Rachna Mehta, PT, DPT, CIMT, OCS, PRPC is the author and instructor of the new Acupressure for Pelvic Health course. Rachna brings a wealth of experience to her physical therapy practice and has a personal interest in various eastern holistic healing traditions. Her course Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health brings a unique evidence-based approach and explores complementary medicine as a powerful tool for holistic management of the individual as a whole focusing on the physical, emotional, and energy body.
Constipation is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder, with prevalence in the general population of approximately 20%. In the elderly population, the incidence of constipation is higher compared to the younger population, with elderly females suffering more often from severe constipation (1).
Is there a magic button in the perineum that makes it easier to defecate? In case you have wondered, the answer is YES!!!
A study done recently by Dr. Ryan Abbott and colleagues at UCLA’s Department of Medicine found just that. A randomized control trial was conducted with 100 subjects who had functional constipation, half randomized to treatment and half to the control group. The treatment group received training in self perineal acupressure along with standard treatment options. The control group only received information about standard constipation treatment options.
Perineal self-acupressure technique was found to be remarkably effective with statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvements in Patient Assessments of Constipation Quality of Life (PAC-QOL All), modified Bowel Function Index (BFI), and the Short-Form Health Survey (SF-12v2). Patients in the treatment group also reported substantial satisfaction with perineal self-acupressure technique:
In this study, perineal acupressure was applied at the Acupressure point Huiyin or CV 1 located at the perineum. Huiyin is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) not only to treat constipation, but also a variety of conditions including impotence, hemorrhoids, rectal prolapse, and dysmenorrhea. In addition, there are several key Acu-points like St 36 on the Stomach meridian and CV 6 which can help with constipation and digestive disorders.
Acupressure is based on Traditional Chinese meridian theory in which acupuncture points are pressed to stimulate the flow of energy or Qi and these points reflect disorders of visceral conditions and organs.
Acupuncture meridians are believed to form a network throughout the body, connecting peripheral tissues to each other and to the central viscera. This tissue network is also continuous with more specialized connective tissues such as periosteum, perimysium, perineurium, pleura, peritoneum, and meninges (3).
Dr. Abbott’s study suggests that clinicians should consider incorporating perineal self-acupressure technique as a first-line treatment for constipation, along with conventional interventions such as increased exercise and dietary fiber intake. Benefits include being non-invasive and non-pharmacological treatment intervention for constipation with likely a lower risk for side effects and complications than commonly used medications such as stool softeners, fiber supplements, stimulants, laxatives, and lubricants (2).
As medical providers, we are uniquely trained to combine our orthopedic skills with mindfulness-based holistic interventions to empower our patients by giving them the tools and self-care regimens to live healthier pain-free lives.
The upcoming remote course Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health, scheduled for July 24-25, 2021, brings a unique evidence-based approach on the use of potent Acupressure points for treating a wide variety of pelvic health conditions including chronic pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, constipation, digestive disturbances and urinary dysfunctions to name a few.
The course also offers an introduction to Yin yoga and explores Yin poses within each meridian to channelize energy through neurodynamic pathways with powerful integrative applications across multiple systems.
The following is an excerpt from an interview between Niko Gaffga, MD, FAAFP, MPH (NG) and Holly Tanner (HT) about why he is interested in women’s health and the menstrual experience. Niko and Amy Meehan, PT, DPT, MTC have co-authored a specialty course for H&W all about Menstruation and Pelvic Health – to learn more join us in the upcoming remote course on July 16th-17th, 2022. You can watch the full video interview below, or on the Herman & Wallace YouTube Channel.
HT – So menstruation as a topic, what is it that got you so passionate about this particular topic?
NG -Throughout my career and my training, women’s health and OB have been one of my favorite parts of my job. In recent years there was a patient who really inspired me. I came into the room, and she was sitting in the corner in the exam room of the clinic where I worked and she was crying. I came in and I asked, she only spoke Spanish…and I asked her “ How are you doing? What’s happening?” and she was very reluctant to say anything.
I found out through a little bit of discussion that she was feeling pain, and she couldn’t make the pain go away. That she had seen many doctors about it and no one had been able to help her. She was reluctant to show me where on her body – maybe it’s because I’m a man, or maybe it was because she was from a different country – she didn’t feel secure. So I drew a little picture on a piece of paper, and I said “Just point to me on this paper where you feel the pain.” After a while of pointing, talking, and smiling I got to a point where she could explain to me what was happening.
It turns out that she had painful bladder syndrome, or interstitial cystitis, and we worked over the months to get that better. And I have to say, that the next time that I walked into that the next time that I walked into that same room and she was there – she was smiling. She stood up and she gave me a hug – and I said to myself, “This is why I do medicine.”
I think really the breakthrough came when I met her where she was. I took the time to talk to her in her language, show her a piece of paper, and wait for her to say what she felt. Cause many doctors, you know how they only have two or three minutes to talk with their patients. When I met her halfway, she was able to talk to me about the pain she was feeling, about her menstrual cycles – which I don’t think she had ever discussed with any doctors before.
So that started me down the road in being interested in what can I do – what more can I do to help women. When I see women in the clinic a lot of them don’t want to say anything about their menstrual cycle, and again maybe it’s because I’m a man. Maybe it’s because it’s just a difficult topic to discuss, but I realize that in society we don’t have a lot of chance as men or women to talk about the menstrual cycle.
I feel that it is a disservice to women that they don’t have a chance to talk about things that genuinely interest them, are concerning to them, or have questions and are curious about. I feel that there is a stigma, and I think that this course will begin to address it within a small group. But I think eventually, training and working with healthcare providers is one step in making that message available to other people, and to other patients all around the country. So that is how it evolved for me.
One of the most important things for me is that talking about the menstrual experience and women’s health, in general, allows me to change, to give people information, to make decisions in their life that are in alignment with the way that they see the world. I think that not many professions can say that. You know medical professions, physical therapists, doctors, and many other professions - we help people do what they want to do for themselves, and that’s powerful. That’s very powerful.
I think that the most important thing is that I can make a difference in someone else’s life. I’ve seen it when talking to women in the clinic who I’ve seen before. Discussing their menstrual cycle and having them tell me this is the first I’ve spoken about to anyone, much less to a female or a male provider. Hearing someone say that is meaningful. It is a lot of trust that they place in someone to tell them these kinds of things because they are difficult topics. Seeing that you can make a difference in someone else’s life...it means a lot to me, and this is the reason why [I’m so passionate about women’s health and the menstrual experience].
The Menstrual cycle is one of the most natural of all human processes and is experienced by half of the population of the world. At any given time, 800 million individuals are menstruating. The Menstrual cycle occurs roughly once a month for roughly 35 to 40 years in a lifetime. That ends up being almost 3000 days, or about 8 years of menses. Many menstruators experience “period shaming” and other forms of socialized stigma around the menstrual experience. It is therefore important to become familiar with this experience and provide care to patients that takes into account their Menstrual Experience.
This two-day remote continuing education course is designed for clinicians who want to obtain advanced knowledge and skills to educate patients on non-hormonal, non-surgical, and non-prescription interventions for improving the Menstrual Experience. Developed by Nicholas Gaffga, MD, MPH, FAAFP, and presented together with Amy Meehan, PT, DPT, MTC, this course is geared toward the pelvic rehab provider looking to impart Menstrual Interventions that:
Amanda Davis, PT, DPT, PRPC can be found online at https://www.makeandmanifest.com/. She has generously shared her recent blog with The Pelvic Rehab Report. "Got 30 Minutes? 4 Underestimated Daily Practices to Make Your Lunch Break More Life-Giving" can be found in its original post on her website here: http://www.makeandmanifest.com/blog-lunchbreak/.
Hey there, I'm Amanda. Pelvic rehab therapist, endo warrior, girl mama (despite that whole endo thing), and creator of this space where I'm sharing the story of practicing what I preach and the wins and losses I gather along the way. I love early morning espresso, podcast binging, yoga pants, and scrolling Pinterest for my next obsession (heyyyy fellow libras!). My mission is to help women see the difference between "common" and "normal" and to take their physical, mental, and emotional health beyond the "that's just the way it is" mentality.
Hats off to my fellow 9-5ers who head home after a long day to jump right into their 5-9. If you’re like me, that second “career” includes (but definitely is not limited to) caregiver, dog walker, master gardener, professional organizer, chef, and housekeeper to name a few. Add in friendships that need energy, relationships that need time, those hobbies you swore you’d keep alive, and self-care you promised yourself you’d do…aaaaand the whole multi-passionate, multi-talented, multi-hyphenate thing can get overwhelming quick.
After a glorious five-month maternity leave, I’ve officially been a working mom for a year. I love my job and I love my girl, and while trying to fit both in a 24 day is challenging and exhausting, it’s what’s right for me in the season I’m in. Plus there’s something about pursuing my calling outside of the home and knowing Sloan’s watching me do it.
We’ve all chased that ultimate goal of a *perfect* balance and ~seamless~ blend between work and home, but in full disclosure, I’ve gotta tell ya— it’s hard for me to do. I’ve found myself coming home drained, dying for a break, wishing I could just lock myself in a quiet room, and feeling guilty for all of the above. Being with my daughter is the best part of my day, but I’m often just too depleted to enjoy it.
Maybe you can relate? Maybe you’re also trying to work to live but find those words flipping themselves around more than you care to admit.
I recently took an online course called Boundaries, Self-Care, and Meditation for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist, Part 1 (part 2 is on June 12). As a PT I’m required to take continuing education to keep my skillset relevant and knowledge fresh, but the pending burnout I shared with you above led me to [this] course instead. To put it simply, it was [insert explosion sound here] mind-blowing; and call me dramatic, but I consider my practice, my patients, and myself as a person and professional forever changed because of it.
While I could write at least ten posts on all the things I learned in this class, the concept that’s been most life-altering for me was how I spend my lunchtime. Yep!…just a few tweaks to those 30 minutes mid-day and not only are my afternoons more pleasant and productive, but I’m going home refreshed, renewed, and ready to spend my time and energy on alllllllllll the other people and things that mean the most to me.
What you’ll find next is how I structure my lunchtime for life-giving success— a strategy that serves me most. We all have different work environments, different physical and mental needs, and different priorities. As long as your cup feels full(er) at the end of your break, I can confirm you’re doin’ it right.
SHUT YOUR DOOR
I fully realize that not everyone has an office door they can shut during lunchtime, but as long as you can get somewhere semi-quiet and remotely alone, that should do the trick (heck…I’ve been known to go out to my car in a pinch). Creating a calm and centered environment has proven paramount to taking a true “break” from the day and will make all of my recommendations to follow that much more enjoyable.
If you’re worried about appearing “selfish” or “standoffish”…I was too. But after a week’s worth of lunches behind a closed door, I realize the positives of this practice far outweigh the negatives I was creating in my head. I’m still a team player. My coworkers still know where I am if they need me. But I’m a better colleague the other eight hours of the day when I take these 30 minutes to myself, and to my knowledge, there have been no complaints so far.
STOP TO EAT
To my fellow multi-tasking queens— if you only read one part of this post, let [this] be it as I believe this one change has made the biggest difference.
I used to spend my lunch catching up on paperwork, tending to emails, paying bills, online shopping, and then resort to scrolling social media if all of that was done. But I was eating during all of it and realized that not only was it taking me twice as long to complete tasks, but I wasn’t tasting, appreciating, or ultimately enjoying my food, all huge components of appetite, digestion, and ultimately nutrition and health.
My lunches aren’t anything fancy; in fact, 99% of the time they’re leftovers from earlier in the week (helloooooooo my trusty 3-day-old grilled chicken). But stopping to eat with intention and nothing other than a little music or podcast playing in the background has surprisingly, but positively, affected how much I consume, how my gut feels afterward, and the amount of energy I have for the rest of the day.
PS- What you eat can make a huge impact here too. I aim for whole, quality foods full of healthy fats and filling proteins to set me up for success. I’m someone who can eat the same thing again and again, so you’ll typically find my lunchbox full of that good ol’ grilled chicken, boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, and rice noodles if I’m feelin’ feisty.
On top of that podcast I have playing while I eat, I’ve started spending ten to fifteen minutes learning during lunch. I literally set a timer, pull out a book, and read about something that fuels my brain.
In order to make these minutes a 10/10, here’s a few tips to uplevel the experience:
When I became a mom I went from devouring a few books a month to being able to count my yearly reads on one hand. Reading on my lunch break has made me excited to learn again and reminded me of who I am outside of motherhood too (in turn making me a better mama). Even if reading isn’t your “thing”, at least give this one a try. Bonus if you utilize your local library because their books just smell better and we’re going for indulgent here…remember?
Eat…ten minutes. Learn…ten minutes. If you’re like me and have ten more minutes to spare, then I encourage you to move your body with that time. While the options are endless, I try to avoid sweating too much in the middle of the work day, so walking, stretching, and even deep breathing exercises are more my speed. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have the shoes, yoga mat, or whatever it is you need ready to go.
Not only does research show that movement improves your mood and elevates your energy, but there are also the physical benefits (duh!) and mental resilience that comes with knowing you’re taking care of yourself when you could be doing something else. Once fearful of wasting precious energy, I now consider my mid-day movement the boost I need to ensure I’m ready to go when I get home because let me tell ya…one year olds don’t quit.
One look at my Pinterest boards and you’ll see I’m a girl who has a lot she wants to accomplish (I see you dream house, list of must-reads, vacation itineraries, and yummy recipes just dyyyyyying to be made). But with a 24-hour day divided in thirds between work, sleep, and “other”, I have to use my time wisely to see success in a life where I’m more often than not choosing the option of (D) ALL OF THE ABOVE.
I don’t mean to be dramatic, but hacking my 30-minute lunch has ~literally~ changed my life and I’m a better physical therapist, caregiver, dog walker, master gardener, professional organizer, chef, and housekeeper (to name a few) because of it. There’s a saying that if you can’t go big, go home, but this is an instance where you can’t underestimate the power of a few minutes spent intentionally where it counts.
I’d love to hear in the comments what you do for work, if these strategies work for you, and ways you’ve made them your own. And don’t hesitate to share this one with a coworker who could use these strategies too! Nothing makes me happier than picturing us all spending half an hour in that 11-2 time frame-filling our cups for full-day success. I have a feeling you’ll be surprised at the impact this can have, and I can’t wait to watch you grow one lunchtime at a time.
This course focuses on personal and professional growth for the participant, with a deeper dive into meditation and self-care practices. Yoga is introduced as a means of mindful movement and energy balance. Participants will learn to identify unhealthy relational patterns in patients and others, and skills on how to use language and boundaries to create shifts that keep the clinician grounded and prevent excessive energic and emotional disruptions. There is a lecture on using essential oils for self-care and possibly patient care. Learning new strategies to preserve energy, wellness, and passion while practicing appropriate self-care and boundaries will lead to helpful relationships with complex patients. This course also includes a discussion of energetic relationships with others as well as the concept of a "Higher Power". The discussion will also include refining life purpose, mission, and joy potential, unique to the individual participant. The goal is that the participating clinician will walk away from this experience equipped with strategies to address both oneself and one's patients with a mind, body, and spirit approach.
Rachna Mehta PT, DPT, CIMT, OCS, PRPC, RYT 200 has a personal interest in various eastern holistic healing traditions, and she noticed that many of her chronic pain patients were using complementary health care approaches including acupuncture and yoga. Her course Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health brings a unique evidence-based approach and explores complementary medicine as a powerful tool for holistic management of the individual as a whole focusing on the physical, emotional, and energy body.
There is worldwide concern over the increasing rates of pharmacologically induced labor, opioid use, and operative birth. Women are seeking holistic non-pharmacologic options to avoid medical and surgical interventions in childbirth which has led to the popularity of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapies. Despite CAM existing outside of conventional heath systems, a substantial number of women have been found to use CAM to manage their health during pregnancy1.
Among CAM therapies, Acupuncture and Acupressure have been found to be helpful for pregnancy-related symptoms such as nausea, breech presentation, and labor induction with post-partum recovery considerations as well. Acupressure has roots in Acupuncture and is based on more than 3000 years of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM supports Meridian theory and meridians are believed to be energy channels that are connected to the function of the visceral organs. Acupoints located along these meridians transmit Qi or the bio-electric energy through a vast network of interstitial connective tissue connecting the peripheral nervous system to the central viscera.
A systematic review published by Smith et al2 looked at the use of Acupuncture or Acupressure for pain management during labor. They noted that the pain women experience during labor can be intense, with body tension, anxiety, and fear making it worse. The data included a total of 3960 women and found that Acupressure may reduce pain intensity in women experiencing labor pain.
Another RCT published by Levett et al included 176 nulliparous women with low-risk pregnancies, attending hospital-based antenatal clinics. They incorporated six evidence-based complementary medicine techniques: Acupressure, visualization and relaxation, breathing, massage, yoga techniques, and facilitated partner support. Randomization occurred at 24–36 weeks’ gestation, and participants attended a 2-day antenatal education program plus standard care, or standard care alone.
The study found a significant difference between the two groups with the study group having decreased epidural use (23.9%) compared to the standard care group (68.7%). The study group participants also reported a reduced rate of cesarean section and length of the second stage among other measures.
An article published by Debra Betts3 discusses several key considerations for promoting physiological Labor with Acupuncture. Multiple studies have cited the effectiveness of Acupressure by stimulating these powerful Acupoints as well. The author states that the suggestion of Acupoints cited below are based on both her clinical practice and midwifery feedback and are by no means an exhaustive list. The practitioner is encouraged to explore Traditional Chinese Medicine to promote efficient physiological labor in women.
Key considerations for promoting natural physiological labor include:
Is the baby in an optimal anterior position? The author states “Women can become involved in their own treatment by learning proactive positioning. This involves a woman keeping her knees lower than her hips when sitting, in order to assist gravity in moving her baby into the best possible position. Bucket‑type seats such as car seats and comfy sofas, therefore, need to be abandoned in favor of birthing balls, sitting astride chairs (with the arms resting on the back).” Key acupuncture points that can be stimulated include Bladder 60 ( BL 60), Spleen 6 (Sp 6), and Bladder 67 (BL 67). Bladder 60 (BL 60) is considered an empirical induction point. Midwifery feedback suggests that this is a useful point for promoting an optimal position of the baby for birth. Bladder 67 (BL 67) is considered an extremely important point if the baby is not in an anterior position.
Is the woman emotionally prepared for labor? While most women have some level of underlying anxiety or fear about the approaching birth, it is essential to address any significant emotional disharmony. The hormone oxytocin is released several weeks prior to labor, initially stimulating uterine contractions at night, with increasing production then aiding the transition into labor. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline have a direct inhibiting effect on natural oxytocin release, and therefore play a very significant role in inhibiting contractions2. Key acupuncture points that can be stimulated include Kidney 1 (KD 1), Liver 3 (Liv 3), and Pericardium 6 (P6) among others. Kidney 1 (K1) is useful for women who are experiencing fear of induction or childbirth itself. Liver 3 (Lv 3) is helps in improving Liver chi. Pericardium 6 (P6) is helpful for nausea, regulating the heart and calming.
Is the woman physically prepared for labor? Women may be physically exhausted or have pre-existing physical conditions that, once addressed, will help to promote physiological labor2. Key acupuncture points that can be stimulated include Bladder 43 (BL 43) and Stomach 36 (St 36). Bladder 43 ( BL 43) is A point that tonifies and nourishes the Lung, Heart, Kidneys, Spleen, and Stomach. Stomach 36 (ST 36) is a useful point to reinforce if the woman is exhausted, due to its qi-tonifying and blood-nourishing properties.
Stimulating contractions: Debra Betts also notes that key points of the Bladder meridian that are located on the sacrum are crucial in initiating contractions. While Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does consider some Acupuncture points like Large Intestine 4 (LI 4), Gall Bladder 21 (GB 21), and Spleen 6 (Sp 6) should not be stimulated in pregnant women, the opposite is true when we want to initiate labor and these points can be additionally used to assist in stimulating contractions.
Acupressure can also be used in the post-partum period for overall generalized well-being, promoting a sense of bonding with the baby, calm, and relaxation.
Acupressure can be used to stimulate key energy points also known as Acupoints in various meridians and as hands-on musculoskeletal specialists, we can use and teach this modality to our patients. Acupressure requires no equipment, is easy for clinicians to teach and for patients to self-administer when taught correctly, and is an empowering self-care tool to promote optimal health outcomes.
The course Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health focuses on powerful Acupressure points in key Meridians including the Kidney, Bladder, Spleen, and Stomach meridians. It also explores Yin Yoga as an integrative intervention with Acupressure. Yin Yoga, a derivative of Hath Yoga is a wonderful complimentary practice to Acupressure. Yin Yoga is a slow and calm meditative practice that uses seated and supine poses that are held for three to five minutes with deep breathing. It stimulates the energy flow through the meridian channels by creating tension along specific meridian lines.
This course is curated and taught by Rachna Mehta. To learn how to integrate Acupressure into your clinical practice, join the next scheduled remote course on June 25- 26, 2022.
Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health
Instructor: Rachna Mehta PT, DPT, CIMT, OCS, PRPC, RYT 200
Experience Level: Beginner
Contact Hours: 12.5
This continuing education course is a two-day seminar that offers participants an evidence-based perspective on the application of Acupressure for evaluating and treating a host of pelvic health conditions including bowel, bladder, and pelvic pain issues. The course explores a brief history of Acupressure, its roots in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and presents current evidence that supports the use of complementary and alternative medicine as an adjunct to western medicine. TCM concepts of Meridian theory and energy channels are presented with scientific evidence of Acupoints transmitting energy through interstitial connective tissue with potentially powerful integrative applications through multiple systems.
Lectures will present evidence on the use of potent Acupressure points and combinations of points for treating a variety of pelvic health conditions including chronic pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, constipation, digestive disturbances, and urinary dysfunctions to name a few. Key acupoints for decreasing anxiety, and stress and bringing the body back to a state of physiological balance are integrated throughout the course.
Participants will be instructed through live lectures and demonstrations on the anatomic location and mapping of acupressure points along five major meridians including the spleen, stomach, kidney, urinary bladder, and gall bladder meridians. Key associated points in the pericardium, large intestine, small intestine, lung and liver meridians as well as the governing and conception vessels will also be introduced. The course offers a brief introduction to Yin yoga and explores Yin poses within each meridian to channel energy through neurodynamic pathways to promote healing across multiple systems. Participants will learn how to create home programs and exercise sequences and will be able to integrate acupressure and Yin yoga into their orthopedic and pelvic health interventions.
Special Considerations and Lab materials
The labs for this course will involve external whole-body palpation and mapping of acupressure points. Please wear fitted t-shirt and leggings or yoga pants for acupressure point mapping. Participants should buy a pack of 1-inch diameter white circle stickers to be used in Labs for mapping acupressure points.
Participants are encouraged to use a Yoga mat if available and any other props they may have at home including yoga blocks, small blankets, towels and pillows to be used in the guided Yin Yoga Lab portion of the course.
Recommended resources: It is recommended that participants purchase an Acupressure Point Chart for ease of following the course work and labs in this course. Since the accuracy of points and content may vary on different charts, it is recommended to buy a copy at https://acupressure.com/products/acupressure-charts/
This continuing education seminar is targeted to rehabilitation professionals who use manual therapy as a treatment modality. Knowledge of acupressure points with specific anatomical landmarks will enable clinicians to add to their toolbox skills for treating a variety of pelvic health conditions related to the bowel, and bladder and treatment of pelvic pain.
It is recommended that the participants have a working knowledge of the functional anatomy of pelvic floor muscles as well as various associated pelvic health conditions. Pelvic Floor 1 through Herman & Wallace is strongly recommended.
Mora Pluchino, PT, DPT, PRPC sat down this week with Holly Tanner in an interview to discuss her new courses, Ethical Concerns for Pelvic Health Professionals and Ethical Considerations from a Legal Lens. She is a pelvic therapist who works in an outpatient clinic, has her own side company (Practically Perfect PT), has written 2 books available on Amazon, and is a senior TA and faculty member with Herman & Wallace. Mora joins the Herman & Wallace faculty with her new course series in ethics: Ethical Concerns for Pelvic Health Professionals and Ethical Considerations from a Legal Lens.
What are your core values as a pelvic health practitioner? Depending on your practitioner license these may include (1):
Annual CEU requirements for license renewals don’t just look at hands-on skills. Many states also require a number of ethics credits including California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, and Utah (2). In her interview, Mora Pluchino explains that one day she and her colleague were at lunch talking about course options for their ethics CEU requirement. They had taken the same course over and over at Stockton University and wanted to do something different this time. This led to Mora reaching out to Herman & Wallace and Holly Tanner who helped her start writing the course. Mora’s new courses focus on this ethics requirement, provide 6 contact hours, and registration is $175.00 for each:
What should you expect from an ethics course? Mora breaks down the Ethical Concerns for Pelvic Health Professionals course and shares that there is about an hour of pre-course video lectures to watch, then the live course involves “a little bit of lecture in relation to pelvic health and ethics, and then there will be some case studies and group work. After this, an ethical expert will come in and do live question/answers with us.”
These courses are to really make practitioners comfortable with these ethical and moral issues. Mora explains, “I really want practitioners who take this course to understand and know where to find information about those issues that come up with their boss, their organization, their patients, or themselves. A lot of times, ethical situations just make us just know instinctively that something doesn’t feel right.” Holly follows up with “Sometimes these situations can make us feel embarrassed, and maybe we contributed or didn’t contribute in the right way to a scenario. We don’t always bring them up to other people out of this embarrassment, or we just don’t know which pathway to take.”
A lot of common questions have an ethical component such as “How do I bill for this,” “How do I tell my boss I can’t do this,” or even “Can I reuse a biofeedback sensor?” Mora shares, “Sometimes, as a practitioner you can feel pressured to do (or not do) something, and you don’t know how to say no. With these courses, you will be able to give clear reasons such as it’s in my guidelines, in my practice act, and core values as being a PT or OT.” She further expands on this, “We have all of these people working for us in the APTA and AOTA that are creating all of these ethical guidelines and all of this information to give us the support.”
The ethics topics are broken down into two courses, with the first course Ethical Concerns for Pelvic Health Professionals focused specifically on people who treat pelvises scheduled for June 18, 2022. The second course, Ethical Considerations from a Legal Lens, is scheduled for December 10, 2022, and deals with the legalities and rights of health care providers. Some questions that are touched on during lectures include abandonment of care and discrimination. Mora also shares that a lot of the ethics courses she has taken are “from the perspective of therapists that are abusing their patients, but when you work in pelvic health world you realize it can go the other way too, or it can be a back and forth kind of thing.”
To learn more, and fulfill that ethics CEU requirement, join H&W and Mora Pluchino this summer in Ethical Concerns for Pelvic Health Professionals on June 18th or this winter in Ethical Considerations from a Legal Lens scheduled for December 10th.
Kelly Sammis, PT, OCS, CLT, AFDN-S is a physical therapist, educator of dry needling and all things pelvic, Pilates instructor, wife, and mama living and working in Parker, Colorado. She specializes in the treatment of male and female pelvic floor dysfunction, athletic injury/return to sport, sports performance, and persistent pain. Her formal education took place at Ohio University (2007) and The University of St Augustine for Health Sciences (2010). Kelly serves as the lead faculty developing and teaching dry needling and pelvic health courses nationwide. Kelly co-instructs the Herman & Wallace Dry Needling courses along with site fellow faculty member Tina Anderson, MS PT.
Pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) is a common and relevant condition that affects many patients worldwide. According to our evidence, PFD can affect approximately 20-25% of women and men in the United States1, contributing to decreased participation in preferred daily, work and recreational activities due to high incidences of lumbopelvic pain, abdominopelvic pain, incontinence, prolapse, and/or other urologic and urogynecologic symptoms.2 These symptoms have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and mental health status.2
While PFD is common, the general public has not been fully educated that these dysfunctions are not normal. As clinicians, we have a duty to educate our patient population that PFD is not a normal, nor acceptable, part of the postpartum experience or aging process. These dysfunctions are very debilitating but are also very treatable.
Common, not normal. Common, but treatable.
Pelvic floor pathology comes to us as clinicians in a variety of diagnoses, etiologies, and presentations2. Patients are often referred to physical therapy with medical diagnoses such as chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS), interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis, dyspareunia, pudendal neuralgia, bowel and urinary incontinence, and chronic prostatitis.3-5 Symptom presentation is quite varied but often will include bowel, bladder, and sexual dysfunctions. That being said, a multidisciplinary approach is crucial to tailor treatment specific to each patient’s pathology, symptomatology, and clinical presentation.6 Many of these patients have seen a variety of gynecologists, urologists, and gastroenterologists without successful symptom mitigation and are being referred to pelvic health practitioners as a last resort. This is unfortunate, as a primary contributor to these symptoms is the neuromusculoskeletal system…and who better to treat the neuromusculoskeletal system than rehabilitative clinicians?!
Multimodal practice is key.
A well-rounded, multimodal treatment approach that is tailored to meet the patient’s specific goals is an important step in successfully treating PFD. Patient education can be a very powerful modality, which many clinicians tend to overlook. Research suggests education may help to address central nervous system upregulation and may help to retrain the brain in how it is processing input.7,8 While it is incredibly powerful to be able to influence pain processing, it doesn't stop with education. As clinicians, we also need to provide non-threatening, nourishing input to the tissues.
Manual therapies may help to desensitize the peripheral nervous system and surrounding soft tissues by providing neural input to alter the source of the pain and disruption.9,10 These techniques, including joint mobilization, soft tissue release, myofascial techniques, tool-assisted therapies, or any other manual approach, are likely addressing local tissue issues that may be perpetuating chronic pain or tissue dysfunction.
Dry needling is another effective and efficient technique that pelvic health practitioners can utilize to modulate the central nervous system, peripheral nervous systems and local tissues, including the pelvic floor directly.10 Dry needling encompasses the insertion of solid filament, non-injectate needles into, alongside or around muscles, nerves or connective tissues with or without mechanical and/or electrical stimulation for the management of pain and dysfunction in neuromusculoskeletal conditions.
While the detailed mechanisms of dry needling are not well known, we have seen more and more evidence that has provided us with an understanding on how to best utilize this technique in our clinical practice. Overall, it is thought that dry needling may address hypersensitive neural structures and spinal segments5, enhance treatment of myofascial pain and trigger points in the pelvic floor and surrounding musculature, and assist in the facilitation and/or inhibition of abnormal muscle tone and motor recruitment patterns.10-23 Dry needling has the ability to assist in addressing bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction alongside addressing pain syndromes in our patient population that is impacted by PFD.
Dry needling is one of the most effective tools we have as rehabilitative practitioners to reset dysfunctional tissue, providing effective and efficient functional changes for our patients. Ultimately, we are able to facilitate a more balanced resting tone, healthy motor recruitment patterns, and optimal neuromuscular utility to re-establish ideal function in our patients. The power of the tissue reset that dry needling provides has changed my clinical outcomes for the better and has also positively impacted and changed the lives of many of my clients. Want to add this tool to your clinical practice? Check out our course offerings with Herman & Wallace:
Sarah Clampett, PT, DPT, is Head of Clinical Operations at Origin, a leading provider of pelvic floor and whole-body physical therapy with a special focus on pregnancy and postpartum. After studying Kinesiology and Psychology at the University of California, Sarah stayed on to earn her Doctorate of Physical Therapy. As a clinical leader at Origin, she’s as passionate about helping PTs love the work they do as she is helping patients feel good in their bodies.
Shortly after I started physical therapy school, I realized that being a physical therapist is a fantastic conversation starter. People’s eyes tend to light up when they hear I’m a PT because almost everyone has had an experience with physical therapy — and even if they haven’t, they’ve had an injury. They want to tell me about the physical therapy they did in high school for their scoliosis or that time they tore their ACL skiing. They even seek advice for that pesky low back pain that hasn’t fully resolved since throwing their back out six months ago.
I love to hear people’s stories and genuinely enjoy engaging in casual conversations about injuries. When I’m done explaining that core strength is important when dealing with back pain, I go on to say that while I started my career in ortho, I’m now a pelvic floor PT. That’s when one of two things happens: 1) They stare at me blankly, then quickly change the subject, or 2) Their eyes light up even brighter and they start asking questions. That’s when the conversation gets really fun. “What exactly do you do?” “What do you treat?” and “How did you get into that?”
Where My Passion for Ortho Started
I decided to go to PT school for a couple of reasons. I’ve always loved sports and consider sports a large part of my upbringing. (Fun fact: I only listened to AM sports radio until I was about 13). And, like many PTs, I discovered physical therapy as a patient. In my case, it was after injuring myself in high school playing volleyball.
I loved going to PT, not only because I was getting better — I loved seeing all the other patients getting better around me. It was a very sports-oriented PT clinic and my first and only experience with PT, so when I declared Kinesiology as my major and started my pre-PT coursework in college, I had my heart set on being a sports/ortho PT. It felt like the perfect fit at the time. I was a student athletic trainer for 2.5 years in college to learn as much as I could about the sports rehab world before heading into PT school.
Fast forward to my final semester and clinical rotation at PT school: I was at an ortho clinic with a large population of athletes. I loved it. After I graduated, I was hired as a PT at that same clinic and started my career as a working PT. I began working a few days a week to build my caseload with the plan to transition to full-time as my schedule filled. That clinic happened to also own a women’s health clinic that treated primarily prenatal and postpartum patients. A few weeks after starting, I was asked if I wanted to work additional days by filling in at the women’s health clinic. As a new grad who needed to pay rent, I said yes because more days meant more money. It was supposed to be temporary.
My Journey to Becoming a Pelvic Floor PT
As soon as I walked into the women’s health clinic, something clicked. I fell in love with the patient population and helping them feel better. I remember early on, a patient with such severe pelvic pain that they could barely walk to the bathroom. At their next visit, they said they could walk without pain again. The ability to help people going through pregnancy and postpartum felt especially meaningful. I spent a year and a half working in both clinics and then transitioned to treating women’s health full time.
After working in women’s health for a couple of years, I eventually got tired of referring my patients with pelvic floor conditions to colleagues who treated pelvic floor and decided it was time to start treating it myself. To be honest, I was hesitant at first and definitely nervous about taking my first course. But as soon as I started treating the pelvic floor, something clicked again.
Even more so than in the past, I connected deeply with my patients and their goals. Giving someone the confidence to leave the house without wearing a maxi-pad or carrying extra underwear because they’re no longer worried about leaking was amazing. So many people suffer in silence from pelvic floor disorders and are resolved to just live with them. I’m lucky enough to provide a safe space to talk about it and assure them that it can get better. How cool is that?
Advice for an Ortho PT Curious About Pelvic floor
Take a course! Just because you take the course does not mean you are committing to a career change. Even if you decide it’s not the right time to switch or you didn’t enjoy it as much as you thought you would, you’ll still learn valuable information that you can immediately incorporate into your practice. That overworked, stressed patient with lingering hip pain might need pelvic floor lengthening to get that last bit of pain to resolve.
Most ortho PTs who make the shift are nervous they won’t be able to use their ortho skills when treating the pelvic floor, and that simply isn’t true. My time in ortho has definitely shaped the pelvic floor PT I am today.
In ortho, you treat the whole body. If your foot hurts, you look at the knee, the hip, the low back, and how everything works together to figure out what’s causing the foot pain. Pelvic floor PT is no different. You must look at the whole body and figure out how all the parts are working together to get the results you need. I continue to use many of the same exercises now that I used back when I was working as an ortho PT.
Lastly, the pelvic floor is a group of muscles. If it’s weak, it needs to strengthen. If it’s overactive, it needs to lengthen. If it’s uncoordinated, it needs to be retrained. Yes, treating pelvic floor dysfunction requires special training, but at the end of the day, muscles are muscles.
I have always enjoyed working with the peripartum population. However, the longer I worked in pelvic rehabilitation the more I heard the same story over and over when interviewing patients. For example, when working with a patient with urinary incontinence or prolapse, I would say: “when did this start” and some of my elderly patients would laugh and say “when Johnny was born” and I would say “how old is Johnny” they would reply “40!” Many of the pelvic patients I was treating had symptoms originating around the time of childbirth and they had been suffering for decades. So, I figured, let’s get to the root of the problem and focus on earlier intervention.
What is the root of the problem? In my opinion, it is the lack of postpartum care. Pregnant patients are often inundated with birth education programs and information about pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, there is a battery of prenatal visits, prenatal testing, and preparations for birth. All of which are wonderful to help prepare for birth. Conversely, the resources and guidance to help with physiological and musculoskeletal healing postpartum are lacking. Patients are counseled about serious signs and symptoms, but clear guidance to help to return to daily functional activities including recreation and exercise is often not provided. As musculoskeletal and exercises experts we are in a wonderful position to help patients reduce pain and improve function following the birth of a child.
Prior to 2018, the first post-partum checkup was six weeks following birth. Barring any severe problems, this was often the last contact with a medical provider for the parent. Patients were not provided specific guidance on how to return to daily activities, let alone higher-level activities such as running, exercising, and/or lifting weights.
In 2018, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) revised its guidelines, which now support earlier and more frequent postpartum visits. It is recommended that the first contact between patient and obstetric care provider occur in the first three weeks following birth and that subsequent visits are scheduled as needed in an ongoing fashion1. This is important, as many consider the patient is still healing from birth up to 12 weeks (definitions vary). Depending on their knowledge and experience, a patient may not immediately realize they have a musculoskeletal problem. A new parent is busy adapting to their role as a care provider and may not be thinking about themselves. Additionally, they may not know what “normal” is for their body postpartum, including vaginal, abdominals, and/or bowel, and bladder functions. For example, the patient may be experiencing urinary incontinence (UI) which they “think” is normal postpartum, therefore, they may not bring it up to their provider. Patients often seek advice from family and friends who may even joke about peeing their pants when they sneeze or laugh or play with their children. Urinary incontinence is not ever “normal”, however, is it common in the postpartum period. Availability of vetted resources and a relationship with a healthcare provider are essential to cure these misconceptions.
According to a systematic review, the prevalence of urinary incontinence is 33% at three months postpartum2 and remains at 29% four years postpartum3. This means about one-third of women have urinary incontinence postpartum and remain that way without intervention. We also know the prevalence of urinary incontinence is strongly related to increasing age and underreported. This example highlights a common misconception: pelvic dysfunction is a normal part of the after-birth stage. However, with intervention, these problems can be alleviated, and we can improve the quality of life for these patients.
According to the American College of Physicians (ACP) clinical practice guidelines for non-surgical management of UI there is high-quality evidence that strongly recommends pelvic floor muscle training as the first-line treatment for stress incontinence.4
So why isn’t pelvic assessment and rehabilitation recommended for all people who birth in our country? In several European countries, pelvic rehab is standard postpartum care for anyone who births. Over the last two decades, I do see more postpartum patients referred for rehabilitation for their musculoskeletal impairments. However, I still think we need more skilled providers assisting these patients and spreading the word about the interventions rehabilitation professionals provide. These can range from common orthopedic complaints (e.g neck or back pain from repetitive baby care) to specific bladder and/or bowel dysfunction, such as leakage and/or constipation, abdominal separation (Diastasis Rectus Abdominus-DRA), prolapse, pelvic pain, perineal tearing, and/or pain with intercourse.
When developing this four-course postpartum series, I wanted rehabilitation providers to have more advanced skills to provide examination and treatment to this special population. This includes techniques to assess and treat the abdominals and pelvis, as these areas are physiologically impacted by pregnancy and birth over a relatively short amount of time. To effectively treat this population, one needs to be familiar with physiological changes from pregnancy, and stages of labor and birth to understand the journey of your patient. There is so much we can do to help these patients over a range of complaints, from acute breast and perineal care to DRA and pelvic dysfunctions. As with any special population, postpartum patients have unique red flags and concerns to monitor, and due to our more frequent patient contact, it is imperative to be proficient in screening for these conditions. These topics and more are included in the course series.
I am grateful and appreciative of this collaboration between Herman & Wallace and Medbridge to provide a platform for clinicians to progress their knowledge. Hopefully, this improves access to postpartum care and increases referrals for rehabilitation services to improve the function and quality of life for parents. Together we can reduce chronic impairments stemming from the childbirth period.
Instructor: Rachel Kilgore, DPT, OCS, COMT, PRPC, PPCES
Instructor: Rachel Kilgore, DPT, OCS, COMT, PRPC, PPCES
Instructor: Rachel Kilgore, DPT, OCS, COMT, PRPC, PPCES
Instructor: Rachel Kilgore, DPT, OCS, COMT, PRPC, PPCES
The popularity of yoga continues to rise with over 36 million yogis living in the United States of America and over 300 million practitioners worldwide. Yoga has several therapeutic effects that make it a beneficial addition to home exercise programs for practitioners and personal practice.
Dustienne Miller discussed some of the benefits of yoga in her March blog (March 8, 2022 - A yoga practice can change your neuroanatomy!). These benefits extend beyond the musculoskeletal system and include improved mood and depression, changes in pain perception, improved mindfulness and associated improved pain tolerance, and the ability to observe situations with emotional detachment.
The physical benefits are well documented in several research studies and include improved flexibility, strength, and stability as well as enhanced respiratory and cardiovascular function. Supporting documentation also shows that yoga can help alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain. Dustienne Miller shared that in a study by Villemure et al, they determined “that the insula-related interoceptive awareness strategies of the yoga practitioners being used during the experiment correlated with the greater intra-insular connectivity...concluding that the insular cortex can act as a pain mediator for yoga practitioners.”
Restorative yoga shares the many benefits seen in other styles of yoga and can also be a great addition to home programs for pelvic rehab practitioners. Kate Bailey shared in her interview with The Pelvic Rehab Report (August 31, 2021 – Faculty Interview: Kate Bailey) that restorative yoga “focuses on the lesser-known aspects of the yoga platform: breath, restorative practice, and a bit of meditation. I have clients all the time who struggle with meditation because their nervous systems aren’t ready for it. So we look at breathing and restorative yoga both as independent alternatives, but also as a way to get closer to meditation.. giving the clinicians another skill for their own rest practice can be useful when feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out. “
But what does this mean? Let’s look at some of these aspects a bit closer:
Improving mood and sleep: This includes depression, anxiety, and even stress or other mood disorders. Consistent yoga practice can lead to significant increases in serotonin levels coupled with decreases in the levels of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters and cortisol(1). Yoga can inhibit the areas in the brain responsible for fear, aggressiveness, and rage (posterior or sympathetic area of the hypothalamus) – while simultaneously stimulating the rewarding pleasure centers in the median forebrain and other areas leading to a state of bliss and pleasure. This inhibition results in lower anxiety, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and cardiac output (2).
Think about it. Deep breathing calms the nervous system. This promotes relaxation. The more relaxed you are then the better the chance of having a good night’s sleep. Consistent yoga practice can also assist sleep quality by increasing melatonin and reducing hyperarousal (3). Pratyahara, or a turning inward of the senses, allows downtime for the nervous system and can be encouraged by yoga poses such as savasana (corpse pose) and pranayama (breathing exercises/control.
Reduced Chronic Pain: Asana and meditation have been shown to reduce chronic pain including reduced pain from arthritis, back pain, and other chronic conditions while also improving balance and increasing proprioception(1). Yoga sessions can take our joints through a full range of motion. This squeezes and soaks areas of cartilage not often used and provides fresh nutrients, oxygen, and blook to the joints. Otherwise neglected areas of cartilage in the joints would wear out, exposing bone, which can lead to arthritis and chronic pain. At the same time, yoga is gentle on the body and consistent practice can strengthen the connective tissues that surround the bones and joints.
Effects on Cancer Patients: Yoga cannot cure cancer, but it can reduce stress and improve physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. There is supporting research that the growth of cancerous tumors can be exacerbated by stress(4). This same study found that consistent yoga practice could decrease post-chemotherapy-induced frequency and intensity of nausea and the intensity of anticipatory nausea and vomiting. In 2018 Lin et al provided new research showing that restorative yoga can decrease depression in cancer survivors; improve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain symptoms in cancer patients; and help patients manage the toxicity of cancer treatments (5). In addition, yoga has a fundamental emphasis placed on mindfulness and acceptance of your body and its limitations.
Kate Bailey likes to joke about lying on the floor, but really, it is not a joke at all. Lying on the floor for 15 minutes is savasana. She shares that “Savasana is a wakeful resting and a practice of relaxation response. It seems easy: you always have access to a floor. You don’t need anything fancy. Aside from the neuroregulatory benefits of rest, savasana also gives the postural muscles a break. It allows the hip flexors to re-lengthen and the cervicothoracic junction to realign.”
Let’s take a moment to close with a savasana (did you know that a 5-minute savasana is recommended for every 30 minutes of yoga?). This pose can calm the central nervous system, aid the digestive and immune systems, reduce headaches, fatigue, and anxiety while lowering blood pressure and calming the mind, and reducing stress.
Take a moment and lay on the floor with your arms and legs open wide and relaxed (starfish style), supported by a bolster, or you may want to place your hands gently over your chest or your stomach. Now gently still your body. Release your breath and be present. Be completely aware of the moment. Let your mind and body go for a few moments.
Restorative Yoga for Physical Therapists with instructor Kate Bailey
This course will provide the basis for experiencing and integrating restorative yoga into physical therapy practice. Restorative yoga is an accessible practice that can teach patients (and practitioners) how to rest systematically, for short periods of time, on a regular basis to encourage the parasympathetic nervous system to balance with the sympathetic nervous system for improved neuroregulation. Topics include the difference between meditation and restorative yoga, and how they can support each other in order to support the ability to drop into relaxation. Restorative postures, each taking 20-30 minutes are offered prior to the live meeting so that participants can experience what a patient might experience when restorative yoga is a component of their home program. Then in the live course participant experiences, questions, and strategies on how to reduce barriers to relaxation so that patients can integrate this practice into their lifestyle will be discussed. There will also be live labs for breathing techniques and specific meditations that may be helpful to patients working with an unregulated nervous system.
Yoga for Pelvic Pain with instructor Dustienne Miller
This course offers an evidence-based perspective on the value of yoga for patients with chronic pelvic pain by focusing on two of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path: pranayama (breathing) and asana (postures) - and how they can be applied for patients who have hip, back and pelvic pain. A variety of pelvic conditions will be discussed including interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, vulvar pain, coccydynia, hip pain, and pudendal neuralgia. Lecture topics include the role of yoga within the medical model, contraindicated postures, and how to incorporate yoga home programs as therapeutic exercise and neuromuscular re-education both between visits and after discharge.
This article was originally posted on the Medbridge Blog site: https://www.medbridgeeducation.com/blog/2021/11/six-actionable-ways-to-be-a-better-lgbtq-ally/.
Brianna Durand, PT, DPT earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy at Texas Woman’s University in Houston, TX. During graduate school, she led and co-founded PT Proud, a Catalyst Group within the Health Policy and Administration Section of the APTA, to improve the education, equity, and inclusion of LGBTQ+ patients, students, and clinicians. Brianna owns and operates Empower Physiotherapy, a private practice in Seattle. As a competitive powerlifter, Brianna enjoys working with strength athletes who experience pelvic floor dysfunction, especially stress incontinence. She is passionate about providing care to individuals in the LGBTQ+ community, including those undergoing hormonal/surgical transition. Brianna's additional clinical interests include prenatal/postpartum care for trans and gender-nonconforming folx and pelvic floor care for patients that are intersex. Brianna curated and teaches LGBTQ+ cultural competency for practitioners in her course - Inclusive Care for Gender and Sexual Minorities.
LGBTQIA2S+. Does it seem like that acronym is ever-growing? That’s because it is!
As our society evolves, more people are feeling safe and comfortable to live as their authentic selves, and every day there is more evidence to support that.
According to Gallup polls, the percentage of people in the U.S. that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender has increased to 5.6 percent.3 That is three times the entire population of Colorado! These numbers are even higher amongst younger generations—up to 20 percent in Gen Z and millennials by some estimates. In 2019, nearly 80 percent of surveyed Americans state that they personally know someone who identifies as LGBTQIA2S+ or queer.2 And while the word “queer” has a nasty history as a derogatory slur, it is increasingly used by folks in the LGBTQIA2S+ community to describe those who do not identify as cisgender or heterosexual.
Recent years have provided a groundswell of awareness building around this community—from representation in entertainment, discussion about participation in athletics, and changes occurring at the legislative level. However, one area of society in which awareness is still lacking is in modern-day medicine, so let’s explore the significance of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as it pertains to healthcare.
As a medical professional, you may wonder “Can’t I simply treat all people the same?” While this idea may be filled with good intentions, the unfortunate reality is that we do not yet have access to this utopian future. There are real, measurable differences in the health of all marginalized communities, including gender and sexual minorities (GSM).
In 2020, 1 in 10 LGBTQIA2S+ Americans faced some form of mistreatment from a healthcare professional.1 These negative experiences strongly correlate with postponing or altogether avoiding medical care in the future, further contributing to the collective LGBTQIA2S+ fear of discrimination. The statistics are even worse when specifically looking at queer and trans people of color.
While the system and the education that trains our clinicians could benefit from a renovation, here are six actionable steps you can take now to facilitate a safer space for your LGBTQIA2S+ patients:
As healthcare professionals, we have some degree of inherent privilege. With this privilege comes the capacity to inflict harm, intentional or not. While intentions matter, they do not supersede the impact your words or actions have on another. Assumptions matter, too. While assumption making is common and normal—an evolutionarily advantageous adaptation of the brain—they are not facts, and they are not harmless. Erroneous assumptions about a person’s gender or sexual identity by a medical professional can lead to behaviors that cause discomfort in and discrimination towards LGBTQIA2S+ patients and clients, even if inadvertently.
By recognizing the power differential that exists in the patient/provider relationship and the implications that come with it, we are likely to be more aware of our words and actions when they come up, and more willing to address them when they do. And by taking a position of genuine care and curiosity rather than assumption, we can affirm the relationship between the person whom we are helping and their body.
Always use the correct pronouns and name of the person with whom you are working. One easy way to do this is simply by mirroring the language they use when describing themself. However, if you are meeting someone for the first time, you may unintentionally use language that is not in line with your patient or client’s identity. For example, you may use someone’s dead name (the name assigned to them at birth) which may still be listed on their legal and medical documentation.
You can preempt this kind of unintentional harm by including areas for clarification on intake paperwork. This will allow you the opportunity to affirm the pronouns of the person in your care upon your first interaction. While pronoun affirmation may seem like a small action, it has shown to be effective in reducing suicidal ideation and depression.4 Another way to update your language for greater inclusivity is by using the term “spouse” or “partner” when inquiring if a patient has someone at home that can help with their activities of daily living or rehabilitation. Additionally, when referring to pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum care, practice saying “pregnant person” or “birthing parent” rather than “pregnant woman” or “mother.”
Shaming someone’s behavior is unlikely to result in positive change or self-reflection. Instead, we can follow the steps of stopping, educating, and being proactive to foster learning in our colleagues. This kind of dialogue offers the opportunity for the individual to participate in the discussion by learning about their behavior, rather than feeling pushed out of the conversation which could limit their chance to grow.
It is important to note the significance of taking this action even if the LGBTQIA2S+ person was not present for the encounter. This breaks the notion that harmful language is acceptable so long as the subject of the harm is not privy to it. If the LGBTQIA2S+ person is present for the encounter, it is best to first pull them aside to check in with them, make sure they are alright, and ask if they want your help. Some folks prefer to avoid drawing attention to themselves. It is also a skill of allyship to know when not to talk.
When an LGBTQIA2S+ person, or a person from any marginalized group for that matter, corrects your language or behavior, practice saying “thank you” rather than “sorry” and avoid explaining yourself. It is a privilege to learn about oppression rather than to experience it for yourself. When someone corrects you, not only are they bravely honoring their authentic identities, but they are doing emotional labor on your behalf, and in the age of freely available information, it is never the responsibility of marginalized folks to educate others for free. These interactions are opportunities for personal growth—don’t let them pass you by!
Does your workplace have gender-neutral bathrooms? Many LGBTQIA2S+, queer, and trans people avoid using public restrooms to avoid harassment and violence. Such aggressions can have very tangible consequences to their physical health, such as pelvic floor dysfunction. If there aren’t any inclusive restrooms in your workplace, make a suggestion to change that.
How inclusive are the brochures in your waiting room? Do the patient education materials that you provide to a patient after evaluation use language and imagery that include the LGBTQIA2S+ community? These are areas that can be improved upon with the suggested language updates we discussed above in action step two.
Are there symbols or graphics that will welcome GSM, such as safe space signs, flags depicting an upside-down rainbow triangle, or “all-gender” verbiage in lieu of gender-specific? Both would make easy additions that signal to patients they are in an inclusive space. However, it is important to distinguish the difference between saying a space is safe, and actually making a space safe. A space can only be safe if the entire team of providers and office staff are on board. Labeling a space as safe when it is not has the propensity to cause further harm. Be sure before these indicators are put up in your practice, everyone is ready to support such efforts.
Any etymologist will tell you that languages are living things that are constantly evolving. Developments such as these can make it challenging to stay current on which terminology is most beneficial to our growing society. Sometimes just the fear of making a mistake can be intimidating enough to discourage people from trying. What is most important is not how well you use updated language but that you are trying. Your effort matters, and it is what will move the needle in the right direction. Cultural responsiveness is not knowing every nuanced detail of every demographic group. Cultural responsiveness is being willing to reflect and modify your viewpoints when presented with information that differs from what you previously held to be true. Try to accept that just with learning any new skill, mistakes are bound to happen. When they do be prepared to learn, and then move forward with that new knowledge in mind.
with instructor Brianna Durand, PT, DPT
When it feels overwhelming and nuanced, it can be tempting to avoid uncomfortable topics altogether. However, attendees for this course can expect to be gently guided into the sometimes confusing realm of gender and sexual orientation, and identity. This course will provide a safe space to ask all the questions about caring for LGBTQ+ patients and practicing the skills needed to help advance your practice. Although this course will cover pelvic floor physical therapy specifically, it is appropriate and useful for any medical professional as we all have patients in the LGBTQ+ community.