Continuing our Education: Vestibulodynia, Vulvar Pain, and Beyond


Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

In a blog a few posts back, we covered some of our new skills we developed with our friends, Kelli Wilson PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, and Sara Sauder PT, DPT in addressing issues of the male pelvic floor. In this post, we will cover the new techniques and latest information we learned in issues concerning pelvic floor dysfunction in individuals of the female anatomy.

As experienced and expert physical therapists, we are all extremely comfortable with treating disorders of the pelvic floor, but the thing is, there is so much new information coming out, that even if your latest training was two years ago, chances are, there is a lot of new information out there to discover, which can really help your patients.

One of the most interesting things we learned about was in regards to hormonally mediated vestibulodynia and vulvar atrophy. Although many of us know how to spot these conditions, learning about the specific mechanism that causes them in cases of long term birth control use was fascinating. Long term birth control use can actually suppress the production of estradiol and testosterone from the ovaries and cause the liver to increase levels of sex binding hormone globulin, which takes even more of these hormones out of circulation. When this happens, the vulvar tissue can shrink, become thin, and friable (tear easily). This can cause burning and pain. It is important for PT’s to be able to screen for this condition so we may refer our patients to MDs who can get them on a different method of birth control or prescribe them topical treatments as needed.

We also learned more about conditions such as interstitial cystitis, lichens planus and sclerosis, pelvic congestion, vaginal adhesions, as well as other current medical treatments that are now available for our patients who are in pain.

All in all, it was a great course and we look forward to bringing our new knowledge to our patients to help them be more successful in our physical therapy treatments.

For most of last year, myself, Sara, and Amy worked together to contribute a chapter to the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health latest textbook on female pelvic pain which will be available soon on Amazon, and is an essential tool for practitioners treating pelvic and sexual pain from both a medical, mental health and physical therapy perspective. Check out the following excerpts from our chapter detailing treatment of pelvic pain here:

On who is an appropriate candidate for physical therapy:

“Ideal candidates for pelvic floor physical therapy referral are patients with pelvic floor musculoskeletal dysfunction or those who have been treated by clinicians for pelvic pathology but have not experienced symptom resolution. Clinicians can identify appropriate patients by palpating the vulva, performing a digital examination of thevaginal and rectal muscles, and performing a moist cotton swab test on the vestibule. If the patient reports reproduction of any of her sexual or pelvic pain symptoms with this examination, she is likely affected by pelvic floor dysfunction”

On what pelvic floor physical therapy is:

“Physical therapy intervention for the dysfunctional pelvic floor incorporates a comprehensive approach addressing specific tissue characteristics, strength, alignment, and neuromuscular control. Manual therapy is a hands‐on approach to correct tissue restrictions, improve alignment, and enhance blood flow. Different manual techniques may be used to achieve different objectives.”

Check out the full text: Musculoskeletal Management of Pelvic and Sexual Pain Disorders available here.



Pukall C, Goldstein A, Bergeron S, et al. Vulvodynia: definition, prevalence, impact, and pathophysiological factors. J Sex Med. 2016; 13(3): 291-304

Burrows L. Basha M. Goldstein A., et al. The effects of hormonal contraceptives on female sexuality: a review. J Sex Med. 2012;9 (9) 2213-23

Pelvic Health 101 is back and with BRAND NEW COURSES

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Our Pelvic Health 101 courses are back! For those of you not in the know about our courses, they are informational sessions provided by top experts in the field of pelvic pain and pelvic function. These courses allow you to dive more deeply into topics such as bowel, bladder and sexual function and dysfunction, pelvic and genital pain, childbirth, diet, issues with kiddos, and much more.

This year we added a Gent’s Only Session to be a companion to our Ladies only session to help answer some of the specific questions you may have about pelvic floor function as it relates to sexual health, bladder and bowel health, as well as pain.

Our first class is “PH101: Something’s Wrong with my What?”, where our own Stephanie Stamas,will be going through the basics of anatomy of the pelvic floor, what can go wrong and how we can fix it. Our first class is on March 7th at 7pm. Register here:, to reserve your spot. Our classes are extremely popular so make sure you register well ahead of time.

Check out


110 East 42nd St, Suite 1504

New York, NY


Check out all the upcoming classes here:

Pelvic Health 101 Spring 2018 (2)

World AIDS Day


Today, December 1st 2017, is World AIDS Day. World Aids Day has been held on the first of every December since 1988. World AIDS Day works to spread awareness of the disease and to remind the general public that AIDS and HIV still must be taken seriously and that there is still a lot of work to do in order to prevent the transmission of new cases, as well as to better care for those who are infected with the disease.

What is AIDS/HIV?

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), is caused by a virus called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV can be treated in order to prevent AIDS, however there is currently no cure for HIV.

HIV causes AIDS by attacking the immune cells of a person’s body, which can leave a person vulnerable to infections that otherwise would not have made them sick. These infections are referred to as opportunistic infections, an opportunistic infection is a signal that someone’s HIV may have progressed into AIDS.

As said earlier, HIV doesn’t always have to progress to AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy (ART)  can work to help keep the immune system healthy, as well as lower the risk of transmitting the virus to others. People on ART have dramatically improved lifespans. It is imperative to get on ART as soon as possible to lessen the effects the HIV virus has on your immune system.

HIV Testing

1 in 7 people infected with HIV do not know they have the virus. Testing is necessary to start treatment and reduce harm done to your immune system as well as risk of transmission to others.

According to, you should be tested if:

  • You have had sex with someone who is HIV positive, or someone whose status you were unsure of since your last test
  • Had tuberculosis or hepatitis
  • Used shared needles
  • Been diagnosed with another type of sexually transmitted disease

HIV/ AIDS and Physical Therapy

Physical Therapists do not treat AIDS or HIV, rather, they treat the symptoms of AIDS/HIV and HIV/AIDS treatment to allow patients to live as fully and independently as possible. Both the disease itself and the treatment for it have effects like increasing fatigue, decreasing strength and endurance, and increased pain. Physical therapy can help by tailoring programs to help with pain, ability to perform everyday tasks, improve heart health, balance, endurance, strength and flexibility.

You can mark today by doing a number of things:

Wear a red ribbon to spread awareness

Donate to groups that work to help people living with AIDS and help to prevent its transmission:

United Nations (UN AIDS)





National HIV Testing database:

September is Sexual Health Awareness Month!


Fiona McMahon DPT, PT

September is here and we at Beyond Basics are taking some time to observe sexual health awareness month. We take pride in our role of providing our patients with treatments to make sex comfortable and pleasurable as well as in our role as sexual health educators. Sexual health is comprised of many factors beyond just your ability to have sex. This article, by no means, exhausts all factors but is a good starting point to learn more about increasing your health as well as your enjoyment when it comes to sex. We will be expanding on some of the conditions featured in this blog in future posts, so stay tuned.

What is Sex

Sex is not a one-size fits all activity and can come in many different forms. Even between straight couples penetrative sex may not be the standard. In fact there are many couples that can not engage in penetrative intercourse for a variety of reasons. This may be because of an injury, medical condition, or simply because intercourse is not gratifying for the couple or there is some other act that is more gratifying. It’s really up to the couple’s choice and preference. A term for sexual activity that is not penetrative is called outercourse.  One type is not necessarily better than another. It’s all about what works for you and your partner’s bodies and desires.

Emotional Health and Sex

Sex is more than how it makes you feel physically, it is about how it makes you feel emotionally. Many things can influence how we feel about sex and how sex makes us feel about ourselves. If sex is making you feel unhappy or anxious it is important to get to the root of the cause, in order to maximize not only your pleasure but also, your well being. Common issues, to name a few, that can negatively affect sexual experiences are listed here:


  • Trauma
  • Mismatch between your sexuality and culture
  • Issues with your partner
  • Issues with consent: Consent is a hot button issue in today’s media and on college campuses. Although consent is a broad and important topic, it can be boiled down to a few key points:
  1. Consent can never be assumed, regardless of dating status or previous sexual activity. For consent to be given, it must be given with an affirmative “yes” answer.
  2. Consent can not be given if someone is high on drugs, underage, or drunk
  3. Consent must be given with every sexual encounter and can be withdrawn at any time.

If emotional issues are contributing to a lack of enjoyment with sex, it may be time to reach out to a certified sex therapist.


Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs/STDs) and Safer Sex

Sexually transmitted infections also known as sexually transmitted diseases can have a huge impact on your well being. Up until recently, sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) have been known as sexually transmitted diseases. There was a change in the nomenclature of these infections, because many of them can be asymptomatic and a person may carry and transmit them without knowing they have been infected.

STI’s unfortunately sometimes carry a moral connotation, in that blame is often put on the person who has it. STIs are simply an infection with a bacterial, fungal, or viral pathogen and have absolutely no bearing on the moral character of those infected. They can be transmitted sexually but they can also be spread through the childbirth process, dirty needles, or a tainted blood infusion.

All STI’s are not created equal. For some there are excellent screening tests and treatment, yet for others, treatment or screening or both may not be fully effective yet. Some may be obvious to those infected, while others may go undetected for years. Common symptoms of symptomatic STI’s include:

  • Sores and bumps around the genital and rectal area
  • Painful urination
  • Penile discharge
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Foul vaginal odor
  • Painful sex
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes in and around the lower extremities, which may also be present in the upper body as well.
  • It is important to remember these symptoms are non-specific and can be related to a number of other conditions that are not solely related to STI.

STI Complications

  • Pelvic pain
  • Eye inflammation
  • Pregnancy complication
  • Infertility
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
  • Certain types of cancers associated with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

Risk Reduction

Because not all STI’s can be cured, (although many can be effectively managed) and the impact to one’s health can be so large, it is imperative to safeguard your health and fertility. Steps you can take to reduce your risk of STI infection include:

  • Abstaining from sex: abstinence is the most effective way to reduce your risk of STI; however, with most adults, this is not an acceptable option.
  • Using a barrier to reduce contact with bodily fluids. Using condoms for penetrative sex (vaginal, oral, and anal) or a dental dam for vaginal oral sex, can help to reduce your risk.
  • Keeping your number of sexual partners low: long term monogamous coupling is associated with a lower incidence of STI
  • Regular screening: Because many STI’s can be asymptomatic, regular screening is key to catching an STI early, treating the infection, and preventing damage to your own body as well as transmission to others,
    • Herpes: Recommended for those at risk for herpes (people having unprotected sex, have had sex with someone who is infected, or people experiencing symptoms such as sores)
    • Chlamydia:  men who have sex with men, as well as women who are under 25 have a greater risk of contracting chlamydia and should be tested for it
    • Gonorrhea: men who have sex with men, as well as women who are under 25 have a greater risk of contracting gonnorrhea and should be tested for it
    • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): It is suggested that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV. If you do have HIV, it is imperative to be regularly screened for other STI’s as it is easier to contract them with an HIV infection
    • People born between 1945-1965: should be tested for hepatitis C as there is a high incidence in this population.
    • New Partners: Before having sex with a new partner, both people should be tested for STI to prevent transmission of new infections
    • HPV: Females should be screened for HPV at least every 3 years if they are 21 to 30.  It is recommended to be tested at least every 5 years for sexually active women over 30. There is currently no HPV screening for males.
      • Two vaccines are now available to help prevent two types of HPV associated cancer. The current recommendation is that both boys and girls receive the vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12 years old. Boys can receive that vaccine between 13 and 21 and girls between 13 and 26 as a catch up period.
    • Truvada: Truvada is a drug that is now available to help prevent transmission of HIV and indicated for use in high-risk populations.


When Genital Pain Limits Sex

Both men and women can have pain that is so severe that it limits their enjoyment of sex, or prevents sexual pleasure completely. There are many syndromes and diseases that can cause pain with sex. As we covered earlier, STI’s can influence pain, as well as other conditions such as non-bacterial prostatitis, vulvodynia, vaginismus, pudendal neuralgia, as well as many more. These diseases and conditions can be influenced by poorly functioning pelvic floor muscles and vice versa. Keep an eye out for future blog posts devoted entirely to these conditions.  It is possible to have tight and tender pelvic floor muscles as a result of an infective process, injury, or they may arise on their own idiopathically.


What to do if you have pain

First off, don’t panic.  Pelvic pain is relatively common, some studies estimate chronic pelvic pain rates being higher than 25%. You are not alone. It is important, though, to act swiftly to identify the culprit. The majority of pelvic pain is treatable, but the process is much easier when started earlier on in the pain cycle.

Go to your doctor to rule out any infective or disease process that may be causing your pain. The best case scenario is that a short course of treatment will do the trick. Unfortunately, often times the root cause is not identified on the first trip to the doctor and your results may come back negative for any infectious agent or systemic condition. This is common for many of the patients we see at Beyond Basics. If this happens to you, consider going to a pelvic pain specialist, whether physician or pelvic floor physical therapist, for more precise testing.

It is important to remember not all physicians are trained to recognize dysfunction of the musculoskeletal system, although the number of those who are trained is growing. Indications of musculoskeletal dysfunction are: pain that changes with changes in activity or position, pain that does not go away once the original disease or infection is treated or cured, or pain that can not be correlated to a specific systemic dysfunction. It is important to remember that musculoskeletal dysfunction in the pelvis can mimic, or be the cause of, bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction.

If you believe your pain is musculoskeletal in nature or even think it might be, it is important to be examined by a skilled pelvic floor physical therapist and not all pelvic floor physical therapists are well trained. Pelvic floor physical therapists can determine if muscles and/or nerves are playing a role in your pain, and then treat the dysfunctional muscles and tissues to allow you to return to your old activities. When looking for a pelvic floor physical therapist, it is important to inquire whether or not they do internal work, both vaginally and rectally, and to ask about their training and experience.

At Beyond Basics we are experts at treating sexual pain as well as screening our patients and referring them on to the correct physicians to help treat any systemic causes of pain. We value a holistic approach to treating sexual pain, and strive to provide our patients with the best care possible. If you are in the New York area, another state, or even abroad and are suffering from sexual pain, please consider starting your healing journey with us.  We have an extensive ‘out of town’ program:  URL for program.



STI Awareness and Counselling Services

American Sexual Health Association:

Planned Parenthood:


  • Services provided
    • STI screening/counseling
    • HPV vaccine
    • Male reproductive health exams
    • Pregnancy tests and counseling
    • Health insurance screening and enrollment

NYC STI Clinics and Services:


Sexual Assault Counseling:


RAINN: Rape Assault Incest National Network:


  • Services provided (free or low cost):
    • Counseling
    • Medical Attention/ Hospital Accompaniment
    • Victim assistance/ advocacy
    • Legal/ Justice System advocacy
    • Emergency Shelter

Pelvic Pain Resources:

International Pelvic Pain Society:


International Society of the Study of Women’s Sexual Health:


Heal Pelvic Pain

By: Amy Stein DPT

Healing Pelvic and Abdominal Pain DVD

By: Amy Stein DPT


Explain Pain

By: David Butler

Healing Painful Sex

By:   Deborah Coady, MD and Nancy Fish, PhD


The Pain No One Wants to Talk About When

When Sex Hurts

By: Andrew Goldstein, MD and Caroline Pukall, PhD




International Pelvic Pain Society:


International Society of the Study of Women’s Sexual Health: (confirm url)


Ahangari A. Prevalence of Chronic Pelvic Pain Among Women: An Updated Review. Pain Physician. 2014;17(2) E141-7


Barrow R, Berkel C, Brooks L. Traditionally Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention and Control Strategies: Tailoring for African American Communities.  Sex Transm Dis. 2008 Dec; 35 (12 sUPPL): s30-9


Katz A, Lee M, Wasserman G, et al. Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD): A Review of the CDC 2010 STD Treatment Guidlines and Epidemiologic Trends of Commone STDs in Hawai’i. Hawaii J Med Public Health. 2012 Mar; 71(3): 68-73

Mayo Clinci Staff. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). [Accesses August 17, 2016]




Join Denise Small PT, DPT on July 6th for a Free Pilates Class


Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

Denise has not 1 but 2 hats here at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy. Not only is she a Doctor of Physical Therapy, specializing in functional manual therapy, orthopedics and pelvic floor conditions, she is also a certified Pilates instructor. Through the years she has worked to combine her passions to produce an outstanding Pilates program tailor made for individuals suffering from any pain condition and to help them become more functional and back to their exercise routine.

On July 6th at 7pm, Denise will be sharing her expertise with the public by offering a FREE gentle pilates class here at Beyond Basics. In this class participants will “ examine the interconnectedness of [their] own functional anatomy to move through and around [their] current fitness barriers”

To get a flavor of what Denise has to offer check out her blog posts bellow. If you are interested in attending the class, please RSVP here. Learn more about the Pilates program and the physical therapy program by clicking here.

Check Out Denise’s Blogs Here:

Pilates Blog- Rhythm- Coordination of Breath and Movement

The use of Breath in the Pilates Method 

Benefits of Pilates with Pain Conditions

Summer Movement Class

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.


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 women’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 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”. 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.


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

Pilates Blog- Rhythm- Coordination of Breath and Movement

PilatesDenise Small, PT, DPT

Today’s Pilates blog will focus on another basic movement principle of the Pilates method, Whole Body Movement.

In the last blog, I wrote about the importance of breathing three dimensionally, both expanding and contracting your abdomen and ribcage when breathing. Joseph Pilates wanted to help exaggerate these physiologic functions with movement, to help bring better awareness of these functions to one’s consciousness. He did that by coordinating both whole body movement and breathing. For example, when one inhales, the ribs and sternum move up and out, like a water pump or the handle on a bucket. You can feel this action by placing your hands on the outside of your ribcage, or on your sternum, as you inhale. When the ribs move up and out or the sternum lifts, the spine also extends because of the physical connection of the ribs into the spine. So, when Pilates gave a movement that involved spinal extension, like cow pose, he encouraged his students to inhale.

Conversely, when one exhales the opposite happens, and the ribs move in and down. When the ribs move in and down, this helps facilitate spinal flexion, because of the ribs physical connection to the spine. So, when Pilates gave a movement involving spinal flexion, he encouraged his students to exhale.

The result is inhalation with ribcage expansion and spinal extension, and exhalation with ribcage compression and spinal flexion. By coordinating the ribcage and spinal movement with the breath, you can maximize your air intake and expulsion. In addition, by coordinating your breath and movement, your body can more easily access its natural rhythms, calming the nervous system and promoting relaxation and healing.

Give it a try in your seat at work. Or come to Beyond Basics and visit me for a Pilates private!