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

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

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

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

Treatment of Low Back Pain

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

Treating the Pelvic Floor to Address Low Back Pain

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

The Relationship Between the Pelvic Floor and the Low Back

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

Conclusion:

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

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

Thank you so much for reading our blog.

K5 (2)

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

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

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622 (42nd Street Location)

212-267-0240 (William Street Location)

Sources

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a Bladder Whiz! Healthy Bladder Tips for All!

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT and Amy Stein PT, DPT

bathroom-ceramic-floor-127726

 

So we busted some myths in our last Pelvic Floor Myth Buster Blog, where we discussed whether or not holding your pee causes urinary tract infections. If you haven’t gotten a chance, check it out here. People living with bladder conditions, like pain, hesitancy, frequency, post void dribbling, and incontinence know that an unruly bladder can be really disruptive. In this blog, we are going to take some time to discuss some practical tips and tips you can employ right now to tame an unruly bladder. Many of these tips come from Amy’s book, Heal Pelvic Pain, available here.

So what are we working with?

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:
Many 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 part of aging, cancer, or infection, will restrict the flow of urine out of the urethra, resulting in a weak stream, painful, burning urination, and difficulty urinating (however, the same thing happens with tight pelvic floor muscles with or without prostate involvement, which makes bladder issues super confusing).

Another important difference between guys and gals are the respective length of their urethras. Male urethras are a lot longer than female urethras. This is one of the reasons women 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.

So how do I help my bladder?

Posture

If you are having problems fully emptying your bladder or you have post void leakage (dribbling 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.

Stretch!

Here’s a great stretch from Amy Stein’s book, Heal Pelvic Pain available here in hard copy and digital download.

pelvic health book pics 001

Here’s how to do the stretch

1. Lie on a firm surface-on a mat on the floor or on a hard mattress. Bring your knees up to your chest and then let them relax and rotate out to the side so that they flare outward. Use your hands to hold your knees in this position.

2. Stretch as you deep-breathe for six to eight breaths. Do not bounce, and do not push hard. Just gradually and progressively fill and empty your lungs.

3. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. Do three repetitions, two to four times a day. 

Bladder Training

If you have bladder frequency or leakage with urge 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, gentle stretches, 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.

 

Diet

This can make such a huge difference. My boss and Beyond Basic’s founder, Amy Stein, writes in her book Heal Pelvic Pain, that we should really try to get eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, and try to finish them at least two hours before bed, to reduce your chance of needing to go at night. We call this symptom, nocturia.

As far as things we chew on, many foods can irritate the bladder, but not all foods bother everyone in the same way. It’s all about experimenting to find your triggers. Some common foods include food high in sugar, spices, acid (like tomatoes and citrus), tannins (like in wine). John’s Hopkins has a really good list, which you can access here. This list is totally overwhelming at first blush, but remember my bladder irritant may not be yours. Typically you will know shortly after eating the offender, on the same day. So the best thing to do is to try the suspected bladder irritants one at a time to see if you can identify a triggering food or drink.

Manage Constipation

The bladder does not have a lot of space, where it lives. In front of it lies the pubic bone, behind it lies a vagina for some of us, the rectum, and then the sacrum bone. The bones sandwich the bladder like bookends. Although these bones have some movement, which we treat, it’s not enough to allow for much more space for the bladder if your rectum is full of poo from being constipated. With an overfilled rectum, the bladder gets squashed against the pubic bone. With a squashed bladder, you may not empty it as well, feel urgency, or even experience bladder leakage. Therefore, avoid constipation at all costs! We advise our patients to drink more water and eat more soluble and insoluble fibers.

 

Physical Therapy Can Help Cure!

Physical therapy is considered a mainstay and the number one treatment for musculoskeletal causes of bladder disorders and bladder and urethral pain. Expert pelvic floor physical therapists (PFPTs) 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. PFPTs can work to relax spasmed muscles, treat constipation contributing to bladder issues, improve your toilet posture, reduce tightness and shortening of tissues 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 to see us. There is so much we can do to help!

fiona2018amy2016

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)

A Holiday Gift for You! BBPT is Offering Free Consults for People Living in the Greater NYC Area!

Group Serious 2

Any persistent pain or chronic back or pelvic pain can be tough. It is tough to have and often times it can be extremely isolating. Many of our patients have to go through a number of clinicians before they even get a diagnosis of pelvic floor dysfunction. If you are reading this blog, you probably have some questions about pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you.

We are here to help. If you are living in the Greater New York Area and have some questions about orthopedic, sports or pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you, I encourage you to call our office. For a limited period of time, we are offering free 15-minute phone consults with our licensed physical therapists to patients in the greater New York Area. For those of you living outside this area, a fee may apply to the consult but can be applied towards payment for a PT visit if you chose to visit us. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about your pelvic floor and what PT can do for you.

The Physical Therapists at Beyond Basics also treat orthopedic (sport and joint injuries), pediatric pelvic floor dysfunction and orthopedic injury, and much more. Give us a call to discuss how PT can help with any one of these issues!

All the best,

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622 (42nd Street Location)

212-267-0240 (William Street Location)

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

awareness cancer design pink
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Fiona McMahon, DPT

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
    • Swelling
    • Shrinkage
    • Dimpling
    • Change of nipple orientation
  • Discharge from nipple

Detection

Recommended Screening:

Mammogram

  • 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.

 

Genetic Testing

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).

victoria2016Victoria 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

Sources:

http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/. Accessed: September 24, 2016

National Cancer Institute. BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics/brca-fact-sheet#q1. Accessed September 25,2016

http://www.beyondbasicspt.com/lymphedema

Life After Giving Birth: Trying to Get Back to Competing After Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP)

Note from Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

In this blog, our guest writer is talking about pelvic girdle pain (PGP), which can often get confused with pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD), although they are related, they are different conditions. For pelvic floor dysfunction, we often caution against just strengthening the pelvic floor. Often times the pelvic floor muscles are over tightened and tense and strengthening often can worsen the situation. Pelvic girdle pain refers to issues around the pelvic bones and sacrum. Both can occur during pregnancy but often require different treatment approaches. If you have pain, come see us at BBPT.

ball court design game
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Exclusively written for BeyondBasicsPTBlog.com

By: AvaFreya

Back in college, I used to be an avid tennis player and even had the chance of representing my school in intercollegiate tournaments. I would wake up at 5 am for three-hour training sessions all the while trying to balance my studies. But after college, the corporate life sucked me in, and I was lucky if I got to play for an hour every other week.

Then after childbirth, my life consisted of trying to raise a beautiful baby boy. I haven’t picked up my racket in months. It’s not because I don’t have time for things other than raising my child – I’ve been blessed with a husband who assumes his fair share of the responsibility. What’s holding me back is my physical state. The pelvic girdle pain (PGP) I experienced during pregnancy never really went away postpartum. In truth though, it is not uncommon. The American Physical Therapy Association notes that many women continue to have the symptoms of PGP after birth.

It’s a scary thought not to be able to do something you used to love so much. Compared to other stories I’ve heard, my case can be considered mild, but I had to seek help if I wanted to play again. Beyond Basics Physical Therapy led me to Pilates and I learned to channel my breathing in a way that it gently engages my pelvic floor [ remember this may be appropriate for PGP but not necessarily PFD]. It has been a great way to reintroduce strength to my core, considering that pregnancy has changed my body in more ways than one. When I get nostalgic and look at pictures from my glory days, I barely recognize myself. Where are the muscular legs, rock hard abs, and enviable arms? Not in this 34-year-old body of mine, that’s for sure. But I’m committed to gaining control over my body and getting back to the court.

But in the five months that I’ve been doing painstaking therapy, my sacroiliac joint feels a lot better, and I no longer feel stiff. During my recovery, Serena Williams was a great inspiration to me. For one, she’s a fantastic player, and Coral identified her as the highest paid female tennis player. More importantly, though, she’s a mom who never used her pregnancy as an excuse not to get a hold of her life. She probably even went through the same pain many other women, and I did. When I was bed-bound during my pregnancy, my idol was playing in the Australian Open while she was 8 weeks pregnant and even won the final.

Not all women’s bodies are the same or even experience pain similar to mine, but Williams continues to be my inspiration on and off the court. I have been playing tennis with my trainer—sometimes with my husband—and we sometimes play for as long as my stamina allows it. Torquing my hips doesn’t worry me anymore, in fear of a sudden crack of my bones anymore. On excellent days, I think that my backhand is even returning. Although I suspect that it will be a long time before I regain the level, I was playing at during college

Note from Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

We are so grateful to have AvaFreya share her experience of returning to tear up the court post baby! Everyone’s story evolves so differently with pregnancy and childbirth, which is what makes it both terrifying, exciting, and momentous, all the same time. The truth is some women bounce back on their own, (lucky duckies), others find it to be much more complicated. We recommend coming to visit a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist during pregnancy and after you give birth to guide you to a program that is right for you. We often run into women, who with the very best of intentions, started down a path that actually made them worse! Often times we see this with women doing excessive Kegels when their pelvic floor is already too active secondary to weakness somewhere else in the body. Frankly, it’s a total bummer and delays getting back to the things you love. If you have recently had a baby or are currently preggers, you owe it to yourself to see a pelvic floor physical therapist who can advise you on exercises to do on your own or treat you more intensively if you need it. Your time and your health are way too precious.

 

For more reading on pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions, please check out these blogs:

 

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

Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Lace up or Feet up? Running During Pregnancy

Why Do I Still Look Pregnant?!: Diastasis Recti, Part I

Why Do I Still Look Pregnant: Part II

Mind the Gap: Diastasis Recti Abdominis and What We Don’t Know: Part I

Mind the Gap Part II: Improving the Look and Function of the Mommy Tummy (Diastasis Recti)

 

 

 

We have offices in both midtown and downtown locations. If you recently have had a baby or are pregnant, please give us a call at

 

212-354-2622 (Midtown)

 

212-267-0240 (Downtown)

 

We are offering free phone consultations in both locations for a limited time!

 

 

Hypo-ed up? The use of Hypopressive Abdominal Exercise in Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

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Joanna Hess, PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

I’m a recent transplant to NYC. For the last four years, I was living abroad and working at a interdisciplinary sports hospital. I loved learning about physiotherapy culture around the world. We each had different contributions – the Greek wheel, Scandinavian eccentrics, Australian pain science, and Spanish hypopressives. Hypopressive exercises were magic exercises that helped resolve low back pain, prolapse, incontinence, and diastasis recti abdominis. So of course, I wondered, “Are Americans missing the boat?”

What are hypopressive exercises? And how do they work?

Hypopressive abdominal exercises (HAE) were developed by Marciel Caufriez as a response to the obsession with “the core” and the corresponding exercises (primarily crunches) that would increase downward pressure. Hypopressive abdominal exercises use a pressure gradient between the thorax (the upper part of your trunk) and abdominal cavity to create a “vacuum” effect. By creating a vacuum that draws pressure upward, your body automatically recruits transverse abdominis (TrA) and pelvic floor muscles (PFM). Both the PFM and TrA are core muscles and are important in many functions. The HAE sequence begins with static positions and progresses to dynamic and difficult movements. The set up for the exercise is:

  1. Three breaths filling the ribs making sure the sides are expanding.
  2. Breathe in focused on expanding ribs out and lower ribs up while minimizing belly movement.
  3. Then, breathe out working on spinal elongation and keeping ribs up and out. Hold the exhale for creating the vacuum and relaxing the diaphragm. The belly button should start to move up.
  4. Close the throat as if you were at the end of a swallow to lift, expand, inflate rib cage further increasing the vacuum and pressure differential—like an inhale, but without taking in air.

In diaphragmatic breath, inhalation causes the diaphragm to descend which increases intra-abdominal pressure and a reflexive eccentric contraction of the pelvic floor and abdominal wall(an eccentric contraction occurs when the muscles lengthen). Exhalation is a passive return to the diaphragm’s resting position and if it is a complete exhalation, the PFM and TrA will also contribute some activity. For the hypopressive vacuum, inhalation relies on upper chest and neck muscles instead of the respiratory diaphragm and intercostals (rib muscles). The inhalation lifts the rib cage up and gives more volume. The exhalation activates the PFM and TrA to compress the abdomen which increases the pressure of the abdomen. The pressure difference between the diaphragm is augmented by the closed inspiration and creates the vacuum that creates this automatic response. With HAE, the abdominal cavity has the same increase in pressure, possibly more, than with diaphragmatic breath, but because of the suction upwards, it feels like a different pressure.

What’s the relationship between hypopressive exercises and core coordination?

As measured by surface electromyography (EMG) and dynamic ultrasound, HAE consistently have comparable or less activation of the pelvic floor muscle and transverse abdominis than isolated, well-cued exercises (1-4). However, to increase TrA contraction, HAE with pelvic floor muscle contraction recruits more fibers more than pelvic floor contraction alone (4). HAE biases activation of deeper stabilizers–transverse abdominis, internal obliques, and pelvic floor over the more superficial rectus abdominis and external obliques(6). No research has evaluated the HAE claims of decreased downward abdominal cavity pressure. While HAE are progressed with consideration for increasing challenge, they are not incorporated into everyday positions which has an impact on the body’s ability to integrate into a task.

So, will hypopressive exercises fix my problems?

The solution for downward pressure gone wrong is not forcing upward pressure, but addressing why the body lost its adaptability for life’s demands. I rarely use hypopressive abdominal exercises as treatment for problems of the pressure system–pelvic organ prolapse, stress incontinence, diastasis recti abdominis, lumbar disc herniations, and ventral hernias. Studies show that HAE do not have an advantage over conventional TrA and PFM exercises (8) in losing postpartum weight (9), improving pelvic organ prolapse symptoms (2,4,5), or correcting diastasis recti (10).

Besides being less effective than conventional exercises for strengthening and symptom relief, HAE exchange downward and outward pressure for upward pressure and compensatory muscle patterns. This could show up as gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), hiatal hernias, hyperinflated lungs with increased sympathetic drive (and immediate lightheadedness), restricted diaphragm, forward neck posture, or thoracic outlet syndrome. The respiratory diaphragm has a mechanical advantage for respiration over upper chest and neck muscles which have other postural functions.

Escaping gravity is not yet sustainable which means, normal life—breathing, digestion, walking, and laughing—includes downward pressure. If the goal is to decrease pressure on the pelvic floor, lying down with hips elevated, headstand, downward dog, or inversion table—none of these translate into movements of everyday life, but they also do not alter the body’s normal respiration and stabilization patterns. “First do no harm.”

If someone is having difficulty isolating the PFM and TrA, I would connect with diaphragmatic breath, vary effort level, try different verbal and manual cues, and modify the relative position of the pelvis to the spine (7). After correcting the mechanical “pressure problem,” I would use HAE if an individual is still having great difficulty identifying the transverse abdominis and over-recruiting the rectus abdominis. But, I then would progress out of HAE to a isolated strengthening progression integrated into functional movements. HAE is also one of many tools that can help in decreasing acute low back pain associated with muscle spasm.

I nod at the centuries of wisdom of yoga that note benefit from hypopressive practices for posture, digestion, invigoration, and automatic recruitment of core stability. But let’s also remember the time-tried basics of a healthy movement-filled lifestyle. As more studies are published, I look forward to learning more about subgroups and larger functional goals for which HAE have benefit. For now, the magic bullet for pelvic floor dysfunction is not hypopressive abdominal exercises. Isolated pelvic floor and transverse abdominis activation may be old-school, but are well-researched with strong support and are overwhelmingly more beneficial than HAE at addressing symptom alleviation and muscle strengthening.

 

Thank you so much for reading our blog, if you think physical therapy can help you. Please give us a call at either our midtown location 212-354-2622 or our downtown location 212-267-0240. We are offering free phone consultations at both offices for a short period!

Joanna Hess is a treating therapist at our downtown location

Joanna Lee Hess

References

1. Brazalez BN, Lacomba MT, Mendez OS, Martin MA. The abdominal and pelvic floor muscular response during a hypopressive exercise: dynamic transabdominal ultrasound assessment. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(Suppl 2):A22

2. Resende AP, Stüpp L, Bernardes BT, Oliveira E, Castro RA, Girão MJ, Sartori MG. Can hypopressive exercises provide additional benefits to pelvic floor muscle training in women with pelvic organ prolapse?. Neurourology and urodynamics. 2012 Jan;31(1):121-5.

3. Resende AP, Torelli L, Zanetti MR, Petricelli CD, Jármy-Di Bella ZI, Nakamura MU, Júnior EA, Moron AF, Girão MJ, Sartori MG. Can Abdominal Hypopressive Technique Change Levator Hiatus Area?: A 3-Dimensional Ultrasound Study. Ultrasound quarterly. 2016 Jun 1;32(2):175-9.

4. Stüpp L, Resende AP, Petricelli CD, Nakamura MU, Alexandre SM, Zanetti MR. Pelvic floor muscle and transversus abdominis activation in abdominal hypopressive technique through surface electromyography. Neurourology and urodynamics. 2011 Nov;30(8):1518-21.

5. Bernardes BT, Resende AP, Stüpp L, Oliveira E, Castro RA, Jármy di Bella ZI, Girão MJ, Sartori MG. Efficacy of pelvic floor muscle training and hypopressive exercises for treating pelvic organ prolapse in women: randomized controlled trial. Sao Paulo Medical Journal. 2012;130(1):5-9.

6. Ithamar L, de Moura Filho AG, Rodrigues MA, Cortez KC, Machado VG, de Paiva Lima CR, Moretti E, Lemos A. Abdominal and pelvic floor electromyographic analysis during abdominal hypopressive gymnastics. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2018 Jan 1;22(1):159-65.

7. Sapsford R. Rehabilitation of pelvic floor muscles utilizing trunk stabilization. Manual therapy. 2004 Feb 1;9(1):3-12

8. Martín-Rodríguez S, Bø K. Is abdominal hypopressive technique effective in the prevention and treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction? Marketing or evidence from high-quality clinical trials?. Br J Sports Med. 2017 Sep 4:bjsports-2017.

9. Sanchez-Garcia JC, Rodriguez-Blanque R, Sanchez-Lopez AM, et al. Hypopressive abdominal physical activity and its includence on postpartum weight recovery: a randomized control trial. JONNPR. 2017; 2 (10): 473-483.

10. Gomez FR, Senin-Camargo FJ, Cancela-Cores A, et al. Effect of a hypopressive abdominal exercise program on the inter-rectus abdominis muscle distance in postpartum. Br J Sports Med 2018;52(Suppl 2):A21

Mind the Gap: Diastasis Recti Abdominis and What We Don’t Know: Part I

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Joanna Hess, PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

Summer holidays are approaching. You’re lounging at the beach and feeling quite proud of the ruffled swimsuit that guards the battle marks of the mom bod—the wrinkly and poochy belly. On the horizon, a woman in string bikini framing her flat tummy joins the four children sitting next to you. She must be their nanny, or maybe the children were adopted, or she probably had a surrogate. But after a short conversation, she reveals that in fact is the biological mother of these children and that she carried to full term. And when you awkwardly compliment her on the restoration of her college-era body, she nonchalantly shrugs and says, “Genetics? Maybe the coconut oil that we brought back from Bali?”

As the power of airbrushed social media images expand, the Cinderella stories of mummy tummy to model abs give hope to the many moms scrolling mindlessly on our phones passing the wee hours of childcare. These stories are powerful and inspiring, but do not reflect most of our situations, nor answer many elusive questions about diastasis recti abdominus.

What is Diastasis recti abdominis and why do we care?

Diastais recti abominis (DRA) is the excessive separation between the two sides of the rectus abdominis (the six pack muscle), which creates a pooching of the belly, particularly with difficult tasks. For this blog, the background information focuses on pregnancy related DRA while the application of the information can be used for any one with DRA. During the third trimester 100% of women have a DRA, defined as a separation >2 cm below the umbilicus (1). One answer to why we care about DRA is that we want our stomachs to look normal if not flat. The wrinkly skin stomach has not reached mass popularity on the runways. Another reason we care is because DRA has been assumed to predispose a long term sequelae of breakdown in the body. The cosmetic appearance associated with DRA improves as the inter-recti distance (IRD), the width between the bellies of the rectus abdominis, decreases.

As physical therapists, we screen for DRA in order to gain a larger understanding of how the body is working together. Many of us assume that the lack of stability in the front of the body will lead to compensations in other parts of the body—primarily the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and back. Dysfunction in these areas have been documented to be higher during pregnancy and the post-partum period (2). Physical therapists regularly address DRA when patients present with low back pain (LBP), pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence (3). A couple of studies looking at post-partum women seeking medical care for abdominal pain and pelvic floor dysfunction show a higher incidence of DRA in this populations (4,5). However, this is not to say that the DRA causes or predicts these conditions.

In recent prospective studies using ultrasound assessment, the assumption that DRA correlates to pelvic floor dysfunction and low back pain (LBP) is challenged. The findings suggest no relationship but even a possible protective mechanism of DRA during pregnancy, with no difference in LBP symptoms at one year postpartum regardless of DRA status. Of course, this is a statement of generalization to a study population and does not reflect the outliers, individual predispositions and presentation.

DRA During Pregnancy

No differences were found in pelvic floor function or in urinary incontinence between women regardless of DRA status, during or after pregnancy. Women presenting with DRA in their 2nd trimester were more likely to have higher vaginal resting pressures, strong pelvic floor muscles strength, and better endurance of pelvic floor muscles. The set of women with 2nd trimester DRA had lower BMI before pregnancy and during pregnancy with trend increased general physical activity (6)

DRA Post-Partum

Interestingly, women who at 6 weeks postpartum did not have a DRA were more likely to have a pelvic organ prolapse > Stage 2 (6). DRA status (none or mild) had no relationship with low back pain at 6 months (1) and 12 months postpartum (7). This corroborates another study showing no difference for DRA in women reporting LBP and that severity of DRA does not predict intensity of LBP when present (5). Heavy lifting >20x/week was shown to be a risk factor for postpartum DRA, but not age, pre-pregnancy BMI, 2nd trimester BMI, weight gain, caesarean or vaginal delivery, abdominal circumference at 35 weeks, hypermobility (p – 0.06), cardio and strength exercise, general abdominal and pelvic floor exercise (1). From the research available, we cannot predict from a group of postpartum women with DRA who will have symptoms that affect their daily living.

Looking a Little Deeper at Diastasis Recti Abdominis

As assumptions about DRA and its relationship to long term dysfunction start to shift, what is important to identify in a DRA presentation is also changing. The literature and clinical practice related to DRA mainly looks at the IRD, or the separation between the right and left muscle bellies of the rectus abdominis However, the focus on the widening of the linea alba may be less important than the ability of the linea alba to transfer forces and contribute to the stability of the abdominal muscles (8). A wide linea alba that holds tension and stabilizes the front of the abdomen with increased intra-abdominal pressures through functional task may be more desirable than a narrow linea alba with distortions that loses force and allows abdominal pressure to push forward through functional task. A pulled-apart and taut rubber band hold tension better than a relaxed and crumpled band. The width and depth of the linea alba need to be contextualized within the individual’s posture, daily movement, and functional core adaptability. The literature has yet to identify subgroups that would likely explain why some people have DRA that self-resolve and among those who don’t, why it impacts cosmetics and function in some people and not in others, why it seems to be a protective mechanism for some pelvic floor and low back conditions and exacerbating in others.

The linea alba is often connected to the rectus abdominis because of the focus of the IRD as a marker of DRA. However, the linea alba actually is the anatomical and functional intersection of all the abdominal muscles—the rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, and transverse abdominis, which is seen at a microscopic level with different angles of fibers in the linea alba. In a cadaver study looking at the collagen of the linea alba without DRA, previously pregnant women had thinner linea alba, but greater widths. Females who were previously pregnant had higher ratio transverse to oblique fibers—60% for females and 37.5% for males. The female cadaver that had never been pregnant had infraumbilical fibers more similar to males (9). The small size of this study limits its application, but perhaps an increase of transverse abdominis muscle activity in the lower abdominals is represented in the higher number fibers, and that this adapted activity resolved the DRA for these women.

Hormones may possibly play a role of the development of DRA for some women, but because DRA persist well after post-partum hormones return to normal. In men, hormones are unlikely to be the primary driving cause of persistent DRAs. Women who are breastfeeding do have a higher relationship with unresolved DRA until breastfeeding is concluded (5). However, no research has been conducted on this relationship and may add to another subgroup to explain the variance of women who spontaneously resolve and others who never resolved their DRAs.

 

Joanna is a treating therapist at our downtown location. Stay tuned for the next installment on this topic, Mind the Gap Part II: Diastasis Recti Abdominis: What we Can do About it.

To call and make an appointment with our expert PTs call:

212- 354- 2622 (Midtown)

212-267-0240 ( Downtown)

 

References:

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2. Lee DG, Lee LJ, McLaughlin L. Stability, continence and breathing: the role of fascia following pregnancy and delivery. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2008 Oct 1; 12(4):333-48.

3. Keeler J, Albrecht M, Eberhardt L, Horn L, Donnelly C, Lowe D. Diastasis recti abdominis: a survey of women’s health specialists for current physical therapy clinical practice for postpartum women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2012 Sep 1; 36

4. Spitznagle TM, Leong FC, Van Dillen LR. Prevalence of diastasis recti abdominis in a urogynecological patient population. International Urogynecology Journal. 2007 Mar 1; 18(3):321-8

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9. Axer H, Keyserlingk DG, Prescher A. Collagen fibers in linea alba and rectus sheaths: II. Variability and biomechanical aspects. Journal of Surgical Research. 2001 Apr 1; 96(2):239-45.

10. Liaw LJ, Hsu MJ, Liao CF, Liu MF, Hsu AT. The relationships between inter-recti distance measured by ultrasound imaging and abdominal muscle function in postpartum women: a 6-month follow-up study. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2011 July.

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