What’s new in pelvic health? Reading homework included.

I love reading blogs about pelvic health, the human body, chronic pain, movement, neuroscience–and especially get excited if these things get combined together. Periodically, I’d love to simply do a blog on blogs, so that is what you get today. Basically, it is a quick list of blogs, journal articles, random articles, and possibly books that I am reading right now. There are SO many great things out there. I hope you enjoy, and have a great friday! 🙂

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1. The Pudendal Neuralgia Wrecking Ball. Of the different diagnoses in the chronic pelvic pain world, pudendal neuralgia is often a scary one for a patient to hear. Not because it’s untreatable–it IS treatable. But simply, because , and unfortunately, many patients with this type of problem (like SO many other problems related to pelvic pain) are often misdiagnosed many times before receiving help and assurance, and often find scary and less than assuring things when researching online (leading to high levels of worry and fear).  So, this article on US News and Reports came out recently. As pelvic PTs, we always love to have big news websites post information to bring awareness to pelvic pain problems. But we took some issue with exactly how that was done and some of the information which was provided…which lead to this excellent response by Stephanie Prendergast, PT of the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in California (If you don’t follow their blog, you really should! They consistently put out fantastic, high quality information.) And then, led to this response by Sara Sauder, PT, who writes her own blog, focusing all on pelvic pain (it’s great too!). Read these posts–they have great information in them!

2. Can’t Get Enough of the Diaphragm. March was really the month of the diaphragm. Not only did you get my post on the 6 reasons why the diaphragm is the coolest muscle ever, but Ginger Garner (who also has a great blog with a big emphasis on women’s health) went into great detail on this post, expanding on how important the breath really is. I’ve written a lot recently on the importance of breathing with movement and coordinating the breath with other muscle activation, but is holding the breath ever a good strategy? Julie Wiebe gave great insight into that in this post here. (And you know Julie posts awesome stuff!).

3. Movement Variability. As humans, we are designed for movement. Typically when people have pain, their movement patterns become more rigid, and they can often develop alterations where their bodies are guarding movements by pain. Retraining slow, controlled motions with a lot of variations is an important component of treatment! For those without pain, movement variety is key to keeping healthy bodies! That’s why I loved this post by Katy Bowman (my favorite biomechanist) on sitting variations while playing with her child.

4. Share MayFlowers: Women’s Health Awareness. My list would not be complete without a shout-out to Jessica McKinney’s excellent work with Share MayFlowers. SMF is a public health initiative aimed at improving awareness in Women’s Health, and Jessica has been posting excellent information all month long! She highlights women who are doing fantastic things to support WH initiatives, and links to great blogs, articles, etc. out there! A few of my faves from this month are this New York Times article which discussed an innovative form of sex education for adolescents, and this post, bringing awareness of obstetric fisulas.

Hope you enjoy! Now it’s your turn– what are you reading? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Do men have pelvic floors too? The truth about 10 common pelvic myths

Earlier this week, I asked the Twitter and Facebook PT world a simple question:

What are the common misconceptions you hear about the body?

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My initial goal was a fun blog post on common misconceptions about anatomy, etc…but I was not prepared for the huge response I received—over 40 responses with SO many different things that people often misunderstand! Some pelvic, some general—and it made me realize there is SO much bad information out there!! So, what once was one post will become two. Today, we’ll hit on 10 common myths related to the pelvis (you knew I’d start there!). Then stay tuned for a future post hitting other misconceptions related to…well… the rest of the body, fitness, wellness, pain etc.  So, here we go:

1. Men don’t have pelvic floor muscles: They do, I promise. And guess what? The anatomy is not quite as different as you would think! The same muscles that contribute to urinary, bowel and sexual function as well as lumbopelvic stability in women do that in men too. Pelvic PTs treat men with incontinence, pelvic pain, constipation, painful sexual intercourse and much more.

 2. Vaginas need a lot of work to keep clean. No, they don’t. The Vulva (vagina really just refers to the canal itself) is actually self-cleaning. It does not need to be scrubbed with soap. You can totally just shower and run water over it, and it will be just fine. In fact, scrubbing the vulva can irritate it and even kill the good bacteria that prevent infections! I could say so much more, but you really should just read this article on Pelvic Guru by Sara Sauder, PT and this one by Dr. Jen Gunter.

 3. Abdominal pain is always caused by organ problems. Not necessarily. Now, don’t get me wrong, abdominal pain can definitely happen with ovarian cysts, appendicitis, constipation, and much more—but abdominal pain can also happen when the organ is not to blame. This is so common in men and women with chronic pelvic pain. These people often will have very sensitive nervous systems, tender muscles around the pelvis and in the pelvic floor, as well as even neural irritation (lots of nerves run through the abdominal wall!). So, if the organ has been ruled out as a source of pain and the pain persists- it may be worth considering something different.

4. Not having enough sex OR having too much sex OR masturbating too frequently causes pelvic pain. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a patient timidly ask me if there sexual habits or frequency are to blame for their pain. No. Just no. You should be able to have sex as little or as frequently as you want without any problems or pain. Now, being forced to have sex—that may cause a strong protective response of the pelvic floor muscles. But, consensual sexual activity is normal and should be enjoyed by all without worrying about pain. And if you are having pain? Don’t ignore it– go talk with your physician or physical therapist!

 5. Tight pelvic floor muscles are healthy pelvic floor muscles. Guess what? Tight ≠ strong. Flexible ≠ weak. Strong ≠ Well-timed. Functional pelvic floor muscles are non-tender, flexible muscles that are able to activate when they should activate (well-timed). We want the pelvic floor to stretch to allow you to poop and have sex, and we want the muscle to activate at the right time with enough strength to help you not leak urine when you cough.

6. If the doctor says “all looks good” 6 weeks after having a baby, it means your body is completely back to normal. Newsflash here, you’re body isn’t really going to go back to being exactly what it was like before the baby. It’s not meant to, and that is ok! It can still be an awesome, strong and well-functioning body– but you do need to take care of it. Remember that urinary or bowel leakage, constipation, persistent low back/pelvic pain, vulvar pain, and pain with sexual activity are NOT normal. If “all looks good” at 6 weeks, but you are having these problems, find a skilled pelvic PT near you to get evaluated and get some help! And even if you are not having these issues—your body has been through a lot! Take time and care in slowly getting your body back into good movements. Also, check out this article by Ann Wendel, PT on 5 myths surrounding the pelvic floor after pregnancy.

 7. If a woman had a c-section, her pelvic floor was not impacted, and she doesn’t need to think about it. Guess what the biggest risk factor for urinary incontinence is? PREGNANCY. Although mode of delivery is important, simply being pregnant and carrying a baby puts significant pressure on the pelvic floor. Both vaginal deliveries and c-sections impact the body—remember, a c-section cuts through the abdominal wall! Remember that team of muscles that work together for lumbopelvic stability? The abdominal wall is a KEY member. Regardless of your mode of delivery, seeing a skilled physical therapist after having a baby is crucial to help your musculoskeletal system function optimally, manage unwanted pain or leakage, and get back to the fitness activities you enjoy. And guess what? It’s standard care for all ladies postpartum in many countries around the world.

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8. Urinary incontinence is always due to a weak pelvic floor muscle group. I wrote a whole blog on this one, so I recommend you read it here. The short answer is, No. No problem is due to solely one muscle. Our body is a system, and we have to always treat it like that.

 9. Hips and sacrums dislocate regularly in some people. This is such a common one too—I’ll have patients come in and say, “My hip keeps ‘going out’ and I have to do this <does weird hip movement> to put it back in.” OR “My SI joint keeps ‘popping out of place.’” Let’s all be honest about this- dislocations of joints do happen, but it tends to be pretty painful, likely traumatic, and if your hip dislocates, you bet you are going to the ER. That “pop” you hear? It’s likely just a joint cavitation- basically a decrease in pressure causes dissolved gasses in the joint fluid to be released into the joint. Same thing happens when you pop your knuckles. If it happens frequently and is associated with pain, talk with a physical therapist.

10. Sucking in the stomach constantly creates a strong “core” and a flat abdomen. You know what creates a flat abdomen? Eating healthy and exercising regularly. Contracting any muscle constantly is not functional, nor does it really do what we want it to do. Sucking in the stomach actually tends to make it more difficult for your diaphragm to move well when you breathe and also can cause the pelvic floor muscles to over contract and become tender/uncomfortable. It can also inhibit movement, and we know moving well with variety is SO key to a happy body. So, relax your stomach and allow yourself to breathe (remember how important that diaphragm is!)

I hope you gained a little insight with this list—it was fun to write! This is by no means an exhaustive list (over 40 responses, remember?), and I’d love to keep the conversation going! Special thanks to my world-wide pelvic health team! It’s so fun collaborating with such a great group!

Have you heard anything else about the body that does not seem to be right? Ask here and we’ll do our best to answer! Physical therapists out there—what are your other favorite myths to de-bunk? Let’s all work to spread accurate knowledge—knowledge really is power! Have a great Wednesday!

~ Jessica

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!

LIVE Podcast with Ivy Radio on Pelvic Health– Tomorrow 3/11 at 1pm!

Tomorrow at 1pm, I will be chatting live with IvyRadio on all things pelvic health! Tune in tomorrow live at http://www.ivyrehab.com/ivyhealthhub/la-radio/ The podcast will also be available online after the show!

Hope some of you can make it! If you have any specific topics you hope I’ll touch on, let me know in the comments!

Happy Wednesday!

~Jessica

Finding a Pelvic PT

Now, before I get started, I have to say that there are many, many websites/blogs with information on how to find a pelvic PT. But, I felt it necessary to have a post here so that people reading this site who needed a pelvic PT have a quick resource to understand how best to find one, and how to “shop around” and know that the person he or she is seeing is skilled. I hope it is helpful to someone at some point! So, once you have determined you would like to see a Pelvic PT or a Women’s Health PT, how do you find one? 

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Databases and PT Locators: 

There are two main PT locators for Pelvic Physical Therapists and they are: The American Physical Therapy Association’s “Find a PT”  and Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute’s Practitioner Directory. The APTA’s directory requires an APTA membership and H&W’s is open to any practitioner. The benefit of these directories is that they will help you locate a practitioner nearby and will provide information on any credentials or areas of specialty that person has designated.  The limitations are of course that there is no guarantee that a person listed is skilled in your specific need, so you will have to do a little more work from here. The APTA’s directory does provide a space for the PT to put more practice information, etc–so you get a little more information there.

Ask a friend…or the mafia: 

Social media is amazing and has truly revolutionized healthcare. Now, patients are really able to have experts at their fingertips with facebook, twitter, linkedin etc. Asking for a personal recommendation can be a great way to find a skilled PT. Patient groups online are also great resources for finding someone skilled in your particular need.

The #pelvicmafia is a twitter community of pelvic PTs who are truly doing great things to advance patient care, share research, and improve practice patterns across the board. Feel free to ask us for a recommendation by tweeting #pelvicmafia after your question. If we know of someone skilled living near you, we will be more than happy to share!

Also, know that most pelvic PTs are happy to help you if you ask! I have gotten several random phone calls from patients living in different areas, and I am always happy to give a recommendation if I have one! Find a reputable clinic anywhere in the US, and most PTs will be happy to do the same!

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Finding the right PT for you: 

Once you locate a PT, you’ll want to reach out and talk with her to make sure she is a good fit for you. First, what’s in a name? There are a few specializations/credentials you may need to be aware of.  Let’s go through the basics:

  • Entry-level degree- BS, MSPT, or DPT: The first few letters behind the PT’s name basically just give you some information on when that person received his or her initial degree. A while back, becoming a physical therapist just required a bachelor’s degree (4 years of study)–then it became a master’s degree (6 years of study)–then became a doctorate (7 years of study) ~ 10 years ago. That being said, many people who originally had a BS or MS have gone on to receive additional education to attain a transitional doctorate degree.
  • WCS (Women’s Health), OCS (Orthopedic), SCS (Sports), etc. Clinical Specialists: These letters will be behind someone’s name who has either 1) completed a residency in that specialty and passed a written examination or 2) had 2000 hours of experience within that specialty, completed a case study reviewed by a board, and passed a written examination. The current field of women’s health includes not just pelvic floor disorders in women and children, but also includes evaluation and treatment of breast cancer related musculoskeletal dysfunction, lymphedema, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia as well as female athletes. The WCS has been around for about 8 years (my educated guess).
  • BCIA-PMDB: This is a certification for using EMG biofeedback for pelvic floor muscle disorders through the biofeedback certification international alliance. Becoming certified requires 28 hours of education, a 4 hour personal training session and 12 hours of mentoring time reviewing 30 cases with a mentor. This also requires passing a certification exam. This has been around for a longer period of time in terms of the Pelvic specific certifications.
  • PRPC: This refers to the Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification through Herman & Wallace. This test is offered to other health care practitioners as well, but of note requires  2000 hours of patient care and a written exam to attain. This certification is specifically focused on treating pelvic floor disorders and has only been around for about 1 year.
  • Other letters: I could spend quite a chunk of time defining all of the letters out there and still probably would miss quite a few!! Fellowships, certification programs, and even some continuing education courses will assign letters that a person can put after his or her name. I recommend looking at those letters, then typing them into google and finding out what they mean and whether they apply to you.

After you have decoded the PT’s name, ask about any continuing education the PT has had after graduation. This will give you insight into how that person has chosen to advance his or her education. In my mind, this is one of the most important pieces for many reasons.

  • Most entry-level programs have minimum to no training included on evaluating and treating pelvic floor dysfunction. I graduated from Duke University which has more training than most–but even that only included a few lectures and a short elective course. That being said, most Pelvic PTs end up being trained while on internship, residency or after graduating from school via continuing education courses.
  • The largest continuing education training programs are the APTA Section on Women’s Health (SOWH) and Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute. I am involved with both, have taken courses through both, and think both are wonderful programs! Both include training for internal examinations and treatments which is so important and both have plenty of lab assistants to help make sure participants know what they are doing. I lab assist for H&W and I am on the Educational Review Committee for SOWH. SOWH also has a certification option called “CAPP” for both Pelvic and Obstetrics to indicate a person has gone through the series of courses and passed a reviewed case study. Note: Although not all pelvic floor dysfunctions require internal vaginal or rectal treatment, I do believe that having formal training in this is important for a PT who is specifically treating pelvic floor disorders.
  • Internships: Some students who are interested in pursuing pelvic health or women’s health will choose to do internships working with clinicians in those fields. I did this as a student and worked with Darla Cathcart, PT, DPT, WCS in Shreveport, LA for 5 months (She’s awesome!) . I have taken 2 students from Duke University myself. These internships are a great way to learn and give you information that the person you are seeing has had one-on-one training.
  • Residencies: These are 1-year programs focused on treating women’s health physical therapy. There are less than 10 of these in the country, so if your PT has done a residency, it shows a strong commitment to education, in my opinion.
  • Other Continuing Education: I really think this is so important so cannot emphasize this enough. There are so many options for education including courses, conferences and national meetings. Feel free to ask the PT to see his or her resume or CV to see which courses have been attended and how they fit with what you need.

Hopefully this information helps you shop around and find a PT who fits what you need! Please do not feel lost or hopeless if you cannot find a pelvic PT who lives close by– the unfortunate thing is that there are way more people who need pelvic PTs then there are currently PTs to treat them! In the field of physical therapy, it is one of the “newer” specialties, so we definitely have room to grow! If you find a PT who may not have the training you desired– don’t fret! All of us had to begin somewhere, and there is so much to be said for a passionate, dedicated person who desires to learn! I have known PTs with less than 1 year of pelvic experience who I would easily refer to because of their passion and dedication alone!

Throw-back Thursday: When “Kegels” are not appropriate for Urinary Incontinence

For the next few weeks, I plan to re-blog/update every Thursday a previous post originally written by me when working in Greenville, SC for the Proaxis Pelvic PT blog (http://proaxispelvicpt.wordpress.com), in hopes of building a comprehensive library of posts at jessicarealept.com. Selfishly- I like having them all in one place since I often refer patients who come to see me in Atlanta for pelvic PT to my old posts to read as “homework.” 

That being said, today’s post is one published a while back here, originally titled, “Yes, you have incontinence. No, I do not necessarily want you to do Kegel exercises.” It has been modified/updated for you today 🙂 Enjoy! 

~ Jessica 

Recently, I was fortunate to evaluate a nice middle-aged woman referred to me by her urogynecologist for urinary incontinence. When we first sat down, she looked at me and said, “I’m not sure why I am here. My doctor specifically told me that I have a strong pelvic floor. I really don’t think you can help me.” I smiled. I hear this same thought process on a weekly basis (See my previous article on common misconceptions of pelvic physical therapy) You see, at some point the world became convinced that from a musculoskeletal perspective, stress urinary leakage is always due to a weak muscle. And the best way to fix a failed muscle is to strengthen, strengthen, strengthen. But, if that’s the case, then why do I have so many patients walking into my office telling me that they have done “Kegel” exercises and still leak? Why would a patient like the one above have a “strong” pelvic floor that cannot hold back urine? Why is urinary leakage associated with low back pain and pelvic pain- disorders that we know can often include tight and irritated pelvic floor muscles?

Now, as a caveat to this article, let me say now that it is sometimes totally appropriate for a person to start a pelvic floor strengthening program. In fact, the person with a truly weak, overstretched, poorly-timing pelvic floor will likely be prescribed a strengthening program. With that being said, the truth is that the majority of patients referred to my clinic for evaluation of urinary incontinence are not issued a traditional kegel exercise program. My colleagues and I actually tend to be surprised when we evaluate a new patient who truly needs to start a true “strengthening” program for their pelvic floor at the first visit. The reason behind this is that Stress incontinence is not simply a failed muscle, but a failed system.

The urethra is supported within the continence system by fascia, ligaments, as well as muscular structures. When a downward force is applied to this system as occurs with coughing, sneezing, lifting, bending, etc, these structures function in a coordinated way to compress the urethra and prevent urine from leaking. In fact, Hodges et. al. in 2007 examined musculoskeletal activation occurring when a person performed an arm movement and found that the pelvic floor muscles pre-activated to prepare the body for movement. This helps to demonstrate that our pelvic floor muscles function as a member of the anticipatory core team. This team requires optimal and coordinated function of the diaphragm, the deep abdominal muscles, the deep low back muscles as well as the pelvic floor muscles. My awesome colleague, Julie Wiebe demonstrates that relationship very well in the video below (Note: Julie has an AWESOME blog/website- read more of her stuff here):

When any of these structures are not functioning well, leakage can occur. Now, the tricky part here is that optimal functioning requires both strength, flexibility and proper timing. A tight irritated muscle then becomes equally as dysfunctional as a weak over-stretched muscle. And, a strong, flexible muscle that doesn’t have the right timing contributes to a very dysfunctional system.

So, treatment for incontinence then must include retraining and reconditioning the system to ensure its proper functioning—which for me includes a bit of detective work to truly identify the faulty components. And, when it comes down to it, typically does not include doing 100 kegel exercises a day. More often, it includes learning to relax the pelvic floor and teach the pelvic floor to be a working team member– learning to coordinate the pelvic floor with the diaphragm, eliminating trigger points and restrictions which may be inhibiting this function, and then retraining the motor control of the lumbopelvic girdle as a system.

So, for now, take a deep breath and relax. We’ll save Kegels for another day.

For more information, check out the following:

I hope you enjoyed this throw-back- please feel free to share any thoughts or questions below!

~ Jessica