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Blog posts tagged in Pregnancy and Postpartum

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

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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).

Episiotomy is defined as an incision in the perineum and vagina to allow for sufficient clearance during birth. The concept of episiotomy with vaginal birth has been used since the mid to late 1700’s and started to become more popular in the United States in the early 1900’s. Episiotomy was routinely used and very common in approximately 25% of all vaginal births in the United States in 2004. However, in 2006, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended against use of routine episiotomies due to the increased risk of perineal laceration injuries, incontinence, and pelvic pain. With this being said, there is much debate about their use and if there is any need at all to complete episiotomy with vaginal birth.

 

What are the negative outcomes of episiotomy?


The primary risks are severe perineal laceration injuries, bowel or bladder incontinence, pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, pelvic pain, dyspareunia, and pelvic floor laxity. Use of a midline episiotomy and use of forceps are associated with severe perineal laceration injury. However, mediolateral episiotomies have been indicated as an independent risk factor for 3rd and 4th degree perineal tears. If episiotomy is used, research indicates that a correctly angled (60 degrees from midline) mediolateral incision is preferred to protect from tearing into the external anal sphincter, and potentially increasing likelihood for anal incontinence.

Postpartum lower extremity nerve injuries is an important topic that we have previously discussed on the blog. A review article(O'Neal 2015) published in the International Anesthesia Research Society journal discusses maternal neurological complications following childbirth. This article, designed to help anesthesiologists identify the symptoms of a neuropathy, discusses diagnosis, management, and treatment. With the incidence of obstetric neuropathy in the postpartum period estimated at 1%, most of the nerve dysfunction is related to compression injuries. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to, lower extremity pain, weakness, numbness, or bowel and bladder dysfunction. Neuraxial anesthesia can also occur, with issues such as epidural hematoma or an epidural abscess. Risk factors are described in the article as having a prolonged second stage of labor, instrumented delivery, being of short stature and nulliparity (delivering for the first time.)

Clinical pearls listed in the article include the following information that may be helpful in understanding a patient’s condition:

  • intramedullary spinal cord syndromes (inside the spinal cord) are usually painless, whereas the peripheral nerve syndromes (involving the spinal nerve roots, plexus, and single nerves) usually cause pain
  • bowel and bladder dysfunction often occurs early in the case of conus medullaris and late in the event of cauda equina syndrome
  • cauda equina syndrome often causes polyradicular pain, leg weakness, numbness, and deep tendon reflex changes and involves multiple roots
  • conus medullaris syndrome is not painful and causes saddle anesthesia and lack of significant sensory and motor symptoms in the lower extremities

In relation to prevention of neuropathies, the authors suggest that women who have diabetes or who have a preexisting neuropathy should be given extra attention. This may include protective padding during labor and delivery as well as frequent repositioning. Pelvic rehabilitation providers are a key player in the arena of birthing. Caring for women and educating them about peripartum issues is critical to helping women both prevent and heal from challenges encountered in relation to pregnancy and childbirth. If you would like to learn more about the topic of peripartum nerve dysfunctions, as well as many other special topics, please join us for the continuing education course Care of the Postpartum Patient. Your next opportunity to take this course will be in Seattle next March!

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Milk duct blockage is a common condition in breast feeding mother’s that can cause a multitude of problems including painful breasts, mastitis, breast abscess, decreased milk supply, breast feeding cessation, and poor confidence with decreased quality of life. A recent study in 2015 in The Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy1, showed that physical therapy (PT) maybe a helpful treatment for the lactating mother experiencing milk duct blockage when conservative measures have failed. Common conservative measures typically recommended are self-massage, heat, and regular feedings. The World Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Academy of Breast Feeding Medicine, all recommend breast feeding as the primary source for nutrition for infants. There are many benefits to both the mother, and the infant, when breast feeding is used as the primary source for nutrition in infants. Having blocked milk ducts make it difficult and painful to breast feed and can lead to poor confidence for the mother and a frustrated baby as the milk supply could be reduced or inadequate. The primary health concern for blocked milk ducts is mastitis. Mastitis is defined as an infection of breast tissue leading to pain, redness, swelling, and warmth, possibly fever and chills and can lead to early cessation of breast feeding.

A blocked milk duct is not a typical referral to PT, however, this study outlined a protocol used for 30 patients with one or more blocked milk ducts that were referred to PT by a qualified lactation consultant. This study was a prospective pre/posttest cohort study. As an outcome measure, this study utilized a Visual Analog Scale (VAS) for 3 descriptive areas: pain, difficulty breast feeding, and confidence in independently nursing before and after treatment. The treatment protocol included moist heat, thermal ultrasound, specific manual therapy techniques, and patient education for treatment and prevention of the blockage(s). The thermal ultrasound and moist heating provided the recommend amount of heat to relax tissue around the blockage. Ultrasound also provided a mechanical effect that assists in the breaking up of the clog and increased pain threshold for the patient to improve tolerance to the manual clearing techniques. Next, the specific manual therapy was provided to directly unclog the blockage(s), and lastly the education provided was to help the patient identify and clear future blockages to prevent recurrence. 22 of the 30 patients were seen for 1-2 visits, 6 were seen for 3-4 visits, and none of the mother’s condition progressed to infective mastitis or developed breast abscess’s.

The results of the study showed the protocol used was helpful to ease pain, reduce difficulty with breast feeding, and improve confidence with independent breast feeding for lactating women that participated in the study. Although treatment of blocked milk ducts in lactating mothers is not a common PT referral, this study shows that PT may be one more helpful treatment for a patient experiencing this problem that is not responding to traditional conservative treatment. Since breast feeding is important to both mother and infant and is the primary recommended source for infant nutrition, it is important that a lactating mother receives quick, effective treatment for blocked milk ducts to prevent onset of mastitis and breast abscess that lead to early cessation of breast feeding. The cited study recommends that women who suspect a blocked milk duct or are having problems with breast feeding always seek care from a certified lactation consultant first, and that PT may be a referral that is made.

The eve of my daughter’s 5th birthday has me reminiscing about my first pregnancy. I had recently surrendered my ACL on a ski slope and was contemplating surgery when I got confirmation I was pregnant. A seasoned surgeon had told me if I just wanted to return to running and not ski or do cutting sports (without a brace, anyway), I would probably be fine; so, I chose to forego the surgery and was running again 7 weeks later. Being my first pregnancy, I was not sure how hormones would affect my knee stability without an ACL or if the impact was safe for me and the baby or if my doctor would approve of my exercise choice of running. After all, pending ligamentous laxity from hormonal changes made running without an ACL seem risky while pregnant; but, runners tend to be, well, stubborn, when it comes to being able to run.

Deghan et al (2014) discuss the hormone relaxin and its effect on bone, muscle, tendon, ligaments, and cartilage. Interestingly, relaxin actually plays a role in the healing and remodeling of certain tissues in the body such as muscle and bone. However, the article also emphasizes how relaxin has been shown to reduce the integrity of the ACL and put female athletes at risk for injury. Lucky for me, that hormone couldn’t have its way with my knee since the ACL was already gone!

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine just published online October 4, 2015, encourages running and other high-impact sports before pregnancy to decrease the risk of pelvic girdle pain. The patients engaging in such exercises prior to being pregnant showed a 14% lower risk of having pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy. Out of 4069 women, 12.5% of the 10.4% of women who experienced pelvic pain were non-exercisers pre-pregnancy. The women who exercised 3-5 days per week and participated in high-impact aerobic exercise prior to being pregnant had less pelvic pain while pregnant.

Postpartum perineal injuries can cause pain and dysfunction for a short or an extended period of time. Pelvic rehab providers are in a position to educate women about the immediate and long-term management of perineal pain. A 2015 study by Manfre et al. assessed the response of cortisone cream application to the perineum in the immediate postpartum period. The study was a randomized controlled trial involving 27 subjects with each subject serving as her own control. Three different treatments were given over a 12 hour period: corticosteroid, placebo, and no treatment. (The hydrocortisone cream was at 1% in an alcohol-based cream, the placebo was a non-medicated acetyl alcohol-based cream.) The cream was applied by an investigator who placed the cream on a Witch Hazel pad. The participants and the researchers were blinded to the type of cream applied, and the applications were randomized and took place within the first 12.5 hours after birth. Perineal pain levels were assessed immediately before cream application, and at 30 and 60 minutes after application. Using a visual analog scale (VAS), the symptom of pain was assessed and compared to baseline. In the study, the authors report that in the immediate postpartum period, women in their institution were often prescribed medication ranging from ibuprofen to hydrocodone. Topical medications, ice packs, heat packs are also mentioned as available treatments. Other pain medications or cold packs were available during the study; no other topical creams were utilized.

Results indicated that the participants responded positively to both creams with significantly more pain reduction than the no treatment group. The authors propose that both creams provided a soothing effect by providing moisture to the tissues, creating a protective barrier, and preventing friction and irritation. Because the placebo emollient cream was not significantly more expensive than the hydrocortisone cream, the article suggests using hydrocortisone on the postpartum perineum due to the medication’s potential beneficial anti-inflammatory effects. Also of note was that ice packs were used by less than half of the women in the study, and when ice was used, it was only during the first four hours after birth. One reason for the low frequency use of ice was thought to be the difficulty in maintaining ice application on the perineum.Manfre 2015

Because the pelvic rehab provider is in an optimal role as educator for pain reduction strategies, this study provides some interesting information to share with other birth providers and with patients. Learn more about postpartum patient care at Care of the Postpartum Patient, available in Seattle this March.

Diastasis of the Rectus Abdominis Muscle (DRAM) is the separation of the two rectus abdominis muscles along the linea alba and is very common during and after pregnancy as the rectus abdominis and linea alba stretches and thins. Patients with DRAM are often sent to seek non-surgical management for DRAM from a physical therapist (PT). Typically these patients are either at the end of their pregnancy or adjusting to round the clock care of an infant. They can be sleep deprived, and have a full schedule of doctor’s appointments, having difficulty finding childcare, making attending PT somewhat challenging. Furthermore, they may have difficulty finding the time for a home exercise program (HEP). As PT’s we often struggle with making sure to give the patient exercises that will accomplish the goal of improving DRAM, however, making sure the HEP is not so extensive or time consuming that it becomes unmanageable. Is something as easy as abdominal bracing with exercise effective for reducing DRAM in post-partum women? A recent study published in 2015 in the International Journal of Physiotherapy and Research explores just this topic(Acharry).

Why is Diastasis of the Rectus Abdominis Muscle (DRAM) important?

Women with DRAM tend to have a higher degree of abdominal and pelvic region pain(Parker). Also women with DRAM may be more likely to have support related pelvic floor problem such stress urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, or pelvic organ prolapse. The linea alba and rectus abdominis play an integral role in maintaining the anterior support of the trunk, these structures work together with pelvic girdle, posterior trunk muscles, and hips in maintaining stability when we shift weight (or transfer load) such as with standing, squatting, walking, carrying, and lifting. Therefore postural stability may be impaired with these daily tasks. Lastly, the abdominal muscles and fascia protect and support our organs so women with DRAM may have compromised support and protection of visceral structures.

Is DRAM common?

Pregnancy is the most common cause of DRAM and studies widely range from 50-100% of women experiencing DRAM at end stage pregnancy. Natural reduction and greatest recovery of DRAM usually occurs between day 1 and week 8 after delivery. Various ways exist to diagnose DRAM. The gold standard for diagnosis is computed tomography but is sometimes considered impractical due to expense. Clinically a separation of 2.0-2.7cm or “two finger widths” of horizontal separation at the umbilicus or 4.5cm above or below while performing a hooklying (supine with knees bent) abdominal curl up is considered pathological separation.

Infertility is often times a very sensitive subject for couples who are struggling to conceive. In the US, there are approximately 6.7 million women who are facing challenges with getting pregnant. (CDC 2006). In 2015, a ten-year retrospective study examined the efficacy of manual physical therapy to treat female infertility and discovered significantly positive outcomes.

The study looked at data collected from 2002-2011, which included approximately 1,392 patients treated for infertility. It specifically included those with single or multiple causes for infertility that involved: 1) elevated FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) of 10 mIU/ml or higher 2) fallopian tube occlusion 3) Endometriosis- when the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus causing significant pain, abnormal bleeding, infertility 4) Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)- a condition that affects female hormone regulation at times producing multiple follicles that remain as cysts in and around the ovary 5) Premature Ovarian Failure (POF)-loss of ovarian function before a woman is 40 years old and 6) Unexplained Infertility (Rice, 2015)

Patients were treated using an individualized physical therapy treatment plan that was named the CPA (Clear Passage Approach) protocol. This protocol was tailored to meet the individual needs of the patients and to treat specific sites of restrictions and immobility within each patient’s body. Treatment included integrated manual therapy techniques focused on minimizing adhesions and decreasing mechanical blockages in order to improve mobility of soft tissue structures. Visceral manipulation was also used to help restore normal physiologic motion of organs with decreased motility.

Does prior training in pelvic floor muscle exercises contribute to a woman’s ability to contract the pelvic floor shortly after childbirth? Researchers aimed to study this question and other variables in a prospective observational study involving 958 women. Within one week of childbirth, and in the hospital setting, participants were instructed by a physiotherapist (specializing in pelvic floor) to contract the pelvic floor in a supine position. Confirmation of a contraction was determined by visual observation of the perineum moving inward. The women were also asked by a physiotherapist if they had prior knowledge or experience with pelvic floor muscle training, and if not, the women were briefly instructed in the location and function of the pelvic floor muscles. The women who had some knowledge of the pelvic floor muscles including exercise experience “…were asked if they considered themselves able to perform correct…” pelvic muscle contractions.

All women was asked to complete three pelvic muscle contractions in a row and were assessed visually using a score of 0 (no movement of the perineum), 1 (weak movement), or 2 (strong inward displacement/lift of perineum). The physiotherapist gave feedback if the women completed a correct, insufficient, or incorrect contraction. Further verbal instruction was provided to those who could not adequately contract, and a re-assessment was completed with a quantification of any change in ability to contract. After providing feedback on pelvic muscle contractions, 73.6% of the women were able to perform a better contraction. In 500 of the 958 women, no inward displacement of the perineum was observed. Additionally, a significant number of the women (33%), believed that they were doing a contraction correctly but in fact were not. Another interesting point is that women with urinary incontinence before or during pregnancy had more knowledge about pelvic floor function and training.

Although in this study, 47.8% of the participants were able to perform a pelvic floor muscle contraction shortly after giving birth, “Knowing about the function and location of the pelvic floor was a positive predictor for being able to complete a pelvic floor muscle contraction.” Interestingly, having prior training in pelvic muscle exercises was not predictive of being able to complete a contraction. The value of assessing the ability to contract the pelvic floor is evident in this study, and with methods that are quick, easy, and non-invasive, women can be empowered with an improved ability to improve performance of a pelvic muscle contraction which is necessary for an effective pelvic muscle training program.

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

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Location: Pacific Medical Center

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Location: Texas Children’s Hospital

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Location: One on One Physical Therapy

Mar 19, 2016 - Mar 20, 2016
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Location: Anne Arundel Medical Center

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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

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