It’s highly unlikely that someone will head into a therapist’s office for a stand-alone “vaginal massage.” Why not? “It’s one small aspect of the whole therapy,” says Laura Y. Huang, MD, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She notes that pelvic floor muscle training, biofeedback, soft tissue release, and education are some of the many pelvic floor physical therapy treatments used to relieve pain or retrain muscles. Learning techniques and strategies to manage the condition at home is also part of treatment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My pelvic floor dysfunction has the opposite effect in terms of peeing. My bladder will not fully empty when I pee although I’ll wait and wait until a little more will come out, then I’ll go lie down because I have some burning sensation and discomfort. At that time, lying down, I will experience of flood of urine. my urologist wants to test me by filling my bladder up but that is counterintuitive to me so I’m not sure if I should have that test?
If you’re dealing with pelvic pain, Kotarinos recommends researching the International Pelvic Pain Society or the American Physical Therapy Association to find a qualified pelvic floor physical therapist. (You can also see your PCP for a referral.) Dr. Huang also suggests focusing on your health holistically, with things like stress management, regular exercise, and a well-balanced diet. “We want to educate and empower women to be in control,” she says.
There are various procedures used to address prolapse. Cystoceles are treated with a surgical procedure known as a Burch colposuspension, with the goal of suspending the prolapsed urethra so that the urethrovesical junction and proximal urethra are replaced in the pelvic cavity. Uteroceles are treated with hysterectomy and uterosacral suspension. With enteroceles, the prolapsed small bowel is elevated into the pelvis cavity and the rectovaginal fascia is reapproximated. Rectoceles, in which the anterior wall of the rectum protrudes into the posterior wall of the vagina, require posterior colporrhaphy.
Mechanistically, the causes of pelvic floor dysfunction are two-fold: widening of the pelvic floor hiatus and descent of pelvic floor below the pubococcygeal line, with specific organ prolapse graded relative to the hiatus. Associations include obesity, menopause, pregnancy and childbirth. Some women may be more likely to developing pelvic floor dysfunction because of an inherited deficiency in their collagen type. Some women may have congenitally weak connective tissue and fascia and are therefore at risk of stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
To assess the degree of dysfunction, three measurements must be taken into account. First, an anatomic landmark known as the pubococcygeal line must be determined, which is a straight line connecting the inferior margin of the pubic symphysis at the midline with the junction of the first and second coccygeal elements on a sagittal image. After this, the location of the puborectalis muscle sling is assessed, and a perpendicular line between the pubococcygeal line and muscle sling is drawn. This provides a measurement of pelvic floor descent, with descent greater than 2 cm being considered mild, and 6 cm being considered severe. Lastly, a line from the pubic symphysis to the puborectalis muscle sling is drawn, which is a measurement of the pelvic floor hiatus. Measurements of greater than 6 cm are considered mild, and greater than 10 cm severe. The degree of organ prolapse is assessed relative to the hiatus. The grading of organ prolapse relative to the hiatus is more strict, with any descent being considered abnormal, and greater than 4 cm being considered severe.
“I intentionally try and distract you during treatment, so that you don’t focus too much on the pain of the treatment. Furthermore, talking during our sessions continues to build rapport which is so important — it builds trust, makes you feel more comfortable, and also makes it more likely that you will return for your follow-up visits so that you will get better,” she says.