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Reflections on course design and development: Evolution of an idea

Reflections on course design and development: Evolution of an idea

The following is the first in a series of posts by Erica Vitek, MOT, OTR, BCB-PMD, PRPC. Erica joined the Herman & Wallace faculty in 2018 and is the author of Neurologic Conditions and Pelvic Floor Rehab.

Erica VitekA well-respected colleague of mine brought something to my attention. My desire to learn everything possible about Parkinson disease and pelvic health was a unique passion, a combination of expertise not seen in many rehabilitation clinics.

Looking back, being passionate about how to physically exercise a person with Parkinson disease to produce the best functional outcome actually became a passion of mine when I was offered my first job. I was thrown into treating people with Parkinson disease in an acute care setting. I had very limited knowledge about Parkinson disease at the time, but I learned quickly from the vast opportunity that was offered to me through my place of work, which was the regions sought after Parkinson disease center of excellence. At the same time, I was eager to further advance my skills as a pelvic floor therapist, which I developed a substantial interest in when I was in college.

As I learned more about what people with Parkinson disease had to manage in their daily lives, it became very clear to me that autonomic dysfunction was a very challenging, and sometimes disabling, aspect of the disease. Being knowledgeable about the neurological and musculoskeletal system along with the urinary, gastrointestinal, and sexual systems seemed to fit well together but there was no specific place to go to combine this knowledge. The research I began collecting on this topic was abundant and very intriguing. Bringing this information together could be practice changing for me to help people living with Parkinson disease.

As clinicians, we already know how to be understanding about the very personal details of the people we work with. People with Parkinson disease deal with an extra layer of challenge, such as, bradykinesia, freezing of gait, and tremor affecting their day to day self-care and relationships. Adding urinary incontinence, constipation or sexual dysfunction to the list makes for even more difficult management.

How does one clinician share their passion with other clinicians that also have the same desires to give the best care to their patients with Parkinson disease? Having a great deal of respect for Herman and Wallace and what they have to offer clinicians practicing pelvic rehabilitation, it seemed like it could be the perfect fit for a course like this. The work that would lie ahead if this idea took off was overwhelming but did not hinder me from my proposal. In fact, it has led to an even larger scope addressing the of treatment of the pelvic floor for a multitude of neurologic conditions many of us see daily in our clinics. Pulling it all together to share is a process that will reward not only people with Parkinson disease in my practice but hopefully yours as well.

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An Introduction to Mindful Awareness Training for the Treatment of Pain at CSM

An Introduction to Mindful Awareness Training for the Treatment of Pain at CSM

As brain research in pain processing suggests, pain engages overlapping cortical networks responsible for nociception, cognition, emotion, stress and memory, a treatment model targeting nociceptive mechanisms alone can be inadequate to address the complexities of a patient’s pain experience.1 To help physical therapists understand and more effectively address multiple factors influencing a patient’s pain, the APTA, Orthopaedic Section and Pain Management Special Interest Group have brought together 10 physical therapists and a physician from around the country to present an informative and dynamic 2-day pre-conference course, Keep Calm and Treat Pain, Feb 21 and 22 at CSM 2018 in New Orleans. Presentation topics include the Science of Pain, Pain Education, Pain Psychology, Motivational Interviewing and Sleep and Pain. In addition, I will present An Introduction to Mindful Awareness Training and Its Role in Pain Treatment, and my colleague at Herman and Wallace, Megan Pribyl, PT, MSPT, will present Pain and Nutrition: Building Resilience Through Nourishment.

Sensory TractAs we are in the midst of the opioid crisis, this programming could not come at a better time. In this regard, I am especially excited to share information on how mindfulness training has been shown to help patients who are reducing opioid medications to increase positive affect, decrease pain interference and reduce opioid craving.2, 3 I will also describe how mindful awareness training helps address a patient’s fears and fear avoidant behavior and will guide mindfulness exercises.4, 5

I am honored to be a part of this pioneering program that combines didactic presentations with experiential exercises and lab practice to offer participants the latest science of pain and practical skills to more successfully treat pain. In addition, I am presenting an Educational Session sponsored by the Federal Section on the topic Mindful Awareness Training for Veterans with Comorbid Pain and PTSD based on my research experience at the Puget Sound VA in Seattle. I hope to see you at CSM!

While these presentations offer a taste of mindfulness training to improve patient outcomes, they provide just a glimpse into its potential. My joy and passion is my course, Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment, where I can offer an in-depth exploration of the role mindful awareness training in pain treatment through a thorough review of mindfulness and pain research, the detailed exploration of the application of mindful awareness training to the biopsychosocial pain model and multiple experiential exercises and lab practices that provide participants with practical strategies to bring into the clinic Monday morning. I hope you can attend a Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment course offered by Herman and Wallace in 2018 at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA, June 9 and 10, Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington VA Aug 4 and 5, or Pacific Medical Center in Seattle, WA Nov 3 and 4. I look forward to helping you expand your toolbox of treatment techniques for patients with pain conditions.


1. Simons LE, Elman, I, Borsook D. Psychological processing in chronic pain: a neural systems approach. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014;39:61-78.
2. Garland EL, Thomas E, Howard MO. Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement ameliorates the impact of pain on self-reported psychological and physical function among opioid-using chronic pain patients. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2014;48(6):1091-9.
 3. Garland EL, Froelinger B, Howard MO. Neurophysiological evidence for remediation of reward processing deficits in chronic pain and opioid misuse following treatment with Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement: exploratory ERP findings from a pilot RTC. J Behav Med. 2015;38(2):327-36.
4. Schutze R, Rees C, Preece M, Schutze M. Low mindfulness predicts pain catastrophizing in fear avoidance model of chronic pain. Pain. 2010; 148(1):120-7.
5. Jay J, Brandt M, Jakobsen MD, et al. Ten weeks of physical-cognitive-mindfulness training reduces fear-avoidance beliefs about work-related activity. Medicine (Baltimore). 2016;95(34):e3945.

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Nutrition and Pain: Building Resilience Through Nourishment

Nutrition and Pain: Building Resilience Through Nourishment

“Keep Calm and Treat Pain” is perhaps an affirmation for therapists when encountering patients suffering from pain, whether acute or chronic. The reality is this: treating pain is complicated. Treating pain has brought many a health care provider to his or her proverbial knees. It has also led us as a nation into the depths of the opioid epidemic which claimed over 165,000 lives between the years of 1999 and 2014 (Dowell & Haegerich, 2016). That number has swollen to over 200,000 in up-to-date calculations and according to the CDC, 42,000 human beings, not statistics, were killed by opioids in 2016 - a record.

So why has treating pain eluded us as a nation? The answers are as complicated as treating pain itself. Which is why we as health care providers must seek out not simply alternatives, but the truth in the matter. Why are so many suffering? Why has chronic pain become the enormous beast that it has become? What might we do differently, collectively, and how might we examine this issue through a holistic mindset?

In just a few weeks, I have the privilege of teaching amongst 10 physical therapy professionals and one physician from around the nation who with coordinated efforts created a landmark pre-conference course at CSM in New Orleans through the Orthopaedic Section of the APTA. Included in the 11 are myself and another Herman & Wallace instructor Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA who teaches “Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment” through the Institute.

The CSM pre-conference course title is “Keep Calm and Treat Pain” representing a necessary effort to provide the clinician with ideas and inspiration for helping the profession as a whole treat pain with an integrative approach.

“Pain and Nutrition: Building Resilience Through Nourishment” is the section I look forward to sharing. It will introduce concepts we can leverage to allow us confidence in seeking alternate ways of taming this beast which is chronic pain - ways which can enhance health and well-being of our clients in pelvic rehabilitation. We must not be passive observers of the opioid epidemic. We must come to terms with the fact that our nations go-to tool for treating pain unfortunately causes side-effects which can and does include loss of life. We can do better. And we will.

While the CSM pre-conference course will give you a taste of the nutrition concepts available to you, it is a mere tip of the nourishment iceberg. I continue my passion and mission with the two-day course titled “Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist”, an experience that can elevate your conversations with clients. It will pave a path of understanding for the provider, allowing us to share options, understanding, and hope. “Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist is coming next to Maywood, IL March 3 & 4, 2018. I welcome you to join me.


APTA CSM: https://apta.expoplanner.com/index.cfm?do=expomap.sess&event_id=27&session_id=13763. Accessed January 8, 2018.
CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html. Accessed January 8, 2018.
Dowell, D., & Haegerich, T. M. (2016). Using the CDC Guideline and Tools for Opioid Prescribing in Patients with Chronic Pain. Am Fam Physician, 93(12), 970-972.
Lerner, A., Neidhofer, S., & Matthias, T. (2017). The Gut Microbiome Feelings of the Brain: A Perspective for Non-Microbiologists. Microorganisms, 5(4). doi:10.3390/microorganisms5040066
Murthy, V. H. (2016). Ending the Opioid Epidemic - A Call to Action. N Engl J Med, 375(25), 2413-2415. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1612578

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"Start By Doing What’s Necessary"

"Start By Doing What’s Necessary"

When it comes to discussing nutrition with our clients in pelvic rehab, it is normal to initially feel both uncertain and perhaps a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of delving into this topic. Yet we know that there must be links, some association between nutrition and the many chronic conditions we encounter. Gradually, over the last several years, a cornerstone of my practice with patients in pelvic rehabilitation has become providing nutritional guidance.

I was both humbled and immensely grateful when many of my colleagues and peers attended Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist (NPPR) in Kansas City last March. In the following months, our clinics underwent a significant change in the types of discussions occurring with our patients. By embracing concepts presented in NPPR, a continuous stream of patient stories developed about lives having been touched by this shift. For many, “one small change” made a very big difference or served as the catalyst to many more positive lifestyle changes. Simply placing a high priority on re-thinking health situations through the lens of nourishment has been a very important shift, one that can occur across the spectrum of pelvic rehab practitioners if we choose to answer the call to “do what’s necessary”.

Learning the essence of a topic outside our comfort zone is not easy, yet in present time is necessary for providers trying to grapple with how to wrap our professional minds around what we know in our hearts to be true: the effect of nourishment on health is profound. This brings to mind the resonating wisdom of Francis of Assisi:

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible;
and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

At this crossroads in our health care system we know that nutrition matters. We must start by doing what’s necessary: acknowledging our role in helping patients along their path to a better life through less pain, ease of movement, normalization of function, and healing. With commitment to our patient’s well-being, we too must commit to investigating the realm of nutrition and rehabilitation. Next, we can strive to do what’s possible. NPPR can serve as a springboard for professionals ready to develop programs incorporating sound nourishment principles in relation to both specific conditions in pelvic rehab and general health and well-being. Finally, we may - in a few short years - realize that suddenly we are doing the impossible; integrating these vital principles as standard care in rehabilitation.

Please join us in White Plains, NY March 31-April 1, 2017 for Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist. Whether you are just beginning to integrate nutrition and its correlates to pelvic rehab or are already well on your way along this path, you will come away with both a strong understanding of how food affects function along with tools you can immediately begin sharing with the clients you serve.

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On Pelvic Pain and Lymphatic Drainage

On Pelvic Pain and Lymphatic Drainage

In 1998, faculty member Debora Chassé was asked to evaluate a patient with bilateral lower extremity lymphedema following repeated surgeries for cervical cancer. Her formal education did not cover this in school, so Dr. Chassé began to study peer-review research and consult with other clinicians about the diagnosis. Her journey down the rabbit hole began.

Dr. Chassé became a certified lymphedema therapist in 2000 and a certified Lymphology Association of North America therapist in 2001. She continued training by moving into osteopathy taking her into the direction of lymphatic vessel manipulation. In 2006 she began taking courses in pelvic pain and obstetrics with a focus on pelvic floor dysfunction. It was at this point that Dr. Chasse realized nobody was applying lymphatic treatment to women’s health and pelvic floor dysfunction. In 2009 she became a Board Certified Women’s Health Clinical Specialist in Physical Therapy and began traveling around the United States offering workshops in the area of lymphatic treatment.

"...using lymphatic drainage intravaginally is well tolerated and decreases the intravaginal pain"

Dr. Chassé’s approach is to incorporate all her varied skills in the clinic to produce the best patient outcomes. Debora explains that she is “…showing the similarities between pelvic pain and the lymphatic system. The treatment principles are the same, when you are treating both lymphedema or pelvic pain, you are working to reduce inflammation, pain and scarring.”

Another advantage of the lymphatic treatment approach is that it is more comfortable for the patient. “Most intravaginal techniques causes increased pain and inflammation. However, using lymphatic drainage intravaginally is well tolerated and decreases the intravaginal pain. The results are phenomenal!”

Dr. Chassé recollects her experience with a 21 year old female who suffered from chronic pelvic pain. By applying intravaginal lymphatic drainage techniques for 5 consecutive days, the patient experience a 4.83 reduction in pelvic girdle circumference and her intravaginal pain went from 8/10 to 2/10. The patient was amazed at how much better she felt. “My pants fit better, my energy level increased 25% and pain decreased more than 50%. I went from having 2-3 bad days per week to having 2-3 bad days per month, even when my work level increased. My feet no longer swell and I haven’t missed any classes since receiving this treatment.

In her course, “Lymphatics and Pelvic Pain: New Strategies”, Dr. Chassé seeks to train practitioners to utilize lymphatic drainage techniques when treating specifically pelvic pain. Participants will learn lymphatic drainage principles and techniques. They will learn how to clear pathways to transport lymph fluid and internal techniques which will have incredible impacts for patients.

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Living with Hypermobility and Ehlers-Danlos

Living with Hypermobility and Ehlers-Danlos

One of my dear patients was recently diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos sydrome (EDS). The diagnosis brought a sense of relief for sweet Katie who for years struggled with numerous health problems and was often misunderstood and under cared for by the medical community. Katie was referred to me 2 years ago at 28 for pelvic pain, endometriosis and IC. Upon exam we also discovered a significant elimination disorder and paradoxical elimination. Katie regularly timed her elimination and was spending at times up to 2 hours trying to empty her bowels. As we worked together we uncovered bilateral hip dysplasia, left hip labral tear, ilioinguinal and pudendal neruralgia and POTS (Postural Orthostatic Hypotension Syndrome). Katie already had a history of anxiety and depression but managed well with good family and friend support. When the diagnosis of EDS came, she finally felt like she had an explanation for why her body is like it is. This brought great relief as well as the knowledge that her condition was genetic and her conditions needed to be managed as best as possible to give her the most function, but would likely never be fully resolved.

In her book "A Guide to Living with Ehler's Danlos Syndrome" Isobel Knight does a beautiful job outlining the various genetic subtypes of Ehlers Danlos but also highlighting the fact that EDS hypermobility type (Type III) does not just affect the connective tissue in the musculoskeletal sytem leading to joint instability and hypermoblity, muscle tears, dislocations, subluxations, hip dysplasia and flat feet. EDS can also affect the body's systemic collagen leading to increased risk for endometriosis, POTS, Renauds, bladder problems, fibromyalgia, headaches, restless legs, ashtma, consitpation, bloatedness, prolapse, IBS symptoms, anxiety, depression and learning difficulties. She notes that some people have only a few of these systemic symptoms while others may be more affected. Per Isobel: "it is important that all symptoms are treated seriously and not ridiculed and that the appropriate medical support is given to them when necessary."

It seems that EDS is becoming more widely recognized. As rehabilitation specialists we should be alert to problems stemming from joint hypermobility when we notice how our patients position themselves. Often legs are curled up or double crossed. Upon questioning we might find that the patient has a history of being "double jointed" or was able to do "party tricks" with their bodies. The Bighton scale is a test of joint hypermobility which we should all be familiar with. It is also important to note that a patient may have hypermobility without having EDS, and that EDS is usually associated with pain. A rheumatologist, or in Katie's case a geneticist, can help confirm a suspected EDS diagnosis.

If you have a patient with hypermobliiy or with EDS, know that their ability to know where their body is in space is limited as their joints have much more range of motion than normal. The proprioceptors do not fire well at mid range and the patient will have to be trained to become accustomed to neutral joint positions. This was really painful for Katie and it took a huge mental and physical effort. She is getting stronger now and it is becoming easier to achieve.  Stretching and soft tissue massage can feel really good when your muscles have to work so hard to maintain your joints in healthy positions. Patients should be instructed to not stretch into end range and also not "hang out" on their ligaments. Some patients may have to begin just with isometrics. I used Sara Meeks' program for safe and effective floor exercise with Katie. The floor gave her support while she strengthened her core muscles. Then she was able to progress to seated and seated on a ball as well as standing exercises. She loves the body blade! Yoga, Pilates, exercise in water can be effective for strength, propriception and movement reeducation. Mirrors are helpful for increasing position sense.
It is also helpful to note that even patients with EDS may be hypermobile in some joints and hypomobile in others. Isobel reports that her SI joints were extremely unstable while her thoracic spine was very rigid to the point that her lung capacity was affected. Having her therapist work on the hypomobility and doing breath work was life changing.

As pelvic health therapists and rehabilitation providers we may be the first professional to suspect EDS in a patient. There is a great deal that we and the greater medical and holistic community can do to help patients with EDS lead lives with less pain and dysfunction.

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The Power of Positive

The Power of Positive

Faculty member Jennafer Vande Vegte, MSPT, BCB-PMD, PRPC has written in to encourage us all to practice kindness and patience. A positive attitude can affect more than just your friends and family; your patients will benefit in so many ways as well!

Jennafer Vande Vegte, MSPT, BCB-PMD, PRPCFirst a little personal story. Several years ago my daughter was going through a tough time and we worked with a child psychologist. He was a wonderful man who taught my husband and I so much about how to raise a challenging kiddo. The foundation of what we needed to learn was the power of positive. People need nine (or so) positive interactions to override a negative one. Poor kid was definitely at a deficit! So if she did something that needed correcting, we were to give her a chance at a "do over" where sometimes we had to coach her to choose a better action. After she got it right, we lavished praise on our little pumpkin. And would you believe, not only did all that positiveness make a difference for her, it made a difference for her parents too!

Now back to the clinical. Just about two years ago I had the privilege of teaching with Nari Clemons. We taught PF2B together. Nari said something during one of her lectures that revolutionized my PT practice. She challenged us in lab to find three positive things about our lab partner and share those things before recognizing any deficits. How many times do we get finished with an evaluation and sit down with a patient and list all the things we found that need correction or help, perhaps drawing on our Netter images to fully illustrate the parts of their body that are broken or need fixing.

So I changed things up a bit and started remarking about the positive things I found on exam. "Wow, your hips are really strong and stable." "You've got a really coordinated breathing pattern, that is going to work in your favor." "You're pelvic muscles are really strong." and then later drawing on those positives outline how we could use the patient's strengths to help them overcome their challenges. "Because you have a great breathing strategy we are going to use that to help your whole nervous system to relax which with help your pelvic floor relax," for example.

The results were shocking. Person after person told me how much it meant to them to leave feeling positive and hopeful. One delightful woman who I saw for a diastasis had amazing leg muscles and I told her so. When she returned she said, "I've felt so self conscious about my flabby belly, but this week all I could think about were my strong leg muscles. Thanks for telling me that."

We do know is that our attitudes and beliefs as providers influence not only our clinical management but patient outcomes as well. Darlow et. al. performed a comprehensive literature review looking at how attitudes and beliefs among health care providers affected outcomes in patients with low back pain and discovered, "There is strong evidence that health care provider beliefs about back pain are associated with the beliefs of their patients."

Why not use that truth to our advantage and be positive? Would love to hear about your experiences!

Join Jennafer at one of her upcoming courses, Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Trenton, NJ - February 24-26, 2017, Pelvic Floor Series Capstone - Arlington, VA - May 5-7, 2017, Pelvic Floor Series Capstone - Columbus, OH - August 18-20, 2017, and Pelvic Floor Series Capstone - Tampa, FL - December 2-4, 2016.

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Why you should learn about Pudendal Neuralgia

Why you should learn about Pudendal Neuralgia

Herman & Wallace are pleased to announce a new course! Pudendal Neuralgia and Nerve Entrapment will be presented by Michelle Lyons in Freehold, NJ on June 17/18, 2017. We chatted with Michelle about this new course to hear her thoughts and get an overview of the contents

There are a number of courses which I teach for Herman & Wallace including Pelvic Floor Level 2A, my Male Oncology and Female Oncology and the The Athlete and the Pelvic Floor courses. They all have sections on pudendal dysfunction and it’s an area that participants always want more information on. There’s no other nerve that elicits the same interest, discussion and confusion! Nobody really talks about iliohypogastric or ulnar neuralgia with the same intensity as pudendal neuralgia, and no other nerve dysfunction provokes the same amount of controversy and mystery.

When I was approached about developing this course for the Institute, I jumped at the opportunity. For those who don’t know me, I really like to bring an integrative approach to my work, both clinically and educationally. I have experience and training in nutrition, coaching, yoga, Pilates and mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention and I think these fit really well alongside traditional pelvic rehab approaches. Manual therapy and bespoke exercise prescription will always be the bedrock of my approach, but sometimes our patients, especially those with chronic pain, need some extra support. I’m also a bit of an anatomy nerd, so the chance to delve deep into pelvic neuroanatomy and neurodynamics was too much to resist!

I think this is a Golden Age in pelvic health – there are so many great learning opportunities and resources available to us to help serve our patients better. Another area that I find fascinating to explore is the huge leap we have made in understanding neuroscience and the role of pain education when it comes to chronic pelvic pain. I’m a big fan of the work done by Moseley and Butler in Australia, and I love how authors like Hilton, Vandyken and Louw have transferred that to the world of pelvic pain in their book "Why Pelvic Pain Hurts". The language that we use is very important when discussing how the brain responds to chronic pain and the changes that occur with central sensitization. We never want our patients to feel as if we think their pain is ‘all in their heads’ but at the same time, we need to be able to incorporate strategies such as motor imagery and graded exposure and to demonstrate to our patients that"…it is important to acknowledge that chronic pain need not involve any structural pathology" (Aronoff 2016).

Those are some of the discussions we’ll be having in Freehold, NJ next June – I hope you’ll come and join the conversation!


"What Do We Know About the Pathophysiology of Chronic Pain? Implications for Treatment Considerations" Aronoff, GM Med Clin North Am. 2016 Jan;100(1):31-42
"Why Pelvic Pain Hurts: Neuroscience Education for Patients with Pelvic Pain" Hilton, Vandyken, Louw, International Spine and Pain Institute (May 28, 2014)

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Differential Diagnosis: A Case Study

Differential Diagnosis: A Case Study

My job as a pelvic floor therapist is rewarding and challenging in so many ways. I have to say that one of my favorite "job duties" is differential diagnosis. Some days I feel like a detective, hunting down and piecing together important clues that join like the pieces of a puzzle and reveal the mystery of the root of a particular patient's problem. When I can accurately pinpoint the cause of someone's pain, then I can both offer hope and plan a road to healing.

Recently a lovely young woman came into my office with the diagnosis of dyspareunia. As you may know dyspareunia means painful penetration and is somewhat akin to getting a script that says "lower back pain." As a therapist you still have to use your skills to determine the cause of the pain and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

My patient relayed that she was 6 months post partum with her first child. She was nursing. Her labor and delivery were unremarkable but she tore a bit during the delivery. She had tried to have intercourse with her husband a few times. It was painful and she thought she needed more time to heal but the pain was not changing. She was a 0 on the Marinoff scare. She was convinced that her scar was restricted. "Oh Goodie," I thought. "I love working with scars!" But I said to her, "Well, we will certainly check your scar mobility but we will also look at the nerves and muscles and skin in that area and test each as a potential pain source, while also completing a musculoskeletal assessment of the rest of you."

Her "external" exam was unremarkable except for adductor and abdominal muscle overactivity. Her internal exam actually revealed excellent scar healing and mobility. There was significant erythemia around the vestibule and a cotton swab test was positive for pain in several areas. There was also significant muscle overactivity in the bulbospongiosis, urethrovaginal sphincter and pubococcygeus muscles. Also her vaginal pH was a 7 (it should normally be a 4, this could indicate low vaginal estrogen). I gave her the diagnosis of provoked vestibulodynia with vaginismus. Her scar was not the problem after all.

Initially for homework she removed all vulvar irritants, talked to her doctor about trying a small amount of vaginal estrogen cream, and worked on awareness of her tendency to clench her abdominal, adductor, and pelvic floor muscles followed by focused relaxation and deep breathing. In the clinic I performed biofeedback for down training, manual therapy to the involved muscles, and instructed her in a dilator program for home. This particular patient did beautifully and her symptoms resolved quite quickly. She sent me a very satisfied email from a weekend holiday with her husband and daughter.

Although this case was fairly straightforward, it is a great example of how differential diagnosis is imperative to deciding and implementing an effective treatment plan for our patients. In Herman & Wallace courses you will gain confidence in your evaluation skills and learn evidence based treatment processes that will enable you to be more confident in your care of both straightforward and complex pelvic pain cases. Hope to see you in class!

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Reaching deeper when treating chronic pelvic pain

Reaching deeper when treating chronic pelvic pain

Our understanding of treating pelvic pain keeps growing as a profession. We have so many manual therapies such as visceral manipulation, strain counter strain, and positional release adding dimension to our treatment strategies for shortened and painful tissues. Pharmacologic interventions such as botox, valium, and antidepressants are becoming more popular and researched in the literature. We are beginning to work more collaboratively with vulvar dermatologists, urogynecologists, OB’s, family practitioners, urologists, and pain specialists.

Pelvic rehab providers are in a unique position of being able to offer more time with each patient and to see our patients for several visits. Frequently we are the ones being told stories about how a particular condition is really affecting our patient’s life and the emotional struggles around that. We are often the one who gets a clear picture of our patient’s emotional and mental disposition. A rehab provider may realize that a patient seems to exhibit mental patterns in their treatment. It can be anxiety from how the condition is changing their life, difficulty relaxing into a treatment, poor or shallow breathing patterns, frequently telling themselves they will never get better, or being able to perceive their body only as a source of pain or suffering, losing the subtlety of the other sensations within the body. Yet, aside from contacting a physician, who may offer a medication with side effects, or referring to a counselor or psychologist, our options and training may be limited. Patients may be resistant to seeing a mental health counselor, and we have to be careful to stay in our scope.

Research is showing us that meditation as an intervention can be very helpful in addressing these chronic pain issues.

In a study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, 22 women with chronic pelvic pain were enrolled in an 8 week mindfulness meditation course. Twelve out of 22 enrolled subjects completed the program and had significant improvement in daily maximum pain scores, physical function, mental health, and social function. The mindfulness scores improved significantly in all measures (p < 0.01).

The questions have arisen, if meditation alters opiod pathways, how can it be administered safely with prescription medications. However in a 2016 study in the journal of neuroscience, it was concluded that meditation-based pain relief does not require endogenous opioids.” Therefore, the treatment of chronic pain may be more effective with meditation due to a lack of cross-tolerance with opiate-based medications.” “The risks of chronic therapy are significant and may outweigh any potential benefits”, according the the journal of American Family Medicine. Meditation training can be a tool to help our patients manage their pain without risk of long term opiod use.

In the two day course, Meditation for Patients and Providers, participants will learn several different meditation and mindfulness techniques they can use for patients with different dispositions, and to tailor the most appropriate approach to specific patients. The aim of the course is to be able to work meditation into a treatment and a home program that is best suited for your patient. The course also covers self care, preventing provider burn out and ways to be more mentally quiet as a provider seeking to give optimal care with appropriate boundaries.


Fox, S. D., Flynn, E., & Allen, R. H. (2010). Mindfulness meditation for women with chronic pelvic pain: a pilot study. The Journal of reproductive medicine, 56(3-4), 158-162.
LEMBKE, A., HUMPHREYS, K., & NEWMARK, J. (2016). Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Chronic Opioid Therapy. American Family Physician,93(12).
Zeidan, F., Adler-Neal, A. L., Wells, R. E., Stagnaro, E., May, L. M., Eisenach, J. C., ... & Coghill, R. C. (2016). Mindfulness-Meditation-Based Pain Relief Is Not Mediated by Endogenous Opioids. The Journal of Neuroscience, 36(11), 3391-3397.

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