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: I’m Pregnant – Help!

 

Having a baby is exciting, fascinating, and nerve-wracking. If you have never been through the process before, chances are you have a lot of questions and concerns about what changes your body will go through during your pregnancy, what the birthing process entails, and how your recovery will go once you’ve had your baby.

Join us and childbirth specialist, Ashley Brichter, in our Pelvic Health class to discuss the ins and outs of having a child.

Register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com   today.

Location:

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Time: 7pm on  November 6th , 2019

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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

 

PH101: Does My Diet Really Matter?

Fiona McMahon, DPT

Gluten free, soy free, low FODMAP. It’s amazing how many diets there are out there that really can  provide people with symptom relief. If you are suffering with chronic pain you may be confused on where to start, or what is right for you. You also may have tried out a bunch of different ways of eating, not seen results and have gotten really frustrated. If this is the case for you, I highly encourage you to come to our next pelvic health seminar on October 9th at 7pm, “Does my diet really matter”.

jessica-drummond-headshot-197x300This seminar will be hosted by a special guest speaker, nutritionist Jessica Drummond. Jessica Drummond is a former pelvic floor physical therapist who now specializes in nutrition for those suffering with pelvic floor dysfunction. This seminar was a hit last year and is a great starting point for those considering adding nutrition as part of their healing journey.

Register at pelvichealth-101.eventbrite.com  today.

 

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Flyer-jpeg

When it Feels Impossible to Have Sex

flowerFiona McMahon, PT, DPT

“Vaginismus”, it sounds like a dirty word if you have never heard it before, but for the many, many women who experience this painful and frustrating disorder, it is an important diagnosis to understand, recognize and treat in order to improve quality of life.

Definition

Vagnismus occurs when the muscles of the vagina clench or spasm, making penetration by a partner, toy, tampon, or speculum impossible and painful. These spasms occur independently of the person’s desire to have sex. As you could imagine, this condition can be be extremely frustrating and can interfere with an individual’s sex life and health. Vaginismus can also occur in anticipation of pain, which is reinforced by unsuccessful attempts at penetration. Other gynecological, muscular, and gastrointestinal disorders can perpetuate the pain and spasm feedback loop.

Treatment

Treatment for vaginismus must be holistic and may incorporate treatment for any medical or systemic causes of pain, counselling to reduce stress and fear associated with penetration, and physical therapy to help “teach” the muscles of the pelvic floor to relax and lengthen in order to accommodate penetration. It takes a skilled clinician to recognize all the components contributing to vaginismus and to make referrals to other members of the healthcare team as necessary.

Medical Intervention

The medical approach for vaginismus may be two pronged in order to relieve this condition. First, your doctor or nurse practitioner may prescribe a medicine to help treat the specific symptom of pain with penetration. Your healthcare provider (HCP) may also identify a medical cause to pain with penetration. By treating the cause, your HCP can help to break the pain and spasm cycle of vaginismus. Some medical conditions that can contribute to vaginismus include, endometriosis, intersitial cystitits, skin conditions such as lichen planus, simplex, or sclerosis, or hormone imbalances affecting the vulvar skin.

Psychological Intervention

Sometimes, getting referred to therapy, when you have a problem like vaginismus can seem insulting, like someone is telling you “it’s all in your head”. It’s not.  In a study conducted by Van der Velde in 2001, pelvic floor muscle response was found in both women with pelvic pain and without in response to a threatening movie. You can imagine how this could affect a woman who has had a history of painful penetration. Therapy can go a long way towards lessening the fear around penetration and allowing your body to relax in sexual situations.

Vaginismus isn’t all in anyone’s head. It is a very real physical response to anticipated pain. Vaginismus often affects one’s partner as well. She or he may develop fear of hurting you and may be afraid to have sex. Sex therapists can work with individuals and couples to help facilitate a non threatening return to sex.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a mainstay of treatment for vaginismus, and in simple cases may be all that is required. Vaginismus is all about overactive muscles and there is so much we can do for muscles as physical therapists.

Treatment for vaginismus is all about taking one’s time and making the patient as comfortable as possible with every aspect of treatment. Rushing to perform an internal pelvic exam is not in anyone’s interest as it may facilitate increased guarding and spasm. That being said we can work to lessen the strain on the pelvic floor muscles by releasing the surrounding tissues and fascia of the abdomen and legs. We can also use external biofeedback, which is a way for you to see in real time, whether or not you are tightening your pelvic floor so you can gain more control over it.

When you are ready, the therapist will do an internal exam, where she will place a gloved finger into the vagina to assess whether or not there is trigger points ( highly irritable tight bands of tissue) or spasm within the muscle. When trigger points or spasm are present in the muscle she will work to release the muscles so that they can better stretch to accommodate an object penetrated into the vaginal canal, as well as reduce pain with penetration in hope of breaking the pain and spasm cycle.

Another great part of physical therapy in treating vaginismus is the home exercise plan your therapist will prescribe. Dilators are commonly used tool for treating vaginismus both at home and in the clinic. Dilators are cylinder shaped wands that are inserted into the vaginal canal. They come in many different sizes. The smallest size is usually smaller than a tampon. Usually a therapist and patient will work their way up from the smallest to “goal” size. Goal size is decided by the patient and corresponds to the patient’s desired functional goal, whether that is accommodating a speculum, tampon, toy, or partner’s penis. Dilators can do a number of things for someone with vaginismus. First they allow for a gentle stretching of the vaginal canal both at home and at therapy. Dilator use at home can really help to speed up a course of therapy. Secondarily, dilators can allow the patient confidence in a private place devoid of a partner’s expectations which can then be transferred to sexual relations with the patient’s partner.

Your therapist may also suggest stretching and strengthening exercises to help take pressure off of the pelvic floor, because the pelvic floor may be tight if it is working too hard to stabilize the bones and organs of the abdomen .

Sex doesn’t have to be painful and even with the worst cases of vaginismus, there is help. The physical therapists at Beyond Basics are specially trained to recognize vaginismus and identify the its specific causes in each individual case. If you are affected by this condition, please consider visiting us for an evaluation. Also check out the film “Tightly Wound” which is a personal account of living with and treating vaginismus.

Sources:

Harish T, Muliyala K, Murthy P. Successful management of vaginismus: An eclectic approach. Indian J Psychiatry. 2011;53(2): 154-155

Van der Velde J, Laan E, Everaerd W. Vaginismus, a component of a general defensive reaction. An investigation of pelvic floor muscle activity during exposure to emotion- inducing film excerpts in women with and without vaginismus. Int Urogynecol J Pelvic Floor Dysfunct. 2001; 12 (5) 328-31

Pelvic Floor Mythbusters: Endometriosis Edition

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT and Amy Stein PT, DPT

Featuring excerpts from Beating Endo by  Iris Kerin Orbuch, MD and Amy Stein D.P.T.

Welcome back to our Pelvic Floor Mythbusters series! We have explored the effects of prolonged sitting and pee holding and now it’s time to move on to endometriosis. With endo, there are so many different myths, concepts, and sorta truths, that we figured we would address them lightning round style so we can cover as much ground as possible.

Endometriosis (endo) comes with a lot of misconceptions and because of this, the time from symptom onset to official diagnosis and treatment is long. The diagnosis of endo can often take in excess of a full decade to get, which delays further intervention and prolongs suffering. It’s a huge deal and is the reason why Dr. Amy Stein, PT, DPT and Dr. Iris Orbuch, MD. set to the task of writing a book where they bust endo myths right, left, and sideways. Beating Endo goes into much more detail than we do here. If you wish to purchase it, you may here

So without further adieu, here is a list of myths and truths taken from Beating Endo:Beating Endo Cover!

 

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: Explanation: 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..