The female sexual response cycle is more than physical stimulation. As pelvic therapists, we frequently find ourselves treating pelvic pain that has interrupted a woman’s ability to enjoy her sexuality and sensuality. As physical therapists, we focus on the physical limitations and pain generators as a way of helping patients overcome their functional limitations. However, many of us find that once many of the physical symptoms have cleared with pelvic floor and fascial stretching, our patients are still apprehensive to engage physically, or they are not able to derive pleasure. There is clearly a gap that needs to be bridged that goes beyond pain.
Last year I taught my class, Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment. I was honored and astounded to have Dee Hartmann, PT in my class. For those of you who do not know Dee, she has been a champion of our field for a long time, and she has been instrumental in elevating physical therapy as a first line of treatment in pelvic pain through her work, international leadership, and representation in multiple organizations, including APTA SOWH, ISSVD, IPPS, NVA, ISSWSH, and as an editor for the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
In this manual nerve class, I was teaching how to treat the path of the genitofemoral nerve, which affects the peri-clitoral tissues and sensation. We also covered manual therapy approaches to decrease restriction in the clitoral complex and improve the blood flow response in this region. Dee was fascinated and looped me into what she had been working on for the past several years. She has been working as part of a company called Vulvalove with her partner, sex therapist, Elizabeth Wood on studying and teaching women how to recapture their sensuality. Immediately, we wanted to combine forces in some way to present a way to approach these issues. So, when Dee invited me to present with Elizabeth and her at the Combined Sections Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association (CSM) this year, I was humbled and excited to jump on board.
With improved tissue mobility in the clitoral and vaginal area, blood flow is able to improve through any previously restricted tissues. With any manual therapy or soft tissue work, it is expected that cutaneous circulation of blood and lymph will alter. In studies, a measure of this blood flow, VPA (Vaginal Pulse Amplitude) is higher in the arousal than the non-arousal state in women.4 “The first measurable sign of sexual arousal is an increase in the blood flow. This creates the engorged condition, elevates the luminal oxygen tension and stimulates the production of surface vaginal fluid by increased plasma”.5 Manual therapy can likely affect this.1,2. During our CSM talk, I will discuss the neurovascular anatomy and will have a brief video of manual techniques to enhance these pathways in my portion of the presentation.
In the 19th century, female orgasm and sensuality was believed to be more vaginal, but as the 20th century unfolded, understanding of the clitoral tissues improved. More recent research reveals the origin of female pleasure is more complex, involving the clitoris, vulva, vagina, and uterus.3 However, female response is more complicated than just anatomy below the waist.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of autonomic nervous system health and the ability to flux between sympathetic and parasympathetic states. Autogenic training and meditation or mindfulness have been shown in multiple studies to improve HRV. A study by Stanton in 2017 demonstrated that even one session of autogenic training can increase HRV and VPA (Vaginal Pulse Amplitude, a measure of arousal). In our talk at CSM, Dee will cover the role of autogenics and how to specifically and practically use our autonomic state to influence our perception and feeling of pleasure. Dee will also cover extensive clitoral anatomy to have a better understanding of how this intricate complex functions and is structured in women.
Elizabeth Wood, a former sex therapist who is now a sex educator, will then present on the arousal cycle and what can be done physiologically to prepare the arousal network for climax. Elizabeth will help us to better define and understand the roles of arousal, calibration, and exploring sensuality, including exercises to help a patient have a more fulfilling experience once the physical pain is resolved. As Elizabeth says, “Knowledge is an antidote to shame and an invitation to pleasure”.
If you will be at CSM, please come join us at the opening session, Thursday February 13 from 8am-10am (PH2540), “Now That The Pain Is Gone, Where’s the Pleasure”.
If you can’t make it to CSM, I hope to see you at one of my nerve classes, “Lumbar Nerve Manual Therapy and Assessment” this year in Madison, WI April 24-26 or Seattle, WA October 16-18 to further explore manual therapies to improve sensation and neural feedback loops and to continue this conversation!
1. Portillo-Soto, A., Eberman, L. E., Demchak, T. J., & Peebles, C. (2014). Comparison of blood flow changes with soft tissue mobilization and massage therapy. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(12), 932-936.
2. Ramos-González, E., Moreno-Lorenzo, C., Matarán-Peñarrocha, G. A., Guisado-Barrilao, R., Aguilar-Ferrándiz, M. E., & Castro-Sánchez, A. M. (2012). Comparative study on the effectiveness of myofascial release manual therapy and physical therapy for venous insufficiency in postmenopausal women. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(5), 291-298.
3. Colson, M. H. (2010). Female orgasm: Myths, facts and controversies. Sexologies, 19(1), 8-14.
4. Rogers, G. S., Van de Castle, R. L., Evans, W. S., & Critelli, J. W. (1985). Vaginal pulse amplitude response patterns during erotic conditions and sleep. Archives of sexual behavior, 14(4), 327-342.
5. Stanton, A., & Meston, C. (2017). A single session of autogenic training increases acute subjective and physiological sexual arousal in sexually functional women. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 43(7), 601-617.
Birthing can be an unpredictable process for mothers and babies. With cases of fetal distress, the baby can require rapid delivery. Alternatively, in cases with cephalo-pelvic disproportion, the baby has a larger head, or the mother has a decreased capacity within the pelvis to allow the fetus to travel through the birthing canal. Additionally, the baby may have posterior presentation, colloquially known as “sunny side up” in which the baby’s occipital bone is toward the sacrum. With any of these situations, it is good to know c-sections are an option to safely deliver the child.
Women may also be inclined to try to get a c-section to avoid pelvic complication or tears or because of a history of a severe prior tear. As pelvic therapists, we know that the number of vaginal births and history of vaginal tears increase the risk of urinary incontinence and prolapse. Yet, many therapists are unfamiliar with the effects of c-section and the impact of rehab for diastasis.
A 2008 dissection study of 37 cadavers studied the path of the ilioinguinal and Iliohypogastric nerves. The course of the nerves was compared with standard abdominal surgical incisions, including appendectomy, inguinal, pfannestiel incisions (the latter used in cesarean sections). The study concluded that surgical incisions performed below the level of the anterior superior iliac spines (ASIS) carry the risk of injury to the ilioinguinal and iloiohypogastric nerves 1. Another 2005 study reported low transverse fascial incision risk injury to the ilioinguinal and Iliohypogastric nerves, and the pain of entrapment of these nerves may benefit from neurectomy in recalcitrant cases.2
Why does injury to the nerves matter? After pregnancy, patients may need rehab and retraining of their abdominal recruitment patterns for diastasis and stability. The ilioinguinal and Iliohypogastric nerves are the innervation for both the transverse abdominus and the obliques below the umbilicus. When we are working to retrain the muscles, certainly neural entrapment or poor firing can greatly impact the success of our intervention as rehab professionals. Interestingly, a study from Turkey showed patients had a significant increase in diastasis recti abdominis (DRA) with a history of 2 cesarean sections and increased parity and recurrent abdominal surgery increase the risk of DRA.2
A fourth study looked at 23 patients with ilioinguinal and Iliohypogastric nerve entrapment syndrome following transverse lower abdominal incision (such as a c-section). In this study, the diagnostic triad of ilioinguinal and Iliohypogastric nerve entrapment after operation was defined as 1) typical burning or lancinating pain near the incision that radiates to the area supplied by the nerve, 2). Clear evidence of impaired sensory perception of that nerve, and 3) pain relieved by local anaesthetic.4
One of the other symptoms we may see in an area of nerve damage is a small outpouching in the area of decreased innervation on the front lower abdominal wall.
So, what can we do with this information? The good news is that as rehab professionals, we can treat along the fascial pathway of the nerve to release in key areas of entrapment. We can mobilize the nerve directly. Neural tension testing can help us differentiate the nerve in question and we can use neural glides and slides after having freed up the nerve from the area of compression. Then, we can increase the communication of the nerve with the muscles by using specific, localized strengthening and stretch in areas of prior compression. All of these techniques are taught in in our course, Lumbar Nerve Manual Treatment and Assessment. Come join us in San Diego May 3-5, 2019 to learn how to differentially diagnose and treat entrapment of all of the nerves of the lumbar plexus.
Okiemy, G., Ele, N., Odzebe, A. S., Chocolat, R., & Massengo, R. (2008). The ilioinguinal and iliohypogastric nerves. The anatomic bases in preventing postoperative neuropathies after appendectomy, inguinal herniorraphy, caesareans. Le Mali medical, 23(4), 1-4.
Whiteside, J. L., & Barber, M. D. (2005). Ilioinguinal/iliohypogastric neurectomy for management of intractable right lower quadrant pain after cesarean section: a case report. The Journal of reproductive medicine, 50(11), 857-859.
Turan, V., Colluoglu, C., Turkuilmaz, E., & Korucuoglu, U. (2011). Prevalence of diastasis recti abdominis in the population of young multiparous adults in Turkey. Ginekologia polska, 82(11).
Stulz, P., & Pfeiffer, K. M. (1982). Peripheral nerve injuries resulting from common surgical procedures in the lower portion of the abdomen. Archives of Surgery, 117(3), 324-327.
Most people are told that inguinal hernia repair is a low risk surgery. While death or severe injury is rare, penile or testes pain after hernia repair is not a novel or recent finding. In 1943, Magee first discussed patients having genitofemoral neuralgia after appendix surgery. By 1945, both Magee and Lyons stated that surgical neurolysis gave relief of genital pain following surgical injury (neurolysis is a surgical cutting of the nerve to stop all function). However, it should be noted that with neurolysis, sensory loss will also occur, which is an undesired symptom for sexual function and pleasure. In 1978 Sunderland stated genitofemoral neuralgia was a well-documented chronic condition after inguinal hernia repair.
Let’s do a quick anatomy review. The inguinal canal is located at the lower abdomen and is actually an extension of the external oblique muscles. Is travels along the line from the ASIS to the pubic tubercle, occupying grossly the medial third of this segment. It has a lateral ring where contents from the abdomen exit and a medial ring where the contents of the canal exit superficially. This ring contains the spermatic cord (male), round ligament (female), as well as the ilioinguinal and genitofemoral nerves. For males, in early life, the testes descend from the abdominal cavity to the exterior scrotal sac through the inguinal canal, bringing a layer of the obliques, transverse abdominus, and transversalis fascia with them within the first year of life. Just as a female can experience prolapse from prolonged increased intra-abdominal pressure, a male can have a herniation through the anterior abdominal wall and inguinal canal with increased abdominal pressure. Such pressure inducing activities can be lifting, coughing, and sports activities. When this occurs, an inguinal hernia repair is generally indicated. Because the genitofemoral nerve is within the contents of the inguinal canal, it can be susceptible to surgery in this area. The genitofemoral nerve has sensory innervation to the penis and testes and is responsible for the cremasteric reflex. Symptoms of genitofemoral neuralgia in men can be penis or testes pain, numbness, hypersensitivity, and decreased sexual satisfaction or function.
In 1999 Stark et al noted pain reports as high as 63% post hernia repair. The highest rates of genitofemoral neuralgia are reported with laparoscopic or open hernia repair (Pencina, 2001). The mechanism for GF neural entrapment is entrapment within scar or fibrous adhesions and parasthesia along the genitofemoral nerve (Harms 1984, Starling and Harms 1989, Murovic 2005, and Ducic 2008). It is well known that scar and adhesion densify and visceral adhesions increase for years after surgery. Thus, symptoms can increase long after the surgery or may take years to develop. In 2006, Brara postulated that mesh in the region can contribute to subsequent genitofemoral nerve tethering which can be exacerbated by mesh in the inguinal or the retroperitoneal space. With an anterior mesh placement, there is no fascial protection left for the genitofemoral nerve.
Genitofemoral neuralgia is predominately reported as a result of iatrogenic nerve damage during surgery or trauma to the inguinal and femoral regions (Murovic et al, 2005). However, genitofemoral neuropathy can be difficulty and elusive to diagnose due to overlap with other inguinal nerves (Harms, 1984 and Chen 2011).
In my clinical experience, I have seen such symptoms after hernia repair, but also after procedures near the inguinal region such as femoral catheters for heart procedures, appendectomies, and occasionally after vasectomy.
As a pelvic PT, what are we to do with this information? First off, we can realize that all pelvic neuropathy is not necessarily due to the pudendal nerve. In the anterior pelvis, there is dual innervation from the inguinal nerves off the lumbar plexus as well as the dorsal branch of the pudendal nerve. When patients have a history of inguinal hernia repair, we can consider the genitofemoral nerve as a source of pain. Medicinally, the only research validated options for treatment are meds such as Lyrica or Gabapentin that come with drowsiness, dizziness and a score of side effects. Surgically neurectomy or neural ablation are options with numbness resulting, however, many patients do not want repeated surgery or numbness of the genitals. As pelvic therapists, we can manually fascially clear the path of the nerve from L1/L2, through the psoas, into and out of the canal and into the genitals. We can also manually directly mobilize the nerve at key points of contact as well as doing pain free sliders and gliders and then give the patient a home program to maintain mobility. Pelvic manual therapy can offer a low risk, side-effect free option to ameliorate the sequella of inguinal hernia repair. Come join us at Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment in Chicago this Spring to learn how to effectively treat all the nerves of the lumbar plexus.
Cesmebasi, A., Yadav, A., Gielecki, J., Tubbs, R. S., & Loukas, M. (2015). Genitofemoral neuralgia: a review. Clinical Anatomy, 28(1), 128-135.
Lyon, E. K. (1945). Genitofemoral causalgia. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 53(3), 213.
Magee, R. K. (1943). Genitofemoral Causalgia: New Syndrome. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 98(3), 311.
Sunderland S. Nerves and nerve injuries. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1978
This post is part two of Nari Clemon's series on practitioner burnout, compassion fatigue, and the story of a pelvic rehab therapist who struggled to care for herself while caring for patients. Read part one here.
There is a point where caring so much and wanting to help becomes counter-productive to us, until we burn out. We can develop true compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue makes us feel apathetic, spent, and sometimes even jaded or cranky. But, how do we turn that caring off in time? Our compassion is what led us to this field in the first place.
That day, I talked to my colleague and close friend, whom I was teaching with, Jen VandeVegte. Jen and I both felt that conversation was a wake-up call. We talked about seeing this same scenario at our courses: so many amazing therapists getting spent, and our best therapists getting burnt out. People were coming back with enhanced skills course after course, but many of them were looking weary and tired...
In the prior years, Jen and I were both trying to be mindful and intentional. But, it hadn’t been enough in our own lives. I remember thinking, “I’m mindful I’m getting drained and there is a creeping sensation of fatigue as I am working with this patient. Now what?” There seemed to be some pitfalls many of us were getting trapped in. We noticed there were certain patients who drained us more: when the role was therapist as hero and patient as victim. There were themes of not being able to leave the patient stories at work, finding ourselves laughing less, being less adventurous. There also seemed to be a link with empathy. Those of us who were more empathic carried burdens differently than our more concrete minded peers.
For myself, I had to hit bottom to learn how to climb back out. It got to the point where I didn’t honestly want to go to my thriving private practice and treat patients. I was treating more and more complex patients and leaving work drained, despite having a repertoire of advanced skills. I remember consulting with many people trying to understand how to stop this process of my patients’ illnesses and moods bleeding into my space and my body. People told me all kinds of things: “Imagine wearing gloves that are impenetrable”, “Picture a plexiglass box around yourself”, or “Just decide it is a one way flow.” None if it worked for me. I studied Reiki and worked with therapists. Still, I was so spent after treating patients. When I moved from Indiana to Portland, I took a whole year off of work with a singular mission: get healthy and figure out how to stay that way in my work. There was no book on this. There were some crazy stories and consults that made me realize I was heading in the wrong direction, and I finally learned the key concepts that changed my life.
And oddly enough, my great friend, Jen, also had to transform. We talked honestly and shared our failures, fears and successes as we learned. We committed to being real and honest about what parts of us were stuck in old, unhelpful paradigms. Some of these were playing the hero, feeling like there should not be limits on our compassion, not holding boundaries with what was ours to own, facing difficult things within ourselves, learning how to deeply own the space in our own bodies, and accepting that as intuitive, empathic women, we can’t expect ourselves to reproduce a very masculine, directive method of treating that denies so much of who we actually are. We also changed how we dialogued with patients from the outset. We read and researched and learned how to apply a shared responsibility model from the first contact with our patients and how to hold that model during the course of care. We then applied more pain theory and how to educate patients on those aspects of their own recovery to encourage a model of mind-body wellness and responsibility for their own reframing with our guidance. I created a mediation for pelvic health CD, so patients had a clear way to practice these home programs.
Jen and I both found that as we healed and re-framed there was a great freedom and honesty that emerged in our lives and our practices. We would get together to teach Capstone and were filled with gratitude for how much had shifted and that work no longer felt like a burden. Our lives were more balanced and we were physically, mentally and emotionally stronger. We felt like we had found the holy grail of balanced practices.
But, there we stood, teaching so many of our peers who were clearly in the same quicksand that had been plaguing us in the past. Where could our colleagues who were at our series courses go to learn how to do this job and navigate their days differently? How could they feel as good at the end of the day as they did before they saw patients? This was the training many pelvic therapists needed to thrive in this field AND their life, but it had taken us so many years. This was our call to action.
We all take courses on how to help our patients and how to reach those few difficult patients and help them. Yet, as medical professionals, we do not have enough training in how to care for ourselves. At some point, we all need to realize that our care is as important as our patients. Our wellness, physical, mental, and emotional also matter and may actually be necessary to keep helping patients. Enjoying our lives is no less important. It is an investment in your family, your future patients, and yourself to take a few days to peel back and deeply examine the root of why work is so taxing and come up with a clear, individualized plan to take your life, joy and passion back…without leaving pelvic rehab.
We need all of you in this field. We want to help you stay in this field and stay in it well! Please come join us in Boundaries, Self-Care and Meditation for a retreat-like weekend to change the framework of your practice and commit to your own wellness as a provider. Come learn how to shift dynamics from your first interaction with patients and how to hold that space. You are worth it!
Last year, I was teaching our Pelvic Floor Series Capstone course. It was the end of day three of the course. Most, students were thanking us for a course that filled in so many gaps in their practice and taught them a whole new way to use their hands. They were feeling energized and excited to bring all the new information back to their patients who had plateaued, so this was a surprising and atypical comment. To those of you who are unfamiliar with Capstone, it is a course for experienced pelvic therapist who have already taken three of the series courses, and it was written to address truly challenging patients, to learn to problem solve with manual therapies, to address all the things that my co-authors and I wished we had known five years into our field. It teaches complex problem solving and more receptive and dynamic use of their hands. So, usually, by this course, therapists are fully committed to this field and geeked-out to get so many more pearls. They are usually on board and looking for more sophisticated tools.
As one student, Soniya (name changed) was walking out, she said, “I took this course to figure out if I want to treat pelvic patients, and I definitely don’t. It confirmed what I already knew about pelvic rehab being wrong for me.” I was so confused at that point. All I could say in that moment was, “Can you please tell me more about that? I’m interested.”
Soniya went on to explain that she used to be a pelvic therapist. She said she loved it at first. But, she got so enmeshed with her patients and found she stopped having energy for the rest of her life: her kids, her health, her own enjoyment. She said she would go into her “dark cave” treatment room with her patients, isolated with them one at a time, and come out spent and depleted at the end of the day. She clarified that it was rewarding helping people so profoundly, but there came a point when she had to choose between helping others and saving herself. She changed back to outpatient ortho, choosing to treat in the gym, dynamically interacting with other PT’s all day and not being one-on-one in a room with patients and her problems. She also changed to part time, stating she just couldn’t be around patients five days a week anymore.
I understood. I totally got it. I hear this all the time at courses from other pelvic PT’s: that they love what they are doing, and they feel called to this line of help, but ultimately, they are depleted. I have been there. Pelvic rehab can get to be a little confusing with all the blurred lines. There are so many boundaries that are different. We ask our patients questions normal PT’s don’t. We do treatments in areas that other therapists don’t normally touch or see. We are one on one in a private room with our clients. We know more private details about our patients than most of their friends and family. And…we care deeply and listen intently….sometimes many hours a day to stories of other people’s pain, fears, and stress. Often, we are a lone pelvic practitioner in a practice with other kinds of PT’s. Let’s face it, our colleagues who don’t do pelvic rehab think we are a little weird! With HIPPAA, we can’t talk to our coworkers about our heart wrenching stories. We are also not trained psychologists, and our training in PT school really didn’t address how to deal with all we face in a day, especially the psychological aspects.
A recent study found nursing students show compassion fatigue before they even graduate and that “Therefore, knowledge of compassion fatigue and burnout and the coping strategies should be part of nursing training”. Yet, as pelvic therapists we are taught to recognize signs of trauma in our patients, but we are not yet taught how to stop ourselves from being traumatized.
I asked “Soniya” if it had worked for her: changing back to outpatient ortho and going part time. She said it had for the most part. She felt she had her life and energy back for the most part.
So, I asked “Soniya” how she landed at Capstone? What brought her here? It turns out her boss had asked her to come to Capstone and consider going back to pelvic rehab. So, she came and heard about all kinds of problem solving and new research with very complex patients at Capstone: cancer, multiple surgeries, systemic inflammation, endometriosis, and even gender affirming/change surgeries. She learned about complex hormonal issues, pharmacology and anatomy she hadn’t ever considered as an experienced pelvic therapist. She spent around 10 hours that weekend in lab, learning new ways to use her hands to make change. At the end, she said the thought of going “back in the cave” with such complex patients and having her hands on them all day long was draining to her. She just couldn’t go back.
There is a point where caring so much and wanting to help becomes counter-productive to us, until we burn out. We can develop true compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue makes us feel apathetic, spent, and sometimes even jaded or cranky. But, how do we turn that caring off in time? Our compassion is what led us to this field in the first place.
This post is a two-part series on practitioner burnout and compassion fatigue from faculty member Nari Clemons, PT, PRPC. Nari helped to create the advanced Pelvic Floor Series Capstone course, which is available several times each year. Nari is also the author and instructor for Boundaries, Self-Care, and Meditation, Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment, and Sacral Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment. Stay tuned for part two in an upcoming post on The Pelvic Rehab Report!
Mathias CT, Wentzel DL. Descriptive study of burnout, compassion fatigue and compassionsatisfaction in undergraduate nursing students at a tertiary education institution in KwaZulu-Natal. Curationis. 2017 Sep 22;40(1):e1-e6. doi: 10.4102/curationis.v40i1.1784. PMID: 2904178
Recently, I had a patient present to my practice with unretractable vaginal pain that was causing her quite a bit of suffering. Peyton (name changed) had been referred by a local osteopathic physician. For around a year, she had increasing severe vaginal pain. There was no history of assault, trauma, fall, or injury around the time of onset of symptoms. However, she had a kidney infection that caused back pain in the month prior to her pain onset.
Peyton is home schooled, but she was unable to attend outings that required longer sitting, such as field trips or church. She also was having some urinary retention with start and stop stream and resultant urinary frequency. Peyton’s mother said the pain was distressing to Peyton and would cause her to cry. She had an unremarkable medical history. However, under further questioning, we discovered she did have a history of bed wetting later than usual (until age 7) and she had persistent leg pain. With standing longer than 15 minutes, her legs would hurt and feel weak, which prevented her from performing sports or being physically active. She also had experienced some achy low back sensations since the kidney infection. Peyton had been screened by urology, her primary care, an osteopath, as well as a vulvar pains specialist who diagnosed her with nerve pain, but said there is no good viable treatment.
Objective findings revealed normal range of motion in her spine with the exception of limited forward flexion (feeling of back tightness at end range). Hip screening was negative for FABERS, labral screening or capsular pain patterns. General dural tension screening was positive for increased lower extremity and sensation of back tightness with slump c sit. Neural tension test was positive bilaterally for sciatic, R genitofemoral, L Iliohypogastric and Ilioinguinal nerves, and bilateral femoral nerves. Patient had a mild, barely perceptible lumbar scoliosis, and development of bilateral lower extremities and feet was symmetric and normal.
Because of the child’s age, we did not perform internal vaginal exam or treatment. This required treating the nerves that supply the vaginal area. All treatments were done with the patient’s mother present with both consent of the child and the mother.
For treatment, we started with the three inguinal nerves (Ilioinguinal, Iliohypogastric and genitofemoral) because of their relationship with the kidney (symptoms came on after kidney infection) as well as the correlation with the patient’s most limiting symptoms (genital pain). We cleared the fascia along the lumbar nerve roots, the lateral trunk fascia, the psoas, the inguinal region, the entrapments along the kidney and psoas, the inguinal rings and canal, and worked on neural rhythm (these techniques can be learned at the Pelvic Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment class that I will be teaching later this month).
Over the next weeks, we used similar treatments for the sciatic nerve, femoral nerve, pudendal, and coccygeal nerves. We noted that the patient had an area of restricted tissue along her coccyx that was adhered, and her symptoms had some correlation with tethered cord. We did lots of soft tissue work along the coccyx and working along the coccyx roots, including some internal rectal work. We also did fascial and visceral work in the bladder region, as well as in the lumbar and sacro-coccygeal region.
Peyton’s referring physician and mother were notified of findings and possible tethered cord symptoms (leg weakness and pain, bladder symptoms, delayed nocturnal continence). The patient’s family felt she was getting better and was not interested in any kind of surgical intervention, and her physician also felt that with our progress, he was not interested in exploring that referral, unless the family was interested.
After just 4 treatments Peyton was no longer having any vaginal symptoms and was emptying the bladder normally. After 8 treatments Peyton was reporting no more lumbar pain or lower extremity symptoms, and follow up treatments were reduced to once a month. The patient was given a home program of neural flossing in a small yoga program we recorded on her mother’s phone. We had her mother work on the small area that remained adhered along patient’s tailbone. The area is much smaller, but it reproduces some pelvic pain for the patient, so we are carefully and slowly working along this area because of some of the global neural sx it produces.
The patient’s mother reports she is more active, no longer complaining of leg or vaginal pain. The patient has less generalized anxiety and she is able to void fully. When the pt grows in height, there is a return in some symptoms, likely due to increased neural tension. So, we have the family on standby and when the patient grows, they come back in for 2 visits, which is usually enough to get the patient back to her new baseline.
A 2016 study by Kaori et al examined the effect of self administered perineal stimulation for nocturia in elderly women. A prior study using rodents found a soft roller used decreased overactive bladder syndrome (OAB), but a hard roller did not produce the same results. Kaori et al performed a similar study for elderly women in a randomized, placebo controlled, double blind crossover. Participants were 79-89 years old women who applied simulation to perineal skin for 1 minute at bedtime, using either active (soft, sticky elastomer) roller or a placebo (hard polylestrene roller). Participants did a 3-day baseline, followed by 3-day stimulation, then 4 days rest, then other stimuli for 3 days. There were 24 participants, 22 completed the study: 9 with OAB, 13 without OAB. The placement of the roller was not on the skin of the perineal body, but rather on the general peri-anal area with the diagram from the study showing an area just medial to the gluteal crease—where one would find the ischial tuberosity-- and anterior and lateral to the anal sphincter.
Across the subjects with OAB, change with the elastomer roller (soft and sticky feel) was more statistically significant than with the hard roller. Baseline micturition for the participants was 3.2+/- 1.2 times per night, measured as the number of urination between going to bed and arising. The group as a whole did not have a statistically significant difference, measured by at least one less time arising per night. However, in the OAB group, the difference was significant. The researchers theorized that the soft and sticky texture may induce more firing of somatic afferents nerve fibers.
The most commonly prescribed treatment for overactive bladder is anticholinergic therapy, but the side effects, including cognitive changes and lack of significant difference from controls, as well as the drying effect of these drugs in a post-menopausal-low-estrogen-pelvis, bring up questions of whether this is the best option in the elderly.(6)
In anesthetized animals, electrical stimulation and noxious stimuli decrease frequency of bladder contractions when applied to the perineal area (3-5). Somatic, afferent nerve stimuli (those theorized to be active with the soft roller) are used to treat OAB by modalities such as acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical stimulation to the perineum (2). So, stimulation of somatic visceral afferent nerves in the perineal region seems to have an effect on the bladder. However, with manual therapies, it seems we can also affect the somatic or visceral afferents. Essentially, visceral afferents convey information to the central nervous system about local changes in chemical and mechanical environments of a number of organ systems(7). Doing manual therapy between the urethral and bladder fascia would also theoretically cause stimulation of the visceral afferents to the central nervous system about that organ (bladder).
In our pelvic floor intro class (Pelvic Floor Level 1) at Herman Wallace, we discuss the role of Bradley’s neurology loop 3 and the inverse relationship between pelvic floor contraction (lifting the perineal area) and the bladder. One suppression technique we discuss is the contraction of the pelvic floor to quiet or inhibit bladder activity in the bladder retraining program. Bladder retraining has evidence level A (strong) for improving urgency and frequency with overactive bladder.
Clinicians who are ready to raise their manual game may try using the skills of prior series courses and adding the sophistication of manual techniques in the abdomen and pelvis to increase afferent firing in patients with OAB, as well as freeing up any fascial restrictions that may be interfering with full bladder excursion.
In the newly written Capstone course, we combine the prior level of education from the pelvic series (bladder strategies) with manual techniques to address the endopelvic fascia at the bladder base, in the fascial articulations along the perineum, and along its attachments to the coccyx, as well as combining internal work with sacral techniques to facilitate S234 afferents for bladder control. We discuss studies, such as this one, to explore advanced concepts of bladder and urethral fascial mechanics and neural entrapment affecting the bladder. We move out of the pelvic muscle and into the fascial contents of the abdominopelvic region, to allow such firing of the somatic afferents. And the perineal stimulation? We have an entire lab for perineal tissue and its effect on pelvic function. Physical therapists can manually address the perineum, urethral and bladder fascia with Capstone techniques. With such intervention, we get more CNS communication.
So, what about the roller? Well, the soft roller created change in rodents in a couple of studies. (Sato 2010). In this human study, it helped with OAB. Certainly, manual therapies in the region of the endopelvic fascia and suprapubic region may be of help for also stimulating the visceral afferents. Also, it could be worth it to have a high fall risk elderly patient with OAB type nocturia follow up your treatments with one minute of soft washcloth stroking in the area of the perineum for one minute at bedtime to see if it helps decrease the number of voids on a night time bladder diary.
Nari Clemons, PT, PRPC is a Herman & Wallace faculty member who helped author the Pelvic Floor Series Capstone: Advanced Topics in Pelvic Rehab course. She is also the creator and instructor of Pelvic Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment.
Main study: PLoS One. 2016 Mar 22;11(3):e0151726. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151726. eCollection 2016.Effects of a Gentle, Self-Administered Stimulation of Perineal Skin for Nocturia in Elderly Women: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Crossover Trial.Iimura K1,2, Watanabe N2, Masunaga K3, Miyazaki S1,2,4, Hotta H2, Kim H5, Hisajima T1,4, Takahashi H1,4, Kasuya Y3.
2. Exp Ther Med. 2013 Sep;6(3):773-780. Epub 2013 Jul 9., Acupuncture for the treatment of urinary incontinence: A review of randomized controlled trials.Paik SH1, Han SR, Kwon OJ, Ahn YM, Lee BC, Ahn SY.
3. Guo ZF. Transcutaneious electrical nerve stimulation in the treatment of patients with poststroke urinary incontinence. Clin Interv Aging. 2014; 851-6.
4. Sato A, The impact of somatosensory input on autonomic functions. Reve Physiol Biochem Pharmacol. 1997;130;1-328
5. Sato A. Mechanism of the reflex inhibition of micturition conractions of the urinary bladder elicited by acupuncture-like stimulation in anesthetized rats. Neurosci res. 1992 15:189-98
6). Effects of a Gentle, Self-Administered Stimulation of Perineal Skin for Nocturia in Elderly Women: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Crossover Trial. Iimura K, Watanabe N, Masunaga K, Miyazaki S, Hotta H, Kim H, Hisajima T, Takahashi H, Kasuya Y. PLoS One. 2016 Mar 22;11(3):e0151726. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151726. eCollection 2016.
7) John C. Longhurst, Liang-Wu Fu, in Primer on the Autonomic Nervous System (Third Edition), 2012
Our understanding of treating pelvic pain keeps growing as a profession. We have so many manual therapies such as visceral manipulation, strain counter strain, and positional release adding dimension to our treatment strategies for shortened and painful tissues. Pharmacologic interventions such as botox, valium, and antidepressants are becoming more popular and researched in the literature. We are beginning to work more collaboratively with vulvar dermatologists, urogynecologists, OB’s, family practitioners, urologists, and pain specialists.
Pelvic rehab providers are in a unique position of being able to offer more time with each patient and to see our patients for several visits. Frequently we are the ones being told stories about how a particular condition is really affecting our patient’s life and the emotional struggles around that. We are often the one who gets a clear picture of our patient’s emotional and mental disposition. A rehab provider may realize that a patient seems to exhibit mental patterns in their treatment. It can be anxiety from how the condition is changing their life, difficulty relaxing into a treatment, poor or shallow breathing patterns, frequently telling themselves they will never get better, or being able to perceive their body only as a source of pain or suffering, losing the subtlety of the other sensations within the body. Yet, aside from contacting a physician, who may offer a medication with side effects, or referring to a counselor or psychologist, our options and training may be limited. Patients may be resistant to seeing a mental health counselor, and we have to be careful to stay in our scope.
Research is showing us that meditation as an intervention can be very helpful in addressing these chronic pain issues.
In a study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, 22 women with chronic pelvic pain were enrolled in an 8 week mindfulness meditation course. Twelve out of 22 enrolled subjects completed the program and had significant improvement in daily maximum pain scores, physical function, mental health, and social function. The mindfulness scores improved significantly in all measures (p < 0.01).
The questions have arisen, if meditation alters opiod pathways, how can it be administered safely with prescription medications. However in a 2016 study in the journal of neuroscience, it was concluded that meditation-based pain relief does not require endogenous opioids.” Therefore, the treatment of chronic pain may be more effective with meditation due to a lack of cross-tolerance with opiate-based medications.” “The risks of chronic therapy are significant and may outweigh any potential benefits”, according the the journal of American Family Medicine. Meditation training can be a tool to help our patients manage their pain without risk of long term opiod use.
In the two day course, Meditation for Patients and Providers, participants will learn several different meditation and mindfulness techniques they can use for patients with different dispositions, and to tailor the most appropriate approach to specific patients. The aim of the course is to be able to work meditation into a treatment and a home program that is best suited for your patient. The course also covers self care, preventing provider burn out and ways to be more mentally quiet as a provider seeking to give optimal care with appropriate boundaries.
Fox, S. D., Flynn, E., & Allen, R. H. (2010). Mindfulness meditation for women with chronic pelvic pain: a pilot study. The Journal of reproductive medicine, 56(3-4), 158-162.
LEMBKE, A., HUMPHREYS, K., & NEWMARK, J. (2016). Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Chronic Opioid Therapy. American Family Physician,93(12).
Zeidan, F., Adler-Neal, A. L., Wells, R. E., Stagnaro, E., May, L. M., Eisenach, J. C., ... & Coghill, R. C. (2016). Mindfulness-Meditation-Based Pain Relief Is Not Mediated by Endogenous Opioids. The Journal of Neuroscience, 36(11), 3391-3397.
Patients and practitioners alike can benefit from meditation and mindfulness training for the rehabilitation setting. Nari Clemons joined us today to discuss her upcoming Meditation for Patients and Practitioners course taking place in New York.
We all live in a fast paced world. Our smart phones are letting us know to get back to people with email or texts, we have busy practices with full days, and many of us also have care-giving to do when we get home. Many practitioners see chronic pain patients, sometimes with abuse history or a history of many years of failed medical care. Our patients come to us stressed out and ready to unload, and this happens all day long.
We know our pelvic patients would do better to calm their system. We go home at night so drained sometimes. We would do better to regulate our system. But how? We are all so busy. In Meditation for Patients and Practitioners, we focus on the therapist as well as the patient.
Perhaps you have tried meditation for yourself or your patient. Perhaps you didn’t respond to imagining a waterfall or counting your breath, and you gave up. Perhaps your patient didn’t really take to it, or you can’t figure out how to fit it into your sessions. So many of us know that we are tired of our own low level anxiety, or that our patients would do better if we could get them to re-frame mentally. However, when it comes to implementing those changes, we often come up at a loss.
A randomized control study of nurse leaders who work in understaffed environments were tested with a workplace meditation program. Stress scores were tested at baseline and one week after completing a 4 week program. What do you know? The participants had a decrease in distress scores and an increase in positive symptoms.
“But my day is too busy,” you think? In this course, we work on strategies to center yourself at the beginning of your day, the end of your day, or during your day with 1, 2, or 5 minute strategies. This way, even on your busiest days, you have a way to reel in your stress level and find your calm. For your patients, we offer around 10 different techniques.
When teaching PF1, PF2A and PF2B, we talk about the need to downtrain the nervous system to be effective with pelvic pain, constipation, and history of trauma. Yet, the question always arises about which technique to use with a patient. In the Meditation for Patients and Providers course we give you a working model of how to choose a technique for your patient depending on the time you have, the patient personality, and the situation you are working on resolving.
As one participant said after the last course, “Excellent course. No other course has so beautifully described such practical techniques that are just as important for the therapist’s mental health as they are for the patient’s”. Sound exciting? Join us at the Meditation for Patients and Practitioners course being offered July 19-20 in New York City.
Bazarko, Dawn et al. “The Impact of an Innovative Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program on the Health and Well-Being of Nurses Employed in a Corporate Setting." Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health 28.2 (2013): 107–133. PMC. Web. 2 June 2015.
The following is a message from Nari Clemons, the instructor of Herman & Wallace's new Meditation for Patients and Providers course. You can join Nari at Touro College in New York this July 19-20 at Meditation for Patients and Practitioners - New York, NY!
What doesn’t meditation do? And why aren’t we meditating, already?
I’ve heard it said that if all the benefits of exercise could be placed in a pill, it would be the most powerful prescription. I’m thinking that the same could be said for meditation. We hear little snippets of it as we scroll through the news: meditation for heart disease, meditation for blood pressure, meditation for decreased anxiety. Well, here is yet another study:
Researchers used fMRI technology to examine the brain in 50 people who had been meditating for an average of 20 years and 50 non- meditators. Both groups had the same number of men and women, with ages ranging from 24 to 77. The participants’ brains were scanned, and while age did related to gray matter loss, it was better preserved in those who meditate. **
Americans are living longer, but rates of Alzheimers and Neurodegenerative disease rates are going up. Well, meditation is something you can do to keep on top of your cognitive game. So, why aren’t people meditating? When I ask patients this, I often hear, “I don’t know how” or “I tried it once and I didn’t like it”. I think there is a misconception that mediation should be valued if someone had an experience of bliss or if they are “good at it”.
In fact, meditation is like exercise; it is a benefit that grows as you use it more. It can be hard at first when the mind is not used to being calm or more still. It is not a one-time-use kind of fix. Like exercise, as you do it more, you see more benefits, and you come to like it more. Not everyone who is starting an exercise program will want to train for marathons or be a ballerina or try cross fit. Just as there are different personalities and starting points with exercise, the same can apply to meditation.
In the MPP Herman Wallace course, Meditation for Patients and Practitioners, we break down a lot of the mystery behind learning and teaching meditation. We use techniques of different lengths of time and different aims. We discuss how to pick which technique for which patient or even how to choose a technique for the same patient in a different situation. Going further, we discuss ways to use meditation as a health care provider, so you can share in the benefits of a practice and keep yourself refreshed about your practice. Participants in the course get lots of lab time to develop comfort level deciphering which technique to use and be comfortable teaching and using meditation in their own lives. We also provide a CD with many of the techniques that you will be able to use to refresh course material or to recommend to participants for use in their own homes.
As providers we know that “carrying our patients home” by thinking of them when we leave work or staying sad or anxious about something that happened that day at work is not actually helpful to our patients. Or we may realize we are tired or worn out from the stress of our jobs. Yet, we really don’t know what to do about it. In the MPP course, we discuss ways to keep your job in the space it belongs in your life. This can help practitioners to live a more balanced life, as well as being more present at work.