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 2: Hope for Chronic Pelvic Pain

Mayis PelvicPainAwarenessmonth

Welcome back! In part 1 of this blog we discussed how pelvic pain can affect anyone, regardless of their age or gender. We also discussed that pelvic pain can feel many different ways and may occur in different body locations and be triggered by different activities. Now that we have the basics under our belt, we can march forward and start to explore different ways to manage and treat pelvic pain.

First steps

Now that you have a name for what you are experiencing, it is important to get a handle on the various characteristics of the pain you are experiencing. This information will provide valuable insights to the clinicians who are treating you. Some questions to think about include:

  • How long has this pain been going on?
    • Chronic pelvic pain is classified as pain that has gone on for 3 or more months, this type of pain likely has musculoskeletal involvement and will likely require the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist in addition to medical intervention
    • Also try and think if there were any significant events around the time of your symptoms onset; these events may be physical like spraining an ankle or emotional, like moving or starting a new job
  • What makes it worse and what makes it better?
    • Sometimes you won’t know and that’s ok too.
  • Where is the pain?
  • What does the pain feel like?
    • Describing the character of pain can be really tricky. Here are some words we hear a lot
      • Burning
      • Itching
      • Stabbing
      • Buzzingwork
      • Aching
      • Gnawing
      • Sharp, Shooting
      • Dull
      • Tingling/numbness

Now that you have this information, it’s time to make an appointment with a doctor, who ideally has experience in treating pelvic pain. Your doctor will work to determine if there are any immediate medical concerns that require treatment. It is important to be patient when starting this step. Usually it is not immediately clear on exactly what is causing your pain, especially if it has been going on for some time. Usually chronic pelvic pain is caused by more than one system (i.e it could be a bit digestive and also a bit musculoskeletal). That is why your first visit with a clinician is typically just a jumping off point.

Next Steps

After your initial appointment you may have a referral in hand to see a specialist. Specialities that treat pelvic pain include:

  • Colorectal
  • Gastroenterology
  • Gynecology
  • Physical therapy
  • Physiatry
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Urology
  • Urogynecology

It is important to visit a clinician who specializes in pelvic pain, considering it is a very specialized topic, and unless a clinician has an interest in it, their exposure to pelvic pain may be limited.

The next two pieces of advice I am about to give may seem mutually exclusive, but hear me out. Trust your gut, but also be patient with the process. For chronic pelvic pain, it takes some time to see improvement. Think about it, you’ve had this pain for a very long time, it will take a while to improve. In physical therapy, we expect our patients to see some improvement in 4-6 weeks, and similar timeframes can be expected for other types of interventions. That said, if you feel like the clinician you are seeing is dismissing you or not taking your complaints seriously, that is important. A colleague of mine, who I adore, tells her patients “who knows your body better than you?”. The answer is no one. If you think something is wrong, it is your right to be taken seriously.

First Steps in Treatment

There are steps you can take to start addressing your pain almost immediately. I discuss some of them in this blog. Getting a handle on your stress is really important when dealing with chronic pelvic pain ( I am currently writing this during a global pandemic, so I do recognize this is much easier said than done). This is important because chronic stress can cause the pelvic floor to tighten which can exacerbate pain issues. It is important also to recognize that despite anxiety and stress being strong contributors, pelvic pain is not in your head and your symptoms are real.

It also may be worth your while to experiment with gentle heat or cold. A warm bath or hot pack or cold pack can be helpful. Just make sure to put plenty of layers between you and the cold/ hot pack.

Professional Interventions

Address your muscles. Yes, we are a PT clinic and we will always say muscles are important, but the truth is, with chronic pelvic pain, muscles spasm/tightness is involved in most cases of pain. For those of us on lockdown, physical therapy is still accessible and considered essential. Beyond Basics offers both in person and telehealth appointments to guide you on your way.

A trained pelvic floor physical therapist can help to teach you exercises to do on your own to manage pain, release muscle tightness, and correct poor postures and overuse patterns that may have contributed to your pain in the first place.

Depending on your diagnosis you may see other medical specialities who will prescribe medicine, injections, or surgery in some cases, like endometriosis. You may also be referred to a nutritionist, acupuncturist, or mental health therapist as well. Like I mentioned earlier, typically pelvic pain can have many different contributing factors so it is really important to have a team and to make sure your team is communicating well together.

Although pelvic pain can be massively disruptive and upsetting, that fact is people can get better. Have hope, trust your gut, and reach out if you need us.

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622

How to find a physician familiar with pelvic pain:

International Pelvic Pain Society, Interstitial Cystitis Association

Bonder J, Chi M, Rispoli L. Myofascial pelvic pain disorders. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am

. 2017 28(3), 501-15

Speer L, Mushkbar S, Erbele T. Chronic pain in women. Am Fam Physician. 2016 1;93(5):380-7

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 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

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

 

 

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

Body, Baby, and Breastfeeding: the effects of exercise on milk supply

Joanna Hess PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

tilt shift lens photo of infant s hand holding index finger of adult
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Breastfeeding, for all its two-way benefits, requires the mother to share her body and she often ends up feeling like the health of the baby comes at the cost of her well-being—physical, mental, and social. Physical activity improves all three realms for the mother but activity may be postponed because of the assumption that it will negatively affect the baby’s growth. Can a mother have it all–breastfeed a growing baby and get return to pre-baby weight? Multiple studies and reviews show that moderate physical activity and weight loss does not negatively impact milk supply or infant growth.

Should intentional weight loss be considered during the postpartum period?

Yes, for most mothers. At one year postpartum, about one in six women retains 10 pounds or more of weight gained during pregnancy. The weight gain during and after pregnancy often stays with the mother into post-childbearing years setting up for metabolic diseases and orthopedic complications (10). While moderate physical activity itself is not sufficient for postpartum weight loss (6), physical activity remains an integral part of restoring the body’s set point in conjunction with dietary modifications. Moderate physical activity influences maternal health not only through weight control but also mental wellbeing, bone health (9), functional tolerance, sleep quality, and establishing family patterns of recreation. Breastfeeding itself requires high levels of energy, 300-600 kcal/day (5), and is associated with improved postpartum weight management long-term over 24 months (2), but not short term within 3 months (4).

Does exercise for intentional weight loss affect milk supply?

No, for most mothers. However, when breastmilk is the sole source of nutrition, a fussy baby protesting or rejecting a feed can be worrisome. Multiple studies have shown that exercise is not related to decreased milk supply, milk quality, or infant growth (1, 3, 6). Some studies show that over time, moderate exercise is related to increased milk supply (7). Some babies show a distaste for post-exercise breast milk. Lactic acid produced in vigorous levels of exercise may be associated with a decreased acceptance of breastmilk (8), but it resolves within 30-60 minutes of exercise (1, 13). Weight loss in most situations, but particularly while breastfeeding, should not exceed 0.75-1 pound/week (6, 9, 12). Wait until milk supply is established for more aggressive caloric restriction.

  • Intensity: Most studies evaluate moderate exercise intensity, roughly measured as the ability to talk, but not sing during the activity. Depending on the mother’s fitness level, the activity varies from walking to jogging. Vigorous activity is cautioned mainly because of the lactic acid buildup that is associated with poorer baby nursing.
  • Duration and frequency: 45 minutes, 5 days/week for cardiovascular. 30 minutes, 3-4 day/s week for resistance training (6).

If not exercise, what else affects milk supply?

Despite the normalcy and frequency of breastfeeding, we have yet to fully understand the complexity of the mechanism to regulate calories and nutrition, to replenish based on need, and what can increase or decrease milk supply. While baby’s quantity and quality of nursing most directly affects supply, more subtle influences like maternal food and liquid intake, exercise, sleep quantity and quality, cortisol slopes (11) also contribute to short term milk supply fluctuations.

Anything else before squeezing into the WunderUnders?

  • Fatigue. At 6 weeks postpartum, the majority of mothers do not yet have their normal level of energy (9) making additional activity difficult and almost incomprehensible to include into long days. Physical activity is only one part of wellness in the postpartum period.
  • Fussy baby. Full breasts contribute to uncomfortable and leaky exercise. If possible, feed your baby before heading off to exercise. Clean off the sweat after exercise, wait for 30 minutes if your baby seems fussy after exercise.
  • Good fitting bra. The balance of support for comfort and managing compression to protect milk ducts is the goal for your sports bra. Take off your bra when feeding to allow for complete emptying of the breasts and maintaining supply.
  • Hydration. Although hydration is more important for mother thirst than milk supply, increase fluid intake during and after exercise by about 1 liter (5). Attend to the thirst signal.
  • Baby and mother health. Although studies show that physical exercise does not detrimentally affect infant growth nor maternal health, consult with your healthcare practitioner if baby or mother aren’t following expected patterns.

A postpartum exercise plan should be a gradual and systematic return to previous level of activity. The physical therapists at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy safely guide women through this postpartum period to address multiple factors in recovery and return to fitness.

REFERENCES

1 Carey GB, Quinn TJ. Exercise and lactation: are they compatible?. Canadian journal of applied physiology. 2001 Feb 1;26(1):55-74.

2 da Silva MD, Oliveira Assis AM, Pinheiro SM, de Oliveira LP, da Cruz TR. Breastfeeding and maternal weight changes during 24 months post‐partum: a cohort study. Maternal & child nutrition. 2015 Oct;11(4):780-91.

3 Daley AJ, Thomas A, Cooper H, Fitzpatrick H, McDonald C, Moore H, Rooney R, Deeks JJ. Maternal exercise and growth in breastfed infants: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pediatrics. 2012 Jul 1;130(1):108-14.

4 Elliott SA, Pereira LC, Guigard E, McCargar LJ, Prado CC, Bell RC. Association between breastfeeding, maternal weight loss and body composition at 3 months postpartum. The FASEB Journal. 2016 Apr;30(1_supplement):45-.

5 Kolasa KM, Firnhaber G, Haven K. Diet for a healthy lactating woman. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology. 2015 Dec 1;58(4):893-901.

6 Lovelady C. Balancing exercise and food intake with lactation to promote post-partum weight loss. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2011 May;70(2):181-4.

7 Lovelady C, Lonnerdal B, Dewey KG. Lactation performance of exercising women. The American Journal of clinical nutrition. 1990 Jul 1;52(1):103-9.

8 Mortensen K, Kam R. Exercise and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Review. 2012 Nov;20(3):39.

9 Mottola MF. Exercise in the postpartum period: practical applications. Current sports medicine reports. 2002 Dec 1;1(6):362-8.

10 Nascimento SL, Pudwell J, Surita FG, Adamo KB, Smith GN. The effect of physical exercise strategies on weight loss in postpartum women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Obesity. 2014 May;38(5):626.

11 Straub H, Simon C, Plunkett BA, Endres L, Adam EK, Mckinney C, Hobel CJ, Thorp JM, Raju T, Shalowitz M. Evidence for a complex relationship among weight retention, cortisol and breastfeeding in postpartum women. Maternal and child health journal. 2016 Jul 1;20(7):1375-83.

12 Thein-Nissenbaum J. The postpartum triathlete. Physical Therapy in Sport. 2016 Sep 1;21:95-106.

13 Wright KS, Quinn TJ, Carey GB. Infant acceptance of breast milk after maternal exercise. Pediatrics. 2002 Apr 1;109(4):585-9.

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

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).