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)

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 have gotten really frustrated. If this is the case for you, I highly encourage you to come to our next pelvic health seminar on March 28th 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 Spring 2018 (2)

 

How to Improve Bladder Health

Bladder

Fiona McMahon, DPT

The bladder, not super complex right? Just a tupperware for pee, holding your urine until an opportune time to go. The bladder is so much more than that, integrating information from the brain, muscles of the pelvic floor, and responding to stretch to efficiently serve its purpose. We never think of the bladder until something goes wrong with it.

In honor of bladder health month, we will be exploring the anatomy of the bladder, what is normal for the bladder, what can go wrong with the bladder, and how to best take care of your precious and hard working bladder.

Bladder Anatomy/ Physiology

 

Male or female, we all have the same basic structure of the bladder, with a few exceptions. Here’s what everyone has in their lower urinary tract.

  • Detrusor Muscle: Forms the body of the bladder and is responsible for squeezing the bladder to empty its contents. It spends most of its time relaxed in order to allow for bladder filling.
  • Trigone Muscle: Forms the neck of the bladder, and is a powerful sensory organ. When the trigone stretches in response to the filling of the bladder, it sends a message to the brain that it’s time to pee.
  • Internal Urethral Sphincter: Smooth muscle (involuntary) which seals off the exit of the bladder and allows for continence.
  • External Urethral Sphincter: Striated or voluntary muscles which also seals the exit of the bladder.
  • Urethra: This is the tube that leads out of the bladder and is the pathway for urine into the outside world.

Sex differences:

Men have a prostate. The prostate is a sex organ and is responsible for keeping the semen at the right pH to fertilize a waiting egg. It wraps around the urethra and lives just under the bladder. It also provides a mechanical buttress or support for the bladder, lessening the load on the pelvic floor.  Because of its proximity to the urethra, problems with the prostate can cause problems with the bladder.  An enlarged prostate, which can be a benign part of aging, cancer, or infection, will restrict the flow of urine out of the urethra, resulting in weak stream, painful, burning urination, and difficulty urinating (the same thing happens with tight pelvic floor muscles). A prostate that has been surgically removed, most often has occurred for treatment of prostate cancer can reduce support for the bladder and lead to leaking. For more information on prostate cancer click here  and for more info on prostatitis, click here!

Another important difference between people with female and male anatomy are the respective length of their urethras. Male urethras are a lot longer than female urethras. This is one of the reasons people with female anatomy are more prone to bladder infections. In a female, bacteria have a lot easier time making the trek to the bladder because of the shorter urethra.

Conditions of the Bladder

Incontinence

Incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. There are many causes of incontinence. It’s important to know why you are leaking in order to know how to appropriately remedy it. It is possible to have more than one type of incontinence, and when that occurs we call it mixed incontinence.  Let’s go through the types together.

  • Urge incontinence occurs when you leak urine  after a sudden urge to urinate. We call it, lock in key syndrome, because certain events like unlocking the door to your home can cause urge incontinence.  This is the type of incontinence, which should be treated first in cases of mixed urge/stress incontinence.
  • Stress incontinence is the result of pelvic floor weakness that prevents the closure of the external urethral sphincter with activities that increase the pressure on the bladder, like coughing, laughing, lifting or sneezing. Pelvic floor weakness can occur if the muscles and or connective tissues are too loose to create an efficient contraction and more commonly, especially with athletes, too tight or imbalanced, to fully close the external urethral sphincter. Read more about incontinence in athletes here.
  • Functional incontinence occurs when you physically can not get to the bathroom in time to urinate. This is common in the elderly or disabled, who may have trouble ambulating to the bathroom, removing clothing, or transferring from a chair into standing. It is imperative that this type of incontinence is treated aggressively by a physical therapist or occupational therapist as it increases the risk of potentially fatal or disabling falls.

Incomplete voiding

Incomplete voiding is when the bladder does not fully empty.

In a normally functioning patient, volitional effort should not be required to empty the bladder.  A pelvic floor that is unable to relax, will have a smaller opening for urine to pass through or the voluntary muscles involuntarily contract because of muscle spasming, resulting in hesitancy, or incomplete bladder emptying.

Bladder Pain

Pain is our body’s way of telling us there is something wrong. With a new onset of bladder pain, it is important to rule out infection or an organic condition. Often times musculoskeletal conditions or general bladder irritation can mimic bladder infections.  In our practice, we often see patients who had been convinced they had an infection only to find out all of their tests for infection, where in fact, negative and the source of their pain was a tight or shortened pelvic floor.

It is important to understand the character of your bladder pain. Does your bladder hurt as it fills with urine and then feels better only shortly after voiding? If your answer is yes, you may have bladder irritation from urine that isn’t dilute enough (you are not drinking enough water), or you are consuming something irritating like spicy food, caffeine or alcohol. You may also have a condition known as painful bladder syndrome/interstitial cystitis which is contributing to your symptoms. It is important to get a handle on bladder filling pain right away, because it is the first step in treating other conditions such as frequency, urgency, incomplete emptying and retention.

If you have pain and burning during urination with no infection, it is likely the pelvic floor muscles and tissues cannot relax enough to allow urine to flow out without burning, (the pelvic floor also plays a role in bladder filling pain as well). Burning with urination that is not caused by an infection, is treatable with pelvic floor PT.

Frequency:

Everytime I hear someone say “I have a small bladder”, I have the uncontrollable urge to say, “No, you have a sensitive bladder, which can be trained to be better”. Saying you have a small bladder is 95% of the time fatalistic and just untrue. Most bladders, with few exceptions can hold 400-600 mL. Holding capacity can be diminished in cases of constipation, pregnancy and some neurological conditions, but most everyone is working with similarly sized equipment (the exception, being growing children).

Average intervoid interval, aka times between pees, is 2-3 hours, unless you chug a liter of fluid or cups of caffeine in one sitting. An example is being able to make it through James Cameron’s, Titanic, without having to excuse yourself. The trick with the bladder is it’s antsy. It informs you with the first urge to urinate when it is approximately 40% full. Over time, if you listen at that first urge, the bladder will begin to inform you earlier and earlier until you are going once every 20 minutes. Training your bladder to hold more is achieved with ignoring the urge or practicing various behavioral strategies, like deep diaphragmatic breathing with pelvic floor drops, to allow for longer intervals until your bladder capacity is within normal limits. This can be a longer process for those with a more sensitive bladder.

Bladder training is complicated by pain. Pain usually must be treated simultaneously in order to truly get the most benefit from bladder retraining. It is also important to realize that substances like caffeine and alcohol increase urgency and make bladder training more difficult.

How to Manage Bladder Issues:

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do, RIGHT now to manage your bladder symptoms. I find that in my practice and everyday life, there is a certain fatalism about bladder conditions. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard phrases like, “ I just have a small bladder”, “Women my age after babies just leak”, “I am older so I pee more at night” and “it’s always been like this”. The bladder is a trainable organ and the muscles influencing it can be stretched and strengthened like any other muscle in the body. The best part is there is so much you can do for yourself at home. It’s totally worth trying and in many cases is a life changer.

Diet and fluid intake:

It may sound counter intuitive, but drinking plenty of water is good for almost all bladder conditions. Yes I am talking about leaking, urgency, incomplete emptying and frequency. Drinking lots of water keeps your urine nice and dilute, minimizing the irritation of the bladder wall as well as the reactive spasm of the detrusor muscle. You should drink approximately half your bodyweight in ounces of water a day. For example: a 150 lbs person should consume 75 ounces of water a day. You should increase this amount if you are exercising, or experience a lot of sweating or drink a lot of caffeine and or alcohol, which are both dehydrating. It is also important to be mindful of bladder irritants which can worsen bladder issues. Big irritant culprits are alcohol, caffeine, citrus, and spicy food. In children, dairy milk is a common bladder irritant.  Keep in mind that one person’s bladder irritant may not be your bladder irritant. It’s easy to look at lists of bladder irritants and get overwhelmed. Try eliminating a suspected offender for two to three days. If you feel better when you aren’t consuming that item and worse when you add it back in, consider eliminating that item from your diet.  It is also important to eat in a way that prevents constipation, as this worsens bladder symptoms and puts extra pressure on the bladder.

Posture

If you are having problems fully emptying your bladder or you have post void leakage ( dribbles following going to the bathroom) consider your toileting posture. People with bladder issues should sit on the toilet ( even dudes), to allow the pelvic floor muscles to relax and allow the bladder to fully empty.

Bladder Training

If you have bladder frequency or leakage  now is the time to try and train your bladder to hold more urine. Keep in mind you should start treatment to address pain with physical therapy and in certain cases, with medication, to allow you to be successful with bladder training. I always tell my patients to start their bladder retraining at home, where a bathroom is available to take the stress out of possible leaks or not being able to find a bathroom. Start by simply waiting to go to the bathroom 5-10 minutes past your first urge to urinate. Use behavioral strategies, such as deep breathing and pelvic floor drops, mindfulness, distraction and others.  If you don’t have to go after 5-10 minutes, Great! If you do, go to the bathroom. As waiting 10 minutes becomes easy, stretch your time to 20 minutes and so on until you are able to go 2-3 hours in between urination.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is considered a mainstay and top treatment for musculoskeletal causes of bladder disorders and bladder pain.  Expert pelvic floor physical therapists are clinicians who can find the cause of your bladder issues and provide you with a customized plan that will provide you with the best results possible. PT’s can work to relax spasmed muscles, treat constipation contributing to bladder issues, improve your toilet posture, reduce tightness around the bladder, abdominal and thigh region that can contribute to bladder dysfunction, as well as strengthen weak muscles. If you are experiencing bladder issues, please come see us.  There is so much we can do to help!

Sources:

Berghmans L, Hendriks H, Van Waalwijk, et al. Conservative treatment of urge urinary incontinence in women: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. BJU Int. 2000; 85: 254-63

Chancellor, M, Yoshimura N. Neurophysiology of stress incontinence. Rev Urol. 2004; 6(Suppl3)S19-S28

Chang H, Lynm C, Glass R, et al. Urinary incontinence in older women. JAMA, 2010; 303(21): 2208

FitzGerald M, Brensinger C, Brubaker L, et al. What is the pain of interstitial cystitis like?. International Urogynecology Journal Including Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. 2005

Shafik A, Shafik I. Overactive bladder inhibition in response to pelvic floor muscle exercises. World J Urol. 2003 May; 20(6):347-7. Epib. Apr 4

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

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 have gotten really frustrated. If this is the case for you, I highly encourage you to come to our next pelvic health seminar on April 6th at 7pm, “Does my diet really matter”.

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

Register at pelvichealth-101.eventbrite.com  today.

 

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Ryanne Glasper and Melissa Stendahl Expand Their Expertise with Additional Hands on Training!

Melissa Stendahl, PT, DPT

In June, my colleague Ryanne and I had the opportunity to attend the American Physical Therapy Association’s  Gynecological Visceral Manipulation Course, taught by Gail Wetzler, PT, DPT, EDO, BI-D.

Gail is well known for her visceral (organ) mobilization skills and teaching worldwide with Jeanne-Pierre Barral of the Barral Institute. She is a leader in the physical therapy field and in education for women’s health, manual diagnostics, visceral structures and disorders, and integrative therapies for animal health. She is dedicated to techniques to help balance the body’s systems for optimal function. Gail is considered an excellent and sought-after instructor in advanced manual therapy techniques for PTs.

In class, we learned how to assess the  biomechanics and mobility of the pelvic organs (including reproductive organs, the urinary system, and the rectum). We learned  treatment techniques for these structures, and how to integrate these findings and techniques into PT treatment for injuries and disorders affecting posture, core stability, spinal mechanics, and overall movement. Having these skills helps the PT to more successfully and specifically treat pelvic conditions that affect bowel, bladder, reproductive and sexual function. It takes hard work and practice to develop the sensitivity to feel the organs and their potential restrictions, and the PTs at Beyond Basics have all taken advanced training to enhance this skill  because of its importance for our specialty in returning patients to good bowel, bladder, and sexual health and reducing pelvic pain.

We did a detailed anatomy review and excellent hands-on time with lab partners to refine these techniques for our own individual practice! Did you know: neighboring structures “talk” to each other within the body? For example: the liver  is a large organ located within the parietal peritoneum. This peritoneum is a membrane (a thin covering) that wraps around the liver and many other organs in the abdomen. It travels just next to, but does not enclose, the pelvic organs. This membrane becomes neighbors with the bladder, uterus, and rectum. If the liver  is damaged, injured or restricted, the peritoneum membrane enclosing it can tighten in response, kind of like how your arm muscles might tighten up or spasm to help protect you after a shoulder dislocation.  But since the peritoneum is also neighbors with the pelvic organs, this tight restriction at the liver can also result in tension all the way down to the bladder, uterus, or rectum, contributing to urinary or bowel dysfunction or pain! So it may be possible that assessing and treating these lines of tension can help get rid of lingering pain or incontinence, and is a great example of how structures near or even far from the original site of dysfunction can be involved.

So what is a PT really treating when they do “visceral manipulation”? Good question. PTs do not take the place of physicians who specialize in organ function and hormones, like urologists, colorectal, GI or Endocrinologists. But PTs can influence the mobility and positioning of the organs in the abdominal and pelvic cavities, so that they can move and glide as you bend over, run, poop, pee and ovulate, and to reduce inflammation from injuries, or adhesions like scar tissue from surgery. This can be a very valuable treatment option to promote better organ function for digestion, bowel, bladder, sexual and reproductive health.

Link to Gail’s site (https://wetzlerptcenter.wordpress.com/meditate-zen1.jpg

PH101: Pain and Sexuality: Is it all in my head?

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By Fiona McMahon, DPT

Sex should feel good… really, really good. But when it doesn’t, you may start to wonder, what’s wrong with me? Am I broken? Am I a prude? Am I frigid? Painful sex isn’t something we talk about. No one would look at you twice if you walked into work complaining of pain in your elbow, but if you walk into work complaining about pain in you vagina or penis, you may end up having a meeting with HR.

On October 6th at 7pm, we at Beyond Basics are breaking down those taboos and having an educational seminar, followed by an optional question and answer session at the end. We will discuss the many causes of sexual pain and how physical therapy can help.  The event will be hosted by one of our therapists, Stephanie Stamas, DPT, ATC. Stephanie will give a detailed seminar about pelvic health and take time to clear up some common misconceptions many people have concerning their bodies and sexual function.

Please join us at our office at:

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY 10017
Register at: pelvichealth-101.eventbrite.com

Here is our line up of this and future classes

Pelvic Health 101 Fall- (003)