and it will get easier!

Please consider joining me for our virtual yoga class every Tuesday at 7pm. Click here

for more details.

References

Gerritsen RJS, Band GPH. Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:397. Published 2018 Oct 9. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397

Huang AJ, Rowen TS, Abercrombie P, et al. Development and Feasibility of a Group-Based Therapeutic Yoga Program for Women with Chronic Pelvic Pain. Pain Med. 2017;18(10):1864‐1872. doi:10.1093/pm/pnw306

Saxena R, Gupta M, Shankar N, Jain S, Saxena A. Effects of yogic intervention on pain scores and quality of life in females with chronic pelvic pain. Int J Yoga 2017;10:9-15

Streeter C, Gerbag P, Nielsen G, Brown R, Jensen JE and Marisa Silveri. The Effects of Yoga on Thalamic Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, Mood and Depression: Analysis of Two Randomized Controlled Trials. Neuropsychiatry Journ. 2018;8(6).

Streeter CC, Whitfield TH, Owen L, et al. Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(11):1145‐1152. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.000

Zhang R, Chomistek AK, Dimitrakoff JD, et al. Physical activity and chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015;47(4):757‐764. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000472

Pelvic Pain Awareness Month Part 1: What is Pelvic Pain

Beyond Basics remains open and is offering both in person and telehealth appointments. Call 212-354-2622 for our midtown office and 212-267-0240 for our downtown office to learn more

Mayis PelvicPainAwarenessmonth

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

I don’t need to write it out. You’ve already heard it. But I will write it anyway. These are uncertain times. This May, much like March and April, is shaping up to be a May that is very different than ones we’ve ever experienced before. That said, life still marches on. May is Pelvic Pain Awareness month and it seems appropriate to take some time to recognize those who are dealing with pelvic pain as well as spread awareness to what it is and how we can make it better… even in these uncertain times.

What is Pelvic Pain?

Pelvic pain can sound really simple, it’s pain in your pelvis, but let’s explore what that really means. The pelvis is a bowl shaped set of bones, the innominate (literally meaning no name), the sacrum, and the ischium, that connect your abdomen to your legs. Within this bowl lives your reproductive organs, your bladder, and rectum. Surrounding these bones and organs you have this nifty stuff called fascia. Fascia is the organ of shape and helps to both give structures within our body form as well as help them to slide and glide past each other. Like I said, nifty. Also within the pelvis we have muscles, nerves, and blood vessels! It gets really busy down there!

Because there is so much going on in the pelvis, pelvic pain can feel a lot of different ways depending on what structures are involved and even individual differences in how the body feels pain. Pelvic pain can have the feel of a dull ache, which you can feel in your pelvic bones, genitals, and or abdomen. It could also feel sharp and “stabby”, hot and burning, itching,and/or like a bunch of pressure. It can come and go or be a constant sensation. It can be what we call provoked, meaning certain triggers elicit it, or it could come and go seemingly without any obvious cause.

Pelvic pain can come in a lot of different varieties and it can affect everyone, regardless of gender or age. Many people who hear that I am a pelvic floor physical therapist, assume that I only treat postpartum women. The truth is postpartum women are not the only ones who can experience pelvic pain.

People with male anatomy can experience pelvic pain. They may feel burning with urination or climax, pain in the tip of the penis, in the testicles, or in their rectum. Sometimes this pain limits the ability of its sufferer to sit, wear tight clothing, or have pain free sexual experiences Often these symptoms get confused as a bladder, prostate or yeast infection. Although infections can certainly cause these symptoms, many times tight and spasmed muscles within the pelvis can be the culprit. We will discuss this further in part two of this blog.

People with female genitalia can experience many of the same symptoms listed above with obvious anatomical differences. Instead of the tip of the penis, a person with female anatomy may feel pain in their clitoris, or labia. They also may have pain with sexual penetration or arousal. Patients may also experience burning urination similar to the sensation of having a bladder infection. For people who menstruate, the cramps may be so debilitating that they are unable to work or go to school through the pain. All of these different presentations fall into the category of pelvic pain.

Children can also experience pelvic pain. Oftentimes this is caused because of prolonged constipation, but it can also be caused by muscle tightness, and gynecological conditions like endometriosis or lichens planus/ sclerosis.

People with pelvic pain, regardless of age or gender may also experience pain with voiding, either urine or feces, abdominal bloating, and or difficulty sitting.

What Causes Pelvic Pain?

So now that you know what pelvic pain is, what causes it? Many, many, many different things can cause pelvic pain. As we spoke about earlier in the blog, infections can cause pelvic pain. That is why it is important to get yourself in to see a doctor if you are experiencing this type of pain. She will be able to rule out or rule in infections or other medical causes for your pain. Often the problem causing your pain may be musculoskeletal. People with this cause of pelvic pain may not feel relief with traditional medical intervention. The muscles of your pelvis include the muscles of your abdominal wall, your bottom, and the muscles that live between your pubic bone in front and your tail bone in the back, also known as your pelvic floor. These muscles may be in spasm causing the types of pain I described earlier, (yes even the burning urination pain). It may also be that a muscle group in the pelvis itself or supporting the pelvis may be too weak to do its job properly. When this is the case, it is important to get yourself in to see a pelvic floor physical therapist, who can figure out exactly why your muscles are causing your pain.

Although pelvic pain can seem really bleak, there is a lot that can be done to treat it. It’s all about finding the right qualified professional to treat it. At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy we are the experts in pelvic pain and we treat patients from all over the world. We not only treat musculoskeletal causes of pelvic pain, but also work to connect our patients with other professionals who can help to holistically treat pelvic pain. If you have pelvic pain, please remember that there is hope for you.

Alright readers, that’s the basics on what pelvic pain is and what it looks like in different people. Next week we will go Beyond the Basics (see what I did there?) and discuss how to treat pelvic pain, especially pelvic pain caused by muscle dysfunction, in the clinic and even at home.

For more reading on pelvic floor dysfunction please check out these blogs as well as Amy’s books books on pelvic pain

Treatment

How to Deal with Pelvic Floor Pain From Home

What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

What is Myofascial Release and Why do We Always Talk About it So Much?!

For People with Female Anatomy

Endo Awareness Month: How Endo can Affect your Tummy

Endo Awareness Month: Understanding Endo

Endo Awareness Month ( Part 2 of 4) : How Endo can Affect your Bladder

When it Feels Impossible to Have Sex

For people with male anatomy

All About Testicles

What’s Neater Than Your Peter? Burning Urination

Prostatitis What it is and What to do About it

Bladder Health

Pelvic Floor MythBusters! Don’t eat lemon to avoid bladder pain, true or false?

How to Improve Bladder Health

Books By Dr. Amy Stein PT DPT

Heal Pelvic Pain : available here

Beating Endo: available here

The International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS) is a multidisciplinary group working to promote awareness and education of pelvic pain, if you care to donate, click here

Saggy Jeans and Tailfeathers: How Your Pelvic Positioning Affects Your Body

animal bird blue bright
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Joanna Hess PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

Wait! Marie Kondo has you throwing out your favorite jeans because the joyless saggy bottoms that your tushy cannot manage to fill out? We are seeing an epidemic flat butt among mamas, plumbers, barre fanatics, and office workers—all with strangely similar symptoms—pelvic floor dysfunction, low back and sacroiliac pain, and a tucked under pelvis. In this blog we will explore why the position of the pelvis, the maker of flat butts and the maker of less flat booties, is important and how to more easily move out of this position for benefit beyond your behind.

Besides needing a new wardrobe, why should I care about my flat bum?

The flat bum or preference towards posterior pelvic tilting shrinks the distance between the front and back of pelvic outlet which changes pelvic floor muscle tension. The body needs access to the full range of the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles. Over time, this position could cause excessive pelvic floor activity to compensate for the loss of resting tension. Think of the pelvic floor muscles simplified as a rubber band between two points, the pubic bone and tailbone. When the distance between the two points decreases, the rubber band loses its stability from resting tension. Changes in pelvic position alters stability from the pelvic floor muscles. This posterior pelvic tilt position also decreases the accessibility for hip extension and therefore the upper glute muscles get sleepy. As the top of the pelvis moves back, the sacroiliac joint in the low back opens and decreases its bony stability. Translated into everyday life, the flat butt position increases the potential for incontinence, pelvic floor muscle tension, sacroiliac pain, and decreased efficiency in movement.

The Flat Bottom. Only in the eye of the beholder?

Pelvic floor and tilt

The disagreement of the “neutral pelvis” or zero-point causes confusion when describing pelvic tilt—anterior pelvic tilt, posterior pelvic tilt, and neutral pelvis. Some argue that the neutral pelvis is when the ASIS’s (front hip bones) are level to the PSIS (back butt dimples). Others say that the pelvis is neutral when ASIS’s are in the same plane as the pubic bone. Or for those with X-ray vision, pelvic tilt is the vector of the sacral angle at S2 in relation to the vertical axis. But often, neutral pelvic position is subjective to the observer and relative to other parts of the body—namely the spine/rib cage and thigh bone. Clinically, this “neutral pelvis” is hard to find because 1) pelvis’ are shaped very differently, 2) left and right pelvis on the same person can also be quite different, 3) feeling these bony landmarks have been shown to be remarkably unreliable, 4) the neutral pelvis should be on top of vertical thigh bones. See how the eyes can be tricked confusing spinal curve focusing on pelvic tilt without also including rib position.

Rib pelvic alignmentThe inability to move in and out of posterior pelvic tilt and anterior pelvic tilt decreases efficiency and possibly results in pain and instability. Anterior pelvic tilt is when the front part of the pelvis moves forward/down. Posterior pelvic tilt is when the front part of the pelvis moves back/up. A neutral pelvis on top of vertical femurs and happy rib cage should correlate with better muscle performance.

Do I have a flat butt?

Aside from the saggy jeans, the flat butts of the world have a few other correlations.

1. The Tailfeather Test: Stand comfortably and squeeze the gluts.

a. Neutral pelvis: Thigh bones rotate.

b. Posterior tilt-ing pelvis: The butt will further tuck under and mainly access the lower glutes.

c. Anterior tilt-ing pelvis: The pelvic floor muscles will do most of the work.

2. You bear weight more in the heels

3. Back of your rib cage is behind your pelvis

4. Your Thigh bones are angled so that your pelvis is front of your knees

5. Your lower belly pooch

6. You Sit with pressure more on the sacrum/tailbone vs. sit bone

7. You have Overactive and possibly overworking pelvic floor muscles—the front to back pelvic distance decreases with your posterior tilted pelvis and loses the resting tension from length. As described earlier, this is similar to tensile strength of a slightly stretched rubber band vs. rubber band without pull/tension. Therefore, your pelvic floor muscles have to work harder to keep some type of tension for purposes like continence, stability, etc. The inability for the pelvic floor muscles to work optimally can lead to incontinence, pain, and constipation.

9. You have Breathing and abdominal pressure problems

10. You have Sacroiliac joint pain. As the pelvis tips back, the sacrum moves away from the ilium decreasing the bony stability. The hip muscles have to work harder, but as felt in the Tailfeather Test, the glut muscles aren’t in a good place to work.

Is there a better fix than butt implants?

Bodies have and love variability for posterior, anterior and “neutral” pelvic positioning. The brain likes positions where muscles and nerves work with ease and stability—life shouldn’t be so difficult—but it needs the chance to choose and learn it. Folks working with bodies have traditionally “corrected” spinal curves by changing pelvic position. From what has already been discussed, spinal and pelvic position can be altered many different ways—from the changing weight-bearing area in the feet, to position of ribs and range of breath, and even head angles with visual and vestibular input. Consider these hacks into pelvic stability until the brain learns how to access this stability in many situations and positions.

1. Standing. Bring your chin down to your neck and keep looking down until you see the front of your ankles. You’ve just untucked your pelvis and brought your ribs over your pelvis. This one is courtesy of my colleague, Stephanie Stamas. Or check in to feel where the weight is going through your feet. The front to middle of the foot is a good place to start and then do the Tailfeather Test. You might have to toggle other parts of the body because of how the body will compensate in the chain.

2. Sitting. Get your hips as far back as possible. Or put a pillow in the back of the chair so that your hips can find the pillow and you are sitting on top of your sit bones. Then, relax the trunk into the seat back/pillow. Again, you’ve untucked your pelvis and brought your ribs over the pelvis.

3. Better squats/lunges/burpees/stairs/ab work. You can do 5 sets of 20 squats, but still no junk? Take care to see if your pelvis is tucking under in the movement. If so, use an inhale to keep the pelvic floor lengthening as your hips bend in movement. Later, the movement should be dissociated with breath pattern (as long as you are breathing.)

4. See a physical therapist. Often times, the habits of pelvic tucking are a little more complicated because it is a protective and compensatory mechanism for stability. A physical therapist can help with seeing the bigger picture and how different parts of the body relate to each other. They can also help facilitate better movement through manual therapy and specialized movement.

Good luck with the joy sparking!

Pelvic Health 101: Running to the Bathroom Again?

***In light of current events, and in an effort to keep our community as healthy as possible, we have moved our Pelvic Health 101 (PH 101) seminars from in person to online.  Although we regret not being able to meet everyone in person, we are excited for the opportunity to broadcast information about pelvic floor disorders and how to treat them fair and wide. Please keep an eye on our social media as well as the blog to find out how you can learn more about the pelvic floor.****

Warmly,

The Team at Beyond Basics

By Fiona McMahon, DPT

Do you find yourself with a full map of every public restroom along your daily commute in your head? Do you find yourself competing for the aisle seat at movies so you can sneak away to the bathroom? Does it hurt to go? Do you get up multiple times a night? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this week’s Pelvic Health 101 is for you.

On Thursday, March 26 join us at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, for all of the ins and outs of bladder health. Learn how the bladder works, common bladder disorders, and practical tips for helping your bladder symptoms. Light snacks and wine will be served.

Register at PelvicHealth101.eventbrite.com today.

ph101 sp 20

 

Pelvic Health 101 is back!

Pelvis Drawing

***In light of current events, and in an effort to keep our community as healthy as possible, we have moved our Pelvic Health 101 (PH 101) seminars from in person to online.  Although we regret not being able to meet everyone in person, we are excited for the opportunity to broadcast information about pelvic floor disorders and how to treat them fair and wide. Please keep an eye on our social media as well as the blog to find out how you can learn more about the pelvic floor.****

Warmly,

The Team at Beyond Basics

 

On March 19th, at 7pm we will be kicking off our spring semester of pelvic health education class, we call Pelvic Health 101 (PH101). 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 and function of your bowel, bladder, and sexual functioning. 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.

 

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

Here is our line up of this and future classes

ph101 sp 20

 

 

Endo Awareness Month: Understanding Endo

Amy Stein and Fiona McMahon

Beating Endo Cover

March Is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Treating endometriosis and improving the lives of people with endometriosis, has long been a passion of Dr. Amy Stein, founder of Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, so much so, that she teamed up with Dr. Iris Orbuch and wrote a book about it! This month we are reviewing some of the major talking points in their book, Beating Endo. Available here.  For more on endometriosis, check out our past blogs as well as Beating Endo.

Endometriosis is a condition that affects people born with female anatomy. It occurs when a tissue similar to that of lining of the uterus (known as the endometrium) grows outside of the uterus. Seems like a pretty simple definition, but it can cause a whole host of symptoms.

When something that doesn’t “belong” in the body is detected by the body, inflammation will occur. It is this inflammation that is believed to cause the myriad symptoms someone with endometriosis may experience. These symptoms can include

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Painful bladder syndrome
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction

One of the confusing things is, you don’t have to have all of these symptoms to have endo and the severity can range. This is Fiona writing, and I’m sure Amy would agree, no two endo patients are alike, and your pain is valid even if your symptoms do not necessarily look like someone else’s’ who is suffering with endo. It is this variability in presentation along with poor awareness within the medical field and public, leading to an average of 7 to 12 years to get a diagnosis.

Endometriosis can only be diagnosed by analyzing the suspected endometrial lesions removed during an excision surgery. There is no other test to confirm it, which can make diagnosis obviously, very difficult.

There is another condition that is called Adenomyosis. Similar to endo, adeno occurs when cells similar to the lining of the uterus occur within the muscular wall of the uterus. Most people with adeno have endo, but it is not always true that most people with endo have adeno. Adeno can show up as heavy periods, low back pain, and pelvic pressure.

Endometriosis is a chronic illness that affects millions of people. There is still a lot to figure out about endo and because of that fact there are many truths, half-truths, and myths floating around out there about endo. Check out some of the myths Amy and Iris busted together in Beating Endo.

Common Endo Myths

The abdominal and pelvic floor muscles are rarely affected by endometriosis.

False: Constipation, frequent urination or retention, pain with vaginal penetration from endometriosis causes tightening of the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles; So too does assuming the fetal position which is our go to pose when we are in pain. Both contribute to tight abdominal and pelvic floor muscles which causes pain.

The pelvic floor and abdominal muscles do not cause bladder, bowel, sexual dysfunction or abdominal-pelvic pain in patients with endometriosis.

False: Tight pelvic floor muscles caused by years of straining or reflexive tightening due to pain, often cause a severe amount of pain which results in further tightening and shortening of the pelvic floor muscles. Good news is that pelvic floor physical therapy benefits most people who have been experiencing abdomino-pelvic or sexual pain and/or are straining due to ongoing bladder and bowel symptoms.

Hysterectomy is a cure for endometriosis.

False: Hysterectomy is neither a treatment nor a cure. By definition endometriosis consists of cells similar to those in the lining of the uterus but found outside the uterus. Only surgical ‘excision’ removes endometriosis cells.

Medical menopause is a cure for endometriosis.

False: Just because your medicines give you hot flashes doesn’t mean your endometriosis is going away. The best treatment approach is to meet with an endo specialist to discuss options, and in most cases PT management. As well surgical excision has much better results than ablation of Endometriosis.

There is no correlation between quantity of endometriosis and severity of disease.

Truth: Even if you have a minimal amount of endometriosis, you can be in debilitating pain with lots of symptoms and in most cases dietary changes, physical therapy and mindfulness practices can help manage a lot of your symptoms.

Teenagers are too young to have endometriosis.

False: Teenagers can have endometriosis and their endometriosis can cause debilitating symptoms.

Pregnancy is a cure for endometriosis.

False: Just plain no. Pregnancy does not cure endometriosis.

Ablation surgery is the same as excision surgery.

False: Not even close. Excision surgery is the proper treatment for endometriosis. Ablation surgery, burns the surface of the endometriosis lesion but leaves the bulk of endometrial implants behind.

Surprising Endo Facts:

Fact: Physical therapy (pelvic PT) can help many suffering from the many pains and symptoms of Endo, including back, abdominal and pelvic pain, bladder, bowel and sexual function.

Fact: The majority of patients with Endometriosis require pelvic floor physical therapy. Pelvic floor PT can be instrumental in the healing process and can help abdominal-pelvic pain, bladder and bowel urgency, frequency, retention, incomplete emptying, and any sexual pain related to the musculoskeletal system.

Truth: Painful bowel movements, constipation, diarrhea and bloating are symptoms of endometriosis as well as symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction .

Truth: Painful sex is a symptom of endometriosis as well as a symptom of pelvic floor dysfunction.

Truth: 40 to 50% of women with unexplained infertility is caused by Endometriosis.

Truth: Teens with endometriosis often have acyclic pain, that is, pain at other times of the month rather than only during their period, in addition to cyclic pain.

Truth: Back pain is a symptom of endometriosis.

Truth: If your ultrasound is normal you can still have endometriosis.

Truth: roughly 10% of women have endometriosis. That’s close to 200 million women worldwide. Endometriosis is much more than just bad period pain. 1 in 4 women have pelvic floor dysfunction.

Truth: Endometriosis commonly affects the musculoskeletal system, and in many cases can be a primary contributor to one’s pain and symptoms.

 

Orbuch I, Stein A. Beating Endo. New York. Harper Collins. 2019

What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

marigold-2117436_960_720By Amy Stein, DPT and Fiona McMahon, DPT

As physical therapists who specialize in abdomino-pelvic pain disorders, one of the toughest parts of the job is meeting men and women who have suffered with pelvic pain for years, only to be told by their doctors/healthcare providers that there is no help for them. It is not uncommon to meet a patient who has suffered for 5- 10 years without help before finding us. Musculoskeletal causes of abdomino-pelvic pain are treatable conditions and often times we can start to improve a patient’s symptoms within just a few visits. Please read on to see how we can help you with your pain.

What do pelvic floor physical therapists actually do? Why do they do what they do? What can you expect from your first physical therapy visit?

Physical therapists (PTs) are experts in movement and function, which sounds like a pretty broad topic to be an expert in, and it is. After physical therapists graduate PT school (now-a-days at the doctoral level), they find their niche and specialize. You can find PTs working with high-level athletes, children, infants, people who are recovering from injuries, people with neurological conditions, and many other types of clients.

Pelvic floor physical therapists specialize in the muscles, nerves and connective tissues that live between your legs, also known as the pelvic floor. They gain their expertise through a series of post-graduate continuing education classes, certifications, and training. Their training allows them to perform both internal and external pelvic exams, and broadens their knowledge of conditions which affect the pelvic floor. Sometimes, people who specialize in modalities like biofeedback or dilator therapy, advertise themselves as pelvic floor therapists, but don’t have any hands on experience treating the sensitive and often reactive muscles of the pelvic floor. If you are seeking pelvic floor physical therapy, it is important to inquire about the experience and level of training your potential physical therapist has had in this specialty.

What is the pelvic floor and what is pelvic floor dysfunction?

Who needs pelvic floor PT? The pelvis performs many important functions of the body. The muscles, nerves, connective tissues and skeletal structures of the pelvic floor help to keep us continent, aid in sexual performance and function, and assist in core stability.

When some or all of these structures of the pelvic floor are not functioning properly, they can cause a multitude of different symptoms. People who are suffering from bowel, bladder, and or sexual problems, as well as those who are suffering from pain in the pelvis, upper legs, abdomen or buttocks most likely have pelvic floor impairments contributing to their pain.

Issues with the pelvic floor can arise from a multitude of reasons. Infections, previous surgeries, childbirth, postural and lifting problems, and trips and falls can all bring on pelvic floor dysfunction. Pelvic floor pain can persist well after the cause of it has been removed. So it is entirely possible to feel the effects of an old infection, surgery or injury, days to years after it occurred. Anyone who has had long standing abdomino-pelvic pain, or pain that they can’t seem to get rid of after seeking the help of medical doctors or other healthcare providers is a good candidate for a pelvic floor physical therapy evaluation and possible curative treatment.

What is Pelvic Floor Physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a practice of healing that restores function and reduces pain through the use of techniques to improve bony alignment, reduce trigger points, and improve muscle coordination and strength. Pelvic floor physical therapy is a branch of physical therapy and is built upon these same principles.

What sets pelvic floor physical therapists apart is their in depth understanding of the muscles and surrounding structures of the pelvic floor, beyond what was taught in physical therapy graduate school. What that means for a patient who is seeking the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist, is that his or her pelvic floor issues will be examined and treated comprehensively with both internal and external treatment, they will be provided  with lifestyle modifications to help remove any triggers, and receive specific exercises and treatment to help prevent the reoccurrence of pain once he or she has been successfully treated.

What exactly do Pelvic Floor Physical Therapists Do?

The elephant in the room with pelvic floor physical therapy is the internal exam/ treatment. It can seem a little daunting, especially if you have pelvic floor pain, but pelvic floor therapists are trained to be as thorough as possible while minimizing discomfort.

During the internal exam, your physical therapist will place a gloved finger into your vagina or rectum to assess the tone, strength, and irritability of your pelvic floor muscles and tissues. Internal exams and internal treatment are invaluable tools that are taught to pelvic floor physical therapists. It can tell us if there are trigger points (painful spots, with a referral pattern or local); muscle/tissue shortening; nerve irritation and/or bony malalignment that could be causing your pain directly or inhibiting the full function of your pelvic floor muscles. We can also determine if your pelvic floor has good coordination during the exam. A pelvic floor without good coordination, may not open and close appropriately for activities such as going to the bathroom, supporting our pelvis and trunk, sexual activity, and keeping us continent.

It is essential that we, as pelvic floor physical therapists, also include other assessments when we are examining our patients for the very first time. We employ the tried and true physical therapy exam practices to determine if there is an underlying condition elsewhere in your body, such as a strength deficit or alignment issue that could be affecting your pelvic floor. It’s wild to think of it, but something as seemingly unrelated as a flat foot or a hip injury can be enough to set off pelvic and abdominal pain!

Some pelvic floor physical therapists may have the opportunity of getting a lot of time to speak one-on-one with a patient to determine possible causes of his or her symptoms, educate the patient and to guide them to other practitioners who may optimize their physical therapy results if necessary. We truly can find out so much by just listening to what our patients have to say. A fall, or infection can be significant as well as a patient’s feelings and knowledge about their current condition.

Once we determine the cause of our patient’s pelvic floor dysfunction, we design a plan tailored to the patient’s needs. At Beyond Basics, we have a diverse crew of physical therapists who bring their own training and background into each treatment. What is really beautiful about that, is that all teach and help each other grow as practitioners. It will be difficult to go over every single type of treatment in one blog post, but we will review some of the main staples of pelvic floor rehab.

Manual Techniques

As physical therapists, are our hands are amazing gifts and phenomenal diagnostic tools that we can use to assess restrictions, tender points, swelling, muscle guarding, atrophy, nerve irritation and skeletal malalignment. We also use our hands to treat out these problems, provide feedback to the muscles, and facilitate the activation of certain muscle groups. There have been a great number of manual techniques that have evolved over the course of physical therapy’s history. Let’s go over a few.

Myofascial Release

Myofascial release was developed by John Barnes to evaluate and treat the myo-fascia throughout the body. The myofascial system is the connective tissue that coats our muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and bones, and runs throughout our bodies. Any tightness or dysfunction in the myofascial system can affect the aforementioned structures and result in pain and or movement dysfunction. By treating the fascia directly, therapists can improve their patient’s range of motion, reduce pain, and improve a patient’s structure and movement patterns.

Myofascial release is a more gentle technique that can be useful in cases where a patient is already experiencing a great deal of pain. The therapist will hold gentle pressure at the barrier of the tissue (the point where resistance is felt) for a short period of time, usually less than 2 minutes until the therapist feels the tissue release on its own. The therapist does not force the barrier.

Scar Tissue Manipulation

Scars are almost always a fact of life. From surgeries, to accidents, to conditions like endometriosis, or certain STI’s, almost everybody has one. What doesn’t have to be a fact of life are the muscle, nerve and skin restrictions and overactivity that they can cause. By releasing scar tissue in physical therapy, it has been shown that the surrounding restrictions also decrease their resistance and adherence to the deeper tissues and surrounding organs.

Myofascial Trigger Point Release

Discussed extensively in Travel and Simon’s two volume series, trigger points are taut (firm) points in the muscle that have a consistent referral pattern (they transmit pain to the another part of the body). Trigger points are not only important because they cause pain, they also can affect how the muscle works. This is one of the main reasons our therapists at Beyond Basics are fastidious about ensuring all trigger points are released in the abdomen, back, legs and pelvic floor before transitioning to any core stabiltiy or strengthening exercises that can re activate a trigger point.

People with trigger points in their pelvic floor and surrounding areas can experience pain in the rectum, anus, coccyx, sacrum, abdomen, groin and back and can cause bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction. When physical therapists find a trigger point they work to eliminate it and lengthen it through a myriad of techniques. Recent literature has found that trigger point release alone can achieve an 83% reduction in symptoms.

Connective Tissue Manipulation

Skin rolling, ie. rolling of the skin over another layer helps to improve the movement of those two layers and reduce the tension and pulling between them. It feels like a scratch or ‘nails’, and in cases where a patient has more restrictions, the sensation may be more amplified.

One of the great benefits to skin rolling is it increases the circulation in the area to which it was applied. Often times, areas that are tight or restricted are receiving reduced blood flow and oxygen. By bringing blood flow to the area, toxins can be cleared and the healing contents of the blood are brought to the injured area. Skin rolling can also restore the mobility of surrounding joints and nerves, which can help to restore normal function. By allowing the skin to move more freely, pelvic congestion, heaviness and aching can be effectively treated.

Neural, Visceral, and Joint Mobilization

Nerves, organs, and joints can lose their natural mobility over time and cause a whole host of symptoms from pain, to loss of range of motion, and poor functioning of the bodily symptoms. Skilled and specialized therapists can use a variety of active techniques (patient assisted) and passive techniques to free up restrictions in these tissues and organs and improve overall function.

Neural mobilization as the name implies, involves the restoration of neural structures back to their normal mobility: to glide and slide. Neural structures that cannot move properly can cause pain that can radiate down an extremity or into the trunk and can give the sensation of burning, zinging, and stabbing. Some orthopedic therapists practice this type of mobilization; common examples include the sciatic nerve in the leg and the ulnar nerve in the arm. Pelvic floor PTs focus on these nerves when they cause issues, but they also pay attention to nerves that innervate the perineum and genital region (bicycle seat area), such as the pudendal, iliohypogastric, obturator, ilioinguinal, genitofemoral and the femoral cutaneous nerves. By allowing these nerves to move freely, symptoms such as vulvovaginal, penile, rectal, clitoral and testicular pain, itching and burning can be greatly improved.

Visceral mobilization restores movement to the viscera or organs. As elucidated earlier in our blog, the viscera can affect a host of things even including how well the abdominal muscles reunite following pregnancy or any abdominal surgery. Visceral mobilization aids in relieving constipation/IBS symptoms, bladder symptoms, digestive issues like reflux, as well as sexual pain. Visceral mobilization can facilitate blood supply to aid in their function, allow organs to do their job by ensuring they have the mobility to move in the way they are required to perform their function, and to allow them to reside in the correct place in their body cavity. Evidence is beginning to emerge to demonstrate how visceral mobilization can even aid in fertility problems.

Joint mobilization is a common and favorite tool of most orthopedic physical therapists. We love it so much because it can have so many different benefits depending on the type of technique used. Maitland describes types of joint mobilization on a scale between 1 and 5. Grade 1 and 2 mobilizations are applied to a joint to help to lessen pain and spasm. These types of mobilizations are typically used when a patient is in a lot of pain and to help break the pain cycle. On a non-painful joint, grade 3, 4, and 5 (grade 5 requires post graduate training) mobilizations can be used to help restore full range of motion. By restoring full range of motion within a restricted joint, it is possible to lessen the burden on that and surrounding joints, thereby alleviating pain and improving function.

Neuro-education of the Pelvic Floor and Surrounding Structures

The muscles of the pelvic floor must work together and in coordination to perform specific tasks. The pelvic floor has to contract, elongate and relax in very precise ways to perform basic functions like urination, defecation, support the pelvis and organs, and sexual function and pleasure. If your pelvic floor muscles and/or nerves fail to do what they are supposed to do at the right time, problems like painful sex, erectile dysfunction, constipation, and incontinence can occur.

Biofeedback is a modality that allows you to learn how to better control your muscles for optimal function. Biofeedback shows you what your muscles are doing in-real time. It is helpful to teach patients to lengthen and relax the pelvic floor for issues like general pelvic pain, painful sexual activity and constipation or to contract the pelvic floor in order to prevent leakage with activities like coughing, laughing, lifting, running or moving heavy objects. However, biofeedback does not demonstrate shortened muscles and tissues; therefore, in certain cases the biofeedback may seem to be within normal limits but yet the patient has 10/10 pain. In these incidences, manual palpation is more appropriate to identify restricted and shortened tissues and muscles, and myofascial trigger points.

HEP: Home Exercise Program

 

Home exercise programs are essential for each patient. In the case of weakness, a patient will require more pelvic floor, core and functional strengthening and stability exercises. For overactive and pain conditions, the HEP typically consists of relaxation techniques, self-massages (both external and internal), gentle stretching, cardiovascular fitness as tolerated, and eventually pain-free core stability exercises. Both require postural and behavioral modifications and self-care strategies. For more information and detail, check out the book: Heal Pelvic Pain, by Amy Stein or her DVD: Healing Pelvic and Abdominal Pain here.

Conclusion

As you can now see, there is so much out there that can be done for people suffering with pelvic floor dysfunction. This blog is by no means extensive, and there are even more options you and your physical therapist can explore to help manage your pain or other pelvic issues. Pelvic floor dysfunction requires a multidisciplinary approach for most of our patients. Hopefully, this blog helped to paint a picture of what you will experience with a pelvic floor physical therapist. We advise that you seek out an expert and experienced pelvic floor physical therapist in order to help better your life and improve your function.

Sources

FitzGerald M, Kotarinos R. Rehabilitation of the short pelvic floor I. Background and patient evaluation.

Padoa A, Rosenbaum T. The Overactive Pelvic Floor. Springer. 2016

Simons DG, Travell JG, Simons LS. Travell and Simons’ Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Volume 1 Upper Half of Body. 2nd ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins; 1999.

Stein, Amy. Heal Pelvic Pain. McGraw-Hill. 2008

Stein, Amy. Healing Pelvic and Abdominal Pain. Video: www.healingpelvicandabdominalpain.com 2013

Travell, Janet G. and Simons, David G., MYOFASCIAL PAIN AND DYSFUNCTION. THE TRIGGER POINT MANUAL, Volume 2, The Lower Extremities, Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, 1992.

Valovska A. Pelvic Pain Management. Oxford University Press. 2016

Weiss J. Chronic pelvic pain and myofascial trigger points: manual therapy for interstitial cystitis and the urgency-frequency syndrome. J Urol. 2001; 166(6) 2226-31

Pelvic Floor Mythbusters: Is kegeling the one true way to a healthy pelvic floor?

Pelvis Drawing

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT.

Is kegeling the one true way to a healthy pelvic floor? Not always. We can end the blog here. Just kidding, of course there is nuance to be considered here. But as pelvic floor physical therapists, nothing is more cringe inducing than hearing the phrase “just do your kegels” thrown around for myriads of ailments from low libido, to pain, incontinence, and erectile dysfunction. While it is true the pelvic floor muscles can be involved in all of these conditions and in some cases kegels may help, there are many cases where kegels are the EXACT opposite of how you should be treating these muscles.

Physiology

To understand kegels we must first understand the pelvic floor. To understand the pelvic floor we must also explain the muscles at a very basic level. Bare with me readers, this will help us as we bust through this myth. Muscles, all muscles do what they do, by contracting and getting shorter to produce force. This is easy to see on a bodybuilder doing a bicep curl. As she curls her hand up you can see these muscles shortening into a little ball. Not only is this a great way to show off your gains in the gym, the shortening of these muscles are providing the strength to perform this task. We call this shortening a concentric contraction. Kegels are concentric contractions too! A good kegel will cause the pelvic floor to shorten and provide strength. Let’s go back to our body builder for a second. She has done her lift now she needs to lower her dumbbell back to the floor. In order to lower that dumbbell back to the floor in a controlled way, she needs what’s called an eccentric contraction, which is the controlled lengthening of the muscle. If she did not have a good eccentric contraction she may not be able to lower that weight effectively after she curled it. What if she couldn’t lower her bicep at all or just very slowly after her bicep curl? Maybe her weightlifting wouldn’t be as effective, she’d tire more easily, or she could develop pain. Would you tell this woman that more bicep curls would help? Or might you suggest a program of stretching first? Telling someone to do kegels, when you don’t know the status of their pelvic floor and how well it can relax is similar to telling the bodybuilder with the non relaxing bicep to just do more bicep curls. At best it certainly won’t help the situation and at worst it could cause more pain and dysfunction.

“But Fiona, I have incontinence, so that definitely means I have weaknesses, so it’s good for me to do kegels, right?”. Maybe… but in my experience, probably not. Let’s agree on one thing, it’s completely intuitive that people would think that kegels would help incontinence. The muscles of the pelvic floor are responsible for continence… so they must be weak if one is experiencing incontinence. You are right! When we think weak with muscles, we often think weak and loose, which is one form of weakness, but we rarely think weak and tight. Let’s go back to our body builder lady. She deserves a name at this point. Let’s call her Kendra. If Kendra has a tough time moving her lifting her arm from fully straight to a full bicep curl, we could guess she is weak and loose. But if Kendra could not fully straighten her arm out she would be considered weak and tight. Both of these versions of Kendra would have trouble curling heavy weight. One Kendra due to frank weakness another Kendra because she simply does not have enough room or range of motion to generate enough force to curl that dumbell.

Tight and weak pelvic floors are a lot like second Kendra with the poor ability to lengthen her arm. Tight pelvic floors have less range of motion to generate force. You need a good amount of force from the pelvic floor to counteract the pressure of activities like lifting, coughing, laughing and sneezing and stay continent. Over loose and over tight pelvic floors can’t really do that.

If you have pain in your pelvis not from a medical condition, (although tight pelvic floors present with many medical conditions), your pelvic floor is probably tight. A tight pelvic floor may also have trigger points which can send pain to various locations in your genitals, back, legs, and abdomen. Continuing to tighten can cause this pain to get worse.

Treatments

So how do you know what to do? This is where a skilled pelvic floor physical therapist can come in handy. They can assess the muscles by touching them either externally or internally to determine what course of action is right for you. If you are loose and weak, HAPPY DAYS! Strengthening can help them get better. If you have tight and weak muscles, HAPPY DAYS again! Gentle lengthening, stretching and down training of the muscles can help them get better. Did you know, because a tight pelvic floor can cause weakness itself, returning the proper length to the muscles can restore strength, without actually needing to kegel?! Wild! Regardless of the situation happy days can be ahead.

Skilled PT

Really knowing the pelvic floor is a skill and requires advanced expertise.  Kegels should not be initiated, unless the physical therapist has carefully examined your pelvic floor. Not all therapists are trained to do that technique so it is important to inquire about their background before starting pelvic floor PT. There are a lot of different ways to treat the pelvic floor, to read more What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy . If you are interested in learning more give us a call at 212- 354-2622 for a free consult if you live in the greater NY/NJ/CT area.

PH101: Ladies Session

By: Fiona McMahon, DPT
Hey Ladies!!! In the next installment of our Pelvic Health 101 course, we are hosting a ladies’ session to allow for a safe and non-threatening place to discuss many issues that can affect the health of your pelvic floor. This class one of Stephanie Stamas’s (the founder of PH101’s ) favorites and is definitely not to be missed. Hear more about it in her video below! Join us at 7pm on October 30th . Please register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

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Ph101 Men’s Only Seminar

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

On October 23rd at 7pm we will be hosting our  “Men’s Only Seminar”. Join us as we discuss how pelvic floor dysfunction affects the male pelvic floor. Learn how your sex life can be improved by pelvic floor treatment, how to regain function after prostatectomy, and how to rid yourself of the pain of prostatitis, and avoid antibiotics for the most common type of prostatitis. This seminar is not to be missed!

For more reading on male pelvic health topics, check out:

All About Testicles

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part II

Prostatitis What it is and What to do About it

Location:

110 East 42nd Street

Suite 1504

NY NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Flyer-jpeg