Once we determine the cause of our patient’s pelvic floor dysfunction, we design a plan tailored to the patient’s needs. At Beyond Basics, we have a diverse crew of physical therapists who bring their own training and background into each treatment. What is really beautiful about that, is that all teach and help each other grow as practitioners. It will be difficult to go over every single type of treatment in one blog post, but we will review some of the main staples of pelvic floor rehab.
Myofascial release is a more gentle technique that can be useful in cases where a patient is already experiencing a great deal of pain. The therapist will hold gentle pressure at the barrier of the tissue (the point where resistance is felt) for a short period of time, usually less than 2 minutes until the therapist feels the tissue release on its own. The therapist does not force the barrier.
May is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month (#PelvicPainAware), supported by the International Pelvic Pain Society (www.pelvicpain.org). As physical therapists who specialize in abdomino-pelvic pain disorders, one of the toughest parts of the job is meeting men and women who have suffered with pelvic pain for years, only to be told by their doctors/healthcare providers that there is no help for them. It is not uncommon to meet a patient who has suffered for 5- 10 years without help before finding us. Musculoskeletal causes of abdomino-pelvic pain are treatable conditions and often times we can start to improve a patient’s symptoms within just a few visits. We are promoting Pelvic Pain Awareness Month because it is our mission to ensure that people know that help exists so they can start living richer and fuller lives. In honor of Pelvic Pain Awareness Month we want to take some time to explain what we do and how it can help with the symptoms of pelvic pain. Please read on to see how we can help you with your pain.
Pelvic floor physical therapists specialize in the muscles, nerves and connective tissues that live between your legs, also known as the pelvic floor. They gain their expertise through a series of post-graduate continuing education classes, certifications, and training. Their training allows them to perform both internal and external pelvic exams, and broadens their knowledge of conditions which affect the pelvic floor. Sometimes, people who specialize in modalities like biofeedback or dilator therapy, advertise themselves as pelvic floor therapists, but don’t have any hands on experience treating the sensitive and often reactive muscles of the pelvic floor. If you are seeking pelvic floor physical therapy, it is important to enquire about the experience and level of training your potential physical therapist has had in this specialty.
Try squatting. Biomechanical specialist Katy Bowman points out that the gluteal muscles are the ones that are most important for pelvic floor function. Doing regular squats elongates your pelvic floor muscles and makes them more functional. Squats also help re-position your pelvis by balancing out the anterior pull of your sacrum. When you have a flat butt and no curve in the small of your back, that’s a sign that your pelvic floor is starting to weaken. Humans used to squat to eliminate urine and feces. Some cultures still use squat toilets. And, many cultures use the squat as a sitting position instead of using chairs. To do a deep squat (called malasana, or garland pose, in yoga), you may want to start with a towel or yoga mat rolled up under your heels, then lower yourself slowly until your tailbone is as close to the floor as possible with your heels still flat on the floor or your towel. You can practice deep squatting at home, at the gym, or at the yoga studio. You can also practice deep squats while playing with small children (notice how they do this!), gardening, and while using the toilet with the help of a Squatty Potty or something to lift your feet. In addition to strengthening your pelvic floor, you may notice fewer problems with your gut function, and may even avoid hemorrhoids. Note: many Westerners cannot do the deep squats that other cultures are brought up doing. We tend to lose this ability after childhood. Don’t worry about it. Just squat as low as you can while keeping your knees in alignment with your toes. I personally can’t do anywhere near the kind of squat that my 3-year-old granddaughter can do.
As many as 50 percent of people with chronic constipation have pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) — impaired relaxation and coordination of pelvic floor and abdominal muscles during evacuation. Straining, hard or thin stools, and a feeling of incomplete elimination are common signs and symptoms. But because slow transit constipation and functional constipation can overlap with PFD, some patients may also present with other signs and symptoms, such as a long time between bowel movements and abdominal pain.
Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves applied through a wand or probe on your skin to produce an internal image or to help treat pain. Real-time ultrasound can let you see your pelvic floor muscles functioning and help you learn to relax them. Therapeutic ultrasound uses sound waves to produce deep warmth that may help reduce spasm and increase blood flow or, on a nonthermal setting, may promote healing and reduce inflammation.
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.
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.
By definition, postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction only affects women who have given birth, though pregnancy rather than birth or birth method is thought to be the cause. A study of 184 first-time mothers who delivered by Caesarean section and 100 who delivered vaginally found that there was no significant difference in the prevalence of symptoms 10 months following delivery, suggesting that pregnancy is the cause of incontinence for many women irrespective of their mode of delivery. The study also suggested that the changes which occur to the properties of collagen and other connective tissues during pregnancy may affect pelvic floor function.
Biofeedback uses electrodes placed on your body (on the perineum and/or the area around the anus) or probes inserted in the vagina or rectum to sense the degree of tenseness in your pelvic floor muscles. Results displayed on a computer or other device provide cues to help you learn to relax those muscles. Usually, patients feel relief after six to eight weeks of therapy. You may be able to buy or rent a unit to use at home.
Try Biofeedback. Biofeedback can help you learn how to strengthen or relax your pelvic floor muscles. Using special sensors that track your pelvic floor muscle function, you can learn how to activate the correct muscles to keep your pelvic floor toned. This is typically done in an office setting by a nurse or trained therapist. The sessions are usually about an hour. You sit in a comfortable chair with your clothes on after the sensors have been put in place – usually one on your abdomen and the other in your anal canal. The sensors measure the electrical activity of your pelvic floor muscles – especially the ones that control bladder and bowel function – while you contract and release the muscles. There are also home biofeedback devices you can purchase, but you should still have a pelvic floor assessment by a professional before using.
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.
Your pelvic floor is the group of muscles and ligaments in your pelvic region. The pelvic floor acts like a sling to support the organs in your pelvis — including the bladder, rectum, and uterus or prostate. Contracting and relaxing these muscles allows you to control your bowel movements, urination, and, for women particularly, sexual intercourse.
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.
When your pelvic floor muscles are strong and flexible, you are able to control your bladder and bowels by contracting and relaxing the muscles and tissues in your pelvic floor. You also have better orgasms! When these muscles weaken due to habits, such as sitting too much and not moving your hips through their full range of motion, or from muscle tension due to chronic stress or overdeveloping the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, you can end up with Pelvic Floor Dysfunction.
Pain can emerge because of lifestyle factors and underlying medical problems. Sitting all day can affect the nerves in your saddle, which may translate into a burning pain in your vulva, explains Rhonda K. Kotarinos, DPT, a specialist in pelvic floor dysfunction in the Chicago area. The discomfort of chronic vaginal infections or holding urine all day long can also lead someone to “walk around with their pelvic floor clinched to their ears. It can make your pelvic floor very angry,” she says.
When some or all of these structures of the pelvic floor are not functioning properly, they can cause a multitude of different symptoms. People who are suffering from bowel, bladder, and or sexual problems, as well as those who are suffering from pain in the pelvis, upper legs, abdomen or buttocks most likely have pelvic floor impairments contributing to their pain.