Therapists are increasingly learning about and treating pediatric patients who have pelvic floor dysfunction, yet there are still not enough of them to meet the demand. Many therapists I have spoken to are understandably concerned about how to transfer what they have done for adult patients to a younger population. Here are some of the more common concerns therapists express or questions they ask in relation to the pediatric population:
Although each question deserves a longer answer, we can start with biofeedback, and the answer is a resounding “yes”. There is abundant research affirming the potential benefit of biofeedback training for children with pelvic floor dysfunction. And no, we do not typically complete an internal pelvic muscle assessment on children, as that would not be appropriate. Considering that pediatrics can refer to young adults up to age 18-21, there may be a reasonable clinical goal in mind for utilizing internal assessment or treatment. The words we use when we speak to children become very important. Herman & Wallace faculty member Dawn Sandalcidi (known as “Miss Dawn” to her younger patients) gives ample strategies for adapting our language in her continuing education course Pediatric Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. For example, Dawn emphasizes the importance of describing an episode of incontinence as a “bladder leak” and of pointing out to a child that his or her bladder leaked, rather than the child leaking. She also likes to encourage parents and school personnel to drop the term “accident” from vocabulary. In her 2-day course, Dawn also teaches therapists how to train children to become a “Bladder Boss”, and how to teach young patients about relevant anatomy.
The way we teach anatomy to kids is really important in making sure they “get” it. One study published in 2012Equit 2013 describes the results when children are asked to draw a urinary tract in a body diagram. Only half of the children drew a bladder and other organs, and nearly 43% of the children drew “anatomically incorrect pictures.” The authors point out that older children and the ones who had gone through group training for bowel and bladder were more likely to draw correct images. For the last question about teaching contract/relax exercises to children, I had an opportunity to ask Dawn this question recently when she was filming a pediatrics course for MedBridge Education. Her answer emphasized the importance of getting children to develop awareness of the pelvic muscles, and to improve their coordination as well as strength- concepts that participating in an exercise program can work toward.
If you would like to learn more about working with children, the next opportunity to take Dawn’s course is in Boston later this month.
Equit, Monika et al. "Children's concepts of the urinary tract". Journal of Pediatric Urology , Volume 9 , Issue 5 , 648 - 652