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Biofeedback for Vulvodynia: An Update 

“Do you do Glazer’s protocol?”

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I have been asked this question several times over the past few years, by searching, hopeful women, looking for help after suffering from vulvar pain for far too long. I generally respond with, “I’m familiar with Glazer’s protocol, and would be happy to discuss it with you. Why don’t you come in for an evaluation and we can discuss treatment options specific to you?” This, in place of the, “I know it, but it’s more than likely not appropriate for you.”

Glazer’s protocol was a popular treatment approach, utilizing SEMG biofeedback to teach patients a method of contracting their pelvic floor muscles, to ultimately “fatigue” the muscles, and with the hope that doing so would relieve pain. Dr. Glazer was one of the first to publish research about treating the pelvic floor muscles in helping women with Vulvodynia, and all of us working with men and women with pelvic pain are grateful for his contributions.

However, as time goes on, we learn more and more. Which is awesome. And as we learn more, we hopefully change how we practice to provide the best treatment we can to our patients. Recently, my colleagues Sara Sauder and Amy Stein (2 fantastic clinicians and educators in pelvic pain) wrote an excellent commentary summarizing the evolution of biofeedback in helping women with vulvar pain. I was thrilled to see their commentary, and I thought many of you would benefit from it as well!

Sara and Amy very eloquently explain how the understanding of treatment to the pelvic floor muscles have changed over the years. Glazer’s protocol was based off the idea that frequent contractions of the pelvic floor muscles (both holding contractions and quick ones) would fatigue the muscles and thus lead to relaxation and pain relief. However, our current understanding of the pelvic floor musculature is quite different.

Shortened, Tender Pelvic Floor Muscles 

Amy and Sara go on to explain that as we have learned about the pelvic floor and seen the presentations of women experiencing vulvar pain, we have found that most women actually present with shortened, tender pelvic floor muscles. Typically, when this is found on examination, the optimal treatment includes a combination of relaxation strategies as well as manual treatment vaginally to encourage lengthening of the pelvic floor muscles. And what about fatiguing them by doing lots of kegels? Well, we have found that when shortened muscles do lots of contractions, they can actually get irritated and more shortened!

So, what’s the place for biofeedback? 

First, it is important to realize that the term “biofeedback” is not exclusive to EMG. Really, biofeedback can be any cueing to encourage a patient to perform an exercise accurately. Sara and Amy give a few great examples: a finger in the vagina to encourage and cue the patient to relax and lengthen their muscles. A clinician teaching a patient the optimal way to harness the diaphragm with breathing. All biofeedback. And what about SEMG? It can offer some help for some patients to learn to relax and let go of their muscles. However, it can also be a little tricky because women with shortened muscles may appear “normal” on SEMG. Why? It’s complicated, but in summary, SEMG reads electrical activity… so, when a muscle is held at a shortened position for a long period of time, the body will adjust to this position as the new normal. Thus, this can “trick” a patient or clinician (especially if SEMG is done to replace an internal examination) into thinking the muscles are relaxed and functioning well, when they are actually shortened.

In summary, Glazer was a pioneer who really helped us in the process of better understanding Vulvodynia. But as all treatments and understandings do, we have evolved and changed to better understand what the most effective treatment techniques are for women experiencing Vulvodynia. Biofeedback should be a part of any treatment program… but SEMG biofeedback will have some utility for specific populations and limited utility for others.

I would encourage you to read Sara and Amy’s commentary yourself! You can find it here. If you are a physical therapist treating this population, you have the opportunity to learn from Sara in person! She teaches via Alcove Education, and has an excellent course: Vestibulodynia: An Orthopedic and Pelvic Floor Approach. My clinic is fortunate to host this course in just a few weeks! (Our course is sold out… but you can find upcoming courses here).

Sara and Amy are excellent clinicians, educators and advocates for men and women with pelvic pain. Sara runs a wonderful blog, Blog About Pelvic Pain, and Amy has created fantastic self-help tools, including her book Heal Pelvic Pain and her instructional DVD, Healing Pelvic and Abdominal Pain. I hope you enjoy these resources! 

Have a wonderful week!

Jessica

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I’m back! And I have a really really cute baby!

Ok, I know you must be totally shocked to hear from me! But, I am back! For real!

My beautiful daughter, Emma Caroline, was born on October 26th at 1:32 pm, weighing 7 lbs 14 oz and 23 inches long. In case you are super observant, yes, the little girl who threatened to come early actually ended up coming a week late! We delivered her via c-section after 37 hours of labor. Yes, 37. I’m hoping her dramatic streak ends here. I’ll spare you the details now, but I’m sure some will come out along the way as they fit with future posts!

I was so fortunate to spend 12 weeks at home with my little girl, but I am back in the clinic seeing patients now, and back to writing! In fact, I promise you’ll get another post (a real, hopefully educational one!) before the week is through!

2017 is going to be a great year! I have some exciting things planned for the blog (hoping to finally start some fun video posts, more book reviews, and some interviews with colleagues who are super smart!), and I am SO excited to start teaching for Herman and Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute and continue teaching online webinars! See my “for professionals” section for current course listings! I would love to meet you in-person!

Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy 2017!

Jessica

My sweet little Emma, visiting her mama on my first day back at work!

An Update

Hello my friends, colleagues and blog readers! I know what you’re thinking… a post from Jessica? We haven’t heard from you in ages. And you’re right, you haven’t. And I’m sorry. There have been quite a few things going on, and I wanted to fill you in so you would understand why I’ve been a little MIA.

As most of you know, I am currently pregnant, expecting an adorable, sweet baby girl in October! My pregnancy has been wonderful overall, and it has been incredible to be on the “other side” of learning about pregnancy. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, I began experiencing regular contractions, which ultimately resulted in a short hospital stay, and being placed on modified bedrest. (Now I know what you’re thinking… isn’t bedrest really bad and no longer recommended? It’s modified…meaning, I can move around, etc…but they don’t really want me working as high levels of activity are causing me to contract more, and my little girl needs to cook for a bit longer). This all happened the same exact day I was supposed to give my live webinar on pregnancy (Ha!). Thankfully, Andrew and Karl with Therapy Network Seminars were very understanding, and we canceled the webinar, ultimately rescheduling for next Wednesday, September 14th! So, if you missed it the first time, there is still time to sign up! And I would love to have you on the webinar!

So, back to my current situation… the initial plan was to keep me at home for a few weeks, allow the contractions to slow down, then return to work. Well, unfortunately, my little daughter has other plans for us. So, long story short, I will be out of the clinic until after my daughter is born to give her the best opportunity to grow and develop safely. I do plan to write a few more blogs for you between now and her arrival, but honestly, haven’t been too motivated to do so over the previous few weeks (I think my little mommy nesting brain was so focused on making sure everything was ready for her, should she arrive earlier than we expected!).

My husband and I truly appreciate all of the love, support, meals and prayers that we have received over this time! We are grateful that our sweet daughter is staying put for now, and seems to be healthy, happy and content (I like to think she is completely oblivious to what is happening in the uterus around her!). For those current and prospective patients, I will be scheduling patients again in early January. I plan to keep this information updated on my contact page.

Thank you for your understanding and support! I look forward to continuing this learning and growing journey with you in the future!

~ Jessica

Upcoming Webinar (RESCHEDULED): Management of Musculoskeletal Pain During Pregnancy

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“Management of Musculoskeletal Pain During Pregnancy” 

LIVE Webinar, Wednesday September 14th, 8-9:30 p.m. EST 

I am thrilled to be partnering again with Therapy Network Seminars to present this live webinar providing participants with an introduction to the management of musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy!

So often, clinicians feel ill-equipped and lacking in knowledge to provide quality treatment to women during this important stage of life. Often, clinicians are fearful of complications or precautions their patients may face, or may not know how to modify examination procedures or exercises to accommodate a woman who is pregnant. I hope that this webinar will help more clinicians feel confident in helping their pregnant clients, and inspire many to help reach a population who so very much needs our help!

I hope you’ll join me on Wednesday September 14th for this live 90-minute webinar! Registration is available via Therapy Network Seminars! Let me know if you have any questions and I hope to see you there!!

NOTE: This webinar was rescheduled from the original date of August 18th. If you can’t make this webinar, or would like to listen to some previous webinars, they are available on-demand! Check out the topics available here

Exercise during pregnancy

So, I’ll be honest… I’m writing this as much for myself as I am for you. You see, as a women’s health specialist, I have preached the benefits of exercise during pregnancy for years. I’ve taught classes to women in the community on how to exercise safely and encouraged them in all the way exercise would help their babies, their bodies, their overall health. I’ve lectured other health care professionals on how to help pregnant women start exercise programs, how to monitor them for safety, and which specific exercises are better for women during pregnancy.

But the thing is…I’m now pregnant. 26 weeks to be exact. With this darling, sweet little angel GIRL!

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You have to admit, she’s already adorable, isn’t she?

And it has been wonderful, amazing, incredible to experience…and… educational. I thought that I would be the perfect fit pregnant lady. I would follow all of my own advice on everything and stay super active and fit throughout the pregnancy (I mean, I’ve told so many people that pregnant women can keep exercising at the same level they did before pregnancy!). But, then reality hit… First trimester, I was reallllllyyy realllyyyy tired. Like super tired. In fact, I sometimes just fell asleep on the couch after work (and I am really not a napper). My bedtime effectively became 8pm. And, on top of that, I was nauseous. Which creates the perfect combination for not being a super active, fit pregnant lady. But, I tried to do the best I could! Which mostly meant walking sometimes (on the treadmill or outside). Better than nothing though!

Then, second trimester hit, and all of my symptoms got so much better (just as we tell people they should!). I had more energy, could stay up until at least 9pm, and no longer felt nauseous. Buuuttt… I also was in the process of buying a new house, cleaning and updating said house, then moving, unpacking, and trying to organize our home… So, needless to say, I was not the picture perfect fit pregnant lady over that time either.

So now we reach today. 26 weeks, 2 weeks away from starting my third trimester, and walking as well as a little bit of yoga/pilates is still the best I have done for exercise (Not saying anything bad about walking… I have loved it during pregnancy, it has great benefits, and I plan to continue it! But, I also want to add some variety and a little more frequency to my routine!) So, this post serves both to give you some great information, hopefully motivate a few of my fellow pregnant ladies to jump-start their fitness, and also hopefully to motivate me to up my exercise frequency and throw a little variety in the walking routine. 🙂

So, why exercise during pregnancy?

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For many years now, exercise has been supported as effective and helpful during pregnancy. The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are actually pretty incredible:

  • Cardiovascular benefits (improving blood pressure, heart rate, etc) are passed on from mother to baby… so baby can actually have a healthier little heart when born!
  • Decreased weight gain during pregnancy, which actually can prevent obesity in both mom and baby. Recent studies have suggested that women who gain excessive weight during pregnancy (when starting at normal or overweight BMI) are more likely to have larger babies. The interesting this is that when this occurs both mom AND baby are at risk for developing obesity in the future.
  • Decreased risk of gestational diabetes (and improvements in women with GDM)
  • Decreased likelihood of Caesarean or operative vaginal delivery
  • Improved recovery postpartum
  • Improved psychological functioning during and after pregnancy

How should you exercise during pregnancy?

The great news is, most women can actually continue exercising at the same level they were exercising prior to being pregnant. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology just updated their recommendations on exercise during pregnancy this past December. The most recent guidelines recommend that pregnant women exercise 20-30 minutes at moderate intensity most days of the week. The safest types of exercise identified by the committee include:

  • Walking
  •  Swimming
  • Stationary cycling
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Modified Yoga
  • Modified Pilates
  • Running or jogging
  • Raquet sports (as long as able to do so maintaining good balance)
  • Strength training

The following types of exercise are recommended to be avoided (for mostly obvious reasons):

  • Contact sports (ice hockey, boxing, soccer, basketball)
  • Activities with a high risk of falling (downhill skiing, water skiing, surfing, off-road cycling, gymnastics)
  • Scuba diving
  • Sky diving
  • “Hot” yoga or pilates (due to temperature regulation issues in many pregnant women)

How hard should you exercise?

You may be familiar with the standard method of determining intensity of exercise by monitoring heart rate. This method is not reliable during pregnancy as cardiovascular function changes with pregnancy, thus, the numbers won’t provide accurate guidelines. Instead, women are encouraged to utilize a scale such as the Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale. Basically, this scale goes from 6 (sedentary) to 20(maximal exertion). Pregnant women are encouraged to aim for moderate intensity (13-14 somewhat hard) during exercise. Another option for monitoring intensity of exercise is the familiar “talk test.” Basically, as long as you can continue a conversation the intensity is likely not getting overly difficult and should be safe.

When shouldn’t you exercise?

There are several times when it would not be indicated for a pregnant woman to start or continue an exercise program. Absolute contraindications for exercise are shown in the following table (taken from the recent committee opinion listed above):

An absolute contraindication means that if this is occurring, the person should not engage in an exercise program for any reason. A relative contraindication means that a person should take caution and consult with her physician prior to engaging in exercise. The relative contraindications are listed below:

When should you STOP exercising?

There are instances during pregnancy when it may become unsafe to continue an exercise session. If these situations occur, it is important to immediately stop exercising and contact your physician, as continuing to exercise in these scenarios may be harmful to the mother or the baby:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  •  Regular painful contractions
  • Amniotic fluid leakage
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath) before exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness impacting balance
  • Calf pain or swelling

Getting started

If you are pregnant and have not started exercising, it’s really not too late! There are a few things to keep in mind as you get started!

  1. Talk to your Obstetrician. If exercise is not routine for you, talk to your doctor first before you start a program to make sure it will be safe for you to exercise during your pregnancy.
  2. Start gentle and slow. It generally is better to slowly ease into exercise. Remember, the guidelines encourage 20-30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. But, when you first start, it may be wise to start with smaller increments and make 20-30 minutes your goal. Walking, gentle prenatal yoga or water aerobics may be a good, safe place to start.
  3. Something is a lot better than nothing. It really is. And I feel ya, some days you’re exhausted or nauseous and just can’t get to the gym. So, when that happens, do what you can. Go for a short walk. Try some home prenatal exercise videos. Or, just take the day off and rest. Then try again tomorrow.
  4. Listen to your body. And I really mean it. If something isn’t feeling right, pay attention to it! Talk with your doctor if you notice anything unusual or if something isn’t feeling well when you are exercising. Take breaks as you need to, and don’t push yourself too hard.
  5. Get some help! Reach out to your local Women’s Health physical therapist to come in for a session and get some help developing a program that will work for you! Also, talk with your physician, midwife or doula about resources in the area. If you live in the Atlanta area, like me, there are great programs like OhBaby! Fitness offering exercise classes for new or expectant moms. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone!

What motivated (or is currently motivating!) you to stay active during your pregnancy? What are your favorite exercises? As always, I’d love to hear from you!

Have a great week!

~Jessica

What do you want in 2016? I want to hear from YOU!

Ok, first, I promise a real, educational post is coming this week. So, don’t fret.

In planning for 2016, I really want to help this blog be more informative and helpful to YOU my dear reader. So, I have a little favor to ask… will you pretty pretty please fill out this quick survey to let me know who you are and what you want to learn about? I promise it will take less than 2 minutes (maybe even 1 minute, if you’re fast!). It will help all of us— me, to write posts more of you are excited about… and you, to have better posts that actually meet your learning needs.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! (Survey results are anonymous, FYI!)

Click here to be the most awesome blog reader ever and help me make 2016 our best year yet! 

2015 in Review! Happy New Year!

As we close 2015, I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to those of you who have started this journey with me to better understand pelvic health problems, pain, and really, the whole human body. It has been a wonderful blessing in my life, and a surprisingly great first year of the blog!

In this first year, we have had close to 35,000 views from 145 different countries, and that is so very humbling and exciting! I have really enjoyed learning, writing, and journeying with you all, and I am thrilled for some super fun new content to come in 2016 (hint: video editing software was on my Christmas list!)

So, to re-cap, as we tend to do at the end of a year… our top 5 blog posts of 2015 were:

#5 Is Running Bad for a Woman’s Pelvic Floor?

#4 A Pain in the Tail…bone (Part 2- Treatment)

#3 Pelvic Floor Problems in the Adult Athlete: Pelvic Floor Muscle-Related Pain

#2 A Pain in the Tail…bone (Part 1- What is it? How does it happen? How does it feel?) 

annnndddd number 1, without a contest…….Druummmrolllllll…..

#1 6 Reasons Why the Diaphragm may be the Coolest Muscle in the Body

2015 is a wrap! I’ll see you in the NEW YEAR!!

~ Jessica

Why get Pelvic PT first? And, join me for a webinar Thursday 12/10!

If you didn’t know, December 1st was a day that all PTs came together to share with the public all of the benefits of seeking PT! My colleague, Stephanie Prendergast, founder of the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in California, wrote an amazing blog post on why someone should get pelvic PT first. I thought it was great (as you know…I post lots of Stephanie’s stuff), and Stephanie gave me permission to re-blog it here. So, I really hope you enjoy it. If you aren’t familiar with Stephanie’s blog, please check it out here. You won’t regret it. 

On another note, I will be teaching a live webinar Thursday 12/10 on Pelvic Floor Dysfunction in the Adult Athlete. I really hope to see some blog followers there! Register for it here.  

Now… enjoy this great post by Stephanie. ~ Jessica 

Why get PT 1st? Here are the Facts. By Stephanie Prendergast

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Vaginal pain. Burning with urination. Post-ejaculatory pain. Constipation. Genital pain following bowel movements. Pelvic pain that prevents sitting, exercising, wearing pants and having pleasurable intercourse.

When a person develops these symptoms, physical therapy is not the first avenue of treatment they turn to for help. In fact, physical therapists are not even considered at all. This week, we’ll discuss why this old way of thinking needs to CHANGE. Additionally, we’ll explain how the “Get PT 1st” campaign is leading the way in this movement.

We’ve heard it before. You didn’t know we existed, right? Throughout the years, patients continue to inform me the reason they never sought a physical therapist for treatment first, was because they were unaware pelvic physical therapists existed, and are actually qualified to help them.

Many individuals do not realize that physical therapists hold advanced degrees in musculoskeletal and neurologic health, and are treating a wide range of disorders beyond the commonly thought of sports or surgical rehabilitation.

On December 1st, physical therapists came together on social media to raise awareness about our profession and how we serve the community. The campaign is titled “GetPT1st”. The team at PHRC supports this campaign and this week we will tell you that you can and should get PT first if you are suffering from a pelvic floor disorder.

Did you know that a majority of people with pelvic pain have “tight” pelvic floor muscles that are associated with their symptoms?

Physical therapy is first-line treatment that can help women eliminate vulvar pain

Chronic vulvar pain affects approximately 8% of the female population under 40 years old in the USA, with prevalence increasing to 18% across the lifespan. (Ruby H. N. Nguyen, Rachael M. Turner, Jared Sieling, David A. Williams, James S. Hodges, Bernard L. Harlow, Feasibility of Collecting Vulvar Pain Variability and its Correlates Using Prospective Collection with Smartphones 2014)

Physical therapy is first-line treatment that can help men and women with  Interstitial Cystitis

Over 1 million people are affected by IC in the United States alone [Hanno, 2002;Jones and Nyberg, 1997], in fact; an office survey indicated that 575 in every 100,000 women have IC [Rosenberg and Hazzard, 2005]. Another study on self-reported adult IC cases in an urban community estimated its prevalence to be approximately 4% [Ibrahim et al. 2007]. Children and adolescents can also have IC [Shear and Mayer, 2006]; patients with IC have had 10 times higher prevalence of bladder problems as children than the general population [Hanno, 2007].

Physical Therapy is first-line treatment that can help men suffering from Chronic Nonbacterial Prostatitis/Male Pelvic Pain

Chronic prostatitis (CP) or chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS) affects 2%-14% of the male population, and chronic prostatitis is the most common urologic diagnosis in men aged <50 years.

The definition of CP/CPPS states urinary symptoms are present in the absence of a prostate infection. (Pontari et al. New developments in the diagnosis and treatment of CP/CPPS. Current Opinion, November 2013).

71% of women in a survey of 205 educated postpartum women were unaware of the impact of pregnancy on the pelvic floor muscles.

21% of nulliparous women in a 269 women study presented with Levator Ani avulsion following a vaginal delivery (Deft. relationship between postpartum levator ani muscle avulsion and signs and symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction. BJOG 2014 Feb 121: 1164 -1172).

64.3% of women reported sexual dysfunction in the first year following childbirth. (Khajehi M. Prevalence and risk factors of sexual dysfunction in postpartum Australian women. J Sex Med 2015 June; 12(6):1415-26.

24% of postpartum women still experienced pain with intercourse at 18 months postpartum (McDonald et al. Dyspareunia and childbirth: a prospective cohort study. BJOG 2015)

85% of women stated that given verbal instruction alone did not help them to properly perform a Kegel. *Dunbar A. understanding vaginal childbirth: what do women understand about the consequences of vaginal childbirth.J  Wo Health PT 2011 May/August 35 (2) 51 – 56)

Did you know that pelvic floor physical therapy is mandatory for postpartum women in many other countries such as France, Australia, and England? This is because pelvic floor physical therapy can help prepartum women prepare for birth and postpartum moms restore their musculoskeletal health, eliminate incontinence, prevent pelvic organ prolapse, and return to pain-free sex.

Did you know that weak or ‘low tone’ pelvic floor muscles are associated with urinary and fecal incontinence, erectile dysfunction, and pelvic organ prolapse?

Physical Therapy can help with Stress Urinary Incontinence

Did you know that weak or ‘low tone’ pelvic floor muscles are associated with urinary and fecal incontinence, erectile dysfunction, and pelvic organ prolapse? 80% of women by the age of 50 experience Stress Urinary Incontinence. Pelvic floor muscle training was associated with a cure of stress urinary incontinence. (Dumoulin C et al. Neurourol Urodyn. Nov 2014)

30 – 85 % of men develop stress urinary incontinence following a radical prostatectomy. Early pelvic floor muscle training hastened the recovery of continence and reduced the severity at 1, 3 and 6 months postoperatively. (Ribeiro LH et al. J Urol. Sept 2014; 184 (3):1034 -9).

Physical Therapy can help with Erectile Dysfunction

Several studies have looked at the prevalence of ED. At age 40, approximately 40% of men are affected. The rate increases to nearly 70% in men aged 70 years. The prevalence of complete ED increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years.1

Physical Therapy can help with Pelvic Organ Prolapse

In the 16,616 women with a uterus, the rate of uterine prolapse was 14.2%; the rate of cystocele was 34.3%; and the rate of rectocele was 18.6%. For the 10,727 women who had undergone a hysterectomy, the prevalence of cystocele was 32.9% and of rectocele was 18.3%. (Susan L. Hendrix, DO,Pelvic organ prolapse in the Women’s Health Initiative: Gravity and gravidity. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2002;186:1160-6.)

Pelvic floor physical therapy can help optimize musculoskeletal health, reducing the symptoms of prolapse, help prepare the body for surgery if necessary, and speed post-operative recovery.

Did you know….

In many states a person can go directly to a physical therapist without a referral from a physician? (For more information about your state: https://www.apta.org/uploadedFiles/APTAorg/Advocacy/State/Issues/Direct_Access/DirectAccessbyState.pdf)

You need to know….

Pelvic floor physical therapy can help vulvar pain, chronic nonbacterial prostatitis/CPPS, Interstitial Cystitis, and Pudendal Neuralgia. (link blogs: http://www.pelvicpainrehab.com/patient-questions/401/what-is-a-good-pelvic-pain-pt-session-like/, http://www.pelvicpainrehab.com/male-pelvic-pain/460/male-pelvic-pain-its-time-to-treat-men-right/http://www.pelvicpainrehab.com/female-pelvic-pain/488/case-study-pt-for-a-vulvodynia-diagnosis/)

Pelvic floor physical therapy can help prepartum women prepare for birth and postpartum moms restore their musculoskeletal health, eliminate incontinence, prevent pelvic organ prolapse, and return to pain-free sex: http://www.pelvicpainrehab.com/pregnancy/540/pelvic-floor-rehab-its-time-to-treat-new-moms-right/

Early pelvic floor muscle training hastened the recovery of continence and reduced the severity at 1, 3 and 6 months in postoperative men following prostatectomy. (Ribeiro LH et al. J Urol. Sept 2014; 184 (3):1034 -9). (Link blog: http://www.pelvicpainrehab.com/male-pelvic-pain/2322/men-kegels/

A study from the University of the West in the U.K. found that pelvic exercises helped 40 percent of men with ED regain normal erectile function. They also helped an additional 33.5 percent significantly improve erectile function. Additional research suggests pelvic muscle training may be helpful for treating ED as well as other pelvic health issues. (link blog:http://www.pelvicpainrehab.com/male-pelvic-pain/2322/men-kegels/

….that you can and should find a pelvic floor physical therapist and  Get PT 1st.

To find a pelvic floor physical therapist:

American Physical Therapy Association, Section on Women’s Health:

http://www.womenshealthapta.org/pt-locator/

International Pelvic Pain Society: http://pelvicpain.org/patients/find-a-medical-provider.aspx

Best,

Stephanie Prendergast, MPT

stephanie1-150x150Stephanie grew up in South Jersey, and currently sees patients at Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in their Los Angeles office. She received her bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology from Rutgers University, and her master’s in physical therapy at the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University in Philadelphia. For balance, Steph turns to yoga, music, and her calm and loving King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Abbie. For adventure, she gets her fix from scuba diving and global travel.

5 Tips to Reduce Pain During Sexual Intercourse

A few years ago, I participated in a Women’s Health Fair with my pelvic health team from Greenville, SC:

fuzzy--but a rocking team none-the-less! Proaxis still has a rockin' WH team, so if you need help and live in Greenville, SC, check them out!

fuzzy–but a rocking team none-the-less! Proaxis still has a rockin’ WH team, so if you need help and live in Greenville, SC, check them out!

If you notice in the photo, we had a “Test Your Women’s Health IQ” game at our booth. The premise: 10 True/False questions… with an awesome prize if you get them all right. So, we had a group of about 4 or 5 guys (mid 20s-30s, all working for some tech company, I believe) come up to our booth, and confidently ask to take our test. The test was going pretty smoothly, and they were actually doing surprisingly well….until we reached this question:

True or False. It is normal for women to have discomfort/pain during sexual intercourse.

The guys chatted among themselves briefly, then confidently said, “Yeah, that one’s true… not always, but sometimes, yeah.”

Seriously guys?? In that moment, I felt a mixture of annoyance that there really are so many people out there who believe that women should have pain during sex, and also a whole lot of compassion for the poor women who may or may not have these guys as sexual partners.

Unfortunately, I hear this misconception frequently. Pain during sexual activity is fairly common (up to 1 in 5 women have pain during sex!), and somehow, women became convinced that this is “normal” and they just have to “deal with it.” But, I’m hear today to tell you that is not true!! There really are so many things that can cause pain or discomfort during sexual activity, and there are so many things that you can start today to help!

First things first, if you or your partner is having discomfort or pain during sexual activity, it is very important to be medically evaluated. Pain can be caused from urinary tract or vaginal infections, STDs, ovarian cysts, low estrogen, endometriosis, vulvodynia/vestibulitis, overactive, tender pelvic floor muscles**, abdominal scar immobility (yes, that c-section can play a role!)…and many other things! So, your first step is to call your medical doctor and get evaluated. I know that for some people, talking with a health care provider (HCP) about sexual problems can be very uncomfortable–but just remember, we’re professionals. We hear these things every day, and guess what? It’s very very unlikely that you will surprise or shock us by what you say. So, try to get past the embarrassment you may feel, and talk with your HCP. I think you’ll be very very happy you did.

**See note at the bottom of this post

Once you have been evaluated , here are 5 tips to help to improve pain during sexual intercourse!

1.Communication is Key. Yes, between you and your health care provider–but more importantly, between you and your sexual partner. I often treat men and women who will tell me that their partners have no idea that they are having discomfort during sex. It’s easy for people to see sexual pain as a “me” problem–but if you are having pain with sexual activity with a partner–it really is an “us” problem. Approaching the problem together can be so so helpful! It tends to be much less isolating, and often, people will find that they can have more enjoyable sex with better intimacy in the process.

2.Lubrication. Lubrication. Lubrication. There is absolutely no shame in using lubricant during sex. In fact, I recommend it for everyone! Using a quality lubricant can reduce pain significantly! Typically, I recommend a water-based lubricant like Slippery Stuff or Sliquid–but I have had good success with my clients using Coconut Oil or even Olive Oil (be careful if using condoms though or if you are prone to infection). Several gynecologists I know especially recommend a natural oil for women who have vulvodynia or vestibulitis/vestibulodynia.

3.If At First You Don’t Succeed…Try A Different Position. Seems pretty basic, right? But many couples will get in habits of using the same positions, and sometimes, position alone can make all the difference in the world. A different position changes how anatomy interacts, so depending on why you are having pain, a new position may be much more comfortable. If you’re having pain while on top, try switching to the bottom or on your side. And, pillows are your friend. Use them to support your legs or back to help you be more comfortable.

4.Foreplay. Pain can really impact the mood. Many times, couples who are struggling with pain during sex will find that sexual desire and arousal become significantly impacted. Setting the mood, and making time for romance and foreplay can help to improve arousal. Arousal is really so important as there will be more natural lubrication and overall body relaxation which should help to improve the experience.

5.Don’t be afraid to ask for help! These little tips are meant to be helpful suggestions–but they won’t necessarily be a fix for many people who are having pain! If you or someone  you know are struggling with pain during sexual activity, it really is important to get some help! Pain during sexual intercourse should not be something you have to “just deal with.” I don’t care if you’ve 1) had a baby 2)have a partner who happens to be larger 3) have some dryness as you’ve gotten older 4) have any other excuse for why YOU having pain is normal. Pain is NOT normal. Take the first step–do something about it today!

There are so many wonderful resources out there for people who are experiencing pain during sexual intercourse! Here are a few books I recommend:

Sex Without Pain, by Heather Jeffcoat, PT

Excellent resource by Heather–who happens to be a Duke alum! This book is a self-treatment guide for those experiencing pain with sexual activity.

 To Bed Or Not To Bed, by Steve and Vera Bodansky

This book is one I often recommend for those struggling to experience pleasure with sexual activity. Although explicit (**warning), this book does provide step-by-step recommendations to make sex more pleasurable– and also covers other information on romance, foreplay, etc.

Reviving Your Sex Life After Childirth by Kathe Wallace, PT,

This book recently came out about a year ago, and is based on tons of wonderful research by my friend and colleague Kathe Wallace. Kathe has taught pelvic floor education for professionals for years, and this book is awesome!

As this is my first post dedicated to sexual dysfunction, this post is just scratching the surface of a HUGE topic! What else should we learn about? Let me know in the comments below! 

**Yes, tender pelvic floor muscles can significantly contribute to pain or discomfort during sexual activity. Remember, the pelvic floor muscles stretch to allow for penetration and contract to provide pleasure. If the muscles are tender, hypervigilant, or overactive, they can contribute to pain or discomfort. If you believe your muscles may be a factor in the pain you are experiencing, it is definitely worth your while to seek out evaluation and treatment by a physical therapist trained in treating pelvic floor muscle problems. Give me a call if you live in the Atlanta area, or feel free to shoot me a message if you need help finding someone near you! 

Listen to Jessica’s podcast on Pelvic PT & Join us at our open house this SATURDAY 4/11!

Several weeks ago, I was honored to be interviewed with Ivy Radio on pelvic floor physical therapy! We had a few phone issues, but overall it went very well!

In the podcast, we discuss:

  • What the pelvic floor is
  • How problems happen with the pelvic floor
  • Common diagnoses treated in Pelvic PT
  • What you should expect in examination and treatment
  • Barriers involved in men and women seeking help
  • How to find a Pelvic PT

I hope you enjoy the podcast!! Don’t be too hard on me… We had some phone issues in the middle that made me fumble a bit!

Also- I would like to formally invite all of you to our official open house this Saturday April 11th, 11am-2pm!! I would love to meet anyone local and show you our beautiful facility!! Hope to see you there!