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

How to Start a New Exercise Program When You’re Feeling Intimidated

How to Start a New Exercise Program When You’re Feeling Intimidated

woman stretching on ground
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

Kierstin Elliott

Maybe you were an avid gym-goer, cross fitter, or yogi and then you got injured. Or maybe fitness has never been a part of your life, but now your doctor or PT has told you that a fitness regimen is necessary in order to help you feel like yourself again. Whatever the case may be, you just don’t know where to start, or you feel intimidated to return to what you were doing in the past because that is how you got injured in the first place. My advice is to start slowly. Educate yourself on how and why you got injured and what the next steps are on your road to recovery. Set goals on what you need to accomplish and build a plan to achieve them. Last but not least, train smartly. If you follow this check list, then you should definitely feel more confident moving forward!

It is imperative when you are transitioning from injury rehab to the fitness world, or starting a new exercise program for the first time, that you build a foundation. It is so crucial you stay true to your journey and not compare yourself to others. Trust that progress takes time. Resist the urge to jump right into something new if you’re unsure about form, alignment, and technique.

The first step would be to invest in private sessions. Educate yourself on what you’re getting into and find an expert in what you want to master. Having a coach who devotes the entire hour to your body and your needs will help you garner a deeper understanding of how your breath, body, and mind connect. Learning the proper form with a watchful eye on alignment, will ensure you have a strong foundation to move forward or join group classes.

Once you’ve gained confidence with your new (or old) exercise program, set some fitness goals. You’ve laid a strong foundation and now it’s time to build a skyscraper! Do you want to improve strength, flexibility, endurance? Once you have clear goals set, create a timeline. Establishing a realistic timeline will hold you accountable to sticking with your exercise program and crushing your goals!

The point I’ll end with is to train smartly. No matter what discipline you train in, if you are not focused on form, alignment, and breath control, you are only setting yourself up for future injuries. If you are in a group class, don’t be afraid to ask questions if something is unclear, doesn’t feel quite right, or if you know you need a modification. If you are doing an at home workout on your own, try to do it in front of a mirror to check out your form. If there’s no mirror accessible, simply take it slow and use the knowledge you’ve acquired from a trainer, coach, or PT. Take notes. Practice. Your exercises won’t be perfect the first time you attempt them. Be patient and mindful. It’s all about the journey 🙂

A Holiday Gift for You! BBPT is Offering Free Consults for People Living in the Greater NYC Area!

Group Serious 2

Any persistent pain or chronic back or pelvic pain can be tough. It is tough to have and often times it can be extremely isolating. Many of our patients have to go through a number of clinicians before they even get a diagnosis of pelvic floor dysfunction. If you are reading this blog, you probably have some questions about pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you.

We are here to help. If you are living in the Greater New York Area and have some questions about orthopedic, sports or pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you, I encourage you to call our office. For a limited period of time, we are offering free 15-minute phone consults with our licensed physical therapists to patients in the greater New York Area. For those of you living outside this area, a fee may apply to the consult but can be applied towards payment for a PT visit if you chose to visit us. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about your pelvic floor and what PT can do for you.

The Physical Therapists at Beyond Basics also treat orthopedic (sport and joint injuries), pediatric pelvic floor dysfunction and orthopedic injury, and much more. Give us a call to discuss how PT can help with any one of these issues!

All the best,

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622 (42nd Street Location)

212-267-0240 (William Street Location)

Beyond Basics is Visting Brooklyn!!!!

Brooklyn

 

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Have you got pelvic floor questions? Have you desperately wanted to go to one of our PH101 classes, but can’t swing 7pm in midtown in the middle of the week? Well, I have great news and GREATER news. I know, right… how much great news can you handle? The first bit of awesome, is that Beyond Basics’ Physical Therapists’, Dr. Fiona McMahon and Dr. Sarah Paplanus are hosting a forum and open discussion on pelvic floor health and treatment on Saturday, April 28th at The Floor on Atlantic (310 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn) at 12 noon. We will be there to explain the ins and outs of the pelvic floor, what can go wrong with it, and best yet, how you can heal it. It is a must go to event. RSVP here. Also, it’s FREE!

So what’s the other news, Fiona? Well, it’s that although we are not in Brooklyn, we have opened another office just across the river from Brooklyn, Beyond Basics Physical Therapy Downtown. In enlarging our footprint we hope to expand access and convenience to patients living downtown and in Brooklyn. We will be hosting a Grand Opening and 15 year anniversary celebration at our new location: 156 William St, Suite 800 New York, NY 10038 on Thursday, April, 26th from 4pm – 7pm. Come and enjoy food, drinks and meet our Physical Therapists. RSVP here.

 

 

Pilates Versus Yoga

Pilates vs. Yoga Kierstin Elliott, Certified in Stott Pilates

kierstin-and-amy-e1519325647124.jpg

As a pilates instructor, I am often asked the question, “How is pilates different from yoga?” Although there are many similarities between the two practices, such as developing strength and flexibility, the differences are quite substantial.

Yoga is an ancient practice that has long been established throughout Indian culture. One major factor that sets yoga apart from pilates is the spiritual element. For many, yoga promotes an environment of self awareness in mind, body, and spirit. Although there are various styles of yoga, ranging from the lively flow of Vinyasa to the meditative holds of Yin, you have the freedom to explore and evolve the limitations of your body and mind within the practice.

Pilates is a more recent method of movement created by Joseph Pilates as a form of rehabilitation and was introduced to the States in 1920. Pilates wanted to create a practice in which injured soldiers could quickly rehab with bio-mechanics. Therefore, the apparatus’ used in the practice such as the Cadillac and Reformer, closely resemble hospital beds with springs, pulleys, and slings. Pilates is focused primarily on restoring the natural curves of the spine using these 8 founding principles: breath, concentration, control, centering, flow, alignment, precision and relaxation.

Both pilates and yoga offer numerous health benefits for the mind and body in addition to complimenting each other quite well. If you are looking for a more spiritual or meditative connection through movement, yoga is the choice for you. If you are looking to strengthen your core and improve posture, pilates will be right up your alley. Give them both a try and see what makes the most sense for your body. Finding a practice that not only feels good, but one that you also enjoy, is important for maintaining consistency and progress. Only with commitment and dedication to your practice will you discover the stronger, healthier, and happier version of you!

 

kierstinbbpt_smKierstin Elliot currently teaches Pilates at Beyond Basics Physical, Flex, Kinespirit, and offers in home training. Call the office at Beyond Basics at 212-354-2622 for more information on Kierstin!

Yoga with Anne Taylor on July 20th

flower

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Join us on Thursday, July 20th at 7pm for a really special treat: Yoga with Anne Taylor. Anne Taylor’s approach to yoga, which integrates movement, breath awareness, opening, and grounding to recalibrate the neuromuscular system, to help decrease pain and increase function has been a mainstay of Beyond Basics’ multi-disciplinary approach to improving the health and well being of our patients for nearly a decade.

Join us for a chance to explore the practice of yoga, without the pressure of trying to learn in an overcrowded class in a trendy yoga studio. Learn poses and breathing techniques you can take with you anywhere to help improve your quality of life. Sign up here today.

Summer Movement Class

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy: Free Movement Classes are Here

Summer Movement ClassFiona McMahon PT, DPT

It’s summer in the city and maybe the air isn’t the only thing that’s a little stagnant? Could your workout routine use some updating? Are you itching to try something new like yoga, pilates, meditation, or tai chi? Have you been hesitant to try something new because you are nervous because of a past injury or pain condition? It’s time to take the leap and broaden your workout horizons with classes taught by practitioners with decades of combined experience in working with patients with acute and chronic pain conditions and sports and dance injuries. Take some time to read a little bit about this summer’s offerings and see if there is a right fit for you!

On July 6th at 7pm we will be offering gentle Pilates with Denise Small PT, DPT. Denise is a physical therapist at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, who specializes in the treatment of orthopedic conditions and pelvic pain. She also is a certified Pilates instructor and combines both physical therapy and Pilates to help patients move throughout their world with increased strength and endurance, and with less pain. Denise is also a frequent contributor to the blog. Take some time to check out her recent articles,  on the Coordination of Breath and Movement, the use of Breath in in the Pilates MethodThe Benefits of Pilates with Pain Conditions, and check out our Pilates program here.

On July 13th at 7pm, Dr. Deborah Coady MD will be leading a gentle Tai Chi class designed to reduce stress, improve balance, and improve many other health conditions. Dr. Coady is a pioneer in the treatment of chronic pelvic pain and has a keen interest in the power of movement in aiding healing.

On July 20th at 7pm join Anne Taylor for Yoga. Anne teaches all over New York City and has worked with Beyond Basics Physical Therapy for years to offer private and group restorative classes for men and women with pelvic floor dysfunction.

Our last class is on July 27th at 7pm and will be lead by Ryanne Glasper PT, DPT. Ryanne will be offering a medication class to help you learn how to focus and calm the mind. Ryanne works at Beyond Basics specializing in orthopedics, dance medicine, and pelvic floor dysfunction. Ryanne is also a certified yoga instructor and has studied the Franklin Method through the Feldenkrais Institute.

If any of these classes interest you, click here to register today!

BBPT Health Tip: Happy Baby Yoga Pose

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Guys! This is one of my favorite stretches ever. Both for myself personally and also for my patients. It’s called the happy baby pose, which comes from yoga. I mean, how cute is that. If you’ve ever seen a baby try and stick his feet in his mouth you know where the name comes from. This stretch is awesome because it stretches a ton of muscles at once, even the pelvic floor. It is an integral part of my stretching routine and I hope it becomes part of yours.

Muscles involved: Hamstrings, glute (butt) muscles, pelvic floor,

Stretch Type: Static: Best if performed after workouts on warm muscles. Exercise caution if stretching cold muscle, because unwarmed muscle doesn’t stretch as well as warmed up muscles.

Caution: If you feel pinching in your hips or pressure or discomfort under your kneecap, move your hand position to back of the thighs. If you still feel pain while attempting this modification, it is definitely time for a physical therapy appointment.

As always: No stretch should ever be painful. If a stretch is painful, stop and consult your physical therapist for modifications.

Directions: Lying on your back, grip your feet on the outside of your feet and bend your knees up towards your armpits. If this is too difficult, grasp your legs at the calves. Make sure that your neck is relaxed and hold for 60-90 seconds and repeat. Add deep breathing to enhance the relaxation. Enjoy!

 

Check out our student showing off her great happy baby pose!

BBPT Health Tip: HOT or COLD? That is the Question

bigstock-illustration-of-thermometers-w-49787687

Fiona McMahon, DPT.

 

What’s better, heat or ice? This is a question that most medical/health type professionals get all the time. The answer is, it depends. Both have fabulous benefits for different sets of circumstances. Let’s explore these cheap, safe and effective pain relievers.

Heat

In the biz, ( no one calls physical therapy “the biz” yet, but if I try hard enough, it may stick) we call heat, thermotherapy. Fancy, right? Thermotherapy is great for pain that is a result of a trigger point, or muscle spasm. Think deep neck, back pain, or pelvic pain. It’s great for menstrual cramps and can  create a nice soothing effect.

For any active inflammation or infection however, heat can be harmful and can actually make it worse. You do not want to place heat over joints affected by autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also not good for new, fresh injuries, like a muscle strain or a injury from a fall. Heat is really good for chronic long standing pain conditions.

Heat comes in types, dry and moist. Dry is the kind that’s emitted from like an electric heating pad or a microwaved heating pad. Sometimes people may find that dry heat, dries out the skin. Moist heat comes from things like moist towels or moist heating pads (these are the kind we use in our clinic). Moist heat tends to penetrate deeper into the muscles.  

 

Safety Considerations for Heat:

  1. Don’t over heat. Sounds simple, but in the throes of severe pain, many people may find themselves with the more is better mantra.  It’s not.
  2. Don’t apply to open wounds, on individuals with peripheral vascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, or on people with reduced sensation or ability to remove the hot pack.

 

Cold

Physical therapists have a fancy name for this one too. It’s cryotherapy. Sounds super futuristic doesn’t it? Ice is awesome. It really is. It is great for acute (recent) injuries like a sprain or a strain. There are actually studies that show that ice within 36 hours of injury speeds recovery better than heat. Ice can reduce pain in the area it is applied, reduce guarding and spasm, and reduce swelling.

 

Safety Considerations for Cold:

  1. Never use on people with reduced sensation, ie. Raynauds, actively healing wounds, circulatory issues, or hypertension
  2. Less is more. Keep cold packs on for 20-30 minutes once every 2 hours on newly injured body parts. Keeping the ice pack on for longer can cause increased blood flow to the area which will reduce the helpful effects of the ice.

When in doubt as to if you should use cryotherapy or thermotherapy, consult with your physical therapist or healthcare provider.  At Beyond Basics we treat injuries beyond those to the pelvic floor and we can help with your injury questions. You can also find a physical therapist with the APTA’s PT finder tool

BBPT Health Tip: Diaphragmatic Breathing

just-breathe-in-cloudsFiona McMahon DPT, PT

WE LOVE DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING! We do, we really do and we hope you will too. What is diaphragmatic breathing you ask? Diaphragmatic breathing is a form of deep breathing where you breath deeply into your stomach. As you breath in, you will actually see your belly extend and get bigger, and as you breath out, your belly will return to it’s old spot. It’s not like our typical breathing patterns where we breath from the chest; it is a much more deep and deliberate breath.

Why We love Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing accomplishes a lot in the body. First of all, it supplies the body with a large dose of oxygen, which is pretty obvious, but it is a much more robust breath than a simple chest breath.

Diaphragmatic breathing also works wonders on the tissues of both the abdomen and the pelvic floor. By taking a big diaphragmatic breath in, the diaphragm lowers and provides a gentle stretch to the tissues and organs of the belly as well as the pelvic floor. As you breath in you are actually providing a nice stretch to the pelvic floor.

Deep breaths can also calm down the nervous system and allow you to better relax. When you are more relaxed your body can attend to the day to day tasks such as digestion and healing. It really is amazing what some deep breaths can do.

How to breathe diaphragmatically

Start off by putting one hand on your chest, at about the area of your breastbone. Place the other hand on your stomach. You can do diaphragmatic breathing just about anywhere, so get in a position that is comfortable for you. Start by slowly breathing in. In order to tell if you are using your diaphragm, you should feel the hand on your stomach move more than the hand on your chest. As you breath in, bring your awareness to your ribs and feel them expand out to the side and back.  Finish by slowly breathing out. The out breather should be longer than the inhale. It is really that easy.

How does one actually use diaphragmatic breathing?

Really you can use it in anyway you need too. Some people find it tremendously helpful to do 10 diaphragmatic breaths every hour, while others employ deep breathing techniques in times of stress or pain. The important thing about diaphragmatic breathing, or any exercise for that matter is consistency. Try to at least get in 20 deep breaths a day.