The following is the first in a three-part blog series which chronicles the peripartum journey of Rachel Kilgore.
In April, I had my first child, a sweet and healthy baby girl. Reflecting on the last year, what a ride! I have had many of my friends, family members, patients, and acquaintances discuss the journey and challenges of motherhood with me, however, experiencing it first hand was a memorable voyage. I thought I was very prepared and knew what I was getting into, but as usual, nothing compares to first-hand knowledge and experience. From an academic standpoint, I had done my research on everything from conception, what to expect each trimester of pregnancy, and reviewed the many options for labor and delivery. I even was lucky enough to assist in the Herman and Wallace Care for the Post-Partum Patient course with Holly Tanner while I was pregnant! As a practitioner, I love treating pregnant and post-partum patients, it is one of my favorite populations to treat. I love helping these strong, motivated women with pain relief and to teach them management skills to adapt to a new lifestyle and a changed body that has unique musculoskeletal needs.
I had always had a preconceived notion that I would exercise diligently and eat super healthy through my pregnancy. After all, that was how my lifestyle was before pregnancy, why should it change? That lasted about 6 weeks, until 24-hour episodes of nausea and vomiting overwhelmed me, which continued until the start of the second trimester. I basically just tried to make it through the day without vomiting at work, and would go straight to bed whenever I had the chance. I even had to miss several days of work! I thought it was termed “morning sickness” implying that it went away after morning, but apparently it should be renamed to “forever nausea” as that is what it felt like at the time. Because of the nausea, I wanted nothing to do with food, which in turn lead to constant concern about the baby not getting enough nourishment. Of course, my regular activity levels plummeted. In addition to nausea was constant fear of miscarriage and whether my regular activities were somehow harmful to my baby. Instead of ice cream and pickles, I craved information. What should I be doing, and what should I not be doing?
Depression and anxiety can limit ability to care for one’s self, limit ability to care for a new baby or developing fetus, and can cause mood swings, impaired concentration, and sleep disturbance. Disorders of depression and anxiety are common in the perinatal period (immediately before and after birth) with depression rates around 20% and perinatal anxiety present in about 10% of women. These mood disorders greatly diminish quality of life for mother and baby. Medication may be effective, however, side effects are often unknown, and potentially adverse for the perinatal patient. Many women worry that using medication to treat these disorders may harm the fetus, negatively affect mother child bonding, and poorly influence child development. As health care providers, being aware of alternative treatments for depression and anxiety is essential. Having alternative treatments can allow our patients to combat these common perinatal problems which will improve quality of life, improve bonding between baby and mother and improve the overall perinatal experience. In the general population, positive mental and physical health benefits have been continually demonstrated by yoga participants in current research. Can yoga be an effective, alternative treatment to help perinatal patients improve mental health and well-being?
A recent 2015 systematic literature review published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing reviewed 13 studies to examine existing empirical literature on yoga interventions and yoga’s effects on pregnant women’s health and well-being. The conclusion of the review found that yoga interventions were generally effective at reducing depression and anxiety in perinatal women and the decrease in depression and anxiety was noted regardless of the type of outcome measure used and results were optimized when the study was 7 weeks or longer. Other positive secondary findings noted with the regular yoga participation in the perinatal participants were: improvements in pain, anger, stress, gestational age at birth, birth weight, maternal-infant attachment, power, optimism, and well-being. What is yoga and what form of it may help battle perinatal depression and anxiety?
Yoga by definition is a Hindu philosophy that teaches a person to experience inner peace by controlling the mind and body. Merriam-Webster defines yoga as a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being. All styles of yoga include some combination of physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation-relaxation techniques. Hatha yoga is the most common form completed in the United States and consists modernly of various postures, breathing, and meditation. In the 13 reviewed studies, all interventions consisted of different forms of yoga and the overall conclusion of the systematic review was the decrease in depression and anxiety was significant no matter the form of yoga completed. Physical and emotional issues such as hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, inability to handle new tasks, self-worth, and body issues, during the perinatal period can contribute to increased anxiety and depression. As health care providers we need to have alternative treatments to help our perinatal patients’ battle depression and anxiety. Yoga is a promising alternative to medication to help decrease depression and anxiety. Additionally it may be helpful for management of pain, anger, stress, gestational age at birth, birth weight, maternal-infant attachment, power, optimism, and well-being.
As pelvic rehabilitation providers, it may be safe to assume a lot of us are treating adults with bladder and bowel dysfunction. Often we get questions from these patients about treatment for children with voiding dysfunction. How comfortable are we treating children for these problems and what would we do? Pediatric voiding dysfunction and bowel problems are common and can have significant consequences to quality of life for the child and the family, as well as negative health consequences to the lower urinary tract if left untreated. No clear gold standard of treatment for pediatric voiding dysfunction has been established and treatments range from behavioral therapy to medication and surgery.
A randomized controlled trial in 2013 that was published in European Journal of Pediatrics, explores treatment options for pediatric voiding dysfunction. Pediatric voiding dysfunction is defined as involuntary and intermittent contraction or failure to relax the urethral striated sphincter during voluntary voiding. The dysfunctional voiding can present with variable symptoms including urinary urgency, urinary frequency, incontinence, urinary tract infections, and abnormal flow of urine from bladder back up the ureters (vesicoureteral reflux).
The 2013 study compared 60 children over one year who were diagnosed with dysfunctional voiding into two treatment groups. One group received behavioral urotherapy combined with PFM (pelvic floor muscle) exercises while the other group received just behavioral urotherapy. The behavioral urotherapy consisted of hydration, scheduled voiding, toilet training, and high fiber diet. Voiding pattern, EMG (electromyography) activity during voids, urinary urgency, daytime wetting, and PVR (post-void residue) were assessed at the beginning and end of the one year study with parents completing a voiding and bowel habit chart as well as uroflowmetry with pelvic floor muscle sEMG (surface electromyography) was administered to the child for voiding metrics.
Occasionally, as pelvic rehab providers, we will encounter the question from our patients, “Do vaginal weights help with urinary incontinence and pelvic floor performance?” The premise behind the use of vaginal cones or balls is that holding them actively in your vagina with your pelvic floor muscles helps to increase the performance (strength and endurance) of the pelvic floor muscles, assisting in reduction of urinary incontinence.
A recent systematic review (Midwifery, 2015) explores this topic for a specific population of post-partum women with urinary incontinence. The question to be answered was “Does the vaginal use of cones or balls by women in the post-partum period improve performance of the pelvic floor muscles and urinary continence, compared to no treatment, placebo, sham treatment or active controls?”. This review had extensive search criteria. The types of participants in the studies analyzed were post-partum women up to 1 year (when starting interventions) of any parity, that underwent any mode of birth or birth injuries, and had or did not have urinary incontinence. Exclusion criteria were pregnant women, anal incontinence, and major genitourinary/pelvic morbidity. Any frequency, intensity, duration of pelvic exercises with the devices, and any form, size, weight, or brand of vaginal balls or cones were considered. Participants could undergo any type of instruction, either from a health care provider, or self-taught from written materials.
Of the searched studies, all were randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials. The primary outcomes of the searched studies were pelvic floor muscle performance (strength or endurance) and/or urinary incontinence, both assessed with a valid or reliable method. 37 potentially useful articles were reviewed out of 1324 based on the search criteria, but only one article met all of the inclusion criteria and was included in this review with 192 relevant participants (Wilson and Herbison).
As pelvic rehab providers, we may find it easy to talk to our patients about sexual function when it is a patient who comes to us with a sexually relevant problem or directly related diagnosis, such as dyspareunia or limited intercourse participation due to prolapse symptoms. However, are we talking to our other patients about sexual function? Are they talking to us about it? What about our orthopedic patients - are we routinely asking them about how their problem can affect their sexual function? Some recent studies found that 32% of patients planning to undergo a Total Hip Replacement (THR) had reported concerns about difficulties with sexual activityBaldursson, Wright. Was the fact that they could not participate in sexual activity due to the hip pain a driving factor when considering the hip replacement, maybe? Just because a patient doesn’t ask, does not mean that they don’t want to know how their orthopedic injury affects sexual function. Resuming sexual function is an important quality of life goal that is included on few outcome assessment forms, however, there are some that address this subject such as the Oswestry Disability Index for Low Back Pain. Discussion of this topic should be addressed more routinely than it is.
A good example of an orthopedic patient who may appreciate the discussion of their injury and sexual function may be a patient undergoing a total joint replacement. A patient who undergoes a total hip replacement (THR) likely has movement precautions for a set amount of time and we should educate these patients about when to resume sexual activity and what positions may be more comfortable and safe for them with their new hip. It would be terrible for a patient to suffer a hip dislocation or implant failure during sexual activity because they returned to sexual activity prematurely or did not think about their movement precautions. Our patients are thinking about it, but sometimes may be too embarrassed to bring it up. So as a physical therapist, bringing it up in a professional way can help ease the awkwardness your patient may be feeling about the topic. As physical therapists we generally have more time with the patient than the surgeon and this can help create a comfortable space to discuss these topics.
It is important to remember that just because a patient is not in our office for a directly related sexual problem, it is still important to at least open up the dialogue about sexual health. One study in 2013 had patients complete a questionnaire on their sexual function after undergoing a total hip or total knee replacement and 90% reported improved overall sexual functionRathod, et al.. We should try to make the conversation part of our routinely delivered information for a total joint replacement, for example when telling our THR patient, you can resume driving at 3-6 weeks (or when cleared by surgeon), you have Range of Motion precautions of avoiding internal rotation, hip flexion past 90 degrees, and hip adduction (crossing the legs) for the length specified by your surgeon (if it was a posterior approach THR), and you can resume sexual function at 3-6 weeks (or when cleared by the surgeon), or when you feel ready after that. It is important to give the patient some kind of guideline about when they can expect to resume sexual activity, however, always emphasize that it should be resumed when the patient is ready so they don’t feel pressured before they are ready. Also as pelvic rehab practitioners we can offer them guidance about what positions may be best for them when returning to sexual activity to put less strain on the prosthesis and hip as well as help them be comfortable. To continue with our example for THR (posterior approach) their precautions are likely to restrict hip flexion past 90 degrees, hip internal rotation, and adduction, so for a man or woman following THR lying on their back would be a safe position.
Episiotomy is defined as an incision in the perineum and vagina to allow for sufficient clearance during birth. The concept of episiotomy with vaginal birth has been used since the mid to late 1700’s and started to become more popular in the United States in the early 1900’s. Episiotomy was routinely used and very common in approximately 25% of all vaginal births in the United States in 2004. However, in 2006, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended against use of routine episiotomies due to the increased risk of perineal laceration injuries, incontinence, and pelvic pain. With this being said, there is much debate about their use and if there is any need at all to complete episiotomy with vaginal birth.
The primary risks are severe perineal laceration injuries, bowel or bladder incontinence, pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, pelvic pain, dyspareunia, and pelvic floor laxity. Use of a midline episiotomy and use of forceps are associated with severe perineal laceration injury. However, mediolateral episiotomies have been indicated as an independent risk factor for 3rd and 4th degree perineal tears. If episiotomy is used, research indicates that a correctly angled (60 degrees from midline) mediolateral incision is preferred to protect from tearing into the external anal sphincter, and potentially increasing likelihood for anal incontinence.
Milk duct blockage is a common condition in breast feeding mother’s that can cause a multitude of problems including painful breasts, mastitis, breast abscess, decreased milk supply, breast feeding cessation, and poor confidence with decreased quality of life. A recent study in 2015 in The Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy1, showed that physical therapy (PT) maybe a helpful treatment for the lactating mother experiencing milk duct blockage when conservative measures have failed. Common conservative measures typically recommended are self-massage, heat, and regular feedings. The World Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Academy of Breast Feeding Medicine, all recommend breast feeding as the primary source for nutrition for infants. There are many benefits to both the mother, and the infant, when breast feeding is used as the primary source for nutrition in infants. Having blocked milk ducts make it difficult and painful to breast feed and can lead to poor confidence for the mother and a frustrated baby as the milk supply could be reduced or inadequate. The primary health concern for blocked milk ducts is mastitis. Mastitis is defined as an infection of breast tissue leading to pain, redness, swelling, and warmth, possibly fever and chills and can lead to early cessation of breast feeding.
A blocked milk duct is not a typical referral to PT, however, this study outlined a protocol used for 30 patients with one or more blocked milk ducts that were referred to PT by a qualified lactation consultant. This study was a prospective pre/posttest cohort study. As an outcome measure, this study utilized a Visual Analog Scale (VAS) for 3 descriptive areas: pain, difficulty breast feeding, and confidence in independently nursing before and after treatment. The treatment protocol included moist heat, thermal ultrasound, specific manual therapy techniques, and patient education for treatment and prevention of the blockage(s). The thermal ultrasound and moist heating provided the recommend amount of heat to relax tissue around the blockage. Ultrasound also provided a mechanical effect that assists in the breaking up of the clog and increased pain threshold for the patient to improve tolerance to the manual clearing techniques. Next, the specific manual therapy was provided to directly unclog the blockage(s), and lastly the education provided was to help the patient identify and clear future blockages to prevent recurrence. 22 of the 30 patients were seen for 1-2 visits, 6 were seen for 3-4 visits, and none of the mother’s condition progressed to infective mastitis or developed breast abscess’s.
The results of the study showed the protocol used was helpful to ease pain, reduce difficulty with breast feeding, and improve confidence with independent breast feeding for lactating women that participated in the study. Although treatment of blocked milk ducts in lactating mothers is not a common PT referral, this study shows that PT may be one more helpful treatment for a patient experiencing this problem that is not responding to traditional conservative treatment. Since breast feeding is important to both mother and infant and is the primary recommended source for infant nutrition, it is important that a lactating mother receives quick, effective treatment for blocked milk ducts to prevent onset of mastitis and breast abscess that lead to early cessation of breast feeding. The cited study recommends that women who suspect a blocked milk duct or are having problems with breast feeding always seek care from a certified lactation consultant first, and that PT may be a referral that is made.
Commonly in physical therapy we treat patients with osteopenia or osteoporosis, however, they are usually in our office for another diagnosis such as back, hip, or pelvic pain as the primary complaint and we learn about the osteoporosis from health history review. Physical therapy is an opportunity to provide them with not just relief from their primary complaint, but a chance to learn from a professional how to move in a more healthy way and learn the right ways to exercises to make a regular routine that can help them to protect their body and even slow or stop bone mineral density loss. This is important as the primary concern for a patient with the diagnosis of osteoporosis is risk of fracture (especially of the hip or spine) due to minimal trauma because of low bone mineral density. So let’s make sure we are giving patients comprehensive exercise programs that address their primary complaint, however be comprehensive and include exercise modes that may reduce fractures and may improve bone mineral density.
An interesting article by Palombaro et al1 in 2013 from Physical Therapy discusses a Cochrane review by Howe et al2 and applies the findings from this review to an example patient similar to the participants reviewed in the study. The goal of the article is to link evidence in the literature with how we practice as PT’s. The topic explored in the systematic review by Howe et al was exercise for the management of osteoporosis in women postmenopause and which exercise approaches reduce the loss of bone mineral density or reduce chance of fractures in women who are healthy postmenopause. The systematic review2 included 43 randomized controlled studies of postmenopausal women age 45-70 where the intervention groups included exercises that improved aerobic capacity or improved aerobic capacity and muscle strength and had a comparison group completing “usual activity: or placebo intervention. The duration of exercise lasted from 6 months to 2 years in the various studies. The results of the review demonstrated decreased bone loss (of the spine or hips) in groups who performed any type of exercise compared to the control groups. The review also performed additional sub group analysis to take into account the various types of exercise programs in the studies and found favorable effect for all types of exercises completed (dynamic, low force, high force, weight bearing, or non-weight bearing) all had favorable effect on bone density. The take home message from this systematic review is that exercise programs combining various forms of exercises lasting 6 months to 2 years resulted in reduced risk for fracture, and a slightly beneficial effect on bone mineral density of the spine, trochanter, and neck of the femur in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.
At the end of this article1 the authors give a case of an active, postmenopausal female patient with history of osteopenia without a fracture seeking PT for an unrelated complaint. The authors took the findings from this review and showed the relevance of the findings, applying it to the patient and the outcome of care for this patient when giving her an exercise program. We can implement findings from this review simply to the common question posed by our patients… “what exercises should I be doing to help with my osteoporosis?”
Diastasis of the Rectus Abdominis Muscle (DRAM) is the separation of the two rectus abdominis muscles along the linea alba and is very common during and after pregnancy as the rectus abdominis and linea alba stretches and thins. Patients with DRAM are often sent to seek non-surgical management for DRAM from a physical therapist (PT). Typically these patients are either at the end of their pregnancy or adjusting to round the clock care of an infant. They can be sleep deprived, and have a full schedule of doctor’s appointments, having difficulty finding childcare, making attending PT somewhat challenging. Furthermore, they may have difficulty finding the time for a home exercise program (HEP). As PT’s we often struggle with making sure to give the patient exercises that will accomplish the goal of improving DRAM, however, making sure the HEP is not so extensive or time consuming that it becomes unmanageable. Is something as easy as abdominal bracing with exercise effective for reducing DRAM in post-partum women? A recent study published in 2015 in the International Journal of Physiotherapy and Research explores just this topic(Acharry).
Women with DRAM tend to have a higher degree of abdominal and pelvic region pain(Parker). Also women with DRAM may be more likely to have support related pelvic floor problem such stress urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, or pelvic organ prolapse. The linea alba and rectus abdominis play an integral role in maintaining the anterior support of the trunk, these structures work together with pelvic girdle, posterior trunk muscles, and hips in maintaining stability when we shift weight (or transfer load) such as with standing, squatting, walking, carrying, and lifting. Therefore postural stability may be impaired with these daily tasks. Lastly, the abdominal muscles and fascia protect and support our organs so women with DRAM may have compromised support and protection of visceral structures.
Pregnancy is the most common cause of DRAM and studies widely range from 50-100% of women experiencing DRAM at end stage pregnancy. Natural reduction and greatest recovery of DRAM usually occurs between day 1 and week 8 after delivery. Various ways exist to diagnose DRAM. The gold standard for diagnosis is computed tomography but is sometimes considered impractical due to expense. Clinically a separation of 2.0-2.7cm or “two finger widths” of horizontal separation at the umbilicus or 4.5cm above or below while performing a hooklying (supine with knees bent) abdominal curl up is considered pathological separation.
As pelvic rehab practitioners, it is common for our patients to ask us dietary questions pertaining to their unique pelvic floor symptoms. We often counsel on fluid consumption, bladder irritants, and fiber intake. At times, we even give our patients a bladder or bowel diary to better monitor nutritional status and habits. However, how often do we ask about vitamin D status? It is common knowledge that vitamin D deficiency contributes to osteoporosis, fractures, and muscle pain and weakness, but what is the role of vitamin D in overall health of the female pelvic floor. Is vitamin D supplementation something we as health care providers need to at least discuss? An article published in the International Urogynecology Journal (Parker-Autry) explores this topic. This interesting paper reviews current knowledge regarding vitamin D nutritional status, the importance of vitamin D in muscle function, and how vitamin D deficiency may play a role in the function of the female pelvic floor.
Vitamin D affects skeletal muscle strength and function, and insufficiency is associated with notable muscle weakness. Vitamin D has been shown to increase skeletal muscle efficiency at adequate levels. The levator ani muscles and coccygeus pelvic floor muscles are skeletal muscle that are crucial supporting structures to the pelvic floor. Pelvic floor musculature weakness can contribute to pelvic floor disorders such as urinary or fecal incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic floor muscle training for strengthening, endurance, and coordination, are first line treatment for both stress and urge urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and overactive bladder syndrome. The pelvic floor muscles are thought to be affected by vitamin D nutrition status. Additionally, as women age, they are more prone to vitamin D deficiency and pelvic floor disorders.
This article reviews several studies, including small case and observational, that show an association between insufficient vitamin D and pelvic floor disorder symptoms and severity of symptoms. The recommendation from this review is that more studies of high quality evidence are needed to fully understand and demonstrate this relationship between vitamin D deficiency and pelvic floor disorders. However, the authors feel that vitamin D supplementation may be a helpful adjunct to treatment by helping to optimize our physiological response to pelvic floor muscle training and improving the overall quality of life for women suffering from pelvic floor disorders.