Differential Diagnosis: A Big Deal

pelvic pain

According to the APTA's Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, physical therapists use a systematic process, also termed differential diagnosis, to place a patient into a diagnostic category. This diagnosis is aimed towards defining the dysfunctions that will be treated, and in determine the needs of the patient based on each individual's presentation. Rehabilitation professionals must also consider symptoms and clinical examination findings that point to a need for other health care providers' involvement. In pelvic rehabilitation, this becomes a challenging process. In an article in Canadian Family Physician, physicians Bordman & Jackson list conditions that can cause chronic pelvic pain, and these conditions cover a variety of body systems and conditions. For example, bladder, bowel, or gynecologic malignancies, endometriosis, pelvic congestion, interstitial cystitis, urethral syndrome, constipation, inflammatory or irritable bowel syndrome can all cause pelvic pain. Abdominal wall or pelvic floor muscle myofascial trigger points, coccyx pain, neuralgia, and even depression can be other sources for pain. Certainly, it is uncommon to find only one source of pain in our population of patients with chronic pelvic pain.

Within a multidisciplinary approach, which is more often the recommended approach to treating chronic pelvic pain, physical therapy will ideally work with other practitioners to develop the best course of care for the patient. In my professional experience mentoring students and therapists, once a pelvic rehabilitation provider has learned basic skills and has treated many patients, the therapist develops a keen interest in improving skills of differential screening. The ability to diagnose requires learning which keys unlock certain doors, whether from an organs systems standpoint or a musculoskeletal standpoint. The Institute offers several courses that focus on the ability of a therapist to test specific tissues and movement patterns to determine the most appropriate plan of care. Steve Dischiavi's Biomechanical Assessment of the Hip and Pelvis includes a sports medicine approach to evaluating and treating hips and pelvic dysfunction, which can often confound one another. Finding the Driver in Pelvic Pain is another popular course instructed by faculty member Elizabeth Hampton and the course emphasizes pelvic pain and the musculoskeletal co-morbidities that often accompany pelvic floor dysfunction. More dates are being scheduled for these 2 continuing education courses, sign up early to hold your spot!

You still have an opportunity to take Peter Philip's Differential Diagnostic of Chronic Pelvic Pain & Dysfunction this course takes place in Connecticut in mid-October. In this course, Peter emphasizes anatomical palpation, nervous system influence on pelvic pain, and biomechanical examination of nearby joints and tissues. Internal labs are included in this 2-day continuing education course. If you are interested in hosting any of these courses, contact the Institute today to get the process started!

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