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 got really frustrated. If this sounds like you, I highly encourage you to come to our next pelvic health seminar on October 4th  at 7pm “Does my diet really matter”.

jessica-drummond-headshot-197x300This seminar will be hosted by a special guest speaker, nutritionist Jessica Drummond, MPT,CCN,CHC. Jessica Drummond is a former pelvic floor physical therapist who now specializes in nutrition for those suffering with pelvic floor dysfunction. This seminar has been a huge hit and is a great starting point for those considering adding nutrition as part of their healing journey.

Register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com today.

 

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2018

 

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.

 

 

May Is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month!

Mayis PelvicPainAwarenessmonth

 Kaitlyn Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT

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?

On May 31, 2018 the staff here at Beyond Basics PT will be hosting a fundraising pub night at The Green Room, located at 156 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010, from 6.30-9pm. At this event, we will be uniting healthcare practitioners to raise funds for research and educational programs that will promote more effective diagnosis and treatment for those suffering from pelvic pain. All our proceeds will go directly to the International Pelvic Pain Society, so come out and support our cause!!

If attending this event is not possible, please consider visiting the website for the International Pelvic Pain Society (www.pelvicpain.org) and donating funds for educational and research programs (https://wjweis.association-service.org/securesite/ipps/donations.aspx). 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.

 

Sources:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.  
  3. Ahangari A. Prevalence of chronic pelvic pain among women: an updated review. Pain Physician. 2014;17(2):E141–7.

Endometriosis as a Feminist Issue

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Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

March is endometriosis awareness month. March is also women’s history month. It seemed like the perfect time to discuss how poor detection and treatment of the disease affects the welfare, social, economic health, physical health,  and quality of life of women. Endometriosis is a feminist issue.

Here, at this blog, we have extensively discussed treatment and various options for endometriosis. Although there are many treatments available for managing endometriosis, the time it often takes to get a proper diagnosis and referral to competent clinicians is often so long, that the disease may progress to a point where pain is a lot harder to treat and fertility is impacted. Endometriosis is a gynecological disorder, that according to the Women’sHealth.gov currently affects more than 11% of women in the United States.

Older material, in fact, posts on this page used to define endometriosis as a condition in which endometrium (the lining of your uterus) grows outside the uterus. Now, in most of the recent literature referring to the tissue growing outside the uterus, call it endometrium like, because the tissue bears some resemblance to endometrium but isn’t quite the same. Endometriosis can show up clinically in a whole host of ways. It is estimated that up to 59% never have symptoms and may only discover that they have endometriosis, if they have abdominal surgery and legions are spotted. Infertility may also be the only symptom. For those who do have pain symptoms, it can be really bad and debilitating. If you have heard of endometriosis before, you are probably aware that it can make periods intolerable, but that’s not the whole story. Endo, as it is called for short, can cause pain that extends well beyond menstruation, it can cause issues with constipation, low back pain, urination, bowel movements, and fertility. Pain with endo can be severe. It can keep you from work, and school, or even land you in the hospital. The time a woman spends trying to get a diagnosis for the pain caused by endometriosis can take up to 11 years according to the American College of Gynecology fact sheet cited below.

What Causes Endo?

As you may have gleaned from the intro to this story endo is poorly understood and frequently misdiagnosed. Up until recently, we weren’t even entirely sure what the deposits left by endometriosis were. The research community is divided on what causes endo and have offered many different theories to its origin, but the specific cause of endo is unknown.

We do know endometriosis is an estrogen dependent disease, which is why it affects mainly women. One common theory of how endometriosis is caused is the theory of retrograde menstruation. This theory posits that endometriosis is caused by shed endometrium that escapes the uterus and deposits itself in the abdomen. This theory is supported by animal studies that have produced endometriosis like legions when endometrial tissue was deposited in the abdominal cavity. The theory fails to explain cases in which endometriosis deposits are found far away from the uterus in tissues like the lung. It also fails to explain the rare cases of men who develop endometriosis with estrogen therapies. In many circles, this theory is falling out of favor and is completely disregarded by others. Another similar theory is the lymphatic vascular theory. This theory hypothesizes that endometrium travels to outside spots via the lymphatic system. Again, this theory doesn’t explain the rare cases of male endo nor does it explain that the tissue found in these outside sites. It also fails to explain that the tissue found outside the uterus is “endometrium like” and is different than normal endometrium within the uterus.

The theory of coelomic metaplasia is based on the fact the both endometrium and peritoneal tissue comes from the same embryonic ancestor, coelemic epithelium. The theory posits that certain immunologic or hormonal factors may transform this tissue into the implants we see in cases of endometriosis. The third theory is the embryonic rest theory. It purposes that endometriosis caused by stem cells derived from the embryonic müllerian system become transformed in endo deposits. This theory is supported by the rare cases of men with endo, as they, as embryos, have the same embryonic müllerian system, before it regresses as the male embryo develops.

What’s kind of crazy is the level of pain a women experiences is not directly related to the amount or size of the endo deposits she has. One theory of why a women with very little endo found surgically can have a lot of pain, is the concept of centralization, where the brain becomes more likely to perceive stimuli as painful. Read more about this process in our blogs  Navigating Life with Chronic Pain 1, and Navigating Life with Chronic Pain 2 here.

One, all, some, or none of these theories could explain how endo is formed and maintained. The truth is we don’t fully understand the pathogenesis of this disease, yet. We need to know the cause. If we know the cause we may be better able to design treatments to ease the pain of endo and optimize the fertility of its suffers. Knowing the cause of endo will at least, aid in diagnosing the disease earlier or possibly curing or preventing it all together, which brings us to our next section.

 

Why does it take so long to get an endo diagnosis?!

Here’s the deal. The gold standard for endometriosis diagnosis is laparoscopic exploratory surgery with pathological biopsy confirming a lesion. Before laparoscopic surgery was a mainstay of medical practice, it was often believed that endometriosis was a disease that did not affect adolescent girls, as it was only seen in laparotomy, a more invasive technique reserved for more severe symptoms and conditions. When laproscopy became widely available in the 1980’s the diagnosis of endometriosis grew rapidly in all women and especially adolescent girls.

There are other tools available to detect endo but they are not definitive like surgery and may miss cases. Even laparoscopic surgery can miss endo especially in adolescents, because the endo deposits may be better disguised because of its color, usually clear or red in younger girls. Endo is also not suspected often until after the start of a girl’s first menses, new recommendations suggest that abdominal and pelvic pain complaints in girls be investigated for endo at the start of breast bud development (Brosens) as endo was found in between 50- 62% of adolescent girls undergoing laparoscopy for chronic pelvic pain ( Agarwal and Chaichian).

Doctor’s need better, less invasive tools to detect endo and get women out of pain. Although laparoscopic surgery is considered non invasive, the recovery from it can be difficult, dissuading patient and physician alike from using it as a diagnostic procedure. There is emerging science working on less invasive ways to screen or even detect for endo. More research dollars should be spent to develop early diagnosis and treatment in order to save women the years, lost work and education secondary to pain, and infertility from prolonged endometriosis.

Conversely, women without true endo are undergoing surgery needlessly, sometimes sustain hysterectomies to “cure” endo that is in fact not even there (also hysterectomy does not cure endo, Endo by its definition is a disease that occurs outside of the uterus). 25% of 4000 women studied who underwent hysterectomy for suspected endometriosis pain, were found to not actually have endo, which is outrageous on so many levels. 1. Hysterectomies do not cure endo. 2. Infecting infertility and the risks of major surgery on a woman who does not need it, regardless of whether she has endo or not, is awful. 3. Those 25% of women who had their hysterectomy likely have more pain and were not given a proper diagnoses so they can pursue the proper intervention for their pain.

Why is Endo Such a Big Deal as Feminist Issue?

Endo is a disease the effects women and only in very rare cases, men. If you get 10 of your gal pals in a room, statistically 1 of them will have the condition. Before I start in with this next argument, I want to make clear, that a diagnosis of endo does not necessarily impair one’s success later on in life; however, it can make achieving life’s milestones a lot more challenging.

Girls with painful endo symptoms miss more school a month than girls without endo (Brosens), setting them up for a harder battle to succeed academically and potentially limiting college options. In the workforce, they may continue to miss more days limiting their chances for raises and advancement. These missed opportunities have the ability to compound and further place women with endo at an economic disadvantage.

As women, it is sometimes harder to have our pain taken seriously. In a shattering article in the Atlantic, Joe Fassler, describes the ordeal his wife had to go through to have her potentially life threatening ovarian torsion taken seriously. He recounts how many times his wife was told to buck up, while she was actually in the process of losing her ovary. He also sites the disturbing statistic that women wait approximately 25% longer than men in the ER for pain relief. There is evidence to support that if you are a woman of color, you are even less likely to be given an analgesic at all when you go to the ER for pain. The fact our pain, as women, is taken less seriously means that in order to get a timely diagnosis women may have to scream louder and longer just to be heard.

The longer women wait for diagnosis, the more likely the pain is likely to enter a centralized state in which stimuli that were previously not painful are perceived as pain. Centralized pain is a lot harder to treat and will take longer to resolve than non centralized pain, possibly leading to more time out of the workforce, and requiring more money spent on treatments. Women with endo must be taken seriously. Our financial independence and personal lives require it.

What Can I Do If I am In Pain?

So we talked about the larger systemic issues affecting women with endometriosis. But what are some realistic steps you can employ to help with your pain?

  • Get moving! A review by Bonocher and colleagues, found exercise may help women who are already suffering from endometriosis related pain. The pain caused by endometriosis is thought to occur because of inflammation caused by endometriosis implants outside of the uterus. Exercise has been shown in repeated studies to increase anti-inflammatory chemicals in the blood and therefore reduce pain caused by inflammatory processes.
  • Stretch it out. Zahra Rakhshaee, published a 2011 article that found yoga could ease painful periods and may be helpful in managing the symptoms of endometriosis. In this study, a yoga routine consisting of daily 20 minute sessions had a significant effect in reducing pain in the study participants.
  • Put a pin in it, or you! Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing practice and can be used to treat many conditions. In a review by Leong in 2014, acupuncture reduced painful periods in 92% of study participants. The review also cited an article in which 73% of participants reported an improvement in their symptoms versus 42% receiving a placebo (fake) treatment
  • Physical therapy treatment can be helpful in treating many of the issues associated with endometriosis. In a study by Wurn in 2011 , physical therapy was shown to have a significant effect on reducing pain and improving sexual function in women who have endometriosis. Physical therapists are trained healthcare practitioners who can guide you in strengthening and stretching programs to help ease your pain, apply hands-on techniques to restore mobility lost due to endometriosis and other conditions, as well as guide you through lifestyle modifications you can make to ease your pain symptoms.

If one or all of these methods of pain management strategies sounds like they will work for you, Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, as well as other specialized clinics can help guide you. We at Beyond Basics, have an excellent team of physical therapy practitioners who are experts in the field of pelvic health, who do one on one, hands on work, who can develop an appropriate exercise plan tailored to your needs, and can guide you through other lifestyle modifications to help reduce your pain. We also partner with acupuncture and yoga professionals who offer services on site at our Midtown clinic. We hope to see you soon as you begin your journey of healing.

For more on PT and how it can help endo pain, check out Amy’s Video

What do we do for everyone affected by endometriosis or pelvic pain?

Seems pretty bleak, doesn’t it? It’s not. Collectively women and endo specialists are working to advance the awareness, diagnosis, and multidisciplinary approach to treating endo. It is an exciting time with new discoveries being presented in the literature, and more women and doctors becoming outspoken about this condition. But we have a heck of a long way to go to help out our sisters with endo.

The first thing you can do is speak up. If you feel you have not been diagnosed correctly, seek a second opinion. Also feel free to share the articles below with your doctors in order to broaden their exposure to endometriosis, I particularly like Brosen’s article. Share this blog and others on endo so more women and practitioners know about it. For those of you with the resources to do so, consider donating to an organization like the Endometriosis Association or the International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS). Both are organizations that study and advocate for effective diagnosis and treatment for people with pelvic pain, including those with endo, as well as advocate for a multidisciplinary approach to healing. Together, we can improve society’s awareness of this disease and reduce the challenges that endo has on women.

 

ACOG. Endometriosis Fact Sheet. https://www.acog.org/about_acog/news_room/~/media/newsroom/millionwomanmarchendometriosisfactsheet.pdf. Accessed March 12, 2018

Agarwal N, Subramanian A. Endometriosis- morphology, clinical presentations and molecular pathology. J Lab Physicians. 2010; 2(1)-19

Bonocher C, Montenegrow M, Rosa e Silva, et al. Endometriosis and physical exercises: a systematic review. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. 2014, 12:(4)

Brosens I, Gordts S, Benagiano G. Endometriosis in adolescents is a hidden, progressive and severe disease that deserves attention, not just compassion. Human Reproduction. 2013; 28(8) 2-26-31

Dickasen M, Chauhan V, Mor A, et al. Racial Differences in opiate administration for pain relief at an academic emergency department. Western Journal off Emergency Medicine. 2015; 16(3) 372-80

Chaichian S, Kabir A, Mehdizadehkashi A, et al. Comparing the efficacy of surgery and medical therapy for pain management in endometriosis: A systematic review. Pain Physician. 2017; 20 185-95

Fassler, Joe. How Doctor’s Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously. The Atlantic. October 15 2015

Leong F. Complementary and alternative medications for chronic pelvic pain. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. 2014, 41:(3): 503-10

Mowers EL, Lim CS, Skinner B, et al. Prevalence of endometriosis during abdominal or laparoscopic hysterectomy for chronic pelvic pain. Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Jun;127:1045–1053.

Rakhshaee Z. Effect of three yoga poses (cobra, cat and fish) in women with primary dysmenorrhea: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Pediatric Adolescent Gynecology. 2011;24(4):192-6

Sasson I, Taylor H. Stem cells and the pathogenesis of endometriosis. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008; 1127: 106-15

Stratton P, Khachikyan I, Sinaii N, et al. Association of chronic pelvic pain and endometriosis with signs of sensitization and myofascial pain. Obset Gynecol. 2015; 125(3) 719-28

Womenshealth.gov. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/endometriosis . Page last updated: March 05, 2018. Accessed March 12 2018

Sources:

Wurn B, Wurn L, Patterson K. Decreasing dyspareunia and dysmenorrhea in women with endometriosis via a manual therapy: results from two independent studies. 2011;3(4)

BBPT Health Tip: Eat your Fiber

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Fiona McMahon, DPT, PT

What is fiber?

Fiber, it’s the hot ticket. It is being marketed to us like crazy. But why is fiber is so important? What fiber is best? Should you get more fiber with supplements? Let’s take a closer look into the benefits of fiber in this edition of BBPT’s Health tips.

Fiber is the part of food that we cannot digest. It is separated into two types, soluble and insoluble. Both bulk up the contents of your stomach and colon, which can help you feel more full but after that, the similarities end.

As the name implies, soluble fiber dissolves in water but insoluble does not. Insoluble fiber increases the mass of the stool and helps to get things moving, in terms of passing feces. Soluble fiber absorbs water. The truth is, most people are not getting enough fiber. Less than half of people in the United States consume the recommended amount of fiber. Let’s discuss the benefits of fiber and how to make sure you are getting enough.

 

So what if you don’t have issues going number 2? What else can fiber help you with?

 

Fiber has been shown to help with reducing the risk of the following conditions:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Fiber has also been shown to:

  • Improve insulin sensitivity in people who have diabetes
  • Enhance weight loss
  • Improve GI conditions like acid reflux, duodenal ulcers, diverticulitis, constipation, and hemorrhoids
  • Enhance the function of the immune system

 

How much to eat and where to get it?

Men under 50 years and under should consume at least 38 grams of fiber daily, Women under 50 should consume at least 25 grams of fiber daily. Women over 50 should eat at least 21 grams and men over 50 should get 30. Those who suffer from constipation may add more to your diet. We suggest contacting a nutritionist for proper amounts of soluble versus insoluble in these cases and anyone with a history of GI issues. Also, please discuss with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.

Adding fiber to your diet when you are not used to it can sometimes be a little difficult. If you add too much too quickly, you may experience gas and bloating. Start slow and work your way up. Also, drink plenty of water.

Start by adding in whole wheat items (unless you have a gluten sensitivity), legumes, fruits, and vegetables slowly to your diet. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s full list of fiber rich foods here http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948

Sources

 

Anderson J, Baird P, Davis R, et al. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev. 2009. 67(4)188-205

Family Doctor.org Decermber 2010: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/food-nutrition/nutrients/fiber-how-to-increase-the-amount-in-your-diet.printerview.all.html. Accessed November 11, 2016.

Medlineplus. Soluble vs. insoluble fiber.https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002136.htm. Accessed November 17,2016.

PH 101 Something’s Wrong with my What?

 

You’ve waited and waited, now finally Pelvic Health 101 is BACK!

On September 20th, 2017 at 7pm we will be kicking off our fall semester of pelvic health education classes. We have a lot planned this year, so get pumped. 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 as well as the function of your bowel, bladder, and sexual muscles and organs. 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.

Please join us at our office at:

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY 10017
Register at: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

Here is our line up of this and future classes:

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2017

What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

marigold-2117436_960_720By Amy Stein, DPT and Fiona McMahon, DPT

May is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month (#PelvicPainAware), supported by the International Pelvic Pain Society (www.pelvicpain.org). 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. We are promoting Pelvic Pain Awareness Month because it is our mission to ensure that people know that help exists so they can start living richer and fuller lives. In honor of Pelvic Pain Awareness Month we want to take some time to explain what we do and how it can help with the symptoms of pelvic pain. 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 enquire 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 they occur. 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, provide them 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