Yesterday afternoon, I met my team of pelvic PTs at at the office for some photo and video time. Our model? Dr. Kellie, who is about to have her last week with us in the clinic before leaving on maternity leave for her second daughter. You see, working at a pelvic PT practice, we have to take advantage of one of our own being pregnant! How could we miss an opportunity to record videos and take pictures to expand our library! 🙂
Movement during pregnancy is incredibly useful. First, it can help with many of the aches and pains that commonly develop. It helps to keep your muscles active, and ultimately, can help prepare you for the process of labor and birth. We wrote a while back on healthy exercise during pregnancy, so start there if you want to know where you should get started for movement.
Today, I wanted to focus on movement to help you feel better. These exercises promote gentle movement around your spine and pelvis and activation of the muscles around your deep core.
Goal: Improve mobility around your spine and pelvis. Coordinate movement with breathing.
Inhale slowly, and as you do, gently let your tailbone out, and lift your head
Try not to allow your back to dip super far down but stay within a comfortable range.
2. Exhale and gently tuck your head, lifting your belly up and rounding your spine, allowing your tailbone to tuck.
3. Repeat this flowing gently with your breath as you inhale and exhale
Aim to do this 10-15 times in a row, alternating with the modified child’s pose that is described below.
Modified Child’s Pose
Goal: Lengthen lower back, gluteal muscles, pelvic floor, and inner thighs. Encourages relaxation and opening around the pelvis.
This exercise works really nice to alternate between sets of the Cat-Cow.
First, place pillows in front of you, leaving a gap for your belly. You can use 1-3 pillows, depending on your belly size.
Sit back on your heels, and open your knees to a comfortable width.
Lean over the pillow, allowing your body to relax and reaching your arms forward. Let your head rest to one side or the other.
Relax in this position for 1-2 minutes.
Ball Pelvic Mobility
Goal: Improve the movement around your pelvis and spine
Sit comfortably on an exercise ball with your feet supported on the floor
Inhale, letting your pelvis out, allowing a small arch in your back
Exhale, tucking your pelvis under gently pulling your belly in.
Repeat this to warm-up x 10
Then, add a rotation, inhaling and rotating clockwise with your pelvis until you reach the arched back position. Then exhale, continuing to rotate clockwise until you reach the tucked position.
Repeat this x 5-10 repetitions, then switch to counter-clockwise.
Goal: Activate your deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles paired with your breath.
Begin in a hands and knees position with your spine in a neutral position (not flexed or arched)
Inhale to prepare, exhale and gently engage your pelvic floor muscles while gently drawing in your belly. Aim for a slight contraction (not hard!).
While you do this, extend one arm in front of you.
Exhale, lowering your arm and relaxing your muscles.
Repeat, alternating lifting with your opposite arm. Be sure to keep your spine in a comfortable position while you are doing this exercise. Repeat this movement for 10-15 repetitions.
To progress this exercise, you can also perform with an alternating leg movement, aiming to keep your spine in a neutral position.
Goal: Coordinate movement with breath, activate pelvic floor with gluteal muscles
Place a ball behind your back and lean against a wall. Keep your feet placed out in front of you, flat on the floor.
Inhale while you bend your knees and lower.
Exhale, engage your pelvic floor muscles slightly, and lift up to standing.
Repeat this exercise for 10-15 repetitions, performing 2-3 sets.
Note: While doing this, keep your feet far enough in front of you that your knees don’t cross your feet.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these exercises! What exercises do you like to do to move well during pregnancy? Any favorites we need to add?
Look for more coming from us on all of this in the future!
6 weeks ago, we welcomed our second daughter into the world. Mary Lynn was 6 lbs 10 oz of squishy, adorable, babyness. And she came into the world via a Caesarean birth. And it was amazing. And hard. But good.
C-sections come with challenges, just like vaginal births do, and for me, these challenges included a significant blood loss that led to me fainting on the second day, a super low blood pressure due to a response to the epidural that contributed to the fainting but also meant going off of my epidural pain meds really early, and nerve pain that lasted for about a month after Mary was born. (We’ll y’all more about that another time.)
Since I am living the early postpartum life, I thought it would be fun to do a series of posts on my own rehabilitation journey (since, in many ways, each of my births has been a mini-case study for myself!).
So, let’s talk Cesarean rehab in the first 6 weeks!
Moving well after major abdominal surgery
I love when people imply that birthing via Cesarean section is somehow “the easy way out” compared to birthing via the vagina. Hello people, this is major abdominal surgery! All mommas get birthing badges– let’s support each other in our journeys, right?!
Initially after a Cesarean, movement alone can be challenging. Standing up from a chair. Rolling over in bed. Lying down in bed. But the good news is that with some easy tips, this movement can become much easier. First, as you are moving, bending, standing, etc. remember to “blow before you go.” This easy to remember phrase comes from my friend and colleague, Julie Wiebe. This means, begin to exhale before you initiate a movement. Breathing like this with movement helps to control pressures within the abdomen and pelvis, so it can significantly help you in your movement after having your baby- both in terms of ease but also in protecting your pelvis and abdomen.
When standing up from a chair, remember, nose over toes. Scoot to the edge of the chair first. As you go to stand, lean forward first. This puts your body weight over your legs and helps take the burden away from your core.
When you lie down or get up from lying down, channel your inner log. So, when you lie down, first sit on the edge of the bed. Slowly lift your legs onto the bed, then lower the rest of the body down, using your arms for support. If you need to roll over, bend your knees, then roll your body as a unit- like a log. Reverse these steps for getting up out of bed.
Abdominal Binders and Compression Underwear? It depends. It may be worth considering using an abdominal binder for the first few weeks after your birth, progressing to wearing compression underwear or shorts(ie Spanx, SRS recovery shorts, Core shorts). These types of garments provide support to the abdomen and can be incredibly helpful for moving and walking around after your surgery. The flip side with compressing the abdomen is that it can impact how well you can move your ribcage and can influence pressure mechanics within the pelvis. So, if you are already struggling with pelvic organ prolapse or urinary leakage, or if you pushed for a period of time before having a Caesarean birth, it may be worth talking with a pelvic floor PT prior to utilizing this during your recovery. Generally, the compression underwear/shorts provide more support to the pelvic floor and abdomen, so they may be a little better with pressure modulation than the binder. For me personally, the binder and compression undies were amazing! They took away my nerve pain, and helped me move much better. I chose to wear these sporadically during the day (a bit on, a bit off), and practiced breathing well with my diaphragm during the times the binder was off.
Handling your incision
Initially, your main focus here is keeping your incision clean, and monitoring it to make sure it is healing well with no signs of infection. Around 6 weeks, if you are cleared by your physician, you can begin to gently mobilize the tissue around the scar and aim to desensitize the scar. I usually start above and below the scar, before working on the scar itself. You can perform gentle massage to the tissue above and below the scar and gently stretch the skin in all directions above and below the scar. You can also gently desensitize the scar by touching it with your fingers or a wet cloth, and gently rubbing across the scar in all directions. We can mobilize this scar tissue further, but we are going to talk about this in a future post as this post is focusing on the early period of healing.
At this time, you can also begin applying silicone gel or silicone strips to help soften your scar and prevent hypertrophic or keloid scars. Silicone is considered a gold-standard treatment for the prevention or treatment of hypertrophic scars. While most of the research regarding silicone is of poor quality with significant bias, evidence does tend to suggest a positive benefit. My first Caesarean did lead to a hypertrophic scar, so I began applying silicone gel to my scar once cleared by my OB to do so, around 4 weeks after Mary’s birth. I’ll report back on the difference between this new scar and the old one (See, mini case study!).
**I also have to note here that my colleague, Kathe Wallace, has a fantastic book that details some recommendations for scar tissue management after Caesarean. Kathe also offers a free abdominal scar massage guide at her website, which is a fantastic resource!
Exercise in the Early Postpartum Period
If I could give you one piece of advice on this early postpartum period, it would be to relax. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to recover and heal. I find that so many people want to jump into too much, way too soon, and unfortunately, this can be more harmful than it is helpful. Remember, you just did something incredible. You just had major surgery. You deserve to rest.
When we think about exercise during this initial period of healing, we are going to start very gently. Here are a few things you can get started on:
Walking: I’m not talking about going and walking several miles. During the first few weeks, it’s best to really rest, and give your body time to heal. Getting up, walking around the house as you feel comfortable can be very beneficial. As you continue to heal, during the next few weeks, you can increase your walking. So, this may include some outings and short periods of walking between 2-4 weeks. Between 4-6 weeks, you can generally consider a leisurely walk in your neighborhood or a longer outing. The key here is to listen to your body. Rest when you need to, but gradually move to increase your endurance. After you see your OB for a postpartum visit around 4-6 weeks, and you are cleaned to do so, you can continue to gradually increase your walking as you are feeling comfortable. Are you antsy to jump back into running? Zumba? Bootcamp? Pilates? Don’t. We’ll get there. But let’s rest right now.
Breathing: You all know I am fairly obsessed with the diaphragm. 4 years after this post was written, I still think it’s one of the coolest muscles in the body. The diaphragm works in coordination with the pelvic floor muscles, deep abdominal muscles and deep low back muscles to provide support to the abdominal organs, modulate pressure in the thorax and pelvis, and provide dynamic stability to our spine and pelvis. Slow breathing, aiming to expand your ribcage and relax your abdomen as you inhale, then slowly exhaling your air can be incredibly beneficial to re-establishing these normal functional relationships.
Gentle Pelvic Floor Muscle Activation & Relaxation: First, my biggest recommendation would be to SEE A PELVIC PT before and during your pregnancy so you really know your current function and can have an individualized plan to get the most out of your muscles and your body. I encourage people to discuss their delivery with their OB, and ask about beginning gentle pelvic floor and abdominal exercises. The timeline for starting this will depend on the specifics of your delivery, and we want to be smart when activating muscles that have been cut. When your provider is on-board with you starting, I like to pair gentle pelvic floor and abdominal wall activation with breathing. This looks like this:
Inhale, expanding your ribcage, relaxing your abdomen and your pelvic floor muscles.
Exhale and gently draw in your pelvic floor muscles, allowing your lower abdominal muscles to also gently draw in. Aim for a “moderate” effort to allow activation of the muscles but not overactivate them.
Then, relax your muscles again as you inhale, repeating this cycle.
Aim to do this for a minute or two, twice each day.
Stay tuned as we continue this journey over the next few weeks and months! What have been your challenges after childbirth? For my fellow health care professionals, what else do you like people to know immediately after a caesarean birth?
This afternoon, while my rambunctious little toddler was attempting (and ultimately failing!) a nap, I had the fantastic opportunity to chat with Shelly Prosko, a physiotherapist and yoga therapist in Alberta, Canada who specializes in working with individuals experiencing chronic pain (including pelvic pain!). Shelly is an all-around incredible human, knowledgeable clinician, and dynamic educator. I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed it!
Shelly and I chatted about some of the incredible content she has online, so I wanted to make sure I shared all of that information with you! If you would like to see the full playlist of her Words of Wisdom (W.O.W.) Chats, click here.
The individual links to the W.O.W. Chats we discussed are located below:
Lorimer Moseley: Pain Science Education vs Understanding Pain (I absolutely loved this one!!)
So, as you may have realized, I periodically write about topics that hit close to home. This was especially true while I was pregnant and trying to live the advice that I often give to patients (Teaser: Do as I say, not as I do.). As a mom to a now 1-year-old, the topic of self-care has been on my mind quite a bit recently. I remember when my daughter was 6 months old, going to the dentist. As I tried to come up with a reason why they hadn’t seen me in almost a year, the best I could do was to honestly say, “Really, I haven’t done much of anything to take care of myself since my daughter was born.” And guess what? It was totally true. I was having a hard time getting back to exercise. I wasn’t sleeping all that well (I mean, who sleeps well with a new baby? If it’s you, don’t tell me.) And, I had skipped many of the typical self-care things that I normally enjoy doing regularly.
My experience unfortunately is not that unique to many new moms (and old moms, and lots of other people too!). In discussing this with my friends and patients, I often find that people live very busy lives and struggle with prioritizing themselves amidst an often hectic schedule. By the time we wake up, make lunches, get everyone out the door, work a busy job, cook dinner, tidy up the house, prepare for the next day, etc… there really doesn’t seem to be time left. The idea of adding in an hour for exercise, meal-prepping or seeing a doctor/dentist/physical therapist can feel impossible.
But, the truth comes down to two key points:
We have time when we make time.
When we care for ourselves, we actually care better for others.
Did you know that stress can worsen chronic pain? And that stress is connected to all sorts of illnesses (like heart disease, among others?) Did you know that exercise has all sorts of amazing benefits? (see the awesome whiteboard video below)
In short, when we care for ourselves through exercise, quiet time/meditation, quality time with friends/family, or necessary medical/dental/physical therapy visits, we actually equip our bodies with the tools we need to better handle the stress that comes our way and ultimately, to better care for the important people in our lives.
So, how do you make time for self-care?
Set a realistic expectation:If you do not currently exercise at all, don’t start with a goal of exercising every day. You will probably fail. Instead, make a goal at exercising 2-3 times in the week. If you know that your mornings are completely hectic and busy, that may not be your best time for quiet time/meditation. Instead, perhaps in the evenings as you are wrapping up your day may be a better time.
Be specific on your when, what and how: When I was in PT school, we learned that goals should be objective, measurable and achievable. This not only sets our patients up for success, but lets us evaluate if our intervention is working. So, if your goal is to exercise, try being specific on your when, why and how. For example, I could aim to run 30 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after work. The more specific and scheduled, the more likely you will be to achieve success.
Get help when you need it: If it is challenging to hold yourself accountable, talk to a friend or a partner to get some help. Verbally expressing your goals and detailed plan to another person can often help provide the necessary support and accountability for success. If you know you need more tangible help to be successful, make sure to ask for it. This may mean something like planning ahead with your partner to manage childcare responsibilities or it could mean finding a friend who will actually go and exercise with you.
What other strategies do you have for self-care? How have you been successful in the past?
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!
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to build a better morning routine to help me use my time more optimally during the day. Part of that morning routine includes reading for 30 minutes over breakfast…and I have to tell you, it’s my most favorite part of the day. My first book of the year was Todd Hargrove’s A Guide to Better Movement, and I really really loved it.So much so, that I just needed to share it with you!
I was first introduced to Todd Hargrove through his blog post back in October, “Why do muscles feel tight?” I loved it, was hooked, and ordered his book the same day. Todd is a pretty smart guy, and has a unique background being a prior attorney and current Rolfer and Feldenkrais practitioner. I love learning from people who are not physical therapists because I find it challenges my viewpoints and helps me to see my clients from a different perspective. Todd’s book did not disappoint.
Who should read it?
Anyone who likes moving, should move, and wants to move better
Athletes (yes, this includes any of you who exercise regularly) who want to make sure they are caring for their bodies
Length: 277 pages, broken into the following sections:
Part 1: The Science of Moving Better
Defining Better Movement
Learning Better Movement
The Brain Maps the Body
Motor Development and Primal Patterns
Part 2: The Science of Feeling Better
The Science of Pain
Movement and Threat: Central Governors
Movement, Thinking and Feeling
Part 3: The Practice of Moving Better and Feeling Better
Strategies to Move Better and Feel Better
Lessons in Better Movement (pgs 149-277)
What’s so great about it? As you may know, my studies recently have sent me deep into the world of neuroscience, so I love reading books that integrate the whole body rather than just focusing on specific tissues. Hargrove does an excellent job of not only teaching the science related to movement and pain in a way that is easily understandable by clinicians and patients alike, but also offers strategies and lessons for improving movement and shifting away from a pain state. He uses excellent analogies throughout his book that all people will be able to relate to and understand. On another note, his book is full of great quotes… and I’ve always been a sucker for a good quote… so you’ll see some of my favorites here :).
In the first part, the science of moving better, Hargrove discusses the essential qualities of good movement (coordination, responsiveness, distribution of effort, division of labor, position and alignment, relaxation and efficiency, timing, variability, comfort and individually customized). I especially love his section on relaxation and efficiency as I believe this to be a huge factor for the men and women I treat experiencing chronic pelvic pain. So often, these people end up in states of chronically over-activating musculature to perform tasks, and I believe changing this can make a big difference for them. “Efficient movement requires skill in relaxation… thus developing movement skill is often more about learning to inhibit the spread of neural excitement rather than extending it.”
Next, he goes on to explain the process for learning better movements diving in to the motor control system, and then explains how the brain maps the body and the ways in which those maps can change over time. “The current organization of [a person’s] sensory maps already reflects a lifetime of effort to organize them in an optimal way to perform functional goals.” He uses a great analogy here of a skiier going down a hill. The first trip down, the person has endless options on the path to take down…but after going again, and again, deep grooves in the snow are formed and it can be difficult to take alternate paths.
Lastly in this section, he discusses motor development and primal movement patterns and the importance of training foundational movements with large carryover into a variety of functional tasks.
Part two, the science of feeling better goes into our favorite topic–pain science. Hargrove does a fantastic job of explaining pain and gives a plethora of examples and analogies to help the reader understand very advanced topics. Two of my faves from this section are,”Although nociception is one of the most important inputs contributing to pain, it is neither necessary nor sufficient for pain to exist,” and, “Pain is an action signal, not a damage meter.” This section also explores different options for moving past pain and discusses how the central nervous system responds with threat in order to protect the body. The last chapter in this section looks at movement and emotion and explains the way we now understand the mind to relate to the body. (Hint: the mind and the body are ONE).
The last section of this book, the practice of moving better and feeling better discusses strategies for improving movement and key components of training movement variety. Hargrove summarizes his thoughts on this in the following way, “Move playfully, experimentally and curiously, with full attention on what you are doing and what you are trying to accomplish. Focus on movements that are the foundation for your movement health, and have a lot of carryover to many activities, as opposed to movements that are specific and don’t have carryover. Move as much as you can without injury, pain or excess threat, wait for the body to adapt, and then move more next time.”
Hargrove ends the book by providing 25 lessons to help improve movement. These are based on the Feldenkrais Method (which I liked as I currently use some of these principles and movements within my clinical practice.). Each lesson offers options for progressing and provides guidance for attention and variations.
So, in summary…. I loved this book. I have already recommended it to clients, and plan to use some of the movement lessons within my practice. I hope you love it too!
Have you read any other great books recently? I’m looking for my next one to read!
It never fails. Around this time of year, many of my patients are traveling, going on fun vacations (just like me! Yep, I was away last week– sorry for the lack of posts!), and the pelvic floor never seems to love that. Unfortunately, vacations for many mean a flare-up of symptoms–worsening of pain from sitting for long car or plane rides, constipation, or other unpleasant feelings. This seems to happen like clock-work. But the good news is, vacationing doesn’t have to be the start of a bad flare. You don’t have to be afraid to go on vacation. In fact, there are a few since steps you can take to reduce and manage the vacation blues.
1. Pack your toolbox. One of the big ways you can reduce the likelihood of a flare, is to plan ahead and pack the necessary tools that normally help you. Do you normally take a fiber supplement daily to manage the bowels? Pack it. Use an ice pack when you start feeling pain? Pack it. Listen to a progressive relaxation CD or youtube video before bed? Make sure you bring it along! The more you plan ahead, the better it will be if you do start having pain or see a change in your bowel/bladder symptoms.
2. Keep your bowels in check. Now, some of you are probably thinking, “I have pain Jessica– not bowel problems!” BUT, keeping the bowels in a routine is so important for ANY pelvic floor problem. A bout of constipation can increase bladder leakage or worsen pelvic pain. Unfortunately, constipation is very common while traveling. One of the main reasons for this is that most of us significantly change our habits when we travel. For example, I normally start my day with a protein shake and a piece of fruit—but on vacation, I will have french toast, or a big omelet, cheese danishes, and other larger, richer breakfast options. Delicious, right? But the bowels don’t love the change. The best thing we can do for our bowels while traveling is to stay consistent. Remember, your bowels love a good routine, so try to eat similar meals that you normally eat at similar times! Keep up with fiber or supplements to maintain a good consistency, and don’t forget your fluid intake!! For more tips for bowel health, check out my previous posts here.
3. Stay consistent with your routines. Yes, we just hit on this with the bowels, but this is equally true with the other routines you use to manage your pain or other problems. Vacation is a great way to relax, but many people will find they drop their helpful habits while traveling. Sometimes this may mean waking up a few minutes earlier in order to get your morning stretching in, or perhaps taking a break in the afternoon to use an ice pack, or maybe even setting an alarm to make sure you do your exercises–but these small steps can really do a lot to decrease the risk of a symptom flare!
4. Pace yourself. This one is most important for those dealing with pelvic pain. We know that movement is medicine for persistent pain, and a vacation is often a very motivating time to move! That being said, it is important to gradually add movement and take breaks as needed to allow your body time to rest and adapt to a higher level of activity. I often will see men and women who may be very sedentary in their day-to-day lives, but then, go on vacation and want to be on-the-go 24-7! It is a much better alternative to try to slowly increase your activity, giving yourself adequate time to rest based on your prior activity level and what your body needs. For example, if you are normally inactive, it may be helpful to plan an activity for a few hours in the morning, but to plan for a resting period after that (great time to ice and do your stretches!). If you have several activities you would like to do, consider making a list and spacing those activities out over the days you are traveling.
5. Try not to freak out. I get it. Flares are scary–especially when you’ve been seeing progress and have been feeling great! But, don’t let it get the best of you! Remember to see a flare for what it really is– a flare. Keep your mindset positive, use the tools you have, and you will be back to vacationing in no time! And if you feel like you need a boost, contact your pelvic PT (we really don’t mind!). We’re always happy to talk through some strategies to calm things down, and are happy to help get you back to relaxing! 🙂
What strategies do you use to decrease a flare on vacation? PTs out there– are there any other tips you like to give your patients? Let me know in the comments below!
As promised, this is part 2 of my series on pelvic floor problems in the adult athlete. Part 1 discussed pelvic floor pain- what it is, how it happens, and how it is treated. If you missed it, you can still check it out here. Today, we will cover stress urinary incontinence in athletes.
Guess what? Leaking is not normal. Ever. Never. Nope.
At some point over the years, women became convinced that after having children it suddenly becomes normal to leak urine when coughing or sneezing. Or, that if you work out really really hard, or jump rope really quick, or jump on a trampoline, it’s normal to pee a little bit. But guess what? It’s not. And I firmly believe that no woman (or man!) should have to “just deal with it.”
Bladder problems during exercise are very common– Here are some stats:
This summary article estimated that 47 % of women who regularly engage in exercise report some degree of urinary incontinence. (Other articles have shown big variety, with one review stating the prevalence varies from 10-55%)
This study found that in 105 female volleyball players, 65% had at least one symptom of stress urinary incontinence and/or urgency.
In elite athletes (including dancers), this study found a prevalence of urinary problems at 52%.
Summary: Urine loss during exercise is COMMON. And it’s about time we do something about it!
So, what is stress urinary incontinence (SUI)? Basically, SUI is involuntary leakage of urine associated with an increase in intra-abdominal pressure. For those who exercise regularly, this can occur with running, jumping (jumping rope, jumping jacks, box jumps, trampoline), dancing (zumba, too!), weight lifting, squatting, pilates/yoga, bootcamp classes, kicking, and many other forms of exercise.
**Note: Although SUI is one of the most common forms of urinary dysfunction we see in athletes, other problems can exist as well. This can include stronger urinary urgency, frequency (going too often), and/or difficulties emptying the bladder or starting the stream. Bowel dysfunction is also a problem with many athletes, and can include bowel leakage, constipation, or difficulty emptying the bowels.
Why does it happen? There are many causes of bladder leakage, so it is always important to be medically evaluated. We know that hormones can play a role, as well as anatomical factors (pelvic organ prolapse or urethral hypermobility). Other factors can include childbirth history, body mechanics, breathing patterns/dysfunction, obesity–and I’ll add here, previous orthopedic injury or low back/pelvic girdle pain.
From a musculoskeletal viewpoint, SUI has to do with a failure of the body to control intra-abdominal pressure. Basically, there are forces through the abdomen and pelvis during movements, and our body has to control and disperse those forces. The deepest layer of muscles that work together for pressure modulation are the pelvic floor muscles, the transverse abdominis, the multifidus, and the diaphragm. In terms of the pelvic floor muscles specifically, remember that we want strong, flexible, well-timed muscles. Tight irritated muscles can contribute to UI just as much as weak overly stretched out muscles. We have discussed this many many times on this blog, but if you’d like a review of that, read this piece on why kegels are not always appropriate for UI and check out the videos by my colleague, Julie Wiebe, posted there. It is also important that a person has properly firing muscles around the pelvis–especially the glutes! but also the other muscles around the pelvis that help to move you.
The way in which a person moves can also be a significant contributing factor to SUI. For example, if a person holds his or her breath during jump rope, the diaphragm is not able to move well and the entire pressure system will be impacted (leading to possible leaks!). I have also seen women develop SUI or pelvic organ prolapse after performing regular exercise using incorrect form/alignment or after performing exercises that were too difficult for them to do correctly. Often times, this leads to compensatory strategies that can make pressure modulation very difficult for the body.
What can you do about it? First things first–stop “just dealing with it!” I recommend a medical evaluation to start, but always encourage people to seek conservative treatments first prior to medications and/or surgery. The best person to evaluate you from a musculoskeletal perspective is a PT who is specialized in treating pelvic floor dysfunction (and if you live in metro Atlanta and have SUI, come and see me!). The physical therapist will do a comprehensive evaluation which will include:
A detailed history, including your obstetric history (if applicable), daily habits, diet/fluid intake, and your regular exercise routine
Evaluation of your movement patterns (specific exercises, weightlifting, etc.) which are causing you problems
Head to toe evaluation of your spine, ribcage, abdominal wall, hips, breathing patterns, alignment/posture, knees…all the way down to your feet to see how your movement at each spot could be influencing your pressure system. We also look at how your various muscles fire to help to identify which muscles may not be firing at the right times or which muscles may be tight and impacting your movements.
Evaluation of the pelvic floor muscles. As the pelvic floor muscles are located internally, the best way to assess them is with an internal vaginal or rectal assessment. That being said, if you are uncomfortable with that, there are options for external assessment that will help the PT gather some information (just know that this will likely be less thorough).
Treatment for SUI often includes:
Re-establishing the proper timing and coordination of the pelvic floor, diaphragm, multifidus and transverse abdominis to stabilize the lumbopelvic region and modulate pressure during movements. Remember, our goal is to optimize this team working together–it’s not just about the pelvic floor, and kegels are not always the answer.
Retraining the proper firing of the muscles around the pelvis during movements.
Correction of postural/alignment problems which could be contributing factors
Manual therapy and specific exercises to improve previous findings in spine, hips, knees, etc.
Education on proper alignment, breathing patterns, and movement sequences during preferred exercises.
Education on bladder health, dietary patterns, fluid intake, patterns for emptying bladder, toilet positioning, etc. to encourage healthy bladder function.
Treatment of co-existing bowel dysfunction, sexual dysfunction or orthopedic pain (as this is often all connected!).
**Some women also benefit from using assistive equipment like a tampon or a pessary to help stabilize the urethra or support the vaginal wall during exercise depending on her specific situation.
My colleagues write very well, and have written several excellent posts on pelvic floor problems in athletes. Here are a few of my favorites:
I love the changes I’ve seen in our culture over the past 10 or so years. Healthy foods? Regular exercise? Joining gyms, boxes, studios, programs? This has become the norm for many people—and, that is so awesome! I love to see people being more active, taking responsibility for their health, and really striving to care for their bodies throughout their lifespans.
However, with this change and shift toward more activity, I have started seeing some pelvic problems become more common. And I don’t blame the exercise—I really don’t! I will stand firm in my belief that there is no such thing as a bad exercise—but all exercises require proper form and performance. Sometimes when we consistently perform exercises that we may not be able to do correctly, problems can creep in. I don’t see this to scare anyone off from exercises– please don’t think I mean that! But I think it is important to remember that Pain is never normal. Bladder leakage? Bowel problems? Sexual pain? Also never normal.
So, the next two posts are going to address two of the major things I am treating regularly in higher level athletes. Today we are going to talk about Pelvic floor muscle pain, and next week I will post about stress incontinence. Let’s get started.
Pelvic floor muscle-related pain
What is it? This problem occurs when the muscle of the pelvic floor become tender, overactive or hypervigilant(basically contracting with too much intensity to guard/protect the pelvis) Often when this happens, people will feel pain in the lower abdomen, groin, hip, buttock or low back—or may feel actual vaginal/rectal pain. The pain may also be associated with changes in bladder function (like increased urinary frequency, urgency or leakage), bowel function (like constipation or difficulty emptying bowels) or sexual function (typically pain or discomfort during intercourse.) However, sometimes people will experience pain without any of these other symptoms at all.
Why does this happen? This is the kicker–We don’t always know exactly why. However, there are some common reasons why the pelvic floor muscles might begin responding this way. First, we have to remember that the pelvic floor is just one part of a team of muscles that work together to modulate pressure within the abdomen and pelvis. So, the diaphragm, transverse abdominis, multifidus and pelvic floor work together to control intra-abdominal pressure, and pre-activate to support the spine and pelvis during movement.
Dysfunction in any one of these muscles can lead to problems with others. For example, I often find tender, irritated muscles in women after childbirth, especially those who have a diastasis rectus (separation at midline between the two rectus abdominis muscles). This separation impacts the stability at the abdominal wall, generally leading to gripping of the internal and external oblique muscles, alterations in ability to breathe optimally, and thus gripping at the pelvic floor muscles. We see a similar pattern occur in men and women with hypermobility. We can also see dysfunction creep in as a motor adaptation when someone has a history of low back, hip, neck, knee or other musculoskeletal problems.
In terms of athletes in particular (and yes, this includes those of you doing Crossfit, Barre, personal training, yoga, pilates, and other regular exercise— YOU are an athlete J), I often find that when a person lacks dynamic stability, the pelvic floor will compensate to give that stability. If a person is then doing regular exercise and does not have the adequate control, form, or force modulation to perform, these compensations become more prevalent and can then lead to pain.
What can you do about it? If you think your pelvic floor may be a contributor to pain, the first step is to seek evaluation. It can be helpful to initially seek a medical evaluation to rule out other potential pain contributors (ovarian cysts, inguinal hernias, etc.). Then, I do strongly recommend seeking an evaluation by a skilled physical therapist with advanced training in pelvic health. If you are living in a state that allows self-referral to physical therapy (like Georgia!), you can see a physical therapist without a physician referral; however, if in doubt, check with your local physical therapy office.
Treatment for pelvic floor related pain in athletes typically focuses initially on re-establishing the optimal function of the pelvic floor muscles within the team of muscles we spoke about earlier. This is done by teaching the patient how to relax the pelvic floor muscles, use the amazing diaphragm in the proper coordination with the pelvic floor and abdominals, and often includes manual therapy to help reduce muscle tenderness and/or improve connective tissue or neural mobility around the pelvis. A skilled pelvic floor PT will not only assess the pelvic floor muscles, but will examine you from a whole-body perspective—watching you move in various motions, looking at your hips/back/knees/ankles and assessing the soft tissues that could be contributors to your symptoms. This allows us to not only identify which tissues are contributing to the pain you experience, but also to identify any abnormal movement patterns which could be leading to the compensation in the first place.
Once the pelvic floor muscles are no longer hypervigilant/tender/overactive, we focus on restoring healthy movement. This includes integrating the pelvic floor and its team within those movements—the right way! Typically at this point, we progress the athlete to his or her specific movements—whether that is Olympic lifting, squats, or a yoga warrior series—teaching the athlete proper form all while integrating the right muscle firing patterns to adequately stabilize.
Do I have to stop exercising while in PT? This is always a tough one. I totally recognize that many adult athletes love their work-out routines and benefit so much by them—physically, socially, and emotionally. Sometimes there will be particular exercises that are aggravating symptoms or worsening the problems the person is experiencing. In those cases, I often will recommend holding off on those movements for a short time period. While holding off on some exercises, we often can still work together to find exercises and movements that are appropriate and totally acceptable to keep performing! I know this period can be frustrating for patients as it is difficult to take a break from something you love, but I promise, it’s short! Our goal ultimately is to get people back to the activities they love as quickly and safely as we can!
If you are having pelvic pain during exercise, and you live in the Atlanta area, I would LOVE to see you! Feel free to contact me or call my office for more information!
I always love to hear from you! Please let me know if you have any questions or feel free to chime in if I left something out! Happy Thursday!
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! 🙂
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!