Almost all postpartum women experience some degree of diastasis recti, or separation of the rectus abdominis or 6 pack muscles. Think about it, your abdomen is stretching continuously for a solid nine months! Something’s got to give. The linea alba (line of connective tissue that splits your rectus abdominus right down the middle) separates as a result of a growing baby. On some women, this separation naturally heals itself within the first year postpartum. In other women, the separation is so severe that they need a little extra attention and care to fuse their rectus abdominis back together again.
Once you’ve given yourself enough time to heal the inflamed tissues from giving birth, usually about 6-8 weeks, then you can start implementing some basic Pilates principles into your routine. Drawing attention to the breath, the transversus abdominus (TA), and the pelvic floor without creating excess pressure throughout your system, will be essential while moving towards healing your diastasis.
Connecting to your breath and your TA should be the first step. Deep three-dimensional inhalation to the back of the ribs and mindful exhalation, tapping into the TA will be crucial. During the exhale you should feel as if your abdomen is hugging or wrapping around your waist like a belt. This is TA activation. Once you’ve established the TA activation, focus on drawing your bottom ribs towards your naval and narrowing your ASIS (hip bones) towards each other. Imagine a drawstring; when you pull the drawstring, the opening of whatever object you’re trying to close, draws together from all sides evenly. That is the effect we are trying to create with the abdomen. Visualize your naval as the center of the opening and your exhalation pulling the drawstring closed.
Once you’ve mastered connecting breath to the TA, shift your focus to the pelvic floor. The easiest way to achieve this is by lying on your back with a neutral pelvis with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Visualize the tailbone unfurling and your sits bones widening as you inhale allowing the pelvic floor to gently stretch and relax. On the exhale, as you engage the TA and obliques, feel the pelvic floor tighten slightly and if appropriate (after a pelvic floor check from your PT) find a kegel. The ultimate goal is to be able to contract and release your pelvic floor without any problems. After practicing this breathing exercise every day for about 8-10 reps, you should start to feel stronger throughout your core and find some closure or firmness in the linea alba.
This first step is HUGE. After 2-3 weeks of consistent breath work and core activation, layering more extensive exercises will become safe and accessible. Keep in mind that it is not wise to go from zero to one hundred, but rather continue to build and progress slowly. It may feel tedious, but I can’t stress enough how imperative it is to lay this foundation and rebuild your core after birth. Once you feel you’ve made considerable progress with breath work, add in marches (leg lifts) targeting lower abdominal stabilizers and add in a side lying series to challenge pelvic and core stability while also strengthening glutes. Try a side plank starting on knees and then progressing to feet. Any exercise in quadruped is a safe bet that targets shoulder stability, core, glutes, and hamstrings!
One thing to note is that women with more severe cases of diastasis should avoid abdominal curls, rollups, or flexion of the rectus abdominis until there’s been a considerable amount of progress with the deeper core muscles. If you fall under this category and constantly wonder if you’ll ever close your diastasis, yes! You can! And you will if you dedicate the attention and mindfulness to connecting to your body. Think you’re doing everything right, but still feel like no progress is being made? Feel free to book a session with me at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy! I’d be more than happy to help you out on closing your diastasis and transitioning you back into the wonderful world of pilates 🙂
If you follow anything in the physical therapy world, you probably have heard about myofascial release, or MFR if your hip to our abbreviations. It has been a darling of the manual therapist’s tool kit for some time. But did you know their many different camps of physical therapy and these different camps prefer different tools? I love coming from a field that can produce multiple solutions to any given problem. I feel it maximizes every unique individuals’ chances of finding meaningful relief through treatment, but it’s definitely fair to say that MFR does have some detractors in the physical therapy field. In this blog, I will be discussing why MFR is a wonderful tool for treatment of pain conditions and functional issues. MFR doesn’t always get the love it deserves and it is my hope, that by the end of this blog you will understand how MFR is thought to work and why it can be so helpful.
What the heck is the myofascial system?
As the name would imply, the myofascial system is the combination of the muscular system (myo) and the fascial system (fascial). Most of us have a pretty good concept of the muscular system but the concept of fascia is slightly more elusive. Fascia is the covering and connection of just about everything in the body. It wraps around organs, nerves, and muscles and allows these parts to retain their shape and function well. The composition of fascia is fascinating, even if you aren’t a total nerd, like me. We may encounter fascia when removing that filmy substance from a chicken breast while preparing it. When you see that film it looks pretty simple, but on a microscopic level that “stuff” is actually teaming with diverse and different cells all doing different things. Within fascia we have adipocytes, (fat cell makers), fibroblasts, which make collagen and elastin…. AND ARE CONTRACTILE! Yes I put this in all caps because it is amazing and it can be easy to overlook when you are thinking about fascia. Fascia also has mast cells (which make histamine) and histocytes (are part of the immune system). It’s honestly a cell party inside that stuff. Keeping with the metaphor of cell party, the house those cells are chilling in is made up of collagen (which provides support), elastin (which provides strength and flexibility), and ground substance (which is the cushioning).
All this stuff together helps fascia to accomplish some pretty cool tasks. Like I said before, fascia covers everything in the body and helps it keep its form. It also allows organs and muscles to slide and glide over each other, which is obviously very important when we are thinking of muscles. But what’s most interesting, in my opinion, is that fascia acts as a sense organ. It is innervated with type III and IV sense receptors and responds to light touch. It can contract and when fascia is stimulated it has an effect on the autonomic nervous system (think flight or fight). You probably could guess that issues within the myofascial system could wreak havoc on the rest of the body.
What goes wrong with the myofascial system and why does it get messed up?
The concept of fascia and its dysfunction contributing to pain is not necessarily a new one. People were thinking about myofascial pain although they had different words for it as early as the late 1600’s with the first description of trigger points in 1816. Trigger points have been called many different things from “nodular tumors” in the 1800’s to “muskelshweile” meaning muscle calluses, which is my personal favorite.
So where do these “muscle calluses” and trigger points come from? The reasons are myriad. Fascia can become restricted with discrete injuries (what I term, “the Oh Poo moment”, where you know you have injured yourself) or they may build quietly over time due to poor posture and other types of repetitive strain or chronic muscle holding.
Fascial restrictions and trigger points can cause a whole host of symptoms. It should seem obvious that restrictions in the fascia of a certain area of the body will restrict the movement in in that area. But fascial restrictions can present in less obvious ways.
Fascial restrictions can affect organs and dysfunction in the organs can affect fascia. This is because of the somatovisceral reflex and viscerosomatic reflex respectively. We see a lot of organ and myofascial interplay at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy. We commonly see increased trigger points in parts of the body that are innervated by similar nerve root fibers off of the spinal cord. Specifically, we may see someone who has endometriosis adhesions on their rectum experience pain and trigger points in their pelvic floor. Additionally trigger points in the pelvic floor can refer to other parts of the body and present as pain in the bladder or rectum, and other places.
Restrictions and trigger points in the fascia are linked to a whole host of symptoms. Treating the body at the level of the fascia is often very helpful at easing or resolving these symptoms. Below is a non exhaustive list of symptoms and conditions related to myofascial trigger points and dysfunction:
Fibromyalgia pain syndrome
Myofascial pain syndrome
Complex regional pain syndrome
Urinary and fecal incontinence
Sports and orthopedic injuries
How do we treat it?
Here is where it gets “controversial” in the health community. Fascia is strong. Really, really strong. Some would say as strong as steel. There are many in the community that claim myofascial release is impossible because there’s no clinician who is strong enough and applying enough force to break through and make a difference in the knots… I mean, I have a pretty solid deadlift but you won’t be finding me bending metal beams anytime soon. This argument misses the point and fails to recognize how complex fascia is. Think back to our cell party. We are not simply trying to break through fascia; we are providing a sensory stimulus and allowing the fascia to adapt or change in response. When true myofascial release is formed correctly, very little force is being used and it is usually an extremely gentle technique that can be tolerated by many patients who may not have been able to tolerate more aggressive techniques. When performing myofascial release, the clinician engages the barrier, meaning they apply enough force to feel the first inklings of resistance, and they hold their pressure there and slowly take up slack as the barrier melts underneath them. There is nothing forceful about it. In fact, when I first learned this technique from a mentor trained in Barnes myofascial release technique, she would always say, “If you think you are working too hard, you probably are”. There’s nothing steel beam bendy about MFR at all. Myofascial release allows the tissue to respond to the input the clinician is providing, rather than aggressively stretching, mashing, or pulling it. Although the exact mechanism of how MFR works is elusive, many theories recognize the individual players and cell types within the fascia, (remember our cell party), whether that be down regulation of the autonomic nervous system, (reduced fight or flight), activation of the central nervous system, and release of chemicals from the cells within the fascia.
The fact is with physical therapy, there are so many different tools that one can use. Usually clinicians tend to gravitate towards what they are good at and what tends to help the maximum number of their patients. At BBPT we value MFR as a helpful tool in our repertoire.
Ajimsha M.S., Al- Mudahka N. Effectiveness of myofascial release: Systemic review of randomized control trials. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2015 Jan;19(1):102-12.
Horton R, “Mobilization of the myofascial layer: pelvis and lower extremity”. Raleigh, NC, USA. 9/22/2017- 9/ 24-2017. lecture.
Shah J, Thaker N, Heimur J, et al. Myofascial trigger points then and now: A historical and scientific prospective. PM R. 2015; 7(7): 746-61
I am very excited to announce that I will begin training soon and will be running the New York Marathon for the first time. I will be running as part of Team TISCH MS alongside my awesome and inspirational co-worker, Fiona McMahon. We are working together to raise a combined $10,000 dollars to support multiple sclerosis research. You can donate to my personal fundraising page here. This is an incredible opportunity that I feel so honored to be a part of. I decided to run the marathon as part of my New York and life bucket list. I see marathon training as a perfect way to get to know all of the five burrows. Running has always been my way of getting to know the city I’m living in.
I have trained for several 5K, 10K and half marathon races, but only one full marathon. My first (and only) marathon I call my “almost marathon” took place in Savannah, GA in November, when the weather should be sunny and 70s. Unfortunately, due to a heat index of 105 and with several hundred participants fainting due to heat exhaustion, they cut the race short and made everyone turn around at mile 14. I was relieved, frustrated, exhausted, and incredibly HOT. My 6 months of training in the hot Atlanta summer had not prepared me for the intense humidity that made me feel as if I were swimming and not running.
Beyond Basics Physical Therapy has generously offered physical therapy services to me to help me meet my marathon training goals. First and foremost, I’d like to complete my training and marathon without any major injuries. In previous races, I’ve been fortunate to not have any serious injuries and just minor aches/pains. My main problem areas are my right sacroiliac joint and right foot feeling occasionally unstable and achy. Second, I’d like to finish in under 4 and a half hours, meaning little to no walking breaks. My pace is on the slower end (around 10 min/mile) and I’m hoping to increase my pace. My third goal is to get the most out of my training and to fully enjoy the whole process.
My co-worker Tina Cardenia will be my physical therapist and I could not be more thrilled to be working with someone so incredibly talented, intelligent, and experienced. Tina has an extensive background working in an orthopedic setting and has completed the intense certification process in Functional Manual Therapy (CFMT). Tina uses this strong framework to look at the body as a whole and bring its function to optimal capacity.
These next 6 months will be intense, but I’m excited to push my body to new limits and finally cross “marathon” off the list. With the help of Tina, Team TISCH, and Beyond Basics, I am excited to take on this new challenge. I’m confident that I’ll meet all the goals I’ve set out for myself and look forward to November as they come into fruition.
While there are many causes to be aware of and advocate for, one close to our hearts at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy is pelvic and abdominal pain, and we are excited to report that May is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month! This designation for May was created by the International Pelvic Pain Society last year. So let’s talk a few moments about what is abdomino-pelvic pain, how impactful the diagnosis can be, and what we can do!
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, chronic pelvic pain is described as a “noncyclical pain of at least 6 months’ duration that appears in locations such as the pelvis, anterior abdominal wall, lower back, or buttocks, and that is serious enough to cause disability or lead to medical care.”(1) While the incidence and prevalence of chronic pelvic pain in men and women are reported in an inconsistent manner,(2) some estimates compare its global prevalence to asthma (4.3%-8.6%), and another to the prevalence of low back pain (23.2 +/- 2.9%).3 Individuals who suffer from chronic pelvic pain also often present with other complicating factors such as depression, anxiety, poor sleep, difficulty with work, and/or relationship issues. Also, many people with chronic pain are commonly disabled by fear that activity will make things worse.(2) Furthermore, pelvic pain is puzzling as it is a multisystem disorder, which includes sexual, bowel, urinary, gynecological, and musculoskeletal symptoms. It is challenging to determine a clear mechanism of pain with this diagnosis, and the term “pelvic pain” does not take into account the many signs and symptoms that may be occurring outside of the anatomical pelvis.(2 )
Due to the complicated nature of this condition, there is a significant economic burden associated with management of it. In the United States, approximately $881.5 million was spent on chronic pelvic pain to cover the costs of direct healthcare. Additionally, approximately $2 billion was spent as an overall cost, which includes direct medical costs and indirect costs, such as those related to absenteeism from work.(3) Besides economic burdens on individuals suffering from chronic pelvic pain, there are also many challenges for the healthcare system to deal with. For instance, while a diagnosis of chronic pain in the United States typically yields more than 80% of physician referrals, it is estimated that only about 15% of individuals with chronic pelvic pain consult primary care providers, and only 40% of this group are referred to specialists for further investigation. (3) Furthermore, if specialist care is involved in the management of chronic pelvic pain, it is often spread between multiple specialties, such as urology, gynecology, urogynecology, colorectal services, pain medicine, and even occasionally spinal services, rheumatology, and neurology. Thus, there is a risk that patients may be passed back and forth between different teams of the same specialty, or between different specialties, and may not receive consistent or effective care.(2) In a nutshell: chronic pelvic pain can be a debilitating condition that can have significant consequences on an individual’s physical, mental, economic, and social well-being.
Hopefully, if you were not already passionate about raising awareness of pelvic pain, you now have some insight as to why this cause is so important! Now the question lies, what can you do? How can you get involved?
Please consider visiting the website for the International Pelvic Pain Society (www.pelvicpain.org) and donating funds for educational and research programs. Together, we can help bring chronic abdominal and pelvic pain into the forefront of healthcare, to ensure individuals dealing with this condition are receiving consistent and effective multidisciplinary care.
Andrews J, Yunker A, Reynolds WS, Likis FE, et al. Noncyclic chronic pelvic pain therapies for women: comparative effectiveness. AHRQ Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, Rockville (MD), 2012.
Baranowski AP, Lee J, Price C, Hughes J. Pelvic pain: a pathway for care developed for both men and women by the British Pain Society. Br J Anaesth. 2014;112(3):452–9.
Ahangari A. Prevalence of chronic pelvic pain among women: an updated review. Pain Physician. 2014;17(2):E141–7.
The following blog is a repost of Ashley Brichter’s original blog post. Ashley is a birth educator, birth and post-partum doula, lactation counselor, and friend of the practice. She hosts many classes on childbirth, lactation, and much more. We will provide more information at the end of the post on how you can get in touch with Ashely and how you can sign up for her excellent classes.
Originally posted: January 22, 2019
Hollywood misrepresents a great deal about the childbirth process, but the fact that they show everyone delivering babies while lying on their backs in a hospital bed is accurate. As Ross clearly demonstrates above, lying down with knees apart is the most common way for someone in the United States to deliver. Here’s why you may want to question this:
A baby’s job in labor is to rotate and descend through the pelvis. If we can maximize the amount of space a baby has within the pelvis, we can not only speed this process along but minimize the stress on muscles and tissues within the pelvic bowl (and therefore minimize the risk injury).
How do you maximize the space in your pelvis to encourage the baby’s rotation and descent? The pelvis has four boney landmarks that determine the maximum circumference a baby has to fit through: the pubic bone at the front, tail bone or coccyx at the back, and two sitz bones at the bottom. Let me walk you through two very simple movements to see how you can create the most space between the pubic bone and tail bone and two sitz bones.
If you’re in a location where feeling around on your pelvis would be immodest, make a commitment to try it the next time you’re in the bathroom or back at home.
First, find the space between your pubic bone and tail bone:
Place one hand on your pubic bone (it’s very low down under the belly, right between your legs. Isn’t it wide!?). Place your other hand on your tail bone. To find your tail bone, invite your hand to feel between the crease of your behind. It is often higher up than most people realize. You can walk your fingers all the way down the bottom of your spine until you reach the end – and/or lean back on your fingers in order to feel it more.
Once you have fingers on the pubic bone and fingers on the tail bone, lean forward and feel the space between your fingers. Then lean back. In which direction to you have the most space between your fingers, between your pubic bone and tail bone? When you are leaning forward or leaning back? Try this a few time before you move on.
Then, find the space between your sitz bones:
This is best done sitting down on the edge of a chair. Place your hands underneath your bum and your should feel your sitz bones protruding down. If you don’t feel them right away wiggle side to side a bit. You should feel boney points digging into your hands.
Now, spread your knees out wide (like you’re having a baby!). Feel the space between your fingers. Then, bring your knees in close together (keeping your feet fairly separated). In which position do you have more space between your sitz bones? With your knees together, feet apart, or your knees and feet wide?
Hopefully when you tried it you were able to feel that there is more space in your pelvis when you are leaning forward and that there is more space in the pelvis when your knees are closer together than your feet.
WAIT. What? That’s right. I said it.
Most people deliver their babies on their backs with their knees spread wide because this is the most convenient position for hospital staff. If you’re thinking about a physiological birth, looking for ways to possibly shorten your labor, or looking for ways to reduce the risk of tearing, give some serious through to positions that lend themselves to forward leaning and keeping feet wider than knees!
Let’s take one more look at the tail bone specifically: leaning backwards makes the tailbone stick in. It limits the amount of space a baby has to rotate and it asks your body to push a baby uphill! Upright and forward leaning positions will allow the tailbone to get out of the way. Granted, you have to deliver with a provider and in a location that is supportive of this. But that’s for another post!
Having a baby is exciting, fascinating, and nerve-wracking. If you have never been through the process before, chances are you have a lot of questions and concerns about what changes your body will go through during your pregnancy, what the birthing process entails, and how your recovery will go once you’ve had your baby.
Join us and childbirth specialist, Ashley Brichter, in our Pelvic Health class to discuss the ins and outs of having a child.
The penis is kind of like a canary in a coal mine for the male body. A penis that isn’t quite working the way it used to is something that should not be ignored. Erectile dysfunction (ED) can have devastating effects on the psyche of the person experiencing it. ED can be an important indicator that some other component of your health, whether it be your heart, your weight, your mental health, physical activity, or muscles may need a little extra attention. In this blog we will discuss some of the common contributors to ED as well as steps you can take to prevent and or treat it.
Erectile dysfunction is the term given to a condition in which a person is unable to maintain an erection to complete sexual intercourse. Erectile dysfunction affects many people. It is considered the most common chronic condition affecting person. The lifetime prevalence (your chance of experiencing ED at least once in your life) is about 50% (Kaya 2015).
It is a sad but true fact that as you age, your risk for ED increases. This is because the penis relies on a mixture or hormonal, musculature, vasculature, and neural inputs for full function. As we age these systems can be impacted by diseases of old-age, medications used to manage these diseases, as well as general inactivity.
Men who are under 40 also may experience erectile dysfunction. The old dogma was that men who were experiencing erectile dysfunction under the age of 40 did so entirely because of mental health conditions like anxiety. This is no longer the belief. We know that certain other health conditions like pelvic floor dysfunction, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity can wreak havoc on a man’s sexual function
Although your chances of experiencing ED increase with age, it is certainly not inevitable and we are fortunate to live in an era of effective diagnostics as to the cause of your ED as well as treatment and prevention.
How is a Normal Erection Achieved?
The physiology of the penis is fascinating. It’s like a symphony of different systems that come together to produce one result. In order to achieve an erection your muscular, vascular, neurological, and hormonal systems must all be functioning properly. We can divide erection into two phases; a vascular phase and a muscular phase. The vascular phase relies on the heart and blood vessels to bring blood to the penis and allow it to become stiff. The muscular phase relies on the muscles of the pelvic floor (the bicycle seat area of your body). These muscles work by contracting to increase the pressure of the blood within the penis. Hormones and the nervous system also help to regulate drive, sensation, and the response of your muscles and arteries to sexual stimulation. As we will see, there are many different things that can disrupt these processes and cause difficulty with erection.
Causes of Erectile Dysfunction:
Metabolic syndrome is an increasingly common syndrome in the United States that is currently affecting 35% percent of all adults and is hitting our elders particularly hard, with an estimated 50% of all adults over age 60 meeting the clinical definitions of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is defined as having 3 or more of the following conditions: waist circumference of 102 centimeters or more ( about 47 inches) for men, and 88 cm ( about 35.5 inches) for women, serum triglycerides of 150 mg/dl or greater, high density lipoprotein (HDL, the good cholesterol) of less than 40 mg/dl in men and 50 mg/dl in women, blood pressure of over 130/85 mm/hg or needing to take blood pressure medications, fasting blood glucose of 100mg/dl or greater, or if you are currently taking diabetes medications.
The link to ED and metabolic syndrome and other disorders associated with it (diabetes, obesity, and heart disease) is well established. In a 2015 article, Kaya and colleagues found that men with erectile dysfunction are 3 times more likely to also have metabolic syndrome. The group also found that 79% of men with ED have a BMI of over 25 (overweight) and that men with a BMI of 30 (obese) have a 3 times increased incidence of ED.
You are probably well aware that the above conditions are definitely not good for your health and can put you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes, but how does metabolic syndrome affect your penis? Metabolic syndrome can have a profound effect on your hormones, sex drive and blood flow, which are important components of maintaining a healthy erection.
Metabolic syndrome is associated with an increase in adipose (fatty tissue) around the waist. Fatty tissue has a strong interaction with the hormones estrogen and testosterone. Testosterone is the hormone of desire and is needed for proper sexual function in both males and females. Obesity can lower the amount of serum testosterone someone has, which can actually increase the amount of fat you store. As the balance between estrogen and testosterone shifts within your body, it becomes harder to lose weight and with increasing fatty tissue your testosterone continues to lower over time making the situation worse.
Metabolic syndrome also affects the delicate and complex arterial system that goes to the penis. Just like plaque in your arteries can cause heart disease and heart attacks, it can also clog up the vasculature in your penis making it difficult or impossible to achieve an erection. This makes the loss of erectile function a serious issue, besides the obvious effect on your sex life, because it is an important indicator of how well your cardiovascular system is working and may indicate a potentially serious buildup of plaque in other vital arteries. The loss of potency certainly warrants further investigation by your primary care provider.
Drug and Alcohol Use
Sometimes drugs and alcohol are used as an aphrodisiac to help dampen inhibitions and fuel the passion between a couple. However, there have been many studies that show that long-term and sometimes short-term use of drugs and alcohol can have a negative effect on a man’s ability to achieve and erection.
Alcohol has long been considered a social lubricant. It factors into our sexual imagery with images of couples sipping a sexy glass of champagne before getting down to business on TV and in movies. But too much alcohol can easily ruin your ability to enjoy an intimate night with your partner.
There are many different ways alcohol can affect erection and sexual potency. In the short term, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. What that means is that it can slow down the systems that are vital to your erection like respiration, circulation, and nerve sensitivity.
As anyone who has woken up from a night of heavy drinking can tell you, alcohol can be very dehydrating. Dehydration affects your ability to achieve an erection by lowering your blood volume, therefore allowing less blood to get to the penis (a requirement for a rigid erection). Dehydration also increases the amount of angiotensin circulating in the blood. Increased angiotensin is associated with erectile dysfunction.
Long term alcohol use can also wreak havoc on your erectile and sexual function. In a 2007 study by Arackal and Benegal, 100 subjects between 20-50 who had been to a rehabilitation facility for alcohol withdrawal were surveyed for their level of sexual function. The average length of alcohol use for the patient’s surveyed was about 8.59 years. Out of the 100 men surveyed 72% reported sexual dysfunction including low desire, premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction. Chronic and heavy alcohol consumption can damage the cardiovascular system, limiting the blood flow available to the penis. Other drugs like opiates, amphetamines, and designer drugs have been found to negatively affect the quality of erections in long term users versus their age matched counterparts who are not using drugs. It is advisable to abstain from drug and excessive alcohol use for many reasons but also for health of your sexual systems.
It has long been the dogma in male sexual health that difficulty in erection in young men is solely attributable to psychogenic or emotional causes. As you have seen in the previous sections there are many different factors that can impair your sexual functioning.
Erections can occur in response to touch, but they can also occur in response to visual stimulus or fantasy. The mind is a powerful sexual organ and disorders that disrupt its function can also disrupt your ability to achieve an erection.
During erection, your brain sends signals to the penis via neurotransmitters (chemical messengers). These messengers cause the release of cyclic guanosine phosphate (cGMP) at the penis to allow the capillaries in the penis to dilate and the penis to engorge. The brain must send continuous messages via these neurotransmitters to keep the supply of cGMP steady throughout intercourse or during sexual play to ensure that your erection is maintained throughout.
Emotional issues affecting erection can range from guilt, anxiety, grief and stress. Anxiety about achieving an erection can make impotence worse, thus creating a vicious cycle. Being able to achieve an erection with masturbation or in the morning (“morning wood”) but not during intercourse, is an important clue that there may be an emotional component to your erectile dysfunction.
What do muscles have to do with my penis? A lot. The muscles of the pelvic floor play a vital role in the sexual function of both genders, and as we will explore, there is a considerable amount of muscular coordination required for erection and orgasm.
The pelvic floor is the region of muscles that reside in the bicycle seat or crotch area. The muscles of the pelvic floor have a lot of work to do for your body. The pelvic floor is divided into 3 layers. The deepest layer provides the supportive function of the pelvis. It supports your pelvic organs like the bladder, rectum, and prostate. It also provides support to the bones of the pelvis. The middle layer provides the sphincteric function of the bladder and is responsible for closing down the openings that allow urine and feces to leave the body and provides us with continence. The last layer is responsible for the sexual functioning of the body. These muscles are amazing. They have to relax enough to let blood into the penis to allow for erection, but then contract to allow the blood pressure in the penis to remain high enough for penetration.
Just like any other muscles in the body the muscles of the pelvic floor can be subject to dysfunction. Injury can occur suddenly from the result of a hard fall on the bottom, sports injury, or operation and it can also occur gradually over a long period of time from chronic stress and muscle holding, poor sitting posture, repetitive stress, or infectious process.
When something goes wrong with the pelvic floor we call it pelvic floor dysfunction. Other symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction can include pain, urinary issues, and defecation (pooping) issues. Luckily, like other muscles of the body, the pelvic floor can be rehabbed and made to function properly with the help of physical therapy. Treatment:
Society places a lot of weight on a male’s ability to perform sexually and it can be easy to feel a lot of shame and distress when that ability is compromised. As we have explored there are a multitude of physiological and psychological reasons that can affect your penis that have nothing to do with your manhood, your love of your partner, or your sexual skill.
Changes in your erection are potentially serious and may indicate a larger disease process at work. If you find you are unable to maintain an erection, you should make an appointment with your doctor to determine the appropriate treatment.
Once you are cleared by your doctor, physical therapy can help to ensure your muscles are in working order to achieve an erection. Physical therapy can also address other aches and pains that may be preventing you from being active enough to maintain a healthy body.
Now is the time to make healthy lifestyle changes, regardless of whether you are currently experiencing erectile dysfunction or not. Studies looking at the effects of lifestyle changes and the benefit of erectile function find that the earlier in life one makes healthy changes the more effective those changes are at warding off erectile dysfunction.
If you smoke, stop. It is common knowledge that smoking pushes you closer to the grave, but it also affects the blood flow to your penis. It’s no small task to quit smoking. At the bottom of this page you will find links to resources to help you quit smoking. Some of the long-term benefits of quitting include: reduced lung cancer risk, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. You can even see results right away. Within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure drops, and as early as 2 weeks circulation improves helping to restore proper blood flow to your penis.
Aside from smoking, adopting healthier habits overall, can improve your sexual as well as overall function. Getting regular exercise helps to improve many of the conditions associated with metabolic syndrome. Exercise also gets the heart pumping ensuring adequate blood flow to the penis. The CDC suggest that people aged 18 and over get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking) and muscle strengthening of all major muscle groups during the week.
Diet is another important component of proper erectile function. A general rule of thumb is to eat a diet that would generally be considered good for your heart. Reducing your alcohol, fat, sugar, and salt intake while increasing your intake of whole grains, vegetables and lean meat is a good place to start. Consulting with a registered dietitian can help to give you more specific advice for your personal goals.
Physical therapy can help to improve the function of the muscles that are responsible for erection, ejaculation and orgasm. As we described earlier, the pelvic floor muscles play in integral role in male sexual function, from erection to ejaculation. When men come into physical therapy after complaining of erectile dysfunction, a pelvic floor physical therapist will examine the muscles of and surrounding the pelvic floor to see if they are too tight or weak to generate enough force to maintain adequate blood pressure in the penis, examine bony malalignments which may be impairing the full function of the muscles and nerves of the pelvic floor, as well as many other things that may be impacting the full function of the pelvic floor.
Pelvic floor physical therapists treat their patients, employing a multitude of techniques individually selected for each patient. Treatments may utilize soft tissue techniques to reduce tightness of the pelvic floor and surrounding fascia to improve muscle function and blood flow. A therapist may guide his or her patient through a series of exercises to strengthen weak muscles. Other techniques include postural correction, biofeedback and much more.
The effects of physical therapy on erectile dysfunction have been illustrated in many studies. In a 2014 study, Lavoisier and colleagues examined the effects of a program of pelvic floor physical therapy on erectile function of 108 men suffering from erectile dysfunction. The men in this study had no neurological conditions that could affect their erectile function. In this study, the participants were given 20 sessions of physical therapy which included muscle strengthening and electrical stimulation of the muscles of the pelvic floor. At the end of the study, Lavoisier and colleagues found that that physical therapy was effective in strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor, specifically the ischiocavernosus, which is a major component of being able to achieve erections.
In another study by Dorey and colleagues in 2005, men were given either pelvic floor physical therapy exercises or lifestyle changes to treat their erectile dysfunction. The men in the study who were given pelvic floor physical therapy did significantly better than men who performed lifestyle changes alone.
Most of us are aware of Viagra and Cialis; Viagra, most memorably being brought to our collective cultural awareness by former presidential candidate, Bob Dole. These drugs have quite the interesting history. Viagra as an erectile dysfunction drug was actually discovered by accident. Viagra (sildenafil) was originally designed for treatment of heart conditions. It was found that treatment with Viagra improved the erection of those taking it. Conversely it was not effective for its original purpose, the relief of angina (chest pain). It works by relaxing the blood vessels of the penis to allow for blood flow and erection. Viagra does not cause people to have erections, it allows people to respond to sexual stimulation with an erection. It is not an aphrodisiac and taking it recreationally does not change sexual performance of people without erectile dysfunction. Cialis (tadalafil) works in much the same way as Viagra by increasing the blood flow to the penis via dilation of the penile blood supply. Even with the use of Viagra or Cialis, it is important to discuss with your doctor, what the underlying cause of your erectile dysfunction is, and what other steps you can take to improve your overall health and prevent further impacts on your quality of life.
There are other options to treat ED in more advanced cases. There are pumps that can be used to allow blood to be drawn into the penis to maintain erection. Pumps should be prescribed by your doctor to ensure effectiveness and safety.
Implants are another available option, but require surgery. There are two main types: rigid and inflatable. Inflatable implants allow for erection by transferring saline into two semi rigid rods on either side of the penis. This allows for the ability to have a flaccid penis when desired. Rigid implants consist of rods that you adjust to have an erection. The penis will remain firm but you can bend it to conceal it as desired.
Erectile dysfunction is a devastating condition that can have a profound effect on your quality of life. The health of your erection is an important indicator of your overall health. Maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle goes a long way towards staving off erectile problems in the future. If you find yourself troubled by erectile dysfunction, see your doctor. There are many treatments options, including physical therapy that can help you return to living your life fully.
American Cancer Society’s Guide to quitting smoking:
Rajiah K, Veettil S, Kumar S et al. Psychological impotence:psychological erectile dysfunction and erectile dysfunction causes, diagnostic methods and management options. Scientific Research and Essays Vol. 2012; 7(4): 446-52