You aren’t a zebra getting chased down by a lion on the Serengeti. You know that. But your body might not. Our modern day stress usually doesn’t involve us having to defend ourselves against wild animals. It often involves chronic seemingly unrelenting stress of work, relationships, and life. Stress, our perceived threats, chemically elicit the same type of response whether that is fending off a tiger or stressing over trying to care for your child while simultaneously crushing the game at work. These stress responses are governed by the sympathetic autonomic nervous system of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is a powerful system that governs virtually every function in our body to help optimize our responses to things we encounter day- to-day. It is essential to our survival. We can get into trouble if our stress response is perpetually turned on. You can’t fight or flight forever, we must transition out of that sympathetic nervous system back into our rest and digest system, the parasympathetic nervous system. In this blog we will go over the different parts of the ANS and how we can optimize it to live our healthiest and happiest lives.
Parasympathetic versus Sympathetic
In a perfect world our sympathetic and parasympathetic operate in concert to provide us with optimal functioning. When we go out for a run we need our sympathetic to quicken our heartbeat, stimulate glucose release from our liver, and allow us to sweat. After we finish our run and settle in for our post run snack, we need our parasympathetic to stimulate some saliva production, and get digestion started for us. See how the sympathetic and the parasympathetic can work perfectly together? Check out all the functions of the ANS below
Sympathetic Nervous System
Constricts Blood Vessels
Accelerates Heart Rate
Stimulates Sweat Production
Stimulates Glucose Release
Stimulates secretion of norepinephrine and epinephrine
Parasympathetic Nervous System
Stimulates tear production and salivation
Health effects of stress
As you can see, the sympathetic nervous system provides us with some really important functions. But you can tell by looking at what it does for the body, that living in chronic sympathetic drive would be pretty uncomfortable. No one wants to walk around with their heart pounding and sweat pouring off their forehead. Beyond discomfort, chronic stress can deeply affect our health. Chronic stress can affect your immune system negatively making it harder for you to battle infections. Importantly for our pain patients, chronic stress can increase inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. This is important because that inflammation can actually make your pain worse. Chronic stress can also affect your digestion through a mechanism called the brain-gut-axis, which can affect how you absorb nutrients and the overall level of inflammation in your gut. You can listen to the details of how the autonomic nervous system can effect your gut on our Pelvic Messenger podcast.
So you’ve read this far. You may now be feeling stress about being stressed, which definitely was not the intention of this blog post. Stress is part of life. Parents get sick, our kids get into trouble, money gets tight, life can be stressful. We simply cannot control events and the actions of other people that contribute to our stress. I call these things exogenous stressors, or stress that is occuring outside of ourselves. What we can attempt to control is how we react to those exogenous stressors.
That’s where mindfulness can be so helpful. Mindfulness can allow you to look at a problem without spiraling into extra stress. Let me give you an example. Say your boss gives you some negative feedback about a project at work. You can take the feedback at face value and use it as a tool to improve future projects or you can go down the rabbit hole. You can tell yourself that your boss not only didn’t like your performance on your project, but also doesn’t like you. You can create a narrative that you are inherently bad at your job, are on the verge of being fired, will not be able to afford to live in your house and so on and so on. The place you can take yourself in your mind can be so far from what actually happened. Travelling to those places can allow you to stress about things that haven’t happened or may never happen.
A way I personally learned mindfulness was through a smartphone app. I personally used Calm but 10% Happier, Buddify, and Headspace are also great. Getting into the practice of mindfulness takes… well… practice. I suggest giving it a full three weeks before throwing in the towel. There is no one cure for everyone and it is not a reflection on you, yourself personally if mindfulness is not your cup of tea.
Exercise is another great way to blow off some stress. Honestly, any exercise you do is good but throwing in some meditative movement practices to your repertoire can help up the returns you get from exercise. Meditative movement practices like Pilates, Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi have been shown to offer a host of benefits for the body and soul.
Here’s the thing. Sometimes we can shake the weight of stress ourselves. That’s when having a professional help can be so life changing. Mental health professionals can not only lift the burden of how we react to stress, but by teaching us to manage our stress responses, they can help set the stage for real and profound healing to take place and augment your treatment at someplace like Beyond Basics Physical Therapy.
As I wrap this blog up, I ask you to make time for you. Your health and sense of well-being are one of your life’s most valuable commodities and you are worth it.
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
You are what you eat. Trash in equals trash out. You can’t exercise yourself away from an unhealthy diet. These adages are often on my mind as I make my food choices because of the myriad health professionals who have taken time to come to our practice to tell us how we can improve our own and our patients’ health by taking more time to look at what we are consuming in our diet. Lately, many of these clinicians have been focusing on candida overgrowth and diet, which can contribute to pain and inflammation conditions.
What we eat can directly affect the bacterial and fungal makeup of the gut, AKA the gut microbiome. The gut requires a certain level of good bacteria to help us digest what we eat. Over time a poor gut microbiome can affect how efficiently the gut works. The function of the gut goes beyond just digesting food but also is vitally important for the production of neurotransmitters, which help to spread messages within the brain and throughout the whole body. The microbiome also plays an important role in our hormones and immune system. When the microbiome of the gut is not balanced, it is called dysbiosis.
One of the most common culprits in gut microbiota dysbiosis is candida, (Yeast!). Candida is a naturally occurring inhabitant of the body and when it’s at appropriate levels, it doesn’t tend to be noticed, but anyone who has experienced a yeast infection knows that if this little guy is allowed to go unchecked, it can do a lot to make you miserable. Besides plaguing women with itching, burning vulvas, a yeast overgrowth may cause many other ailments.
Science has pointed to the role candida can play in contributing to chronic and inflammatory conditions. In one study by Kumamoto in 2011, candida overgrowth was associated with delayed healing of inflammatory lesions and was associated with pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemicals) and increased incidence of inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Yeast overgrowth can also affect the bladder along with over colonization of Saccharomyces (another form of fungus). In fact, yeast and Saccharomyces were found to be higher in women during a flare of interstitial cystitis than when their symptoms were low.
Yeast is not the only organism that can get out of balance and affect our bodies in harmful ways. There are many other players that can get out of balance. Some signs of an altered gut microbiome is a history of allergies, eczema, or repeated fungal infection.
What to do?
It all seems pretty dire, right. How do you control who is colonizing your gut, when you barely have enough time to make it to the gym after work? There are a few simple steps you can start with.
Avoid antibiotics, unless your doctor thinks you need them.
The medical community has become a lot more aware of the dangers of over-prescribing antibiotics from their perspective, but it is important to keep in mind that a powerful antibiotic can wipe out good bacteria and bad bacteria in one fell swoop. If the good guys in your gut are reduced, the bad bacteria have a better chance of taking over. Take antibiotics only when recommended. Keep in mind antibiotics will not help treat viruses like the flu, they can only treat bacterial infections.
Modify your diet
Increase your consumption of good fats (omega 3’s) to help reduce inflammation.
Food high in omega 3’s includes flax and hemp seed/oils, fish (the fishier the fish, usually means more omega 3’s, for example, herring is higher in omega 3 than a milder fish like snapper). Also, reduce your consumption of processed foods which can increase inflammation levels and eliminate simple sugars and fried foods. If this is only minimally successful, try a gluten and dairy free diet.
If simple changes are not helping consider seeing a professional
Find a naturopath, functional or integrated MD, or nutritionist who can investigate more fully whether or not you have SIBO (Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), candida overgrowth, or other gut microbiome disorder. Or perhaps you are lacking certain ingredients, vitamins or mineral. These professionals can tailor a diet and medication regimen to help return your gut microbiome to tip-top shape.
Fiona McMahon is currently seeing patients at our Midtown Location
If you have questions about orthopedic, pelvic, or sports physical therapy, 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)
Kamamoto C. Inflammation and gastrointestinal candida colonization. Cur Opin Microbiol. 2011;14(40): 386-391
Have you noticed an increase in the amount of pink on just about everything the last couple of days? The increase of pink everything is because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer is an extremely common cancer. According to the Nation Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Men can also get breast cancer, however, it is much rarer for men to develop breast cancer. Luckily with early detection and treatment of early stage and localized cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is 100%. That being said, early detection is crucial and it is important to catch breast cancer early to ensure the best possible outcome. Let’s take some time to review the signs of breast cancer and recommended screening protocols.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Change of Sensation/ texture of the Breast or Nipples
Lumps, change in texture in the breast, nipple, or underarm area
Change in appearance of Breast or Nipple
Change of nipple orientation
Discharge from nipple
Recommended every 1-2 years for women who are 40 years old or older.
May be recommended for women who are under 40, but have increased risk of breast cancer.
For some types of breast cancer, there is a very specific link to a person’s genes and her or his risk of developing breast cancer. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that are responsible for the production of certain tumor-suppressing proteins. In some populations, there are mutations in these genes that disable their tumor-fighting properties. These gene mutations are relatively rare and currently, screening is recommended just for individuals with increased risk of harboring these mutations. According to the National Cancer Institute, individuals who are at higher risk and should consider genetic testing are:
Individuals who have a male relative who has developed breast cancer
History of BRCA related cancers within family history
People of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry
Breast Cancer diagnosed before age 50 in family
Multiple cases of breast cancer in family
Individuals that test positive for BRCA mutations may consider increased screening, prophylactic surgery or chemoprevention.
Mastectomy and Physical Therapy
Mastectomy, removal of the breast is currently the most common treatment for breast cancer. Some women chose to have their breasts reconstructed after their mastectomy and others do not. It is obviously a very personal choice. Like any surgery, mastectomies require close postoperative care to ensure maximal function and recovery.
You may have read the last sentence, and thought, “What is the function of the breast, besides breastfeeding and for sexual pleasure?” The breast lies in an important intersection in the body. The armpit (axilla) contains bundles of nerves, blood vessels, and lymph vessels that course through it, serving the arm down to the fingers. After a mastectomy, their course can be interrupted by scar tissue, radiation damage (if your treatment included radiation), causing painful conditions such as nerve entrapments, frozen shoulder, and lymphedema, ( a backup of lymph fluid, if left unchecked can cause permanent damage and deformation of the arm).
Victoria LaManna, DPT, CLT, is our lymphedema expert. If you have had a mastectomy and are unsure about lymphedema care, she is an excellent resource. She will be able to instruct you in self- care and lymphedema prevention measures. Physical therapy can also help to release scar tissue in the breast and upper arm area, regain strength in the arm, and ultimately improve your function. Visit us, and read up on Victoria’s bio here, as well ask on our website at: www.beyondbasicspt.com/lymphedema
Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy (OCS)
Certified Functional Manual Therapist (CFMT)
The new year is in full swing, and many of us have set goals to help start things off with renewed energy. One area in which, many people make goals in is health. While some folks vow to go to the gym regularly, or eat healthily, many other individuals commit to having medical check-ups, or taking care of a long-festering issue, such as a painful knee or abdominal pain. No matter what type of healthcare provider you are visiting, it is imperative that you come prepared to make sure you are getting all the facts, and are able to advocate for yourself to ensure you are receiving the best treatment for you.
Come with a Plan
One way you can advocate for yourself is to come prepared to a medical consultation by bringing a list of questions and subjective information with you. Be prepared to discuss what is bringing you to see that health care provider. What symptoms you might be experiencing? When these symptoms began? What makes you feel better and worse? How your symptoms make you feel limited in your daily life, and what you are hoping to get out of seeing that practitioner (i.e. a referral to a specialist, pain relief, etc.,.)? Many questions can arise during a medical examination, so don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, and make sure you understand the information you have been given. Research has shown, that individuals who ask specific questions about their health, may receive more comprehensive care. For example, in a 2015 article from the Journal of Family Medicine and Community Health, researchers found that when older patients were more proactive with communication to their doctors, primary care physicians were more likely to recommend both cancer screening and cancer prevention to their patients.1
On Second Opinions
When you receive a medical result, do not be afraid to get a second opinion. People seek out second opinions for various reasons: to get reassurance on a treatment protocol, to confirm the findings of a particular healthcare provider, to verify the reputation of a given institution, and even due to patient dissatisfaction in the communication or relationship with a practitioner.2-3 Whatever your reason, know that it is your right to have a second opinion to ensure you are getting the best possible care. Some research has found that second opinions have changed the diagnosis and/or course of treatment. In two studies that look at different patient populations with cancer, they found that in cases where a specialized practitioner was consulted, the accuracy of initial staging for a diagnosis increased, treatment and management of the condition was affected in about 20% of cases, and unnecessary surgeries were prevented in about 7% of cases.4-5 Thus, getting a second opinion can be very beneficial to you. Whether it changes the course of a treatment, or simply reinforces what you have already been told, seeking a second opinion can help you make educated decisions regarding your care.
Consider Both Risks and Benefits
If you are given a diagnosis and are informed of your treatment options, make sure to ask about, and consider, the risk-benefit analysis for each. The “risk-benefit analysis” is defined as “the consideration of whether a medical or surgical procedure, particularly a radical approach, is worth the risk to the patient as compared with possible benefits if the procedure is successful.”6 What this means is, it is important to weigh any treatment’s potential outcome on your quality of life, as well as your values and goals, when determining what route of care you’d like to embark on. If the risks outweigh the benefits for you personally, then it may not be a treatment worth trying. However, that is a very specific and personal decision, that must occur between you and those close to you, under the guidance of your health care provider.
Prevent Illness Before it Happens
While it is very important to be well-informed and prepared for a visit so you can better advocate for yourself, taking steps to prevent illness or injury in the first place, is crucial to promote overall well-being. Two major changes you can make in enhancing your health are diet and exercise. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, 117 million individuals, which is about half of all American adults, “have one or more preventable chronic diseases,”7 which include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers (i.e. colorectal and postmenopausal breast cancer), and poor bone health. Theses chronic diseases are related to poor quality eating habits and physical inactivity. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of adults, and nearly one-third of children, are overweight or obese, which is associated with increased health risks and higher healthcare costs.7 Key recommendations for a “healthy eating pattern” include: eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and oils, as well as fat-free or low-fat dairy, while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.7 Research has found that most Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. However, those that do tend to eat more fruit at breakfast and in snacks throughout the day, while more vegetables are consumed at lunch and dinner.8 This is something that can be added to your routine easily to ensure you are consuming a balanced diet.
As previously mentioned, physical inactivity can contribute to poor health; however, engaging in regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness, and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults aged 18-64 need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. brisk walking), and at least 2 days of muscle strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms). The same recommendations are given to older adults over the age the 65 years.9 That may sound like a lot of time that you don’t have; however, the CDC reports that engaging in aerobic exercise for even 10 minutes at a time can be beneficial.9 So get on your walking shoes and start power-walking to your appointments, or to the breakroom at work!
Ok. That was a lot of information, so here is a recap:
Being well-informed and prepared with questions for medical consultations allows you to better advocate for yourself, and may help you to receive more comprehensive care.
Seeking a second opinion, especially when considering a major medical procedure, is something that is your right as a consumer, and can impact your diagnosis and/or course of treatment.
Considering the risk-benefit of any medical or surgical intervention is important to ensure that a given treatment is appropriate for your quality of life, values, and goals.
While being educated and engaged when dealing with a medical concern is important, helping to prevent illness or injury through diet and exercise are critical for maintaining a healthy life.
If you are saying to yourself, “this is too overwhelming; there is no way I can do this!”, then I will leave you with a quote from Audrey Hepburn: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible!” You have the information; now it is time to get out there and start leading a healthy life, so the energy and inspiration of the new year keep ringing all year long!
Kahana E, Lee JE, Kahana B, Langendoerfer KB, Marshall GL. 2015. Patient planning and initiative enhances physician recommendations for cancer screening and prevention. J Fam Med Community Health, 2(9), pii 1066.
Mordechai O, Tamir S, Weyl-Ben-Arush M.2015. Seeking a second opinion in pediatric oncology. Pediatr Hematol Oncol; 32 (4): 284-9.
van Dalen I, Groothoff J, Stewart R, Spreeuwenberg P, Groenewegen P, van Horn J. 2001. Motives for seeking a second opinion in orthopaedic surgery. J Health Serv Res Policy, 6 (4): 195-201.
Sawan P, Rebeiz K, Schoder H, Battevi C, Moskowitz A, Ulaner GA, Dunphy GA, Mannelli L. 2017. Specialized second-opinion radiology review of PET/CT examinations for patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma impacts patient care and management. Medicine, 96 (51), doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000009411.
Lakhman Y, D’Anastasi M, Micco M, et al. 2016. Second-opinion interpretations of gynecologic oncologic MRI examinations by sub-specialized radiologists influence patient care. Eur Radiol;26:2089–98.
U.S. Department of Agriculture & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office; 2015.
Moore LV, Hammer HC, Kim SA, et al. 2016. Common ways Americans are incorporating fruits and vegetables into their diet: intake patterns by meal, source and form, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2007-2010. Public Health Nutr; 19 (14): 2535-9.
Hey everyone! We are resuming our conversation about potty issues with kiddos. In our last blog, we discussed how issues with pooping can occur with kiddos and how often times it is easy to overlook long standing constipation in kiddos with fecal and urinary accidents. We learned that although it can seem like someone is doing something wrong, potty issues are no one’s fault. Even though poo problems are no ones fault, they are problems that families can work on together to be solved.
In this blog, we are going to discuss right here and right now what you can do today to help your child poop easier. Some of the changes are astonishingly simple while some may require a bit more work and change from the whole family. Keep in mind in order for anyone’s bowel to change ( not just kids), you must be consistent, and these changes may take a very long time to occur. Be patient, you and your child will get there. Let’s go over ways to get back on the right track now.
STEPS to help with bowel issues:
Step 1: Allow your kiddo enough time to poop
Ever have to catch an early morning flight and noticed that you skip pooping that day, or even worse, you get a little bound up in the following week? Getting up early and rushing in the morning can constipate anyone and the thing is that’s what most kids are having to do. Many children have between half an hour to an hour to scarf down their food, dress, and brush their teeth before rolling out to school, leaving very little time to sit on the toilet and have an effective bowel movement. Kids then often find themselves at school with public bathrooms or single bathrooms within the classroom that don’t lock, making it hard to be comfortable enough to have a bowel movement. Then they usually must rush to extracurriculars and complete homework before bed. There simply is not enough time to poop.
Allowing your child 10-15 minutes to sit on the toilet 10-20 minutes after they eat can allow them to use what’s called the gastrocolic reflex. Basically what that means is when you eat, the body makes room for the new food by moving everything down further in the digestive canal. Therefore, after meals is the time when we are most likely to have a poop.
Allowing more time in the morning is the most easily modifiable part of your routine to start with when trying to improve your kiddos pooping habits. Get up about 30 minutes earlier to allow your child time to eat and to sit on the toilet. Follow with sitting on the toilet after lunch and after dinner.
Step 2: Fit the toilet to you child; don’t fit your child to the toilet
Studies show that toilet posture is imperative to good poops. My colleague, Sarah Paplanus, DPT, explains in detail the importance of having your knees above your hips while pooping in her blog on the squatty potty. Step stools will help your child get their knees above their hips, just remember to make sure that they keep their legs somewhat separated. Also, for the little littles, a child size toilet seat will help make sitting on the toilet more comfortable for kiddos with little tushes.
Also, check out this video on potty posture, with fellow peds therapist, Victoria LaManna PT, DPT, CLT
Step 3: Improve Diet
Most adults are aware that diet is important, but diet is equally as important with children. Making sure your child is getting enough fruits and veggies (approximately 5 servings daily), skipping sugary and refined foods like white bread, pastries, candy, and chips, and getting enough water (about half their weight in ounces) is so important to keep their stool soft and moving.
Step 3: Recognize Progress and Hard Work
Bowel issues are hard work for all involved. Make a sticker chart to track how often your child is compliant at sitting on the toilet, eating well, and having bowel movements. Make a goal for how many stickers your child will earn and celebrate when they achieve their goal. It is a long process so make sure to recognize even the smallest of victories.
Step 4:Get Help from Professionals
There is help out there. Make sure you go to a knowledgeable doctor and physical therapist to ensure your child gets the best chance at improving their bowel issues as quickly as possible. Do not accept any medical professional telling you it is normal for children to have accidents past potty training age, (age 5), or that it is your fault as a parent, or it is the child’s fault. It’s not. A knowledgeable doctor will run appropriate tests to rule out dietary allergies that could be contributing as well as starting your child on medicine or supplements to help improve bowel movements.
Pelvic floor physical therapy is a mainstay of care for kids with bowel issues, Skilled pediatric physical therapists will help your child re-learn how to use their pelvic muscles to better hold in waste as well as eliminate it when appropriate. We will teach you how to use techniques to help stool move more effectively, and we can perform hands on work to reduce pain and discomfort associated with bowel dysfunction. In addition to our clinical skills, we will help you to find doctors to help compliment the treatment your child is receiving in PT. If your child is suffering from bowel problems, don’t waste another day, call our front desk to make an appointment today!
It’s that time of year again. We are all nobly setting out on our self improvement journeys. Resolutions are often deeply personal goals we set for ourselves and can involve spiritual, physical, and emotional aspects. Overwhelmingly, one of the most common goals people have is weight loss. The desire to lose weight often goes beyond aesthetic. People can be motivated to reduce pain in their joints, improve heart health, and to have more energy. As physical therapists we see the harms of the burden of carrying around extra weight on aching joints as well as the fallout from initiating a program with a little too much vim and vigor.
Goal settingis something almost every article on New Year’s resolutions addresses, for good reason. Goal setting properly is imperative to success. We can think of goal setting in two ways. Sometimes we think of goal setting like a wishlist, “it would be great if I achieved x”. These kind of goals are great for getting you to look at the final picture, but provide no direction on how to get to your end result. Writing down a goal to lose 10 pounds is all well and good, but without a solid plan, you are left without any real steps to put in motion.
In goal setting I suggest you borrow some tools from us physical therapists. When we assess patients we develop short and long term goals to get them to their ultimate fitness and health goals. The short term goals we make, allow us to zero in on small and discrete changes we can make towards the ultimate goal.
Think about what habits you currently are doing that are holding you back from weight loss. Are you having an extra glass of wine at night you could cut out, are you not getting enough sleep, so working out seems impossible? Break things up into small behavioral changes to concentrate on. Keep in mind goals can also be positive, what things are you currently doing that are helping you on your path that you would like to continue doing. It’s important to recognize where you are being an absolute rockstar already and use that positive energy towards things that might be harder to change.
Track your goals and think about how often you want to make sure you are doing them. Personally, I find it helpful to track my goals to see if I am generally sticking to them. There are apps out there, that you can install on your phone that will help track your success in sticking to your goals. I use a free app called “Productive”. It allows me to make a recurring checklist for my goals. You can use the app to schedule out what time of day you would like to do your goals, how many days a week you’ll do them, and provides stats on how regularly you are achieving them.
Finally, it is important to be realistic with your goals. Goals that are too easy or too hard are less likely to get you where you want to be. Allow yourself some flexibility, to keep your journey less of a burden. Over time, check in with your goals you may find you have outgrown them or they are unrealistic. It is perfectly okay to tailor as you go.
We all know diet plays a major key in weight loss. A friend to the clinic, Nutritionist, Jessica Drummond will often say, “ You cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet”. Poor diets can stymie any exercise plan.
Dietary needs vary widely from individual to individual, but overall it’s best to avoid highly processed foods. These foods tend to be chalk a block with salt and easily digestible sugars that can spike appetite. No good.
Be wary of fad diets and health crazes. Gluten free foods are all the rage right now. I, myself am gluten free for health reasons, but if you do not have celiac disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity, reaching for the gluten free pizza or cookie is not the wisest choice as a weight loss strategy. In addition to usually being more expensive, gluten free options, like cookies, bread, and pizza often are higher in calories than their “glutenful” counterparts. It only took a quick stroll over to my refrigerator to prove this point. I compared a slice of traditional bread next to a gluten free slice. As you can see in the photo below, the traditional bread is larger than the gluten free bread. Not only do you get more food for serving with the traditional bread, the traditional bread has 20 fewer calories per serving than the gluten free bread. This goes to show that regardless of your dietary needs, consuming foods that are not processed like sweet potatoes, quinoa, and rice, over processed food like bread, is a good way to avoid hidden calories.
Gluten free: left, traditional: right
It is important that you eat enough to sustain your metabolism, your energy, and your mood, and furthermore, to allow your diet to be a sustainable change you can carry out long term to ensure success. There are apps on your phone that can help you track your calorie input, how many calories you have burned off, and what the composition of your macronutrients are. Macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fats. A diet higher in protein is generally used to help build muscles, which can in turn, burn more fat. These apps, like Myfitnesspal and Lose It! can give you target calorie intake for your desired weekly weight loss. It is important to set your target with some element of moderation so it is easier to stick to. Caloric restrictions that are too extreme can backfire by tanking your metabolism, energy, and triggering food binges.
Exercise is so important. In addition to helping you progress towards your weight loss goal, exercise has so many health benefits that will pay dividends well into the future. From stress reduction, cardiovascular health, bone health and more, exercise is an essential element of self care even for those who do not wish to lose weight.The
American Heart Association recommends adults exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes five times a week or vigorous activity for 25 minutes 3 days a week. In addition to moderate to high intensity strengthening activity at least 2 days a week.
Finding the right exercise can be daunting. This is where having a physical therapist can be a tremendous advantage. Personally, I don’t believe in “the one best exercise”. Everybody is different and every body is different. Physical therapists are the movement specialists of the healthcare world. We can help you find good workouts for where your body is now, as well as strengthen your body so you can do the workout or event of your dreams while avoiding injury. Take a look at the series we wrote chronicling how physical therapy prepared my body for the rigors of the New York City Marathon and allowed me to complete it in record time, to see a great example of what physical therapy can do for you. I have included our blogs on physical therapy and exercise at the bottom of this article.
Once you have an idea of where to start and where you want to go, then slowly get started on trying out different routines. I once heard a quote from an exercise physiologist who said, “the best exercise is one you actually do”. So remember when starting your exercise program, it is okay to not like a certain exercise routine and move on. You might abhor the treadmill, but find tremendous joy in a Zumba class. Finding a workout that brings you joy, and at the very least, does not bring you dread is imperative. It’s kind of like dating, keep trying different routines until you find what works for you.
Once you find your dream routine, remember moderation. Allow yourself at least a day of recovery if you are a seasoned exercise veteran, and more if you are an exercise newbie. Rest not only prevents injury, but it gives the body time to get to the job of laying down more muscle fibers and making you stronger.
Injury can happen with new exercise routines and really, nothing is more frustrating than being super gung ho about a new program only to be sidelined with an injury. Again this is where having a good PT on your side really helps. Seeing us before starting exercise can help us spot both literal and figurative achilles heels in your posture, strength, and flexibility and will allow us to address these issues before they become mega impairments later on. We can help you decide when it is time to progress and how to do so safely. Additionally we can help you recover from an injury faster and prevent injury recurrence if you see us when you do have an injury.
Failure and Success
Repeat after me, “ I am a person, not a machine”. You will fail at certain elements of your plan. Notice I used “will” and not “may”. When you do overindulge, miss a workout, or whatever else. Remember it is a process and small failures do not indicate that you will fail in your ultimate goal of greater health. Nor is failure in any way an indicator of your worth as a human being, neither is the number on the scale, by the way. Progress will be slow, but you will likely get there if you are consistent. Failure is a good time to re-evaluate your goals. Maybe five workouts a week is completely unrealistic and maybe sticking with three is a much better balance. Regardless of what obstacles you face in your journey, remember to be kind to yourself, you are doing the best you can. Find what changes you can stick with and go from there. It can take a lot to change up your whole routine, but keep working at it and you will find success.
Check us out at BBPT!
Although we do specialize in orthopedic and pelvic floor physical therapy at Beyond Basics, we do so much more than that. All of our physical therapists are trained in orthopedic and sports rehab, and many of our therapists have earned prestigious orthopedic certifications like the OCS and CFMT. We can help you to figure out where to start, how to progress your exercises appropriately, and how to keep your body healthy so you can continue to achieve all of your goals.