March is Endometriosis Awareness Month

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Mayo Clinic. “Endometriosis”.

. Accessed on February 19, 2019  

 

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

PH101: Running to the Bathroom Again?!

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

hd-wallpaper-macro-splash-67843 (1)
via Pexels

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

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

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

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Spring 2019

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part II

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Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

Welcome back to our discussion on chronic pain. In our last blog we discussed why one might experience chronic pain and some common missteps and pitfalls that have occurred in our understanding of chronic pain. If you haven’t yet read part one of this blog, I highly recommend checking it out first so you can get the most out of this post. Click here to read it now.

For chronic pain, we have drugs, surgery, mental health therapy, physical therapy, and what is called complementary alternative medicine (CAM), which includes modalities like yoga, acupuncture, and mindfulness meditation. We discussed earlier how some opioids may actually be harmful in treating chronic pain. Unnecessary surgery can also have risks of actually increasing pain post-surgically, because it can change the brain’s sensitivity to pain. Because, for most musculoskeletal conditions, a course of conservative treatment is recommended for a period of time before turning to surgery, we will focus on non-surgical, and non-medical approaches to chronic pain.

Before we dive into specific treatments, let’s talk about what puts a person at risk for chronic pain. We can divide these risks into modifiable and non-modifiable risks. Nonmodifiable risks are situations or characteristics about ourselves that we can not change. They include socioeconomic status, where you live or have lived, cultural background and genetic factors. Unfortunately, we can’t change these things, but things like alcohol intake, nutrition, and obesity are all things we can change and have been generally understood as modifiable risk factors for chronic pain. Now that we have that in mind, let’s explore different approaches for the management of chronic pain.

 

Mindfulness Practice as Pain Management

Have you tried mindfulness practice? I ask this question a lot. When I ask it, I am careful to frame it in a way that does not give the patient the impression that I think their pain is all in their head, but rather, I try and present it as part of an adjunct to the current physical therapy treatment they are receiving from myself or any of the other PT’s at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, and any other medical intervention they may be receiving.

Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation are somewhat based on eastern meditation practices.  Not all mindfulness programs are the same, but the basic premise is to allow the participant to observe their thoughts, feelings, sensations, and attitudes without judgment. Giving them the opportunity to reframe their thoughts in a positive manner.

It may sound like a small change, but research is really starting to bear out that changing your frame of mind about pain can have some very real results. In a meta-analysis done by Hilton and colleagues, mindfulness programs were found to have statistically significant positive results on pain, depression, and quality of life.

There are a lot of ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your day to day life. Apps for your phone are really helpful. I recommend both Calm and Headspace. I personally like Calm a bit better, but both are excellent. Headspace is a good starter because it breaks up meditation into more digestible nuggets, which can be a good way to start your meditation practice. Calm, as the name implies, is more soothing.  There are also guided classes you can attend in your area if that’s more up to your speed.

Be patient with mindfulness, I definitely suggest giving it the old college try. Stick with it for a week or two. If it isn’t for you, that’s perfectly okay. It’s not a moral failing, or a psychological one it’s definitely a case of different strokes for different folks.

Psychological Intervention

In a study performed by Macrae and colleagues, it was found that patients who engaged in catastrophizing type behaviors experience post-surgical pain at a significantly higher rate. Catastrophizing is envisioning a situation to be far worse than it actually is. A good example for this blog would be a patient with low back pain, jumping to the conclusion that her back pain will prevent her from being able to work and she would end up on the street, secondary to her lack of ability to secure an income. Although this is a possibility, it really isn’t a realistic one and it fails to entertain the possibility of the back pain remaining stable or getting better.

Mindfulness meditation can help with catastrophizing behaviors, but sometimes you need a little extra help. Psychological interventions, like talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, can help you get a handle on these thoughts and address your current loss of function, secondary to pain in a more productive manner. Cognitive behavioral therapy as well as other forms of therapy have shown improvement in pain symptoms and quality of life in adults and has shown even more robust effects in children.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient form of eastern medicine that is gaining a stronger and stronger foothold in the States. It has been shown to be effective in managing a number of conditions, and chronic pain is no different. Reviews of acupuncture in scientific literature have found that acupuncture can improve pain and function. The same review found that electroacupuncture had even more robust results for pain and stiffness.

Yoga

Yoga is super hip right now. In fact, it now has its own international day on June 21st of each year. It does for good reason. A consistent and solid yoga program has been shown to improve conditions such as low back pain, myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia syndrome, osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. It can be a great option to continue to add consistent exercise and pain management into your life.

Physical Therapy and Exercise

Exercise is good for you, even if you have chronic pain. The old way of thinking was to put someone on days of bedrest when they have chronic pain. No more. Evidence has shown gentle movement progressing into more functional training can really help with chronic pain. In fact, the National Institute for Healthcare Excellence’s (NICE) osteoarthritis guideline is  “exercise should be a core treatment… irrespective of age, comorbidity, pain severity and disability. Exercise should include local muscle strengthening [and] general aerobic fitness”(NICE 2014) . Geneen and colleagues found in their review and meta-analysis of the current literature that just receiving the advice to exercise alone is not sufficient to produce improvements in pain scales. That’s where the professionals like physical therapists come in, PTs have the knowledge and expertise to prescribe exercise that is not only safe and functional but hopefully kind of fun. PTs also can diagnose and treat issues such as tissues with reduced mobility and poor alignment to ensure you get the most out of your exercise.

Data show that a prescribed and monitored exercise program by a physical therapist can have good effects on pain symptoms and can help facilitate the production of your body’s own natural painkillers.  Additionally, exercise can help individuals lose weight, which can reduce the pressure on one ’s joints and further improve pain.

Aside from exercise and hands-on work, we can use modalities like Kinesio tape at physical therapy. Kinesiotape has been shown to improve not only pain but decrease trigger points, improve range of motion and improve disability rates in individuals suffering from myofascial pain syndrome.

Conclusion

Chronic pain is complex. Rarely is there a silver bullet that will cure it. Treatment requires a multidisciplinary approach, which has been shown to be more effective than traditional treatment alone. Start small, where you feel comfortable when adding something new into your treatment approach. You will find what works best for you. A good place to start is here at Beyond Basics. Our staff not only has the expertise to treat you from a physical therapy perspective, but they also have the ability to guide you towards other traditional and complementary treatments/practitioners that can help you reach your goal. Your treatment for chronic pain does not have to be and should not be passive, please call and make an appointment today to start your journey.  

 

Sources:

 

Achilefu A, Joshi K, Meier M. et al. Yoga and other meditative movement therapies to reduce chronic pain. J Okla State Med Assoc. 2017;110(1):14-16

 

Andersen T, Vægter H. A 13-Weeks Mindfulness Based Pain Management Program Improves Psychological Distress in Patients with Chronic Pain Compared with Waiting List Controls. Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. 2016;12: 49-58

 

Ay S, Konak H, Evick D, et al. The effectiveness of kinesio taping on pain and disability in cervical myofascial pain syndrome. Rev Bras Reumatol. 2017; 57(2) 93-9

 

Eccleston C, Crombez G. Advancing psychological therapies for chronic pain [version 1]; referees: 2 approved]. F1000 Faculty Rev. 2017

 

Geneen L, Moore R, Clarke C, et al. Physical activity and exercise for chronic pain in adults: an overview of Cochrane Reviews ( Review).  Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2017; 4

 

Hilton, L, Hempe; S, Ewing B. Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Behav Med. 2017. 51:199-213

 

Kamper S, Apeldoorn A, Chiarotto A, et Al. Multidisciplinary biopsychosocial rehabilitation for chronic pain ( review). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014; 9.

 

Macrae W. Chronic post-surgical pain: 10 years on. Br J Anaesth 2008;101: 77-86

 

Mayer F, Scharhag-Rosenberger F, Carlsohn A. The intensity and effects of strength training in the elderly.  Dtsch Arztebl Int 2011; 108(21):359-64

 

Neira S, Marques A, Pérez I. Effectiveness of aquatic therapy vs land based therapy for balance and pain in women with fibromyalgia: a study protocol for a randomized trial. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2017; 18(22)

 

Perry R, Leach V, Davies P, et al. An overview of systematic reviews of complementary and alternative therapies for fibromyalgia using both AMSTAR and ROBIS as quality assessment tools. Sytematic Reviews. 2017. 6(97)

 

Saxena R, Gupta M, Shankar N, et al. Effect of yogic intervention on pain scores and quality of life in females with chronic pelvic pain. Int J Yoga. 2017. 10(1): 9-15

 

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

 

     

 

PH 101 Something’s Wrong with my What?

 

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

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

Please join us at our office at:

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

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

Here is our line up of this and future classes:

Pelvic Health 101 Spring 2019

 

What To Do About Scars from Childbirth?

abdomen active activity belly button
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Joanna Hess PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

No one told you that the pain of childbirth doesn’t end with that final push and it doesn’t matter if you had a vaginal or belly birth. If you are the roughly 10% of demigoddesses who delivered without a tear, bless you and your fairy child.* If you are a mere mortal, here are some secrets for post-partum “battle wound” care.

For many mamas, the scars from delivery heal without any intervention. However, in our clinic, we often see hypersensitive or immobile perineal and cesarean scars that affect other parts of the body and can be a reason for the loss of core stability mechanisms, pain with intercourse, and urinary and fecal incontinence.

Scars are the body’s glue and use a complex set of proteins. While scars are never as strong as the original (70% of the original strength), it usually doesn’t cause a problem. The healing process after cutting your finger on that dull knife is the same for a cesarean incision and perineal tear/cut. Immediately after the injury, lots of good inflammation comes into the area to clot and start a loose frame for new tissue to develop. In the first days, collagen and other healing buddies come in to pull the wound together. It’s not particularly organized, but that’s okay because really, priorities are to keep things from getting in. In the next weeks, the collagen fibers will start organizing according to the demands of that particular tissue resulting in a pinkish or red color to the scar. It’s about this time that you can tell if things aren’t going well, namely, the scar shouldn’t be painful. We don’t know for sure why some scars cause problems and others don’t. The best guesses have to do with genetics, tissue tension, hormonal glands, and blood supply. Within 7-12 weeks, not only should the scar not be painful, but it also should move as freely as the tissue around it—without tugging at other places. The scar should be flat and slightly lighter than skin color.

MOVEMENT AND ICE

In the first days, keep good blood flow to the area while managing the pain. For perineal scars, you can work by breathing gently into your pelvic floor and changing your position regularly so that blood doesn’t stagnate in the area. For cesarean scars, working on deep breathing is a safe way to gently move the area without disrupting the healing. You want to keep big movements limited (but really, you’re a mom and movements are a part of life). Use the pain meds as needed so that your muscles continue to function normally. Things like vagsicles (frozen maxi-pads) and support belts can also help with the pain. A regular ice pack for the c-section scar is also a good option. Make sure to place a thin towel between the ice or vagiscles and the skin.

SCAR MASSAGE

At the postpartum six-week appointment, have your physician or midwife check the mobility of the scar. If it is painful or stuck, ask if the scar healed enough to start gentle scar massage. The idea of the scar massage is to give a non-threatening stimulus for desensitizing the area and re-orienting fibers so that the tissue moves freely.

For both the perineal and cesarean scar, if the movement of the scar exceeds pain 2-3/10, start with just desensitization. This can be as simple as tapping the scar or rubbing the scar gently with a towel for 3-5 minutes/day.

For a perineal scar, use a clean finger to slightly push the scar along perineal body up towards the body to create some slack. Then, move the scar away from the center in all directions (north, south, east, west, and in between) to find out which direction is the least mobile. Hold the scar in the restricted direction for 30 seconds. The pain should not exceed more than 2-3/10. Repeat 3-5 more times. You should be able to steadily tolerate more movement within a month.

For a cesarean section scar before 3 months, lift the tissue around the scar in a generous pinch and move the scar up and down, then side to side. Continue along the length of the scar until you find an area of pain or restriction. At this point, spend a little more time and move that area of the scar 10-30 times and keep moving. Again, the pain should not exceed 2-3/10. For a cesarean section scar older than 3 months, you can mobilize the scar in the same movements by direct pressure or skin rolling—up and down, side to side, clockwise and counterclockwise and lifting with skin rolling.

For the new mama, this is easy to incorporate in the precious quiet moments in the shower.

SILICONE

The gold standard of stubborn scars is silicone with or without compression. For hypertrophic scars and keloids in other parts of the body, silicone sheets and gels are the primary non-invasive prevention and treatment. Silicone strips and gels are easily used over a cesarean scar. Silicone is used daily for 12-24 hours for 2-4 months to soften and decreases the height of the scar. The sheets and compression can also help with the hypersensitivity. Because of the proximity to the body cavities, silicone is not advised for perineal scars.

*If you want to try to avoid perineal tearing altogether, ask your birth team to help birth baby’s head slowly and use warm compresses during pushing, stay active during labor, deliver in a side-lying or upright position, and perineal massage in late pregnancy can all help reduce the risk of perineal tearing.

PHYSICAL THERAPY

If you have tried these simple interventions and still find your scar problematic or think your scar is related to pain in neighboring areas, find a women’s health physical therapist to help manage your care. Recent studies show that in 4-8 sessions, skilled physical therapy changes the mobility and thickness of old scars to decrease pain and improve function.

Scar management is widely promoted in post-operative care in orthopedics, plastics, and dermatology—we hope that scar care will soon be standard of care in post-partum care.

 

Joanna practices at our Downtown location

Joanna Lee Hess

REFERENCES

Aarabi S, Bhatt KA, Shi Y, Paterno J, Chang EI, Loh SA, Holmes JW, Longaker MT, Yee H, Gurtner GC. Mechanical load initiates hypertrophic scar formation through decreased cellular apoptosis. The FASEB Journal. 2007 Oct;21(12):3250-61.

Agha R, Ogawa R, Pietramaggiori G, Orgill DP. A review of the role of mechanical forces in cutaneous wound healing. Journal of Surgical Research. 2011 Dec 1;171(2):700-8.

Comesaña AC, Vicente MD, Ferreira TD, del Mar Pérez-La Fuente M, Quintáns MM, Pilat A. Effect of myofascial induction therapy on post-c-section scars, more than one and a half years old. Pilot study. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2017 Jan 1;21(1):197-204.

Huang C, Murphy GF, Akaishi S, Ogawa R. Keloids and hypertrophic scars: update and future directions. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open. 2013 Jul;1(4).

Lewit K, Olsanska S. Clinical importance of active scars: abnormal scars as a cause of myofascial pain. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics. 2004 Jul 1;27(6):399-402.

Marshall CD, Hu MS, Leavitt T, Barnes LA, Lorenz HP, Longaker MT. Cutaneous scarring: Basic science, current treatments, and future directions. Advances in wound care. 2018 Feb 1;7(2):29-45.

Meaume S, Le Pillouer-Prost A, Richert B, Roseeuw D, Vadoud J. Management of scars: updated practical guidelines and use of silicones. European Journal of Dermatology. 2014 Jul 1;24(4):435-43.

Seow KM, Huang LW, Lin YH, Lin MY, Tsai YL, Hwang JL. Cesarean scar pregnancy: issues in management. Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2004 Mar 1;23(3):247-53.

Son D, Harijan A. Overview of surgical scar prevention and management. Journal of Korean medical science. 2014 Jun 1;29(6):751-7.

Wasserman JB, Abraham K, Massery M, Chu J, Farrow A, Marcoux BC. Soft Tissue Mobilization Techniques Are Effective in Treating Chronic Pain Following Cesarean Section: A Multicenter Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2018 Sep 1;42(3):111-9.

Wurn LJ, Wurn BF, Roscow AS, King CR, Scharf ES, Shuster JJ. Increasing orgasm and decreasing dyspareunia by a manual physical therapy technique. Medscape General Medicine. 2004;6(4).

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

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Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

Why Should Everyone Care About Chronic Pain

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

What Is Chronic Pain

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

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

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

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

False Leads and Dead Ends In Pain

Opiods, Addiction, and Efficacy

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

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

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

First steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Speak Pelvic Floor? Guide to Anatomy Part 1: Female Genital Anatomy

woman wearing white high top shoes
Photo by Dương Nhân on Pexels.com

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

Do you speak pelvic floor? I do. There is so much going on in the pelvic floor, that unless you are thinking about it every day, it can be difficult to find the right words to describe exactly what you are feeling where. Today we are going to focus on individuals with female anatomy.

Your Genitals: Your 3 V’s

vulva.jpg

When we refer to female reproductive organs many times we say vagina to describe the whole kit and caboodle down there. The truth is the vagina is just part of it. There’s much more going on.

Vagina: The vagina is the passageway from the uterus to the external world. It can expand to accommodate a penis, toy, or allow for the passage of a baby. It can do this shape-shifting because it has folds called rugae, which can stretch out like an accordion to allow the vagina to stretch as needed. Neat, huh? We call the opening the introitus, but we may also interchange it with simply, “vaginal opening”. Either is fine. The introitus can be an area of pain with penetration, so in Pelvic Floorland, we use that term a lot.

Vulva: The vulva is usually what people are referring to when they say vagina. The vulva encompasses all the external genitalia. Including the labia majora and minora (the lips), clitoris, vagina, and urethra.

Vestibule: The vestibule is the area in between the labia minora (small lips) and vagina. This is another special area, that can become painful with certain conditions

Other Vulvar Components

Urethra: This is the exit of the urinary system and is where pee comes out. Between the anus, vagina, and urethra there are three holes “down” there.

 

clitorisClitoris: This part is pretty cool. The clitoris provides sexual sensation. Did you know it averages four inches in length! Externally we can only see a small bit of it. We call that part the glans. Covering the glans, is the clitoral hood, which helps to protect it. Most of the structure of the clitoris is not viewable from the outside. Branching off the glans and traveling underneath the labia are the bulbs of the clitoris and the cura. These elements are erectile and fill with blood during arousal.

Labia Majora: The labia majora are the outer pair of lips when looking at the female vulva. They protect the delicate tissue of the vulva.

Labia Minora: The labia minora are the smaller set of lips and are contained within the labia majora. The labia minora can come in all different shapes and sizes and still be completely normal. Some women have long labia minora which extend past the labia majora, while others may have shorter labia minora which stay tucked within the labia majora. Variation is normal between women.

Having the words to describe where the pain it can be useful to both your pelvic floor physical therapist as well as your doctor. Stay tuned for future additions of “Do you speak pelvic floor?” where we will discuss male genital anatomy as well as the muscles of the pelvic floor itself.

Pelvic floor physical therapists are specialists in this area and have been added in the last decade, to urological and gynecological guidelines as the first line of treatment for various pelvic and sexual pain and weakness disorders.

ACOG Guidelines on Pelvic Pain:

https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Chronic-Pelvic-Pain?IsMobileSet=false

AUA Guidelines for Pelvic Pain

https://www.auanet.org/guidelines/interstitial-cystitis/bladder-pain-syndrome-(2011-amended-2014)