Pudendal nerve dysfunction, when severe, is truly one of the most difficult conditions treated by pelvic rehabilitation providers. While peripheral nerve dysfunction anywhere in the body can be challenging to treat, access to the nerve along its many potential sites of irritation is limited when compared to other peripheral nerves. Many research studies have been completed that investigate how structures like the median nerve move in the body, and to what extent the nerve movement changes in cases of dysfunction, yet we still have very little to work with regarding the pudendal nerve. Little, that is, except anatomical knowledge, nerve and tissue mapping and palpation skills, expert listening and evaluation skills, and an abundance of existing and emerging methodology directed to treatment of chronic pain conditions.
The Neuro Orthopaedic Institute (also known as the NOI group)has led the physiotherapy world in seeking and sharing knowledge about the evaluation and treatment of conditions involving the nervous system. In a prior posting within the "noinotes" available as a newsletter from the NOI group, the following is stated: "…for the best clinical exposure of a peripheral nerve problem, take up the part that you think holds the problem first and then progressively add tension to the nerve via the limbs." Let's say, for example, that you gently tension the pudendal nerve by completing an inferior compression of the right levator ani muscle group (towards the lateral portion of the muscle belly versus at the midline). At this point, what limb movement should be performed to increase tension to the nerve? Does a straight leg raise tension the nerve, or hip rotation, hip adduction? What evidence do we have that this nerve tension increases in terms of elongation of the peripheral nerve, and by what connective tissue attachments is this tension proposed to occur? And for using order of movement in the clinic, do we start with a pelvic muscle bearing down or contraction, then add trunk or limb movements?
The "Ordering nerves" post describes listening "…to the patient about the sequence of movements which aggravate them.." so that with clinical reasoning, for evaluation or treatment, the nerve symptoms can be reproduced to an appropriate extent. For example, if a pelvic muscle contraction significantly aggravates a patient's nerve-like symptoms, why should a patient be instructed, or allowed even, to do Kegel muscle exercises to a degree that causes significant pain? If a patient has low grade, annoying symptoms that are only reproduced with posterior pelvic floor stretch combined with an anterior pelvic tilt and passive straight leg raise with internal rotation of the hip, then that position should be incorporated into a clinical and a home program if able.
Just because we don't yet know how patients with true pudendal nerve dysfunction present clinically in terms of nerve gliding ability, and what movements typically engage particular portions of the nerve (such as the proximal portion in the posterior pelvis, the portion that lives along the obturator internus, the portion housed by the Alcock's canal, or even the longest portion of the nerve that extends to the genitals), that does not mean we should default to a one-size-fits-all pelvic muscle strengthening or stretching approach. Each patient must be met with curiosity, and with keen knowledge of anatomy, nerve evaluation principles, and pain-brain centered skills so that an individual approach is designed. As is concluded in this post from the NOI group, we must "Keep playing with order of movement."