Bringing Things into Balance: The Relationship Between Low Back Pain and the Pelvic Floor

By: Katie Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT

Back Pain or Fitness (2)The Occurrence of Low Back Pain

Low back pain is the most common cause of disability and lost work time among working-age adults in industrialized countries (1). In fact, the worldwide prevalence of chronic low back pain has been estimated to be 11.9% of the population on a given day, and 23.2% of the population in a one-month period (2). That is a significant number of people! Determining effective treatments for low back pain can be challenging for various reasons: 1. there are no clearly defined risk factors that predict the development or outcome of low back pain; 2. most patients do not present with any significant findings physiologically or anatomically; 3. and pain can generate and spread at numerous locations within the nervous system, and can constantly change (1).

Treatment of Low Back Pain

There are many challenges associated with low back pain diagnosis and outcomes. Because of this, and the fact that so many people across the globe are impacted by it, there are many options out there for treating this condition. Some methods that have been proven to be effective are spinal manipulation (a high-velocity thrust applied directly on the vertebrae, or backbones, to improve movement and decrease pain), trunk coordination, strengthening, and endurance exercises (to target deep abdominal and back muscles that help to stabilize the spine), general fitness exercise, and patient education (1). These types of interventions are certainly helpful and have allowed many individuals experiencing low back pain to return to their daily lives. However, perhaps the areas that are being addressed with these interventions are not getting to the whole story… There is another area of the body that plays a significant role in the stability of the back but does not regularly get addressed with standard treatment to low back pain: the pelvic floor.

Treating the Pelvic Floor to Address Low Back Pain

Several studies have looked at incorporating pelvic floor-specific strengthening programs in the treatment of chronic low back pain. One study looked at women who were experiencing low back pain and urinary incontinence (the involuntary leakage of urine) (3), while two others looked at individuals experiencing chronic low back pain independently in men and women (4, 5). In all three studies, investigators compared “routine” physical therapy to routine physical therapy plus the addition of pelvic floor strengthening. Results revealed that incorporating pelvic floor strengthening decreased low back pain, decreased the incidence of urine leakage in the case of urinary incontinence, improved function based on specific questionnaires, and increased pelvic floor strength and endurance (3-5). This strengthening was completed by either performing isolated pelvic floor contractions (4, 5), or performing abdominal and pelvic floor muscle contractions while performing specific stabilizing exercises (3).

The Relationship Between the Pelvic Floor and the Low Back

Why did strengthening the pelvic floor make a difference in the above studies? This is likely because the pelvic floor is one of the muscle groups that contributes to overall spine stability; the others include the diaphragm, the transverse abdominis (a lower abdominal muscle), and deep muscles in the low back (3). Several studies out of Norway and Sweden have revealed that in women without pain, the pelvic floor activates just prior to arm or leg movement (6-8). This is important because it reveals that when the pelvic floor is working efficiently, it provides stability to the trunk and pelvis, allowing for functional postures and movements to occur.

Conclusion:

The pelvic floor is an important stabilizer of the spine and pelvis, and activates just prior to movement to allow for efficient function. When an individual is experiencing low back pain, not only do the abdominals and low back muscles require strengthening, focusing on the pelvic floor can help to eliminate pain and resume daily function.

If you or someone you know is struggling with unresolved low back pain, make an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist today for further assessment. Feel free to contact our midtown office at 212-354-2622 or our downtown office at 212-267-0240, or visit our website (www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com) for more information!

Thank you so much for reading our blog.

K5 (2)

Katie Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT practices at our midtown location.

If you have questions about orthopedic, pelvic, or sports physical therapy, including back pain, BBPT is offering free phone consults to those living in the greater NYC area for a limited amount of time!

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622 (42nd Street Location)

212-267-0240 (William Street Location)

Sources

 

1. Beattie PF. 2016. Current concepts of orthopedic physical therapy – the lumbar spine: physical therapy patient management using current evidence, 4th edition. (p. 3) Orthopedic Section – APTA.

2. Hoy D, Bain C, Williams G, et al. A systematic review of the global prevalence of low back pain. Arthritis Rheum. 2012; 64 (6): 2028-2037. doi:10.1002/art.34347.

3. Ghaderi F, Mohammadi K, Sasan RA, et al. Effects of stabilization exercises focusing on pelvic floor muscles on low back pain and on urinary incontinence in women. Urology. 2016; 93: 50-54.

4. Mohseni-Bandpei MA, Rahmani N, Behtash H, et al. The effect of pelvic floor muscle exercise on women with chronic non-specific low back pain. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies. 2011; 15: 75-81.

5. Bi X, Zhao J, Liu Z, et al Pelvic floor muscle exercise for chronic low back pain. Journal of International Medical Research. 2012; 41 (1): 146-152.

6. Sjodahl J, Gutke A, Ghaffari G, et al. Response of the muscles in the pelvic floor and the lower lateral abdominal wall during the active straight leg raise in women with and without pelvic girdle pain: an experimental study. Clinical Biomechanics. 2016; 35: 49-55.

7. Stuge B, Saetre K, Hoff BI. The automatic pelvic floor muscle response to the active straight leg raise in cases with pelvic girdle pain and matched controls. Manual Therapy. 2013; 18: 327-332.

8. Sjodahl J, Kvist J, Gutke A, et al. The postural response of the pelvic floor muscles during limb movements: a methodological electromyography study in parous women without lumbopelvic pain. Clinical Biomechanics. 2009; 24: 183-189.

Take a Stand!

By Riva Preil

Prolonged sitting has been linked with obesity as well as elevated blood pressure, sugar levels, and cholesterol. Contrary to what some may believe routine exercise does NOT counteract the detrimental health effects of prolonged sitting.

In fact, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “Even if people meet the current recommendation of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days each week, there may be significant adverse metabolic and health effects from prolonged sitting — the activity that dominates most people’s remaining ‘non-exercise’ waking hours.”  This means that routine exercise alone is not enough to combat the adverse effects of prolonged sitting.

Furthermore, prolonged sitting negatively impacts the pelvic floor.  Not only does it contribute to tightening of the pelvic floor muscles, but it can also contribute to pudendal nerve compression.

So what are those of us who have desk jobs, who are students sitting through class all day, or who have to endure long conference meetings supposed to do?  As I sit here at my own computer typing this blog, I must admit that even I, a physical therapist who spends majority of my time with patients, am also susceptible to extended periods of sitting at work.

The best way to combat the sitting conundrum is to incorporate as many standing and/or walking breaks into your daily routine.  For example:

  • Take that Keurig or water cooler break that you were considering.

  • Get in the habit of standing while talking on the phone.

  • Take a stroll around the office to discuss matters with your colleague whenever possible rather than meeting in an office.

  • With spring right around the corner, consider standing up and moving around outdoors during your lunch break.

  • Encourage your employer to try using a standing desk or workstation – chances are that they will be more likely to order one for you if they themselves experience the benefits.