Rachna Mehta, PT, DPT, CIMT, OCS, PRPC, RTY 200 is the author and instructor of the Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health course. Rachna brings a wealth of experience to her physical therapy practice and has a personal interest in various eastern holistic healing traditions.
As I walked into the room to greet a new patient, I quickly glanced at the prescription for Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy in her chart. The words “urinary retention” caught my attention. As I gathered her history, I learned that this patient had a history of high anxiety and had been to the ER twice within a few weeks with symptoms of urinary retention. She was now taught to self-catheterize herself to manage her symptoms. After comprehensive testing by her urologist ruled out obstructive and neurological causes, she was referred to pelvic floor therapy with a diagnosis of pelvic floor muscle tension and inability to relax her pelvic floor muscles.
Urinary retention, or the inability to voluntarily void urine, is one of the most prevalent presenting urologic complaints in the emergency department. Voluntary urination requires close coordination between muscles of the pelvic floor, bladder, and urethra, as well as the nerves innervating them.
Female urinary retention is either acute or chronic and can be categorized according to the International Continence Society as:
Two of the most common causes of chronic urinary retention in women are bladder muscle dysfunction and obstruction. The condition is important as it can lead to significant clinical problems if left untreated, such as bladder decompensation, hydronephrosis, renal failure, vesicoureteral reflux, nephrolithiasis, and urinary tract infections, as well as symptoms including suprapubic pain, feelings of incomplete emptying, weak urinary stream, urgency, and incontinence1.
The patient was anxious and worried and could not step out more than an hour away from her home as she feared she would need to return home to void. She could only void at her own home and her social life was extremely limited due to these voiding restrictions. Given her high anxiety, I initiated Acupressure points for Anxiety in her program as an evidence-based holistic practice.
Acupressure is widely considered to be a powerful Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapy and is gaining acceptance within the medical community as part of an Integrative medicine approach. It draws its roots from Acupuncture which is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believed to be over 3000 years old. TCM is based on Meridian theory where key Acupressure points (or Acupoints ) lie along specific meridian lines and are connected to the visceral functions of vital organ systems.
Research shows that Acupressure points have been used with Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) as well as for the management of pain, anxiety, nausea, fatigue, urinary incontinence, constipation, and symptom management. Studies over the past few decades have found that Acupressure points transmit energy or the vital Qi (life force energy ) through interstitial connective tissue with potentially powerful integrative applications through multiple systems.
Acupressure has demonstrated the ability to improve heart rate variability, and thus decrease sympathetic nervous system activity. By decreasing sympathetic nervous system stimulation, the release of stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol is decreased, and the relaxation response can be augmented, which may correlate with decreasing levels of pain, stress, and anxiety2.
Over the next few weeks, the patient was treated by a multidisciplinary team including her Primary Care Physician, Psychologist, Acupuncturist, and Pelvic floor Physical Therapist. Integrating Acupressure along with manual therapy, behavioral modifications, exercises, breath work and stretching, key potent points in the Central Channel, Kidney, Stomach, Spleen, and Bladder meridians were utilized to down-regulate her nervous system and improve the physiological functioning of her vital organs.
The patient was also taught to use perineal acupressure points for the management of intermittent constipation. The patient learned and practiced daily an Acupressure Anxiety points regimen along with traditional rehabilitation exercises, and became calmer and more mindful with complete resolution of urinary retention symptoms. She could now step outside her home and use public bathrooms which socially was a big achievement for her.
The course Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health next offered on Feb 4th -5th 2023 explores Acupressure as an evidence-based modality for the management of Anxiety, Stress, Pain, and Symptom management. The course also teaches two programs with specific potent points for Anxiety and for Daily Wellness and introduces Yin Yoga as a complementary practice to Acupressure. This course is curated and taught by Rachna Mehta PT, DPT, CIMT, PRPC, RYT 200. Rachna has integrated Acupressure as part of her rehabilitation toolbox for several years now bringing holistic healing and wellness to her patients.
Experience Level: Beginner
Contact Hours: 12.50
Description: This continuing education course is a two-day seminar that offers participants an evidence-based perspective on the application of Acupressure for evaluating and treating a host of pelvic health conditions including bowel, bladder, and pelvic pain issues. The course explores a brief history of Acupressure, its roots in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and presents current evidence that supports the use of complementary and alternative medicine as an adjunct to western medicine. TCM concepts of Meridian theory and energy channels are presented with scientific evidence of Acupoints transmitting energy through interstitial connective tissue with potentially powerful integrative applications through multiple systems.
Lectures will present evidence on the use of potent Acupressure points and combinations of points for treating a variety of pelvic health conditions including chronic pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, constipation, digestive disturbances, and urinary dysfunctions to name a few. Key acupoints for decreasing anxiety, stress, and bringing the body back to a state of physiological balance are integrated throughout the course.
Participants will be instructed through live lectures and demonstrations on the anatomic location and mapping of acupressure points along five major meridians including the spleen, stomach, kidney, urinary bladder, and gall bladder meridians. Key associated points in the pericardium, large intestine, small intestine, lung, and liver meridians as well as the governing and conception vessels will also be introduced. The course offers a brief introduction to Yin yoga and explores Yin poses within each meridian to channelize energy through neurodynamic pathways to promote healing across multiple systems. Participants will learn how to create home programs and exercise sequences and will be able to integrate acupressure and Yin yoga into their orthopedic and pelvic health interventions.
Rachna Mehta PT, DPT, CIMT, OCS, PRPC, RYT 200 is Board certified in Orthopedics, a Certified Integrated Manual Therapist, and a Herman & Wallace certified Pelvic Rehab Practitioner. Rachna has a personal interest in various eastern holistic healing traditions and she noticed that many of her chronic pain patients were using complementary health care approaches including acupuncture and yoga. Her course Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health brings a unique evidence-based approach and explores complementary medicine as a powerful tool for holistic management of the individual as a whole focusing on the physical, emotional, and energy body.
A patient walks into the clinic 30 minutes late for their appointment with me, brimming with anxiety and apologizing profusely. “I’m so sorry,” they say, “I kept driving around in circles and could not find a single parking spot.” Another patient, a teacher, reports that her anxiety and pelvic pain progressively worsens as her day progresses and peaks when she gets home with her own two young children at the end of a long day. A third patient with a 15-year history of pelvic pain with unexplained infertility who has failed every conventional ART treatment suddenly conceives her miracle child naturally with acupuncture. She shares, “My anxiety was always so high, I could never relax. They stimulated acupuncture points all over my body, and it worked. My anxiety was so much under control this time.”
Here are the things running through my mind as I work with these patients:
These questions led to researching the currently available evidence, and I found that there has been a rising clinical interest in complementary holistic practices over the last several decades for anxiety & chronic stress management. Current research supports both acupressure and yin yoga as powerful tools in the realm of energy medicine.
Acupressure is based on 3000 years of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that believes in Meridian Theory and energy channels which are connected to the function of the visceral organs. There is emerging scientific evidence of acupoints transmitting Qi energy through the vast network of interstitial connective tissue connecting the peripheral nervous system to the central viscera with potentially powerful integrative applications across multiple systems. This network is also continuous with more specialized connective tissues such as the periosteum, perimysium, perineurium, pleura, peritoneum, and meninges (1). Fascia and connective tissue literally pervade every anatomic dimension in the body.
Helene Langevin (2) and colleagues proposed an anatomical/ physiological parallel to explain some of the key concepts of TCM.
Modern acupressure charts map the principal 12 meridians connected to the physiological functions of key organs. The key meridians to focus on in pelvic health patients would be the bladder, kidney, spleen, and stomach meridians. Acupressure is systemically effective for a host of conditions including anxiety, insomnia, chronic pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, infertility, constipation, digestive disturbances, and urinary dysfunctions. Each acupressure point has many internal connections to the visceral organs. Stimulating these points by using acupressure assists the body’s self-regulating mechanisms and facilitate healing and neurophysiological quieting.
A recent study by Elizabeth Monson (3) and colleagues retrospectively analyzed 519 acupressure treatments on hospitalized patients, nurses, and the general public across six US states. They followed a specific acupressure protocol and looked at pre- and post-treatment in conjunction with self-rated pain and anxiety scores, where 0 represented no pain or anxiety, and 10 represented the worst pain and anxiety. They found that:
This study concluded that acupressure is a highly satisfactory complementary therapy that can demonstrate a clinically significant decrease in self-rated pain and anxiety scores (2).
A robust body of research also attests to yoga being a powerful integrative health practice for alleviating daily anxiety and stress. Yoga is an umbrella term for various physical, mental, and spiritual practices originating in ancient India. Hath Yoga is the most popular form of Yoga in western society. Yin Yoga, a derivative of Hath Yoga, is a much calmer meditative practice that uses seated and supine postures, held three to five minutes while maintaining deep breathing. Its focus on calmness and mindfulness makes Yin Yoga a tool for relaxation and stress coping, thereby improving psychological health (4).
Yin Yoga is also a wonderful complimentary practice that can be combined with Acupressure. Yin Yoga engages the physical, emotional, and energy body. Yin postures supportively align the body to stress connective tissues along specific meridian lines that activate potent acupressure points along those meridians. The Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health remote course explores Yin postures within key meridians and integrates acupressure and Yin Yoga with modifications into rehabilitation interventions. Anxiety and daily wellness self-care program is also a key part of the course.
As pelvic health therapists and medical providers, we can empower our patients to recognize the mind-body-energy interconnections and how they affect multiple systems, giving them the tools and self-care regimens to live healthier anxiety and pain-free lives. Combining our orthopedic skills with mindfulness-based holistic interventions also complements our best evidence-based practices.
The course Acupressure for Optimal Pelvic Health is an evidence-based journey of holistic healing and empowerment curated and taught by Rachna Mehta. To learn how to integrate acupressure and Yin Yoga into your practice, join the next scheduled remote course on October 23-24, 2021.
In a previous post on The Pelvic Rehab Report, Sagira Vora, PT, MPT, WCS, PRPC explored the impact that pelvic floor exercises can have on arousal and orgasm in women. Today we hear part two of the conversation, and learn what factors can impact a woman's ability to achieve orgasm.
“An orgasm in the human female is a variable, transient peak sensation of intense pleasure, creating an altered state of consciousness, usually with an initiation accompanied by involuntary, rhythmic contractions of the pelvic striated circumvaginal musculature, often with concomitant uterine and anal contractions, and myotonia that resolves the sexually induced vasocongestion and myotonia, generally with an induction of well-being and contentment.”
Wow, that sounds like paradise! The question is--how to get there? Many of our cohorts and many our female patients have not experienced this or orgasm happens for them rarely. Findings from surveys and clinical reports suggest that orgasm problems are the second most frequently reported sexual problems in women. Some of the reasons cited for lack of orgasm are orgasm importance, sexual desire, sexual self-esteem, and openness of sexual communication with partner by Kontula el. al. in 2016. Rowland found that most commonly-endorsed reasons were stress/anxiety, insufficient arousal, and lack of time during sex, body image, pain, inadequate lubrication.
One factor that comes up consistently, is the ability of women to focus on sexual stimuli. This point has been brought up by various studies and presented in different ways. Chambless talks about mindfulness training and improvements in orgasm ability noted equally in women who practiced mindfulness vs. women who engaged in Kegels and mindfulness. Rosenbaum and Padua note in their book, The Overactive Pelvic Floor, “women who do not have a low-tone pelvic floor and who seek to enhance sexual arousal and more frequent orgasms have not much to gain from pelvic floor muscle training. Actually, a relaxed pelvic floor and mindful attention to sexual stimuli and bodily sensations seem a more effective means of enhancing sexual arousal and orgasm.” Various studies specifically studying the effect of mindfulness training have demonstrated both improved arousal and orgasm ability in women who practiced mindfulness. Brotto and Basson found their treatment group, which consisted of 68 otherwise healthy women, who underwent mindful meditation, cognitive behavioral training and education, improved in sexual desire, sexual arousal, lubrication, sexual satisfaction, and overall sexual functioning.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy appears to play a significant role in improving sexual function in women. Meston et. al. notes, “cognitive behavioral therapy for anorgasmia focuses on promoting changes in attitudes and sexually relevant thoughts, decreasing anxiety, and increasing orgasmic ability and satisfaction. To date there are no pharmacological agents proven to be beneficial beyond placebo in enhancing orgasmic function in women.”
Alas, there are no magic pills to create the above described “state of altered consciousness,” allowing women a sense of “well-being and contentment.” However, mindfulness training and cognitive behavioral therapy are both accessible and attainable for women who want to improve their ability to enjoy this much desired state. Many Pelvic floor therapist incorporate cognitive behavioral and mindfulness approaches in their practice.
The studies above mention pain as one of the factors for inability to experience arousal and orgasm. Hucker and Mccabe even noted that their mindfulness treatment group demonstrated significant improvements in all domains of female sexual response except for sexual pain. Dealing with sexual pain is a daily battle pelvic floor therapist face each day. So, how do women with sexual pain dysfunction differ from women who are experiencing sexual dysfunction but not pain? Let’s explore this in our next blog…
Chambless DL, Sultan FE, Stern TE, O’Neill C, Garrison S. Jackson A. Effect of pubococcygeal exercise on coital orgasm in women. J Consult CLin Psychol. 1984; 52:114-8
Bratto LA, Basson R. Group mindfulness-based therapy significantly improves sexual desire in women Behav Res Ther. 2014 Jun; 57:43-5
Hucker A. Mccabe MP. Incorporating Mindfulness and Chat Groups Into an Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Mixed Female Sexual Problems. J Sex Res. 2015;52(6):627-33
Kontula O., Mettienen A. Determinants of female sexual orgasms. Socioaffect Neurosci Psychol. 2016 Oct 25;6:31624. doi: 10.3402/snp.v6.31624. eCollection 2016
Meston CM1, Levin RJ, Sipski ML, Hull EM, Heiman JR. Women’s orgasm. Annu Rev Sex Res. 2004;15:173-257. Review
Rosenbaum, Talli Y., Padoa, Anna. The overactive Pelvic floor. 1st ed. 2016
Roland DL, Cempel LM, Tempel AR. Women’s attributions on why they have difficulty reaching orgasm. J. Marital Therapy. 2018 Jan 3:0
Anxiety and depression are frequently encountered co-morbidities in the clients we serve in pelvic rehabilitation. This observation several years ago in clinical practice is one of many that prompted me down the path of exploring the connection between the gut, the brain, and overall health. In answering the question about these connections, I discovered many nutritionally related truths that are being rapidly elucidated in the literature.
A recent study by Sandhu, et.al. (2017) examines the role of the gut microbiota on the health of the brain and it’s influence on anxiety and depression. The title of the study, “Feeding the microbiota-gut-brain axis: diet, microbiome, and neuropsychiatry” gives us pause to consider the impact of our diets on this axis and in turn, on the health of our nervous system. The authors state:
It is diet composition and nutritional status that has been repeatedly been shown to be one of the most critical modifiable factors regulating the gut microbiota at different time points across the lifespan and under various health conditions.
With diet and nutritional status being the most critical modifiable factors in the health of this system, it becomes our responsibility to seek to understand this system and its influencing factors. We need to learn how to nourish the microbiota-gut-brain axis.
While anxiety and depression are common co-morbidities we encounter, we also commonly detect imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system in our patients leading to, for example, pelvic floor muscle tension. In light of this study we must first and foremost ask: what is the microbiota? How can it influence our nervous system? How does this correlate to anxiety and depression? The answers to these questions provide clinical insight with far-reaching impact. We also consider: which circumstances disrupt the health of this system and which improve it? Finally, could understanding of this axis, among other nutritional correlates, provide a novel approach to bowel dysfunction, bladder dysfunction, chronic pelvic pain?
Be a part of the paradigm shift to integrative understanding as we explore these and many other burning questions. Please join us for insightful discussion in White Plains, NY March 31-April 1, 2017 for our next offering of Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist.
Sandhu, K. V., Sherwin, E., Schellekens, H., Stanton, C., Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2017). Feeding the microbiota-gut-brain axis: diet, microbiome, and neuropsychiatry. Transl Res, 179, 223-244. doi:10.1016/j.trsl.2016.10.002