Pelvic Floor Mythbusters: Is kegeling the one true way to a healthy pelvic floor?

Pelvis Drawing

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT.

Is kegeling the one true way to a healthy pelvic floor? Not always. We can end the blog here. Just kidding, of course there is nuance to be considered here. But as pelvic floor physical therapists, nothing is more cringe inducing than hearing the phrase “just do your kegels” thrown around for myriads of ailments from low libido, to pain, incontinence, and erectile dysfunction. While it is true the pelvic floor muscles can be involved in all of these conditions and in some cases kegels may help, there are many cases where kegels are the EXACT opposite of how you should be treating these muscles.

Physiology

To understand kegels we must first understand the pelvic floor. To understand the pelvic floor we must also explain the muscles at a very basic level. Bare with me readers, this will help us as we bust through this myth. Muscles, all muscles do what they do, by contracting and getting shorter to produce force. This is easy to see on a bodybuilder doing a bicep curl. As she curls her hand up you can see these muscles shortening into a little ball. Not only is this a great way to show off your gains in the gym, the shortening of these muscles are providing the strength to perform this task. We call this shortening a concentric contraction. Kegels are concentric contractions too! A good kegel will cause the pelvic floor to shorten and provide strength. Let’s go back to our body builder for a second. She has done her lift now she needs to lower her dumbbell back to the floor. In order to lower that dumbbell back to the floor in a controlled way, she needs what’s called an eccentric contraction, which is the controlled lengthening of the muscle. If she did not have a good eccentric contraction she may not be able to lower that weight effectively after she curled it. What if she couldn’t lower her bicep at all or just very slowly after her bicep curl? Maybe her weightlifting wouldn’t be as effective, she’d tire more easily, or she could develop pain. Would you tell this woman that more bicep curls would help? Or might you suggest a program of stretching first? Telling someone to do kegels, when you don’t know the status of their pelvic floor and how well it can relax is similar to telling the bodybuilder with the non relaxing bicep to just do more bicep curls. At best it certainly won’t help the situation and at worst it could cause more pain and dysfunction.

“But Fiona, I have incontinence, so that definitely means I have weaknesses, so it’s good for me to do kegels, right?”. Maybe… but in my experience, probably not. Let’s agree on one thing, it’s completely intuitive that people would think that kegels would help incontinence. The muscles of the pelvic floor are responsible for continence… so they must be weak if one is experiencing incontinence. You are right! When we think weak with muscles, we often think weak and loose, which is one form of weakness, but we rarely think weak and tight. Let’s go back to our body builder lady. She deserves a name at this point. Let’s call her Kendra. If Kendra has a tough time moving her lifting her arm from fully straight to a full bicep curl, we could guess she is weak and loose. But if Kendra could not fully straighten her arm out she would be considered weak and tight. Both of these versions of Kendra would have trouble curling heavy weight. One Kendra due to frank weakness another Kendra because she simply does not have enough room or range of motion to generate enough force to curl that dumbell.

Tight and weak pelvic floors are a lot like second Kendra with the poor ability to lengthen her arm. Tight pelvic floors have less range of motion to generate force. You need a good amount of force from the pelvic floor to counteract the pressure of activities like lifting, coughing, laughing and sneezing and stay continent. Over loose and over tight pelvic floors can’t really do that.

If you have pain in your pelvis not from a medical condition, (although tight pelvic floors present with many medical conditions), your pelvic floor is probably tight. A tight pelvic floor may also have trigger points which can send pain to various locations in your genitals, back, legs, and abdomen. Continuing to tighten can cause this pain to get worse.

Treatments

So how do you know what to do? This is where a skilled pelvic floor physical therapist can come in handy. They can assess the muscles by touching them either externally or internally to determine what course of action is right for you. If you are loose and weak, HAPPY DAYS! Strengthening can help them get better. If you have tight and weak muscles, HAPPY DAYS again! Gentle lengthening, stretching and down training of the muscles can help them get better. Did you know, because a tight pelvic floor can cause weakness itself, returning the proper length to the muscles can restore strength, without actually needing to kegel?! Wild! Regardless of the situation happy days can be ahead.

Skilled PT

Really knowing the pelvic floor is a skill and requires advanced expertise.  Kegels should not be initiated, unless the physical therapist has carefully examined your pelvic floor. Not all therapists are trained to do that technique so it is important to inquire about their background before starting pelvic floor PT. There are a lot of different ways to treat the pelvic floor, to read more What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy . If you are interested in learning more give us a call at 212- 354-2622 for a free consult if you live in the greater NY/NJ/CT area.

Exercise, The Female Athlete, and the Pelvic Floor

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Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

In honor of National Women’s Health and Fitness Day ,September  28, we are exploring the benefits of regular exercise for women as well as addressing some pitfalls (pelvic floor included), that female athletes can fall into too. It is far too often that women find themselves sidelined from their favorite sports and fitness routines secondary to issues like orthopedic or sports-related pain or incontinence. Although all the issues outlined in this blog can occur to both genders, many of these conditions are more likely to happen to females, secondary to their pelvic structure and physiology.

 

Exercise and Its Benefits

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The benefits of exercise are too numerous to discuss every single one here and span the physical to the emotional. There are a number of conditions that have profound effects on the health of women nationwide. Let’s explore some of exercise’s specific benefits for these conditions together.

Heart Disease

According to the American Heart Association, Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the US and is responsible for 1 in 3 female deaths.  Exercise and a healthy lifestyle have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by 80%. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity to stave off heart disease.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is unfortunately a common affliction among white and asian urban dwelling females.  It is characterized by reduced bone density, which causes bones to be fragile and increases the risk of fracture in individuals that have osteoporosis. Exercise has been shown to be helpful in both reducing the risk of osteoporosis as well as improving the bone mineral density of those who already have osteoporosis.

Other benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Reduced risk of diabetes
  • Reduced risk of colon cancer
  • Improved psychological well being
  • Maintenance of healthy body weight

Remember, it is important to consult with a trained healthcare professional before commencing a new fitness routine.

 

The Female Athlete Triad- Aka the Downside

All things in moderation. Although exercise is beneficial it is easy to over do it. It becomes easier to slip into an unhealthy relationship with exercise, especially in women who are training at elite levels, have eating disorders, or body dysmorphia issues.

The  female athlete triad consists of three disorders that can have severe health consequences in both the near and long term. The three disorders that compose the female athlete triad are:femaletriad

  1. Disordered Eating
  2. Ammenorrhea (absent periods or periods that are irregular)
  3. Osteoporosis

The female athlete triad is often attributed to the expectation that women keep a slender appearance. Girls and women who have body image issues may be at greater risk. The female athlete triad is dangerous and has the potential to be deadly. Osteoporosis can result  in fractures and eating disorders can seriously impact fertility, or even throw off the delicate balance of electrolytes in their system, putting them at serious risk for a cardiac event.

Warning signs of the female athlete triad include:

  • Yellowing of skin
  • Stress fractures
  • Rapid fluctuations in weight
  • Development of baby hair over skin
  • Daily vigorous exercise to an excessive level

 

The female athlete triad requires a multidisciplinary approach from medical, to psychological to nutrition.  It is important for someone who is suffering from the female athlete triad to seek help in order to safeguard their health and emotional well being.

 

Athletics and The Pelvic Floor

d14e2-tipsforahappyandhealthyvaginaLike any muscle, the pelvic floor can get fatigued, strained, or even go into a painful muscle spasm. The thing about the pelvic floor muscles, is that they have to work in almost every athletic pursuit. They work in partnership with the multifidus of the back, the transverse abdominus of the belly, and the diaphragm to stabilize and protect your spine. They also contract with every step during running activities to prevent your pelvic organs from dropping down in your pelvic cavity and to prevent urinary and or fecal leakage. Things can go wrong when the pelvic floor or other core muscles don’t function properly. Athletes’ pelvic floors can become tight and restricted, preventing closure of sphincters and support of pelvic organs. They may go into spasm from working too hard to stabilize the spine, if one of the other core muscles is failing to pull its weight.

Recently there has been more work to investigate the link between athletes and pelvic floor dysfunction. A recent study found that self identified female triathletes suffer from urinary and fecal incontinence at rates as high as 37.4% and 28.0%, respectively. Similar results were also found on a group of runners. Of the triathletes studied, nearly a quarter of them fit the criteria for female athlete triad, discussed earlier in this post.

Does this mean you have to give up your penchant for running? NO! (hellooooooo the author of this post is a runner), but if you find yourself experiencing incontinence, pain, constipation, and or painful sex, something is wrong and you must intervene in order to protect your long term health and your ability to participate in your favorite sport. At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy we combine orthopedic and pelvic expertise to help return athletes to their sports in a more functional and less painful condition. We relax tight muscles of the pelvic floor, train the core, including the pelvic floor if needed, to do its fair share, and return normal postural and structural alignment to our patients. We work one on one with you to develop a home exercise plan to help you reach your goals and prevent a reoccurrence of your pelvic floor or core disorder.

 

Please come see us so you can return to your sport in a better and more optimal condition than when you started: http://www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com/

 

 

Sources

American College of Sports Medicine. Information on … the female athlete triad. https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/the-female-athlete-triad.pdf. Accessed September 19, 2016

 

American Heart Association. Facts About Heart Disease in Women.  2016. https://www.goredforwomen.org/home/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts-about-heart-disease/. Accessed: September 6, 2016

 

Bø, K. Urinary incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction, exercise and sport. Sports Medicine, 34(7), 451-464. 2004.

 

Illinois Department of Public Health: Women’s Health. Facts about  women’s wellness exercise . http://www.idph.state.il.us/about/womenshealth/factsheets/exer.htm Accessed: September 13 2016

 

Loyola University Health System. “Female triathletes at higher risk for pelvic floor disorders.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 August 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160823165743.htm>.

 

Stampfer M, Hu F, Manson J, et al. Primary prevention of coronary heart disease in women through diet and lifestyle. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2000; 343(1). 16- 22
Todd J, Robinson R. Osteoporosis and exercise. Postgrad Med J. 2003; 79:320-23

Beyond Basics’s Pro-Bono Clinic for PT Day of Service!

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Victoria LaManna, DPT

October is around the corner! And a busy month for many. Whether you are getting back into the swing of school or work after summer vacation, preparing your Halloween costume or getting ready for all the upcoming holidays right around the corner – there is a lot going on!
This time of year is also an opportunity to do good and give back. October is National Physical Therapy Month, where physical therapists celebrate their amazing field of healing and getting people back to optimal function. In addition, many of the PT’s throughout the U.S. give back to their communities during this month. This year we are taking it up a notch. Physical therapists WORLDWIDE are getting involved for the second annual Global PT Day of Service Saturday, October 15th. Whether it is by hosting a pro-bono clinic, serving in a soup kitchen, participating in a 5k for a cause, or cleaning up a community garden – physical therapists globally as a profession are coming together to make a positive impact on the world around them.
At Beyond Basics, we have decided to host a pro-bono clinic Saturday, October 1st to give back to those in the New York City area who may not have insurance or access to physical therapy. We are providing 30 minute one-on-one evaluations and recommendations for home programs to up to 30 participants. For more information and to sign up please visit: http://signup.com/go/Nu1T4Q
You can also check out PT Day of Service here and follow on twitter (#PTDOS) to see how the day unfolds! http://ptdayofservice.com/
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is also involved in hosting National Physical Therapy Month. This year the APTA’s focus is on it’s national public awareness campaign, #ChoosePT. This campaign lets consumers know about the risks of opioid use and that physical therapy is a safe, non-opioid alternative for managing pain.
I encourage you to check out educational resources provided by the APTA (www.apta.org) and Move Forward PT (http://www.moveforwardpt.com/Default.aspx). Learn all about how physical therapy can help you overcome pain without the use of opiods, improve mobility and maintain independence throughout your lifetime.

day-of-service

Amy is Live with Integrated Pelvic Health!

Fiona McMahon DPT

amy2016What would you ask a pelvic floor physical therapy expert about exercise, or about the pelvic health as an athlete, if you had the chance? Don’t miss Amy Stein, founder of Beyond Basics Physical Therapy and author of Heal Pelvic Pain answer some commonly asked questions in a webinar hosted by well-renowned Jessica Drummond of Integrated Women’s Health Institute. Jessica is a nutritionist specializing in abdomino-pelvic health and dysfunction.  She will be interviewing Amy on the athlete and pelvic floor dysfunction, treatment paradigms, and practical tips for relieving the under active and the overactive pelvic floor.

Details:

Time: Friday, Sept 23, from 12-1pm EST.

Place: www.facebook.com/IntegrativePelvicHealth

Remember this interview can be replayed later if you cannot view it live.

 

 

Resources for Pelvic Pain:

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy: http://www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com/

 

Heal Pelvic Pain: http://www.healpelvicpain.com/

 

Integrated Women’s Health Institute: http://integrativewomenshealthinstitute.com/

 

Link to hear Amy and many other wonderful pelvic health experts speak in December about the female athlete and pelvic floor dysfunction:

https://km132.isrefer.com/go/WIWH/AStein/

 

A Fitbit for your Vagina?!

Fiona McMahon, DPT

Elvie

 

For a while you could find me strolling around the clinic with a little fitness tracker on my wrist. I used it to track my steps, sleep, and heart rate. I’m a girl who loves gadgets and apps. From Venmo to Spotify, technology enriches my life and makes it easier. So when Elvie sent their kegel trainer to Beyond Basics, I jumped at the chance to volunteer myself guinea pig, to try out this new fitness tracker.

 

Unboxing, Aesthetics, and Set Up

Man, oh man is the product design gorgeous on this one. It comes in a beautiful silver embossed box with the tagline “ your most personal trainer”  ( wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Inside there is an inch diameter cylinder “vessel” for lack of a better term, which houses the Elvie tracker. The vessel functions as both a carrying case and a charger. It’s pretty slick looking.

The Elvie itself looks like a little tadpole with a tail. It’s about an inch long and half an inch in diameter not counting its little tail. There is also an optional cover provided in the box, which may be more comfortable for some ladies.

The whole set up: The tracker had the feel of opening an iphone, in that the directions provided in the tracker were kept pretty minimal. There was a small pamphlet with cleaning instructions, on charging, how to insert, and exercise. As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I definitely felt that the instructions on how to properly kegel left a lot to be desired. The instructions were literally two bullet points instructing the user not to hold her breath or tighten her buttocks, while she lifts her “pelvic floor”. For many of my patients, I find that they come to me with little knowledge of how to properly kegel or are doing it wrong, “lift the pelvic floor” is rarely a cue that allows for a fully correct kegel.

My next step was to download the Elvie app. I have an iPhone 6. You need a smartphone to run the elvie. They recommend iPhone 5 or later or Android phones running version 4.3 or later. The app download was easy. It was time to get started.

 

Elvie: Day 1

The moment of truth had arrived. Time to insert one of the cuter inanimate objects I had come accross “up there”. “Bye, little guy. Safe travels” I thought as I bid Elvie adieu. Insertion was no problem. For me, it was pretty comfortable, the caveat being, I have a pretty healthy pelvic floor. The one thing I did not like was that Elvie’s tail kept bopping me in the clitoris, which wasn’t very comfortable. Other than that no complaints.

The first thing I did was try and trick Elvie into thinking I was kegeling when I wasn’t (I really want to ensure this thing is fool proof). Elvie is unfortunately a gullible little thing. Bulging my pelvic floor, ( mimicking the action you would do to have a bowel movement, essentially the opposite of a kegel) and thrusting my hips tricked Elvie into thinking I was doing a really good job when I wasn’t. My favorite activity to trick Elvie was to do a little dance around my bedroom, while wiggling my bottom. Thank goodness my doors lock.

But enough goofing off, it was time to give Elvie a good old honest college try. The package recommends either standing or lying to do your kegel exercises, but they say to pick a position and stick with it. I chose lying down.

The minute I got on the bed, Elvie’s connection was lost. Poor Elvie! It was deep inside a strange place with no connection to the outside world. The app instructed me to move my phone closer to my vagina, which restored the connection but was pretty awkward, kind of like my lady parts were trying to facetime someone.

Once I got through the technical difficulties, I loved the way the exercise program was set up. They have 3 different stages that work on pulsing or “quick flicks”, endurance, and pure power. I was mediocre at all three, but it gave me a good start to go with.

Screengrab
Screen grab from the Elvie App

 

Elvie Day 2:

Today was the day I decided to experiment with how distracted one can be while using Elvie. We all like to multitask, so I decided to try it out while continuing my current Netflix binge. It was a bad idea, I missed a lot of my targets and kept forgetting to keep my legs open to allow Elvie to stay connected. It was clear to me that Elvie requires your full attention to get any benefit from it. I did improve on my ability to pulse and my endurance, which was super gratifying.

After I was done with my workout I spent some time exploring the app. Nestled in the “help” section, were much more detailed and helpful directions for performing a correct pelvic floor contraction. I wish this was more easily accessible. I think the lack of concise directions was a major failing of this product.

 

Elvie Day 3:

I decided this would be my last day using Elvie. I run on the tighter side of things, and I know from my clinical experience that doing kegels on an already tight pelvic floor can cause a whole host of issues from constipation, fecal leakage, painful sex, even urgency urinary incontinence!

I decided to give my all out full attention to the vagina workout ahead of me, but first I would try and cheat again. Lying down I tried my old tricks, wiggling my butt, thrusting my hips, but Elvie was not fooled! It appears that lying on your back is a way better way to train your pelvic floor using Elvie.

My last day, I really had the hang of things. I had no connectivity issues and was able to complete the whole workout uninterrupted. The only bummer was that on two of the three measures, I regressed!

 

Thoughts on Elvie

My thoughts on this device are mixed. It is so rare that I see someone walk into the clinic only needing strengthening of the pelvic floor. Usually there is some component of tightness or boney (structural) malalignment that needs to be corrected before kegels can be done effectively or safely.

For those patients who only require strengthening, I think Elvie can make an excellent motivator to regularly do your kegel exercises. I would eliminate the pure power part of the Elvie exercise program. Doing a max contraction of the pelvic floor usually does more harm than good. In a perfect scenario, I see Elvie being used by patients under the guidance of a pelvic floor physical therapist and only doing the “pulse” and “hold” portions of the program. These are patients who have been screened for any tightness or trigger points that may need treatment before starting out with strengthening

 

Pros and Cons of Elvie

 

Cons

  • Not appropriate for everyone
  • Poor connectivity to iphone
  • Not always consistent in measuring a true kegel versus a fake one, especially in standing
  • Requires a later model smart phone
  • Only brief instructions easily accessible
  • Max contraction not very helpful

Pros

  • Charts on the App to track your progress
  • Incredibly adorable product design
  • Much more comfortable than many other biofeedback sensors
  • Structured training program to target many components of muscle function

Pro Tips for Elvie

  • Use Elvie lying down; it’s way more accurate that way
  • Use a water based lube for insertion, silicone lubricants usually don’t mix with instruments designed to go into the vagina
  • If you have pain, Elvie is definitely not for you. Even if you don’t have pain it is wise to consult with a pelvic floor physical therapist to ensure that your muscles are not in fact, too tight and that you are doing the exercise correctly.

Disclaimer: Product was provided by Elvie. No other form of compensation was provided by Elvie for this review.

Stop Doing Kegels: Real Pelvic Floor Advice For Women (and Men)

By Amy Stein, DPT

You can never do too many Kegels, right? Wrong. Katy Bowman of the Restorative Exercise Institute discusses how to really strengthen your pelvic floor – during pregnancy and otherwise.

This is a great article explaining the overactive pelvic floor in relation to the gluteal muscles and the sacrum and why you shouldn’t do pelvic floor strengthening.  These men and women need pelvic floor lengthening and relaxation techniques to calm the muscles and the CNS, Central Nervous System.  Squatting helps open the pelvic floor during bowel movements and for women during delivery. There is a time and place for pelvic floor muscle strengthening. (Kegels). This is when there is pure weakness in the muscles and tissues without shortening or tightening. Skeletal misalignment needs to be addressed in both the underactive and the overactive pelvic floor in order to address any muscle imbalances, that could be causing weakness and/or overactivity.  All of this is described in my book, Heal Pelvic Pain, and many exercises and manual techniques are explained however seeking out an expert pelvic floor therapist is essential to assess and treat the dysfunctions.

Reach out to us and learn more about treating pelvic floor dysfunctions!

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Image via PlayBuzz

Personal Training

There are innumerable benefits to having a strong pelvic floor–from stronger urinary continence to better orgasms–and one of the ways to do that is through Kegel exercises, as we’ve definitely heard before. Just squeeze the same muscles you would as if you were looking to stop your flow of urine. But you can also use Kegel exercisers to do this! In a recent article on Health magazine’s website, “Very Personal Trainers: Kegel Devices to Work Your Pelvic Floor,” writer Rachel Swalin lists some Kegel gadgets to add some extra strength where you might not be able to do so on your own: there’s Elvie, kGoal, and Skea, all of which have corresponding smartphone apps to track your progress!

It’s important to remember, though, that with the Kegel exerciser, you should NOT overdo it. A couple of times per week at 10 to 20 reps each time is fine, if you have no problems. Three times per day is sufficient if you do have leaking, but really if you have any pelvic, tailbone, lower abdominal pain or urinary/bowel frequency and urgency, you should consult a pelvic floor physical therapist first. Amy’s book, Heal Pelvic Pain, is only $12 on Amazon and it explains Kegels really well as well as adjunctive exercises to go along with the Kegels. It also goes into detail when to and not to do Kegels, so take a read before jumping into your new purchase.