Thank you Dr. Northrup for sharing great information about pelvic floor dysfunction. I am a physical therapist and board-certified women’s clinical specialist. I’ve been practicing pelvic physical therapy since 1999. Over the years I have realized that we as women to not have basic information to take care of our bodies and never discuss the ‘secret’ pelvic area. I have such a passion for bringing this information forward that I wrote a book Pelvic Zone Coach, Every Wonan’s Guide To Pelvic Health and Sexual Vitality (available on Amazon).
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!
The therapist may do manual therapy or massage both externally and internally to stabilize your pelvis before using other kinds of treatment. Manual therapy takes time and patience, and may require one to three sessions per week, depending on the technique used and your response to treatment. You may feel worse initially. However, many patients see improvement after six to eight weeks.
The term “vaginal massage” may not be legit—practitioners don’t like to use it—but the treatment is. In fact, it’s part of a well-rounded therapy regimen for pelvic floor physical therapy. Certified specialists in this field can help women who are dealing with pain during sex—something 75% of women experience at some point in life, according to research.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Biofeedback is now the most common treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction. It is usually done with the help of a physical therapist and it improves the condition for 75% of patients, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It is non-invasive, and after working with a physical therapist, you may be able to use a home unit to continue with this therapy.
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.
Breathe from your diaphragm. Your inner core is made up of your pelvic floor, your transversus abdominus and multifidus, and your diaphragm. When everything is working optimally, your diaphragm and pelvic floor move in sync. However, when you suck in your gut, slouch over your computer, or experience chronic tension, this pattern gets disrupted. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, lie down on your back. You can put a pillow under your knees, but you want a neutral spine. Place one hand just above your belly button. Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your inhale to expand your belly. Feel your upper belly rise under your hand. Keep your upper chest, shoulders, and neck muscles relaxed as you inhale. Then release your breath without forcing it out. Feel your chest and belly drop. Do this for 1-2 minutes and work up to doing this for 5 minutes and several times per day.
^ Mateus-Vasconcelos, Elaine Cristine Lemes; Ribeiro, Aline Moreira; Antônio, Flávia Ignácio; Brito, Luiz Gustavo de Oliveira; Ferreira, Cristine Homsi Jorge (2018-06-03). "Physiotherapy methods to facilitate pelvic floor muscle contraction: A systematic review". Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 34 (6): 420–432. doi:10.1080/09593985.2017.1419520. ISSN 0959-3985. PMID 29278967. S2CID 3885851.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is common for many women and includes symptoms that can affect all aspects of everyday life and activities. Pelvic floor muscle (PFM) training is vital for treating different types of pelvic floor dysfunction. Two common problems are uterine prolapse and urinary incontinence both of which stem from muscle weakness. Without the ability to control PFM, pelvic floor training cannot be done successfully. Being able to control PFM is vital for a well functioning pelvic floor. Through vaginal palpation exams and the use of biofeedback the tightening, lifting, and squeezing actions of these muscles can be determined. In addition, abdominal muscle training has been shown to improve pelvic floor muscle function. By increasing abdominal muscle strength and control, a person may have an easier time activating the pelvic floor muscles in sync with the abdominal muscles. Many physiotherapists are specially trained to address the muscles weaknesses associated with pelvic floor dysfunction and through intervention can effectively treat this.
Great article thank you. I notice urinary leaking occurs after about mid morning (so i always exercise first thing in the morning) and then can be either worse or non existent during the month. I’m assuming hormones are at play but havent worked out if a pattern exists … yet. I think I’ve dealt with it but then it’s back!! Look forward to implementing these points.
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.
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.