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Herman & Wallace Blog

Pessary Use and Defecatory Dysfunction

After completing an intake on a patient and learning that her history of constipation started about 3 years ago with insidious onset, the story wasn’t really making any sense of how or why this started. Yes, she was menopausal. Yes, she seemed to be eating fiber and drinking water. Yes, she got a bowel movement urge daily, but her bowel movements felt incomplete. Yes, she was a little older, using Estrace cream, and her mobility had slowed down, but nothing seemed to make sense in the story that was leading me to believe it was an emptying problem or a stool consistency issue. She had a bowel movement urge, she could empty, but it was incomplete.

So, after explaining about physical therapy, the muscle problems involved and what we do here, it led us to the physical examination portion. I explained that we check both the vaginal and rectal pelvic floor muscle compartments to determine rectal fullness internally, check for a rectocele, check for muscle lengthening (excursion) and shortening (contraction). She was on board and desperate to find an answer. She was eager for me to help her find an answer to her emptying problem that she had for the last 3 years.

Upon entering her vaginal canal slowly, I start to move around and felt a ring of plastic. “Are you wearing a pessary?” I asked. “Pessary? Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you about that!”, she exclaimed. “How long have you been using it?” I asked. “About 3 years…” she answered.

I sent her back to the urogynecologist to get fit for another type of pessary as her muscle examination proved to be negative. Since that time, I have added the question “Do you wear a pessary?” as part of the constipation intake questions. Pessary use creates the ability for a patient to forgo or to extend their time for a surgical intervention due to pelvic organ prolapse.

Looking at the dynamics of the pessary, it may block bowel movement emptying. The recent study by Dengle, et al, published in the October 2018 in the International Urogynecological Journal confirms this anecdotal, clinical finding. The article, Defecatory Dysfunction and Other Clinical Variables Are Predictors of Pessary Discontinuation, looked at reasons for discontinuation of pessary use from April 2014 to January 2017 and did a retrospective chart review on a selected 1071 women. Incomplete defecation had the largest association with pessary discontinuation.

While there are over 20 sizes of pessaries on the market, patients will discontinue use without having a better conversation with their practitioner. From a PT perspective, when the patient comes in with bowel emptying issues, if no muscle dysfunction is found, it needs to be brought to the provider’s attention. Our role in educating the patient on the options that are available and creating this dialogue can prove to be very helpful in those suffering from pelvic organ prolapse and defecatory dysfunction.


Dengler, EG et al. "Defecatory dysfunction and other clinical variables are predictors of pessary discontinuation." Int Urogynecol J. 2018 Oct 20. doi: 10.1007/s00192-018-3777-1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30343377

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An Orthopedic Approach to Coccyx Pain

Most of us spend our day sitting and do not think about the position of our ilia, sacrum or coccyx during the change from standing to sitting. Weightbearing through a tripod of bilateral ischial tuberosities and a sacrum that should have normalized form closure should be easy and pain free. The coccyx typically has minimal weight bearing in sitting, about 10%, just like the fibula, however, it can be a major pain generator, if the biomechanics of the ilia, sacrum and femoral head positions are not quite right.

Coccydynia and Painful Sitting is a course that can be related to all populations that physical therapists treat. A lot of patients will state “my pain is worse with sitting” which can mean thoracic pain, low back/sacral pain and even lower extremity radicular pain. Women’s health providers treat anything regarding the pelvis, so we are seeing a lot of complicated histories and symptoms.

Scanning the literature for coccyx treatment does not always yield the best results for physical therapists. Most literature states what the medical interventions can be, and physical therapy is never at the forefront. However, as we are musculoskeletal and neuromuscular specialists, this is no different on our thinking patterns relating to coccyx pain or painful sitting.

During sitting, the coccyx has a normal flexion and extension moments that will change or become dysfunctional once mechanics above and below that joint change. A simple ankle sprain from 2 years ago can result in chronic knee pain, sacroiliac pain, and can lead to coccyx pain over time. Even the patient who has long standing TMJ (temporomandibular joint) and cervical dysfunction, now has a thoracic rotation and your correction of their coccyx deviation cannot maintain correction.

This course sparks your orthopedic mindset, encouraging the clinician to evaluate the coccyx more holistically. What are the joints doing? How does it change from sitting to standing? Standing to sitting? What is the difference from sitting upright to slump activities? Working through the basics and the obvious with failed results, takes you to the next step of critical thinking within this course. How does the patient present, what seems to be lacking and how to correct them biomechanically to achieve pain free sitting?

Related coccyx musculature and nerve dysfunction can seem like the easiest to treat, but what happens when those techniques fail? This course looks at the entire body, from cranium to feet, to determine the driver of coccyx pain and dysfunction. A better understanding of ilial motion, with accompanied spring tests (Hesch Method), normalizing spinal mechanics and lower extremity function is highlighted in this course. Internal vaginal and rectal release of pelvic floor muscles can lead to normalized coccyx muscle tension that are supported via coccyx taping.

Join me for "Coccydynia and Painful Sitting: Orthopedic and Pelvic Floor Muscle Implications", taking place May 6-7 in Dayton, OH and October 13-14 in Houston, TX.

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The Small but Mighty Pain Generator: The Coccyx

Pain with sitting is a common complaint that patients may present to the clinic with. While excess sitting has been shown to be detrimental to the human body, sitting is part of our everyday culture ranging from sitting at a meal, traveling in the car, or doing work at a desk. Often, physical therapists disregard the coccyx or tailbone as the possible pain generator, simply because they are fearful of assessing it, have no idea where it is, or have never learned about it being a pain generator in their education.

Coccydynia is the general term for “pain over the coccyx.” Patients with coccydynia will complain of pain with sitting or transitioning from sit to stand. Despite the coccyx being such a small bone at the end of the spine, it serves as a large attachment site for many important structures of interest that are important in pelvic floor support and continence: ¹

  • Anterior: Levator ani muscles, Sacrococcygeal ligament
  • Lateral: Coccygeal muscles, Sacrospinous ligament, Sacrotuberous ligament, Glute maximus muscle fibers
  • Inferiorly: Iliococcygeus

Coccyx EvaluationAlong with serving as a major attachment site for the above structures it provides a support for weightbaring in the seated position and provides structural support for the anus. Women are five times more likely to develop coccydynia than men, with the most common cause being an external trauma like a fall, or an internal trauma like a difficult childbirth. 1,2 In a study of 57 women suffering from postpartum coccydynia, most deliveries that resulting in coccyx pain were from use of instruments such as a forceps delivery or vacuum assisted delivery. A BMI over 27 and having greater than or equal to 2 vaginal deliveries resulted in a higher rate of coccyx luxation during birth. ³ Other causes of coccyx pain can be non traumatic such as rapid weight loss leading to loss of cushioning in sitting, hypermobility or hypomobility of the sacrococcygeal joint, infections like a pilonidal cyst, or pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. ¹ When assessing a patient with coccyx pain, it is also of the upmost importance to rule out red flags, as there are multiple cases cited in the literature of tumors such as retrorectal tumors or cysts being the cause of coccyx pain. These masses must be examined by a doctor to determine if they are malignant or benign, and if excision is necessary. Sometimes these masses can be felt as a bulge on rectal examination. 4,5

A multidisciplinary approach including physical therapy, ergonomic adaptations, medications, injections, and, possibly, psychotherapy leads to the greatest chance of success in patients with prolonged coccyx pain. 1 Special wedge shaped sitting cushions can provide relief for patients in sitting and help return them to their social activities during treatment. Physical therapy includes manual manipulation and internal work to the pelvic floor muscles to alleviate internal spasms and ligament pain. Intrarectal coccyx manipulation can potentially realign a dislocated sacrococcygeal joint or coccyx. 1 Taping methods can be used as a follow up to coccyx manipulation to help hold the coccyx in the new position and allow for optimal healing. Often coccyx pain patients have concomitant pathologies such as pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, sacroilliac or lumbar spine pain, and various other orthopedic findings that are beneficial to address. When conservative treatments fail, injections or a possible coccygectomy may be considered.

Luckily conservative treatment is successful in about 90% of cases. ¹ All of the above conservative tools will be taught in the upcoming Coccyx Pain Evaluation and Treatment course on April 23-24th, 2016 in Columbia, MO taught by Lila Abbate PT, DPT, OCS, WCS, PRPC. By learning how to treat coccyx pain appropriately, you will be a key provider in solving many unresolved sitting pain cases that are not resolved with traditional orthopedic physical therapy.


1. Lirette L, Chaiban G, Tolba R, et al. Coccydynia: An overview of the anatomy, etiology, and treatment of coccyx pain. The Ochsner Journal. 2014; 14:84-87.
2. Marinko L, Pecci M. Clinical Decision Making for the Evaluation and Management of Coccydynia: 2 Case Reports. JOSPT. 2014; 44(8): 615
3. Maigne JY, Rusakiewicz F, Diouf M. Postpartum coccydynia: a case series study of 57 women. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2012; 48 (3): 387-392.
4. Levine R, Qu Z, Wasvary H. Retrorectal Teratoma. A rare cause of pain in the tailbone. Indian J Surg. 2013; 75(2): 147-148.
5. Suhani K, Ali S, Aggarwal L, et al. Retrorectal cystic hamartoma: A problematic tail. J Surg Tech Case Rep. 2104; 6(2): 56-60.

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Dyssynergic Defecation: A Common Culprit of Chronic Constipation and Abdominal Pain

Faculty member Lila Bartkowski- Abbate PT, DPT, MS, OCS, WCS, PRPC teaches the Bowel Pathology, Function, Dysfunction and the Pelvic Floor course for Herman & Wallace. Join her in Tampa on April 2-3, or one of the other two events currently open for registration.

Constipation, an often under reported health issue, afflicts about 30% of Americans. ¹ The diagnosis of chronic constipation may seem like a simple concept, however the etiology of chronic constipation presents itself in many different forms. Dyssynergic defecation is one of many factors that can lead to a presentation of chronic constipation in a patient. Dyssynergic defecation or “paradoxical contraction” occurs when the muscles of the abdominals, puborectalis sling, and external anal sphincter function inappropriately while attempting a bowel movement. ² The lack of coordination of these muscles results in a contraction versus a lengthening of the pelvic floor muscles with baring down. Dyssynergic defecation is different than a structural issue such as a rectocele or hemorrhoids causing the inability to pass stool effectively or constipation due to slow colon transit time or pathological disease. Making the diagnosis of dyssynergic defecation by symptoms alone is often not reliable secondary to overlap of similar symptoms with chronic constipation due to factors such as a structural issue, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or irritable bowel disease (IBD). The diagnosis of dyssynergic defecation can be difficult and is often made through physiologic testing such as balloon expulsion testing or MRI with defecography. ² However, physical therapists can often manually feel that a paradoxical contraction is happening when asking a patient to bare down on evaluation.

Patients with dyssynergic defecation may present to pelvic floor physical therapy with complaints of: ¹ ²

  1. Abdominal symptoms such as bloating, pain, and cramping
  2. Poor response to laxatives and fiber supplementation that does not fully resolve their issue
  3. Have had testing for anatomical or neurological abnormalities with no significant findings
  4. Complaints of concomitant pelvic pain due to over activity of the pelvic floor muscles

Physical Therapists specializing in pelvic floor rehab can be a valuable part of the medical team with treating these patients. Biofeedback training by physical therapists has been shown to decrease anorectal related constipation symptoms and abdominal symptoms in patients with dyssynergic defecation. In a sample of 77 patients with dyssynergic defecation, physical therapists provided biofeedback training for 6-8 weeks that included manual and verbal feedback, surface EMG, exercises using a rectal catheter, rectal ballooning to improve rectal sensory abnormalities, ultrasound, pelvic floor and abdominal massage, electrical stimulation if needed, and core strengthening and stretching to improve the patients’ maladaptive habits while attempting to pass a bowel movement. Significant decreases were seen on all three domains (abdominal, rectal, and stool) on the PAC-SYM (Patient Assessment of Constipation) questionnaire post biofeedback training. ² It is noteworthy that 74% of these patients presented to the clinic with complaints of abdominal symptoms such as bloating, pain, discomfort, and cramping.

Knowing how to effectively treat these patients and ask the right questions is valuable in the scheme of pelvic floor rehab secondary to overlapping symptoms of different causes of chronic constipation. Physical therapists are able to provide these patients with conservative treatment that can effectively improve or eliminate their problem, recognize dyssynergic defecation as a possible differential diagnosis, and refer to the appropriate medical professional for further testing. Recognizing and treating dyssynergic defecation is something physical therapists will learn how to become effective at in the upcoming Herman and Wallace Course: Bowel Pathology, Function, Dysfunction & the Pelvic Floor April 2-3 in Tampa, FL and October 8-9 in Fairfield, CA.


1. Sahin M, Dogan I, Cengiz M et al. (2015). The impact of anorectal biofeedback therapy on quality of life of patients with dyssynergic defecation. Turk J Gastroenterol. 26(2):140-144

2. Baker J, Eswaran S, Saad R, et al. (2015). Abdominal symptoms are common and benefit from biofeedback therapy in patients with dyssynergic defecation. Clin Transl Gastroenterol. 30(6)e105. doi: 10.1038/ctg.2015.3

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Case Studies in Coccyx Pain

Herman & Wallace faculty member Lila Abbate instructs several courses in pelvic rehabilitation, including "Coccyx Pain, Evaluation and Treatment". Join Lila this October in Bay Shore, NY in order to learn evaluation and treatment skills for patients with coccyx conditions.

Case studies are relevant reading for physical therapists. Reviewing case studies puts you into the writer’s brain allowing you to synthesize your current knowledge of a particular diagnosis taking you through some atypical twists and turns in treating this particular patient type. In JOSPT, August 2014, Marinko & Pecci presented a very well-written case study of two patients with coccyx pain. By then, I had already written my Coccyx course and couldn’t wait to see what the authors had written. I eagerly downloaded the article to see another’s perspective of coccyx pain and their treatment algorithms, if any, were presented in the article. How were the author’s patients different than mine? What exciting relevant information can I add to my Coccyx course?

I believe that coccyx pain patients have more long-standing pain conditions than other patient types. For the most part, the medical community does not know what to do with this tiny bone that causes all types of havoc in patients’ pain levels. Sometimes treating a traumatic coccydynia patient seems so simple and I am bewildered as to why patients are suffering so long - and other times, their story is so complex that I wonder if I can truly help.

The longer I am a physical therapist, the more important has the initial evaluation become. Our first visit with the patient is time together that really helps me to create a treatment hypothesis. This examination helps me to put together an algorithm for treatment. I now hear their story, repeat back their sequence of events in paraphrase and then I ask: do you think there is any other relevant information, no matter how small or simple, that you think you need to tell me? Some will say, I know it sounds weird, but it all started after I twisted my ankle or hurt my shoulder or something like that. I assure them that we have the whole rest of the visit together and they can chime in with any relevant details. Determining the onset of coccyx pain will help you gauge the level of improvement you can expect to achieve. Coccyx literature states that patients who have coccyx pain for 6 months or greater will have less chance for resolution of their symptoms. However, none of the literature includes true osteopathic physical therapy treatment, so I am very bias and feel that this statement is untrue.

The coccyx course is a very orthopedically-based which takes my love of manual, osteopathic treatment and combines it with the women’s health internal treatment aspects so that we are able to move more quickly to get patient’s back on the path to improved function and recovery. The course looks at patients from a holistic approach from the top of their head down to their feet. In taking on this topic, I couldn’t do it without honing into our basic observation skills, using some of my favorite tools in my toolbox: Hesch Method, Integrated Systems Model, and traditional osteopathic and mobilization approaches mixing it with our internal vaginal and rectal muscle treatment skill set.


Marinko LN, Pecci M. Clinical decision making for the evaluation and management of coccydynia: 2 case reports. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2014 Aug; 44(8): 615-21.

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A Mesh of Continued Controversy

Allison Ariail

This post was written by H&W instructor Lila Abbate PT, DPT, MS, OCS. Lila will be instructing Pelvic Floor Level 3 with Institute founder Holly Herman in San Diego at the end of this month! Sign up for the few remaining seats left in this popular course!

When treating your patient who has undergone a pelvic reconstruction in the not-so-distant past, does the mesh controversy come to your mind?Is the effect of the mesh causing your patient this dysfunction and is she complaining of urinary urgency, urinary frequency, or pelvic pain? Understanding pelvic muscle dysfunction, as pelvic rehabilitation providers do, can put us in a good position to help our patients, as well as to help our physicians with this oftentimes litigious issue.

Urogynecologists, gynecologists, urologists, or any surgeon who deals in the business of female sexual medicine and pelvic reconstruction seems to have been put in a position to defend their stance on the use of mesh when working with patients who present with any degree of pelvic organ prolapse (POP), be it complicated or simple.The decision to utilize mesh is now made with greater emphasis on education for the patient who is undergoing the procedure.

The Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) has released a proposal on April 29, 2014 in order to address the potential reclassification of surgical mesh for transvaginal POP from a class II (moderate risk) to a class III (high risk) device and would “require manufacturers to submit a premarket approval (PMA) application for the agency to evaluate safety and effectiveness.” 1 A similar proposal was put in place with breast implants in 1992 in order to create more awareness of safety concerns with the use of breast implants. 2

While older mesh kits (demonstrated to be more likely to cause complications) have been pulled from the market, any mesh surgery can create complications. As the body heals, scar tissue forms and contracts which is part of the normal healing process, and for some patients, this process can wreak havoc as the tissues and the mesh shrink. Muscles are bypassed, pressed upon, and ligaments are used as supportive measures for the mesh arms, and this can set up the pelvic floor muscles for edema, weakness, or even muscle over-activity. We know that different patients heal in different ways; just as a patient who has had a total hip replacement experiences muscle swelling, soreness, weakness, and scarring, a mesh surgery will necessarily create temporary dysfunction. However, physical therapists are skilled and well-versed in palpating and treating muscle dysfunction, scar tissue and adhesions, and we can educate our patients on the symptoms of mesh complication that may in fact be a muscle problem. Not every patient who has had mesh placement is suffering from mesh erosion, and physical therapists can help patients improve or resolve their symptoms over time through treatment.

Pelvic Floor Level 3 is an advanced course offered by the Institute that covers surgical procedures, pharmacology including hormone replacement, and other medical interventions that address pelvic muscle over-activity, tissue dysfunction, and surgical complications. Lab activities include manual techniques to downtrain (decrease muscle over-activity) such as Strain-Counterstrain of the pelvic floor muscles.

1.http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm395192.htm. Accessed on May 5, 2014.

2. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/ImplantsandProsthetics/BreastImplants/ucm064461.htm. Accessed on May 5, 2014.

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