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Exercise in pregnancy is a loaded topic. We commonly see images of women doing vigorous exercise in late pregnancy accompanied by judgmental statements about the safety of such activity not only for the woman, but also for the baby. Many myths persist about exercise in pregnancy, and it’s our role as health care specialists to educate women about what is known about exercising. Holly Herman, co-founder of the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute, has been educating providers about this topic for most of her career. Anyone lucky enough to take a course on pregnancy and postpartum issues from Holly Herman knows that her style of teaching is effective and her passion is contagious. From Holly’s use of patient stories to wonderful humor, you can really “get it” when it comes to clinical concepts and strategies. One of Holly’s clinical pearls that really stuck with me after learning about exercise and pregnancy is the research completed by James Clapp in his book “Exercise in Pregnancy”. In short, the book dispels the myth that women shouldn’t exercise in pregnancy and in fact reports on the benefits of exercise to both Mom and baby for labor, delivery, and beyond. In signature style, Holly held this book up in front of the class and to great laughter said, “And this is the book you should buy for your mother-in-law.”

Another myth that has been perpetuated in relation to pregnancy, labor and delivery is the notion that exercising can make the pelvic floor muscles short, tight, and more narrow, making delivery more difficult. In an article we reported on previously about women being “too tight to give birth” the authors concluded that strong pelvic floor muscles do not lead to challenges with birthing. (Bo et al., 2013) In a more recent article that addressed this issue, Kari Bo and colleagues studied 274 women for levator hiatus (LH) width to see if exercising in late pregnancy did in fact narrow this space. At week 37 of gestation, the exercisers were measured to have a significantly larger LH than the non-exercisers. (Exercisers were defined as women who exercised 30 minutes or more 3 times per week versus the non-exercisers.) The authors conclude that there were not any significant differences in labor outcomes or in delivery outcomes between the groups. (Bo et al., 2015)

Without a doubt, the patient’s obstetrician gives primary direction to the patient when any high-risk issues are present. Most women however, are basing their exercise choices on experience, on misinformation, myths, or popular opinion. It is our responsibility to engage women in conversations about her health, wellness, and fitness, and to appropriately counsel on exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Most of us lacked proper education about this important population in our primary graduate training, and therefore must seek out information to fill in the gaps. If you are interested in filling in any gaps, join us at one of our peripartum courses around the country. Your next opportunities to take these courses are:

Care of the Postpartum Patient - Seattle, WA
Mar 12, 2016 - Mar 13, 2016

Care of the Pregnant Patient - Somerset, NJ
Apr 30, 2016 - May 1, 2016

Care of the Pregnant Patient - Akron, OH
Sep 10, 2016 - Sep 11, 2016

A few years ago, I was convinced my left hip pain was due to osteoarthritis. When my hip locked up after a 14 mile run, my manual therapist husband differentially diagnosed the pain as discogenic. Partly in denial and partly wanting to know the extent of the “damage,” I got an x-ray of my left hip, which was completely normal, and a lumbar MRI, which wasn't pretty. The source of my hip pain was a disc bulge at L3-4 and L4-5 with a Schmorl's node at L5-S1 to boot. Instead of riding the train of thought that we treat what hurts, therapists need to disembark and look further for the source, as suggested in the course, “Finding the Driver in Pelvic Pain.”

A case report published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy by Livingston, Deprey, and Hensley (2015) documents the discovery of a deeper problem than the referring diagnosis of greater trochanteric pain syndrome. A 29 year old female had to stop running because of lateral hip pain that began 3 months after increasing the intensity and frequency of her running and low impact plyometrics. She had pain in sitting and while running. During the evaluation, she demonstrated a positive Trendelenburg, weak and painless hip abductors, and a positive single leg hop test on concrete. When the pain was not elicited with single leg hop on a foam surface, the patient was referred back to the physician for magnetic resonance imaging. The patient was later diagnosed with an acetabular stress fracture. The therapist’s thorough examination helped prevent possible avascular necrosis or a more traumatic fracture of the pelvis.

In a 2013 issue of the same journal, Podschum et al. presents a case report on deciphering the diagnosis in a female runner with deep gluteal pain with pelvic involvement. A 45 year old female marathon runner reported pulling her hamstring and complained of left ischial tuberosity pain with aching into the gluteal and pubic ramus regions that eventually forced her to stop running. She had pain in sitting and could not tolerate speed work. She had a history of low back and pelvic floor pain, with an MRI showing osteitis pubis, a lateral L3-4 bulge, and facet hypertrophy at L4-5. The physical therapist ruled out lumbar disc lesion, radiculopathy, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and hip labral tear with special tests. Initial treatment focused on the differential diagnoses of hamstring syndrome and ischiogluteal bursitis based on subjective complaints and objective findings. After 4 visits, her deep ache shifted to the inferior pubic ramus in sitting as the ischial tuberosity pain diminished. A trained therapist then conducted a thorough pelvic floor exam. Pelvic floor hypertonic dysfunction was diagnosed and took over the “driver’s seat” as the focus for the rest of the treatment of this patient. Symptoms resolved and the patient returned to running marathons without any of her initial presenting symptoms.

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There's a lot going on in the world of pelvic rehab, and continuing education is no exception! This March, Herman & Wallace is hosting NINE courses around the country. It's a lot to keep up with, so we thought you might appreciate a brief overview of what's coming up next!

Where's this pain coming from?

Pelvic pain can have many sources, and Elizabeth Hampton wants to help you quickly get to the source. Finding the Driver in Pelvic Pain empowers you to play detective in order to help even the most complex patients. Don't miss out on Finding the Driver in Pelvic Pain in San Diego, CA on March 4-6, 2016

What goes in eventually comes out

How important is a good diet? For most of us eating healthy is important, and for many pelvic rehab patients it is a necessity. That's why Megan Pribyl wrote her "Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist" course. This beginner level course is intended to expand the your knowledge of the metabolic underpinnings for local to systemically complex disorders. Don't miss out on Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist - Kansas City, MO - March 5-6, 2016!

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The following post comes to us from Dee Hartmann, PT, DPT who is the author and instructor of Vulvodynia: Assessment and Treatment. To learn evaluation and treatment techniques for vulvar pain, join Dee in in Houston, TX this March 12-13. Early registration pricing expires soon!

I recently heard a young, vivacious urologist present treatment options for overactive bladder to a group of nursing professionals (SUNA). To my delight as the only PT in the audience, I was pleased that physical therapy was her first line of treatment for this difficult population of chronic pelvic pain patients. As a women’s health PT, we know that chronic vulvar pain suffers experience many of the same dysfunctions, including pelvic floor muscle over-activity.

The physician’s presentation included two very emphatic statements—“physical therapy always hurts” and “no one in this group of patients should ever do Kegel exercises”. She went on to explain that anyone with pelvic floor muscle over activity should only be taught to relax; that “if they were seeing a practitioner who was telling them to do Kegels, they needed to find another PT”. As she’s not a PT, I challenged her on her second comment. I was too annoyed to address the first.

Tagged in: Kegels Vulvodynia

Kelley Thibault PT, NCS is an outpatient rehabilitation pro, having more than two decades of experience in that setting. She is a recent convert to Pelvic Rehabilitation, however, and she's jumped in head first! Her practice has shifted in that direction and she has four Herman & Wallace courses under her belt in just the last two years. We reached out to see what lessons she could share with us, and she was kind enough to give us her time today. Welcome to the field, Kelley!

Tell us a bit about your clinical experience:
I have been a physical therapist for 22 years and spent much of my career working in a hospital based outpatient clinic treating primarily neurologic diagnoses. I have worked in a transdisciplinary neurologic program for much of this time. I received my NCS from the APTA in 2004 and recertified in 2014. Over my career I have had an interest in Women’s Health Physical Therapy and attended a course with Holly Herman in the early 1990’s. I began treating more Women’s Health clients about 2 years ago to cover a maternity leave. 75% of my practice now is Women's and Men’s Health. I attended the pelvic floor level 1, 2A, 2B and 3 courses over the past year and have found them to be invaluable!!! I also have taken many of the pelvic courses on MedBridge.

The following insight comes from Herman & Wallace faculty member Peter Philip, PT, ScD, COMT, PRPC, who teaches Differential Diagnostics of Chronic Pelvic Pain: Interconnections of the Spine, Neurology and the Hips for Herman & Wallace, as well as the Sacroiliac Joint Evaluation and Treatment course. Peter has been working with pelvic dysfunction patients for 15 years, and he has some insights and advice for male practitioners who are nervous about treating female patients.

As a male treating female patients suffering with pelvic pain, many considerations must be taken to ensure that the patient is comfortable partaking in the patient/clinician relationship. As clinicians treating the most intimate of pain, we all must be highly aware of the sensitivities that each of our patients has as it relates to their genitalia. Many patients wish to maintain their modesty while simultaneously wishing to eliminate that which is ailing them. It is common that the observation, and contact to the pelvis and genitalia be a component of our patient’s evaluation and subsequent treatment in order for an accurate diagnosis to be made. So, in order to best protect our patients and ourselves it will behoove us to take a few simple steps.

  1. During the course of the oral history, listen to what the patient is saying. What structures may be involved at referring to the outlined region in question? Can these structures be addressed externally and without exposure of the pelvis?
  2. If a pelvic examination appears to be warranted, provide the patient with an understanding of what you will be evaluating and why. How does your evaluation reflect their pain? What are your expected findings?
  3. Provide the patient the opportunity to read-and-sign a waiver that explicitly states that the evaluation may include: exposing, visualization and contact to the pelvic region inclusive of internal contact.
  4. Provide a means of audio-recording the evaluation and subsequent treatments. Federal guidelines dictates that there be signs on the doors of any room or office space that is recorded, and having the patient sign permission to the audio-recording further protects themselves and the clinician.
  5. Always ask permission to expose, visualize, and touch when and if any of the above are to be involved in the treatment of the day. Do this every visit, every time, and prior to initiating a new maneuver or treatment strategy.
  6. Sit aside the plinth. Once observations are complete, there will be nothing to visualize. Drape accordingly and allow the patient to maintain modesty.
  7. Test-retest. During the course of your evaluation, there will likely be an asterisks or correlational finding. Apply your treatment, and re-test. Appropriate treatments should provide both patient and clinician immediate feedback as to the efficacy and specificity of the functional diagnosis that the clinician is making.
  8. Hold the patient accountable for their actions, and importantly their corrective actions whilst not in physical therapy. Our patients may see us for two hours a week, and if they are not complicit in maintaining that which we provide their healing will be compromised.
  9. As for the male/female component. Some women and men will not be comfortable with a male clinician. Many women wish to maintain their modesty and/or have been violated and will have anxieties towards contact by a male clinician. The aforementioned strategies help not only to maintain a patient’s modesty, but also provide the ultimate control of who touches them, when and where. More importantly it provides the patient the opportunity to say “no” and to cease contact at their discretion. For the male:male patient:clinician relationship there may be equally as many difficulties. Some have been violated, and many have a subconscious concern of how well they ‘size up’ in comparison. Not that a comparison would ever be made, but the underlying anxieties will often be omnipresent.
  10. Be honest and sincere with your patients and yourself. If you’ve made a clinical assessment that did not produce the immediate pain relief expected, state that to the patient, and continue your evaluation. If you don’t know the exact driver of the pain, or dysfunction, refer out to a local specialist and discuss your findings so as to better address your suffering patient’s needs.

Food, at its basic level, provides us with nutrition and sustenance to perform our daily activities. Populations in tune with nature’s cycles of food tend to eat what is available locally based on climate and growth seasons. When societies move beyond simply eating food for energy, but also for flavor, pleasure, and even status, the face of nutrition changes. Whereas some diseases come from a lack of nutrition, many diseases we are faced with in the United States also come from an overabundance of food, with too many calories or too much sugar making up common causes of lack of health. The knowledge within the field of disordered eating is vast, and patients struggling with disordered eating may be fortunate enough to work with a specialist to help recover healthier habits. Even without a diagnosis of disordered eating, many us can identify with unhealthy eating habits, often guided by stress, fatigue, or emotions.

Prior research has studied how we access willpower under different conditions of cognitive stress. In part of this research, participants were given a number to recall (either 2 digits or 7 digits) and then while walking to another location were offered a snack of either fruit salad or chocolate cake. The authors found that the participants who had to recall a 7 digit number more often chose the chocolate cake, leading the researchers to theorize about the role of higher-level processing and making choices. (Shiv et al., 1999) While we may be aware of a tendency to overeat (or make poorer food choices) during times of stress, fatigue, or emotional distress, changing the habits can be very challenging.

“Hunger can be deceptive, and mindfulness can help distinguish emotional from true physical hunger.” -Susan Albers, PsyD

Resources that discuss improving our eating choices in the face of “emotional eating” offers many alternatives, or ways to soothe ourselves without eating. In her books about this topic, clinical psychologist Susan Albers offers advice that may be helpful for our own habit building and for offering basic advice for our patients who struggle with the issue. (While offering advice to patients about healthy eating and habits is within our scope of practice, if a patient has need for a referral to a counselor, psychologist, or nutritionist, we can coordinate such a referral with the patient’s primary care provider.) In her book titled “50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food: Mindfulness Strategies to Cope with Stress and End Emotional Eating”, Dr. Albers offers many strategies for altering our habits. Some of these ideas include using acupressure points, breathing, rituals, self-massage, yoga, writing, dancing, art, tea, or sex to defer ourselves from poor eating habits. While eating can be enjoyable and pleasurable, when our patients are struggling with over-eating or eating foods that don’t support nutritional or healing goals, having a discussion about these issues may be useful.

This week we end with a fantastic interview with our featured pelvic rehab practitioner. Nancy Suarez, MS, PT, BCB-PMD, PRPC just joined the ranks of the elite Certified Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioners! Check out our interview below:

Nancy Suarez, MS, PT, BCB-PMD, PRPCDescribe your clinical practice:
I work in a private practice specializing in women’s and men’s pelvic floor disorders including bowel and bladder issues, prolapse and sexual dysfunction, prenatal and postpartum rehabilitation, pre and postprostatectomy care, and lumbopelvic pain.

How did you get involved in the pelvic rehabilitation field?
As a physical therapist who regularly took continuing education courses following PT school, I happened to be looking for a course that might give me more knowledge to help some of my geriatric patients improve their urinary incontinence. I took my first Pelvic Floor course given by Hollis Herman and Kathe Wallace in 2000, and immediately began to make a difference in many of my patient’s lives.

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After menopause, more than half of women may have vulvovaginal symptoms that can impact their lifestyle, emotional well being and sexual health. What's more, the symptoms tend to co-exist with issues such as prolapse, urinary and/or bowel problems. But unfortunately many women aren't getting the help they need, despite a growing body of evidence that skilled pelvic rehab interventions are effective in the management of bladder/bowel dysfunctions, POP, sexual health issues and pelvic pain.

Vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, disrupted sleep, and weight gain have been listed as the top five symptoms experienced by postmenopausal women in North America and Europe, according to a study by Minkin et al 2015, and they also concluded ‘The impact of postmenopausal symptoms on relationships is greater in women from countries where symptoms are more prevalent.’ Between 17% and 45% of postmenopausal women say they find sex painful, a condition referred to medically as dyspareunia. Vaginal thinning and dryness are the most common cause of dyspareunia in women over age 50. However pain during sex can also result from vulvodynia (chronic pain in the vulva, or external genitals) and a number of other causes not specifically associated with menopause or aging, particularly orthopaedic dysfunction, which the pelvic physical therapist is in an ideal position to screen for.

According to the North America Menopause Society, ‘…beyond the immediate effects of the pain itself, pain during sex (or simply fear or anticipation of pain during sex) can trigger performance anxiety or future arousal problems in some women. Worry over whether pain will come back can diminish lubrication or cause involuntary—and painful—tightening of the vaginal muscles, called vaginismus. The result can be a vicious circle, again highlighting how intertwined sexual problems can become.’

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Occasionally, as pelvic rehab providers, we will encounter the question from our patients, “Do vaginal weights help with urinary incontinence and pelvic floor performance?” The premise behind the use of vaginal cones or balls is that holding them actively in your vagina with your pelvic floor muscles helps to increase the performance (strength and endurance) of the pelvic floor muscles, assisting in reduction of urinary incontinence.

A recent systematic review (Midwifery, 2015) explores this topic for a specific population of post-partum women with urinary incontinence. The question to be answered was “Does the vaginal use of cones or balls by women in the post-partum period improve performance of the pelvic floor muscles and urinary continence, compared to no treatment, placebo, sham treatment or active controls?”. This review had extensive search criteria. The types of participants in the studies analyzed were post-partum women up to 1 year (when starting interventions) of any parity, that underwent any mode of birth or birth injuries, and had or did not have urinary incontinence. Exclusion criteria were pregnant women, anal incontinence, and major genitourinary/pelvic morbidity. Any frequency, intensity, duration of pelvic exercises with the devices, and any form, size, weight, or brand of vaginal balls or cones were considered. Participants could undergo any type of instruction, either from a health care provider, or self-taught from written materials.

Of the searched studies, all were randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials. The primary outcomes of the searched studies were pelvic floor muscle performance (strength or endurance) and/or urinary incontinence, both assessed with a valid or reliable method. 37 potentially useful articles were reviewed out of 1324 based on the search criteria, but only one article met all of the inclusion criteria and was included in this review with 192 relevant participants (Wilson and Herbison).

Upcoming Continuing Education Courses

Feb 26, 2016 - Feb 28, 2016
Location: Evergreen Hospital Medical Center

Mar 4, 2016 - Mar 6, 2016
Location: Comprehensive Therapy Services

Mar 5, 2016 - Mar 6, 2016
Location: St. Luke’s Hospital Rehab Services

Mar 6, 2016 - Mar 8, 2016
Location: Touro College: Bayshore

Mar 11, 2016 - Mar 13, 2016
Location: Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital

Mar 12, 2016 - Mar 13, 2016
Location: Pacific Medical Center

Mar 12, 2016 - Mar 13, 2016
Location: Texas Children’s Hospital

Mar 18, 2016 - Mar 20, 2016
Location: The George Washington University

Mar 19, 2016 - Mar 20, 2016
Location: One on One Physical Therapy

Mar 19, 2016 - Mar 20, 2016
Location: Mercy Hospital

Apr 1, 2016 - Apr 3, 2016
Location: Marathon Physical Therapy

Apr 1, 2016 - Apr 3, 2016
Location: Mercy Hospital

Apr 2, 2016 - Apr 3, 2016
Location: Anne Arundel Medical Center

Apr 2, 2016 - Apr 3, 2016
Location: Florida Hospital - Wesley Chapel

Apr 8, 2016 - Apr 10, 2016
Location: CentraState Medical Center

Apr 8, 2016 - Apr 10, 2016
Location: Meriter Hospital

Apr 15, 2016 - Apr 17, 2016
Location: Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine

Apr 16, 2016 - Apr 17, 2016
Location: Doctors Hospital Pelvic Health Institute

Apr 16, 2016 - Apr 17, 2016
Location: Kima - Center for Physiotherapy & Wellness

Apr 22, 2016 - Apr 24, 2016
Location: Providence St. Josephs Medical Center

Apr 23, 2016 - Apr 24, 2016
Location: The George Washington University

Apr 23, 2016 - Apr 24, 2016
Location: Mizzou Physical Therapy-Rangeline

Apr 29, 2016 - May 1, 2016
Location: Duke University Medical Center

Apr 30, 2016 - May 1, 2016
Location: Sports Medicine Institute

May 1, 2016 - May 3, 2016
Location: Southview Hospital

May 1, 2016 - May 2, 2016
Location: Southview Hospital

May 13, 2016 - May 15, 2016
Location: Isanti Physical Therapy

May 14, 2016 - May 15, 2016
Location: Inova Alexandria Hospital

May 21, 2016 - May 22, 2016
Location: Seton Healthcare Center

May 21, 2016 - May 22, 2016
Location: Unity at Ridgeway Physical Therapy