As 2022 has gotten underway, it has already brought many of us to a place where we simply need to hear something lighthearted. The start of a new year also gives us a chance to examine priorities and make room for what matters most. “What matters most” can look different for each of us; for me, it’s my family – including two dogs – Stella and Sadie. Of course, the dogs fall in line behind my human nuclear and extended families, however, they are such a part of my daily life and contribute to my quality of life, it seems only natural to share this story with a wider audience -especially because this story revolves around one of my favorite topics – intentional nourishment!
Let me begin by telling you about our 5-year-old Golden Retriever named Stella. She came to us as one of only three puppies in a litter; a pleasantly plump pup, she was well developed, well-fed, and well-loved. According to everyone who has had the opportunity to meet her, she is the happiest dog they’ve ever met. When we brought her home at eight weeks, she topped the scale at 21 lbs.
Stella's fur was shiny, her disposition sunny; she emanated maturity and wisdom. She slept through the night with such efficiency, we hardly remember having to let her out at night as a puppy. She was content; the perfect combination of calm and energetic. She was a breeze to housetrain, has an impeccable record of only two accidents in the house, and nary an indoor fecal incontinence episode. Stella brought us so much joy that we decided on a whim to add a second puppy to the milieu.
Megan Pribyl, PT, CMPT is a practicing physical therapist at the Olathe Medical Center in Olathe, KS treating a diverse outpatient population in orthopedics including pelvic rehabilitation. Megan’s longstanding passion for both nutritional sciences and manual therapy has culminated in the creation of her remote course, Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist, designed to propel understanding of human physiology as it relates to pelvic conditions, pain, healing, and therapeutic response. She harnesses her passion to continually update this course with cutting-edge discoveries creating a unique experience sure to elevate your level of appreciation for the complex and fascinating nature of clinical presentations in orthopedic manual therapy and pelvic rehabilitation.
As a course developer and instructor for the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehab Institute, it is a privilege to continue sharing my passion for nutrition and pelvic rehabilitation with professionals nationwide. Interest in the topic continues to grow, and many pelvic rehab providers have identified nutrition as the “missing link” in their clinical practice. Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist has helped hundreds of pelvic rehab professionals integrate nutrition-related information into their clinical practice since 2015.
Indulgences over the holiday season lead many to experience symptoms of indigestion, part of the discomfort that fuels our renewed January focus on exercise and “eating right”. With this in mind, we need to have a discussion about how we as a nation handle GI distress or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) symptoms. Typically, here in the US, there are 2 methods we typically use: 1. The quick way by popping a Tums or Rolaids or 2. The prolonged way by taking PPI’s (proton pump inhibitors) or H-2 blockers on a regular basis (eg. Pepcid AC or Zantac). Both are reliable ways to efficiently feel a little less GI distress.
The immediate relief strategies neutralize the acid that is already in the stomach whereas the longer-acting PPI’s and H-2 blockers actually block or suppress acid production in the stomach. And even though these “longer term” drugs are designed for short term use, the more I inquire about their use with my patients, the more a troublesome pattern emerges. Many of my patients struggling with complex symptom constellations (eg. a non-relaxing pelvic floor, perineal skin issues, gut issues, anxiety, depressive symptoms etc.) describe that they have taken these “digestive aides” continually for years. YEARS! To take care of their indigestion or digestive discomfort that began YEARS ago.
So, this approach is fine, yes? We know acid reflux can lead to esophageal irritation, not to mention pain and nagging discomfort. It can lead to disordered sleep and its associated sequelae. In extreme cases, esophageal irritation could even progress to esophageal cancer. Therein lies the justification for using drugs that suppress or block acid production in the stomach over the long term. Even though long term safe use of these drugs has never been established.
The need for artful incorporation of Hippocrates’ wisdom is great in today’s healthcare landscape. As conversation of nutrition broadens into multidisciplinary fields, his wisdom resonates: first, “we must make a habit of two things; to help; or at least to do no harm”. Second, we must modernize the ancient adage: “let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food”. And finally, health care providers will do well to be guided by his insight that “all disease starts in the gut”. Hippocrates’ keen observations during his era, modern science is confirming, hold keys to the plight of our times as we seek to find better ways to manage complex conditions commonly encountered in pelvic rehab practice settings and beyond.
Considered some of the oldest writings on medicine, the “Hippocratic Corpus” is a collection of more than 60 medical books attributed directly and indirectly to Hippocrates himself who lived from approximately 460 to 377 BCE.2 According to the Corpus, Hippocratic approach recommends physical exercise and a “healthy diet” as a remedy for most ailments - with plants being prized for their healing properties. If -during illness states - employment of nourishment and movement strategies fail, then medicinal considerations could be made. This logos - the ancient Greek word for logic - is the art of reason whose relevance today is perhaps more poignant than in ancient times.
In this logos, by making a habit of helping, or at the very least, not harming, it becomes particularly important to identify the unique nutritional landscape that surrounds us. The Hippocratic Oath emanates reason. It is logical that we would seek to practice (healthcare) to the best of our ability, share knowledge with other providers, employ sympathy, compassion and understanding, and help in disease prevention whenever possible.2 One of the most helpful and powerful aspects of rehabilitation is the gift of time we have for meaningful and instructional conversation with our clients. Our interactions with clients can and should address the realm of nutrition as it relates to the health of the mind and body. Because, after all - to help - is why many become health care providers in the first place.
There are moments when I pause and realize how far we’ve come in a short period of time, and then others when I’m acutely reminded how far we have yet to go. Our destination is an integrative health care system which addresses nourishment first and early versus last, not at all, or only when all else fails. My mission is to support the concept of nourishment first and early though sharing of “Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist” through the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehab Institute.
After each weekend I teach Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist, I feel affirmed that this class, this information is vital and at times life-changing for practicing clinicians. And every time I teach, participants share that they take away much more than they expected. It’s a course that makes accessible complex concepts to entry level participants while offering timely and cutting edge integrative instruction to the advanced clinician eager to incorporate this knowledge into their practice. Supportive literature is woven throughout the tapestry of the course.
After the most recent live course event, a participant shared with me a letter she received from a patient in 2016 who mentions the lack of nutritional attention during her cancer treatment. I want to share with you the essence of this letter:
Gratitude filled my heart after being able to take part in the pre-conference course sponsored by the APTA Orthopedic Section’s Pain Management Special Interest Group this past February. For two days, participants heard from leaders in the field of progressive pain management with integrative topics including neuroscience, cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, sleep, yoga, and mindfulness to name a few. It’s exciting to witness and participate in the evolution of integrative thinking in physical therapy. When it was my turn to deliver the presentation, I had prepared about nutrition and pain, I could hardly contain my passion. While so much of our pain-related focus is placed on the brain, I realized acutely the stone yet unturned is the involvement of the enteric nervous system (aka the gut) on pain and….well…everything.
Much appreciation is due to those on the forefront of pain sciences for their research, their insight, their tireless work to fill our tool boxes with pain education concepts. Neuroscience has made tremendous leaps and bounds as has corresponding digital media to help explain pain to our patients. One such brilliant 5-minute tool can be found on the Live Active YouTube channel.
“Keep Calm and Treat Pain” is perhaps an affirmation for therapists when encountering patients suffering from pain, whether acute or chronic. The reality is this: treating pain is complicated. Treating pain has brought many a health care provider to his or her proverbial knees. It has also led us as a nation into the depths of the opioid epidemic which claimed over 165,000 lives between the years of 1999 and 2014 (Dowell & Haegerich, 2016). That number has swollen to over 200,000 in up-to-date calculations and according to the CDC, 42,000 human beings, not statistics, were killed by opioids in 2016 - a record.
So why has treating pain eluded us as a nation? The answers are as complicated as treating pain itself. Which is why we as health care providers must seek out not simply alternatives, but the truth in the matter. Why are so many suffering? Why has chronic pain become the enormous beast that it has become? What might we do differently, collectively, and how might we examine this issue through a holistic mindset?
In just a few weeks, I have the privilege of teaching amongst 10 physical therapy professionals and one physician from around the nation who with coordinated efforts created a landmark pre-conference course at CSM in New Orleans through the Orthopaedic Section of the APTA. Included in the 11 are myself and another Herman & Wallace instructor Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA who teaches “Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment” through the Institute.
Anxiety and depression are frequently encountered co-morbidities in the clients we serve in pelvic rehabilitation. This observation several years ago in clinical practice is one of many that prompted me down the path of exploring the connection between the gut, the brain, and overall health. In answering the question about these connections, I discovered many nutritionally related truths that are being rapidly elucidated in the literature.
A recent study by Sandhu, et.al. (2017) examines the role of the gut microbiota on the health of the brain and it’s influence on anxiety and depression. The title of the study, “Feeding the microbiota-gut-brain axis: diet, microbiome, and neuropsychiatry” gives us pause to consider the impact of our diets on this axis and in turn, on the health of our nervous system. The authors state:
It is diet composition and nutritional status that has been repeatedly been shown to be one of the most critical modifiable factors regulating the gut microbiota at different time points across the lifespan and under various health conditions.
With diet and nutritional status being the most critical modifiable factors in the health of this system, it becomes our responsibility to seek to understand this system and its influencing factors. We need to learn how to nourish the microbiota-gut-brain axis.
When it comes to discussing nutrition with our clients in pelvic rehab, it is normal to initially feel both uncertain and perhaps a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of delving into this topic. Yet we know that there must be links, some association between nutrition and the many chronic conditions we encounter. Gradually, over the last several years, a cornerstone of my practice with patients in pelvic rehabilitation has become providing nutritional guidance.
I was both humbled and immensely grateful when many of my colleagues and peers attended Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist (NPPR) in Kansas City last March. In the following months, our clinics underwent a significant change in the types of discussions occurring with our patients. By embracing concepts presented in NPPR, a continuous stream of patient stories developed about lives having been touched by this shift. For many, “one small change” made a very big difference or served as the catalyst to many more positive lifestyle changes. Simply placing a high priority on re-thinking health situations through the lens of nourishment has been a very important shift, one that can occur across the spectrum of pelvic rehab practitioners if we choose to answer the call to “do what’s necessary”.
Learning the essence of a topic outside our comfort zone is not easy, yet in present time is necessary for providers trying to grapple with how to wrap our professional minds around what we know in our hearts to be true: the effect of nourishment on health is profound. This brings to mind the resonating wisdom of Francis of Assisi:
Megan Pribyl, MSPT is the author and instructor for Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist. Megan is passionate about nutritional science and manual therapy. Megan holds a dual-degree in Nutrition and Exercise Sciences (B.S. Foods & Nutrition, B.S. Kinesiology) from Kansas State University, and has actively sought to fill in missing links between orthopedics and nutrition.
APTA Landmark Motion Passes
RC 12-15: The Role of the Physical Therapist in Diet and Nutrition
Is nutrition within our scope of practice? As the instructor for “Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist” offered through Herman & Wallace, I hear this question frequently! To me, the answer has always been a clear “yes*!”; now the APTA is endorsing this view. It’s an exciting time to be a rehab professional, especially for those looking to broaden clinical perspectives and scope of services to include basic nutrition and lifestyle information.
At the APTA House of Delegates in early June 2015, a landmark motion passed - RC 12-15: The Role of the Physical Therapist in Diet and Nutrition. As our profession advances towards a more integrative model, this motion symbolizes an acknowledgement of the rehab professional’s broader role as a health care provider. We, as physical therapists, are uniquely positioned to offer patients more comprehensive lifestyle-related education including discussion of nutrition. Both the World Health Organization (WHO, 2008) and the Physical Therapy Summit on Global Health (Dean, et.al, 2014) have called upon all health care providers to stand in unity to help the public with epidemics of lifestyle-related diseases; the APTA has given it’s nod of approval as well.