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.

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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

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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

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