Everyday we as pelvic rehab providers get to help patients achieve their goals by meeting them where they are and guiding them along.
A couple of months ago I had a new patient come in to see me who was seven months status post c-section delivery of her first child. She was referred to physical therapy because she could not tolerate anything touching her lower abdomen and she was also unsure of how to start exercising again including returning to her yoga practice. I remember reading her referral and thinking that this should be a simple evaluation and treatment session. What actually happened was a little different.
Her delivery hadn’t gone the way she planned, and she was not comfortable discussing it at our first session. This patient had not looked at or touched her c-section incision besides drying it off after her shower for the seven months since delivery. Her physician had made a referral to PT and to a counselor within three months of delivery to help support the patients’ recovery. The patient had not followed through with the PT referral until she had significant encouragement from her counselor and physician.
Initially the patient declined any observation or palpation of her abdomen so at our first session we focused on thoracic range of motion, general posture, and encouraged her to start touching her abdomen through her clothes, even if avoiding direct touch to the incisional region. The patient was agreeable with this starting point. At the second session the patient was willing to have me look at her abdomen and touch the abdomen but she declined direct palpation of the scar region. With simple observation I could see a scar that was closed and healing but also that was pulled inferior towards her pubic bone. She was not comfortable laying flat on the treatment table and had to be supported in a semi-recline throughout the session. She also described buzzing symptoms at the scar region when she reached her arms overhead.
We started some gentle desensitization techniques as would be used with a person that had Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) after an injury. I focused those treatments to the abdominal region but avoided the scar region. We focused her home program on breathing into her abdomen allowing some stretch and expansion of the abdominal region. Her home program also included laying flat for five minutes per day. I asked her to notice any general tension throughout her body during the day and attempt to change it and release it if able.
By the fourth session we where able to begin direct palpation and manual therapy techniques to the c-section scar and the whole abdominal region. The patient was apprehensive but agreed to proceeding with utilizing techniques as described by Wasserman et al2018 including superficial skin rolling, direct scar mobilization and general petrissage/effleurage of the abdomen and lumbothoracic region.
Over the next five sessions the patient was able to start wearing undergarments and pants that touched her lower abdomen. She was able to perform her own self massage to the region and began an exercise program including prone press ups, progressive generalized trunk strengthening, and return to her prior-to-pregnancy yoga practice.
Drawing on the techniques we learn from multiple sources, applying them to the lumbopelvic region, and helping our patients wherever the client is in their journey to wellness, is what inspires me to keep learning.
Techniques like this are taught in my 2-day Manual Therapy Techniques for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist course. I specifically wrote this course so that pelvic rehab therapists that are looking for more techniques and/or more confidence in their palpation skills would have a weekend to hone those skills. We spend time learning anatomy, learning palpation skills, manual techniques, problem solving home programs and discussing cases. Check out Manual Therapy Techniques for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist - Raleigh, NC - June 22-23, 2019 for more information and I hope to see you there.
Wasserman, J. B., Abraham, K., Massery, M., Chu, J., Farrow, A., & Marcoux, B. C. (2018). Soft Tissue Mobilization Techniques Are Effective in Treating Chronic Pain Following Cesarean Section: A Multicenter Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy, 42(3), 111-119.
My name is Tina Allen. I teach a course called Manual Therapy Techniques for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist. I developed this course in 2016 out of desire to help clinicians feel comfortable in their palpation and hands on skills.
My journey as a pelvic rehab therapist started with a patient whispering to me in the middle of a busy sports/ortho clinic gym; “is it normal to leak when you laugh”. I was treating her after her total hip replacement and my first question was “where are you leaking”? I was concerned that her incision was leaking, that she had an infection and it was beyond me to understand why it would happen when she laughed! I was 24 years old and 2 years out of PT school. Little did I know, that one whispered question would lead me to where I am today. I am in my 25th year as a PT and 20th year specializing in pelvic rehabilitation.
When I started out there just were not many classes. I spent time learning from physicians, reading anything I could find and applying ‘general ‘orthopedic principles to the pelvis. I traveled to clinics and learned from other clinicians. I soaked up anything I could and brought it back to my clinical practice. When Holly Herman and Kathe Wallace asked me to teach with them I was humbled, honored and terribly nervous. Holly and Kathe where two of my greatest resources and to be able to teach along side them to help others along was humbling. As I prepared to teach I realized the breadth of what we do as pelvic rehab clinicians has grown exponentially since I started out.
Over the past 10 years of teaching the pelvic series with H&W; I noticed that for some of the participants there was a gap in confidence in palpation skills and in treatment techniques applied to the pelvic floor region. For most, it’s confidence in what they are feeling and where they are. This course came out of wanting to fill that gap. I wanted to allow a space that clinicians could come and spend two days learning, affirming and building confidence in their hands. They could then take those skills and confidence back to their clinics and help more patients.
The thought of writing this course was daunting. First off, written words are not my thing. Don’t get me wrong I love to read but me coming up with what to put on paper, much less a power point slide, frightened me. With much encouragement and support from colleagues and H&W, I got to work. The first thing was to think about what techniques to include. At some point after 20 years in the field, your hands just do the work and you don’t think about how you do something. My colleague and dear friend Katy Rice allowed me to sit down with her, practice a technique and then write down each specific step to do the skill. She would read them over and then attempt to do the technique by following only the written instructions. I also had patients who were instrumental in helping me choose what techniques to include. They would say to me “that is what made all the difference for me; it has to be included in what you teach others. “
I would think about who taught me each technique, whether it was a course, another clinician or a patient. I know that I did not make any of these up myself; while I may have modified a technique to work with my hands I did not originate them. Holly Tanner was so kind to brain storm with me and lead me to references for some of the techniques that we as clinicians use every day and that I was planning to include.
What happened next was months of me sitting at the kitchen table combing through books, articles, course manuals and online videos looking for origins of the techniques I use every day in my clinical practice. I wanted to be sure to give credit to sources. It was tedious but also inspiring to realize that some of these techniques have been around and documented since 1956 (Dicke, E., & Bischof-Seeberger, I.) and also that the same techniques are sited by multiple different sources. After about 6 months of our kitchen table not being suitable for dinner it was time to see what I had gathered and how it would all fit together. The result was this 2 day course: Manual Therapy Techniques for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist which has seven labs including internal, external and combination techniques, home program/self care ideas and time for brainstorming treatment progressions. Join me in Philadelphia, PA this October 20 - 21 to learn these essential skills.
The following post comes to us from Herman & Wallace faculty member Tina Allen, PT, BCB-PMD who teaches many courses with the institute. Tina's new course, Manual Therapy Techniques for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist, will be debuting this October in San Diego, CA.
As a physical therapist who has been treating pelvic floor dysfunction for 20 years, the patient who still impacts me the most happens to be the second patient I ever treated. The patient was a 22 year old woman who, before she even was referred to me for pelvic pain, had already seen 14 medical providers and experienced 10 procedures including a hysterectomy. She had been told by more than half of her providers that this pain was “in her head”, that “she needed counseling”, and that there was no reason for her pain. With 4 years of clinical experience at the time, I felt discouraged and wondered how I was going to help her. Then I remembered that no one else could look at her muscles and biomechanics like a PT could.
I started out by educating her about the muscles “down there”, observed how she moved with her daily tasks and then I completed her seemingly first ever muscular evaluation of the perineum. After 6 sessions of down training, muscle reeducation, manual therapy, strengthening of her hip and teaching her how to self mobilize the tissues of the perineum, she reported a pain level of 3/10- the lowest her pain level had been since she was 13 years old! Of course, she asked why it took so long for her to be referred to PT.
While this felt like an extreme story to me at the time, I now know that this is still the reality for many of the clients that we work with as pelvic floor PT’s. This experience set up the aspiration for me to have medical residents in my clinic with me to teach them what PT can do for patients and so that the residents can better evaluate their patients. As pointed out in research in the Journal of Graduate Medical Education, residents in obstetrics and gynecology do not feel adequately prepared to manage the care of women who have chronic pelvic painWitzeman & Kopfman, 2014. Specifically, residents reported negative attitudes towards patients with pelvic pain, and feelings of not having enough time to address their patients’ needs. When asked about how they preferred to learn more about care of patients with pelvic pain, the residents were interested in one-on-one clinical teaching as well as use of diagnostic algorithms. At this point in time I have medical residents with me at least 2 days per month. It’s a start!
So, what does a typical day look like with a 1st year OB/GYN resident in your clinic?
First, I always do my best to let my clients know in advance that a physician will be with me that day. The patient can always decline but most patients are accommodating. I have found that most of our patients want to advocate for themselves and others by having that physician with us in our session to teach them about how PT has helped them.
I spend the first 30 minutes when the resident arrives by bringing out the pelvic floor muscle model and explaining the function of all the muscles and how those muscles impact function. I also describe how this function is impacted by fascia, the muscles of the trunk, biomechanics and mind/body connections. Then we start seeing patients. After I have reviewed the patient’s current status, we begin our session. The patient is asked to give the resident their history and medical history. It’s been wonderful to watch my patients teach the residents and to hear the patients be able to explain their condition including procedures and functional restrictions.
The residents will then be instructed to palpate and learn about restricted tissues, observe how the patient uses their pelvic floor muscles, core, trunk and legs with their daily tasks. The residents have the opportunity to observe how we progress the patient’s self care in therapy.
While the session may start with the resident feeling frustrated that they are not able to be seeing their own patients or preparing for their tests, it usually ends with the resident asking when they can come back to the clinic to learn more about what we do and how we can help patients.
I urge all of us to reach out and invite physicians, PA’s, ARNP’s, midwives, naturopaths and nurses into our clinics to learn. With a little advanced planning we can get patients the help they need as soon as possible.
Witzeman, K. A., & Kopfman, J. E. (2014). Obstetrics-Gynecology Resident Attitudes and Perceptions About Chronic Pelvic Pain: A Targeted Needs Assessment to Aid Curriculum Development. Journal of graduate medical education, 6(1), 39-43.
In our weekly feature section, Pelvic Rehab Report is proud to present this interview with Herman & Wallace instructor Tina Allen, PT, BCB-PMD, PRPC
How did you get started in pelvic rehab?
I was about 5 years into my career as a PT when for some reason I had patients who where comfortable with me enough to ask questions like, "I'm leaking. Is that normal after giving birth?", "Since my total hip replacement I've been leaking urine" and "I have pain sometimes when I'm have sex...is that normal?". I was working in Outpatient Orthopaedics and I had no idea if it was normal. I searched and found out that it wasn't. After whispering to my patients that it wasn't normal, that I read that there where things they could do about it and then slipping them pieces of paper with instructions on how to maybe make it better; I decided I should learn if there was something a PT could do to help. I spent time with Ob/Gyn's and Urologists learning from them and applying my musculoskelatal knowledge to what they taught me. I was still in denial that I could help folks but then I started getting patients specifically referred to me for these conditions. I finally found that there where classes I could take! Imagine! That was 20 years ago now!
Who or what inspired you?
My patients have always been who inspires me! The questions they ask and how they face what they are going through has always pushed me to figure out ways to help them along their paths to healing and improved function!
I must also include all the PT's whom take our courses. Watching everyone lean into the uncomfortableness of what we teach and the questions everyone asks all in the hopes of helping that client whom walks into the clinic on Monday is inspiring.
What have you found most rewarding in treating this patient population?
It has to be that first session with a patient whom when you educate them on anatomy and function of the urogynecolgical system including fascia and what is needed for function (intimacy, continence etc) and I can see the light bulb go off for them on how everything is connected and everything has to be treated as a whole.
What do you find more rewarding about teaching?
This has to be the inspiration I get a thrill from being with a room of Pelvic Rehab therapists. We all work behind closed doors all day and getting to be in a room with such amazing like-minded therapists gives me a shot in the arm. To watch us all click in and problem solve how to serve our population of clients is inspiring for me.
How did you get started teaching pelvic rehab?
I was lab assisting courses for Kathe and Holly for years. Then one year Holly Herman just kept saying to me, "Why aren't you teaching?" "You could teach this?" "Tina, why don't you take this lecture?" "Tina, how many patients do you see like this in a day? What would you do?" I almost starting avoiding her Then I talked to Kathe about teaching and she said she was just waiting for me to say I was ready to start. That's our founders; always encouraging us to do more and contribute more!
What was it like the first time you taught a course to a group of therapists?
The first time I taught was terrifying! I'm a bonafide introvert (have multiple personalty tests to prove it) and standing in front of 40+ folks talking was not my idea of a fun way to spend a weekend. After the first lecture or two I found a rhythm and relaxed into it. By the afternoon or maybe the next day I was very excited to be around so many clinicians interested in learning and treating Pelvic Rehab.
What have you learned over the years that has been most valuable to you?
That my clients journey is their journey and I get to be a part of it. It's a privilege but it is still their journey. My hope is that where ever they meet me along their path I can assist them to their next step. As long as I get out the way that can happen.
What is your favorite topic about which you teach?
My favorite part of every course are the lab sessions. Getting to teach at each table in small groups and helping clinicians refine their observation and palpation skills is what makes me happy!