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!
In order for the processes of urination and defecation to go smoothly, the various muscles within the pelvis need to act in a coordinated manner. In some cases, the muscles contract when they should be relaxing, or the muscles do not relax sufficiently to facilitate coordinated movement. Problems with the pelvic floor muscles can lead to urinary difficulties and bowel dysfunction. PFD is experienced by both men and women.
Pelvic floor dysfunction can be diagnosed by history and physical exam, though it is more accurately graded by imaging. Historically, fluoroscopy with defecography and cystography were used, though modern imaging allows the usage of MRI to complement and sometimes replace fluoroscopic assessment of the disorder, allowing for less radiation exposure and increased patient comfort, though an enema is required the evening before the procedure. Instead of contrast, ultrasound gel is used during the procedure with MRI. Both methods assess the pelvic floor at rest and maximum strain using coronal and sagittal views. When grading individual organ prolapse, the rectum, bladder and uterus are individually assessed, with prolapse of the rectum referred to as a rectocele, bladder prolapse through the anterior vaginal wall a cystocele, and small bowel an enterocele.
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When mechanical, anatomic, and disease- and diet-related causes of constipation have been ruled out, clinical suspicion should be raised to the possibility that PFD is causing or contributing to constipation. A focused history and digital examination are key components in diagnosing PFD. The diagnosis can be confirmed by anorectal manometry with balloon expulsion and, in some cases, traditional proctography or dynamic magnetic resonance imaging defecography to visualize pathologic pelvic floor motion, sphincter anatomy and greater detail of surrounding structures.
I have been on this earth almost eighty years, no meds, and have not had these symptoms–yet. I had 5 pregnancies, and one episiotomy birthing one large baby, no hysterectomy. I am not overweight nor do I have a flat butt. Here are some things I’ve done over the years and now am wondering if it may have helped. I don’t know if this was developing core muscles, but when I was a kid, and through most of my life, when I went to bed I would hold my stomach in until I went to sleep. Odd, I know, but I have never had back problems. A strong stomach keeps your back strong. I garden, and have always done squats, still can, although lately I squat without thinking about it and notice it’s less easy to get back up. By doing most things my self I get plenty of exercise and I walk daily. Exercise and diet helps constipation problems. I think as we get older we don’t empty our bladder fully. If you have to lean forward, to the sides, or back or bounce a little, do it. And, true confession, I have a tiny extra bathroom where I can place my feet on the wall–works great for a Squatty Potty. Lastly, keep having orgasms.
^ Masterson, Thomas A.; Masterson, John M.; Azzinaro, Jessica; Manderson, Lattoya; Swain, Sanjaya; Ramasamy, Ranjith (October 2017). "Comprehensive pelvic floor physical therapy program for men with idiopathic chronic pelvic pain syndrome: a prospective study". Translational Andrology and Urology. 6 (5): 910–915. doi:10.21037/tau.2017.08.17. PMC 5673826. PMID 29184791.
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.
Use vaginal weights. Weightlifting strengthens your muscles. You gain the same effect when you use vaginal weights. Inserting cone-shaped weights into your vagina helps to train your pelvic floor muscles. You simply contract your pelvic floor muscles to keep the weight in place. You can find vaginal weights, such as Yoni Eggs, or Lelo balls, online. I find this approach far superior to the standard Kegel exercises which, in far too many women, just make the one small pubococcygeus muscle tight and don’t do much of anything with the rest of the pelvic floor.
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.
A defecating proctogram is a test where you’re given an enema of a thick liquid that can be seen with an X-ray. Your provider will use a special video X-ray to record the movement of your muscles as you attempt to push the liquid out of the rectum. This will help to show how well you are able to pass a bowel movement or any other causes for pelvic floor dysfunction. This test is not painful.
Get therapy. A women’s health physical therapist (WHPT) can diagnose and treat pelvic floor issues. They often perform manual therapy where the therapist gently massages, stretches and releases the spasms and trigger points in the deep tissue of your vagina. This, alone, can sometimes be enough to resolve symptoms of PFD, including urinary incontinence and pelvic pain. Some WHPTs partner with OB/GYNs, urologists, and other specialists. Your first session may include an internal exam to assess your pelvic floor. Then your therapist will create a program that is right for you. Women who have PFD and have practiced Kegels with little or no results typically benefit from seeing a WHPT. You can search the American Physical Therapy Association website for a licensed WHPT.
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.
“I would recommend that people call the facility and maybe schedule the first appointment and see how you feel about it. I also think patient support groups tend to have closed Facebook groups and they can recommend people in certain geographical areas. I know people call [our practice] a lot and we try and get them paired up with somebody we trust in their area,” Prendergast says.