Getting ready to have a knee replacement? You’ll have at least a few visits of pre-operative physical therapy.
What about a rotator cuff repair? The more you get that shoulder moving and stronger before surgery the better!
Now, how about that hysterectomy? Sling procedure? Prolapse repair?
Why is it that men and women are easily referred to physical therapy prior to knee, hip or shoulder surgeries, yet so few are referred prior to pelvic surgeries?
Now, before you get fussy with me, I will say that I have worked with some fantastic surgeons who often referred women to physical therapy prior to undergoing pelvic surgeries—and we had great results working together! We would joke regularly that I made them look better and they made me look better. We were a great team! But, the unfortunate truth is that many women are not regularly referred to PT prior to having surgeries for incontinence or prolapse—and I really do believe that “prehab” would be significantly beneficial!
Just like other orthopedic surgeries (knee, shoulder, hip), preoperative pelvic physical therapy can encourage proper muscle function prior to surgical intervention. This is such an important piece! Restoring proper motor control patterns and overall muscle function can help a person recover more quickly and improve all aspects of pelvic health (bladder, bowel and sexual function). Remember, it’s not just about the pelvic floor! We also want to make sure the transverse abdominis (lower abdominal muscle), multifidus (low back muscle) and diaphragm (breathing muscle) are working optimally as a team to modulate and control pressures in the pelvis. In addition, we need to look at the whole person. Is an old neck injury impacting how you carry your pelvis? Did you have a hip replacement that is impacting your pelvic floor? A skilled pelvic PT can evaluate and address all of these components to help a person function as well as possible prior to having surgery.
In some cases, preoperative physical therapy can reduce the need for surgery. One of the physicians I worked with used to joke with his patients that I would regularly “steal his surgeries.” Now, this may be a scary thing for a surgeon to hear, but ultimately, isn’t it our goal to get patients better using as minimally invasive treatments as we can? From a surgical perspective, pre-operative PT helps to identify the patients who truly will benefit the most from surgery and those who may just need conservative care. We know now that many patients with urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and low-grade (typically grade I-II) pelvic organ prolapse respond very well to physical therapy interventions focusing on regaining optimal muscle function and improving behavioral habits related to bladder/bowel health and body mechanics. That being said, there are of course many instances where surgery is indicated and very helpful—in pelvic health, the best situation is always a partnership between physical therapist and physician! I have the utmost of respect for my physician colleagues and we both found this partnership helped us identify the best treatments for patients to get them the best results as quickly as possible.
Preoperative physical therapy can reduce risk factors which could lead to worsening of problems after surgery. Did you know that poor body mechanics with heavy lifting as well as constipation/chronic straining are risk factors for pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence? Improving body mechanics is important to make sure that the “team” of muscles that support your organs are able to function optimally. Body mechanics are an especially important component for those people who participate in activities involving heavy lifting or heavy pressure (i.e. moms, healthcare workers, runners, etc.). Along with this, managing constipation and straining is a very important component. Learning how to develop a bowel routine, sit on the toilet properly, and use proper defecation dynamics (the coordinated relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles with abdominal activation to make bowel movements easier) is crucial in ensuring a person is not putting unnecessary pressure on the pelvic organs during bowel movements.
Preoperative physical therapy can help with managing nonsurgical components. I often will work with women who are having pelvic organ prolapse and pain during intercourse. Did you know that pelvic organ prolapse is not typically a source of pain (pressure yes, pain no!)? In fact, sometimes women with pelvic pain will even have worsened pain after pelvic surgeries as the muscles and nervous system respond to protect the “injured area.” Often times, prehab can help reduce pain prior to surgery through manual treatments, relaxation training and a lot of education! This can help make recovery easier and allow a person to have significantly reduced pain later on. Another common nonsurgical component is urge related incontinence. Prolapse surgeries and incontinence surgeries can help with stress incontinence (leaking with increased pressure, like coughing/sneezing), but they do not help the urge component. Preoperative physical therapy can help with urgency or urge related incontinence through restoring proper muscle function, teaching urgency suppression strategies and retraining behavioral habits.
So, who would benefit from pelvic floor prehab? In my mind, anyone having a pelvic surgery! I would love to see all women before hysterectomies, sling procedures, or prolapse repairs. I would love to see all men before prostatectomies! The more we can help the body heal itself and promote optimal bladder, bowel and sexual function before a surgical intervention, the more likely we are to have high quality long-lasting results.
Lastly, here’s a little teaser for you– check out our gorgeous pilates studio at our newly opened clinic!! I just had to share!
So, what do you think? PTs- did I miss any of your key reasons why you like seeing men or women preoperatively? Have any of you out there had preoperative PT? I would love to hear your thoughts!!