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Gynecological Cancers Challenge the Pelvic Floor

When I work prn in inpatient rehabilitation, I have access to each patient’s chart and can really focus on the systems review and past medical history, which often gives me ample reasons to ask about pelvic floor dysfunction. So, of course, I do. I have yet to find a gynecological cancer survivor who does not report an ongoing struggle with urinary incontinence. And sadly, they all report that they just deal with it.

Bretschneider et al.2016 researched the presence of pelvic floor disorders in females with presumed gynecological malignancy prior to surgical intervention. Baseline assessments were completed by 152 of the 186 women scheduled for surgery. The rate of urinary incontinence (UI) at baseline was 40.9% for the subjects, all of whom had uterine, ovarian, or cervical cancer. Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) was reported by 33.3% of the women, urge incontinence (UI) by 25%, fecal incontinence (FI) by 3.9%, abdominal pain by 47.4%, constipation by 37.7%, and diarrhea by 20.1%. The authors concluded pelvic floor disorders are prevalent among women with suspected gynecologic cancer and should be noted prior to surgery in order to provide more thorough rehabilitation for these women post-operatively.

Ramaseshan et al.2017 performed a systematic review of 31 articles to study pelvic floor disorder prevalence among women with gynecologic malignant cancers. Before treatment of cervical cancer, the prevalence of SUI was 24-29% (4-76% post-treatment), UI was 8-18% (4-59% post-treatment), and FI was 6% (2-34% post- treatment). Cervical cancer treatment also caused urinary retention (0.4-39%), fecal urge (3-49%), dyspareunia (12-58%), and vaginal dryness (15-47%). Uterine cancer showed a pre-treatment prevalence of SUI (29-36%), UUI (15-25%), and FI (3%) and post-treatment prevalence of UI (2-44%) and dyspareunia (7-39%). Vulvar cancer survivors had post-treatment prevalence of UI (4-32%), SUI (6-20%), and FI (1-20%). Ovarian cancer survivors had prevalence of SUI (32-42%), UUI (15-39%), prolapse (17%) and sexual dysfunction (62-75%). The authors concluded pelvic floor dysfunction is prevalent among gynecologic cancer survivors and needs to be addressed.

Lindgren, Dunberger, & Enblom2017 explored how gynecological cancer survivors (GCS) relate their incontinence to quality of life, view their physical activity/exercise ability, and perceive pelvic floor muscle training. The authors used a qualitative interview content analysis study with 13 women, age 48–82. Ten women had UI and 3 had FI after treatment (2 had radiation therapy, 5 had surgery, and 6 had surgery as well as radiation therapy). The results showed a reduction in physical and psychological quality of life and sexual activity because of incontinence. Having minimal to no experience or even awareness of pelvic floor training, 9 out of the 10 women were willing to spend 7 hours a week to improve their incontinence. Practical and emotional coping strategies also helped these women, and they all declared they had the cancer treatments without being informed of the risk of incontinence, which impacted their attitude and means of handling the situation.

Research shows incontinence is a common occurrence after gynecological cancer treatment. It impacts quality of life after surviving a serious illness, and many women do not know pelvic floor therapy can improve their situation. Oncology and the Female Pelvic Floor is an ideal course for practitioners to take to help increase their knowledge on how to educate and treat this population.


Bretschneider, C. E., Doll, K. M., Bensen, J. T., Gehrig, P. A., Wu, J. M., & Geller, E. J. (2016). Prevalence of pelvic floor disorders in women with suspected gynecological malignancy: a survey-based study. International Urogynecology Journal, 27(9), 1409–1414. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00192-016-2962-3
Ramaseshan, A.S., Felton, J., Roque, D., Rao, G., Shipper, A.G., Sanses, T.V.D. (2017). Pelvic floor disorders in women with gynecologic malignancies: a systematic review. International Urogynecology Journal. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00192-017-3467-4
Lindgren, A., Dunberger, G., & Enblom, A. (2017). Experiences of incontinence and pelvic floor muscle training after gynaecologic cancer treatment. Supportive Care in Cancer, 25(1), 157–166. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-016-3394-9

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Fecal Incontinence May Surrender to Stem Cells

While recently visiting Seattle with my daughter, we had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Ghislaine Robert, owner of Sparclaine Regenerative Medicine. She is a highly respected sports medicine doctor who has steered much of her practice towards regenerative medicine, with a focus on stem cell and platelet enriched plasma (PRP) injections. She brought to my attention the use of stem cells for pelvic floor disorders. And, like any successful practitioner, she encouraged me to research it for myself.

In 2015, Cestaro et al. reported early results of 3 patients with fecal incontinence receiving intersphincteric anal groove injections of fat tissue. They aspirated about 150ml of the fat tissue and used the Lipogem system technology lipofilling technique to provide micro-fragmented and transplantable clusters of lipoaspirate. The intersphincteric space was then injected with the lipoaspirate. A proctology exam was performed at 1 week, 1 month, and 6 months following the procedure. All 3 patients all had reduced Wexner incontinence scores 1 month post-treatment and a significant improvement in quality of life 6 months post-procedure. Resting pressure of the internal anal sphincter increased after 6 months, and the internal anal sphincter showed increased thickness.

A 2016 study by Mazzanti et al., used rats to explore whether unexpanded bone marrow-derived mononuclear mesynchymal cells (MNC) could effectively repair anal sphincter healing since expanded ones (MSC) had already been shown to enhance healing after injury in a rat model. They divided 32 rats into 4 groups: sphincterotomy and repair (SR) with primary suture of anal sphincters and a saline intrasphincteric injection (CTR); SR of anal sphincter with in-vitro expanded MSC; SR of anal sphincter with minimally manipulated MNC; and, a sham operation with saline injection. Muscle regeneration as well as contractile function was observed in the MSC and MNC groups, while the control surgical group demonstrated development of scar tissue, inflammatory cells and mast cells between the ends of the interrupted muscle layer 30 days post-surgery. Ultimately, the authors found no significant difference between expanded or unexpanded bone marrow stem cell types used. Post-sphincter repair can be enhanced by stem cell therapy for anal incontinence, even when the cells are minimally manipulated.

Finally, in 2017, Sarveazad et al. performed a double-blind clinical trial in humans using human adipose-derived stromal/stem cells (hADSCs) from adipose tissue for fecal incontinence. The hADSCs secrete growth factor and can potentially differentiate into muscle cells, which make them worth testing for improvement of anal sphincter incontinence. They used 18 subjects with sphincter defects, 9 undergoing sphincter repair with injection of hADSCs and 9 having surgery with a phosphate buffer saline injection. After 2 months, there was a 7.91% increase in the muscle mass in the area of the lesion for the cell group compared to the control. Fibrous tissue replacement with muscle tissue, allowing contractile function, may be a key in the long term for treatment of fecal incontinence.

As long as accessing human-derived stem cells is a viable option for patients, the preliminary studies show promise for success. With fecal incontinence being such a debilitating problem for people, especially socially, stem cells are definitely an up and coming treatment, and we should all keep up on this research. After all, who wouldn’t spare some adipose tissue for life-changing, functional gains?


Cestaro, G., De Rosa, M., Massa, S., Amato, B., & Gentile, M. (2015). Intersphincteric anal lipofilling with micro-fragmented fat tissue for the treatment of faecal incontinence: preliminary results of three patients. Videosurgery and Other Miniinvasive Techniques, 10(2), 337–341. http://doi.org/10.5114/wiitm.2014.47435
Mazzanti, B., Lorenzi, B., Borghini, A., Boieri, M., Ballerini, L., Saccardi, R., … Pessina, F. (2016). Local injection of bone marrow progenitor cells for the treatment of anal sphincter injury: in-vitro expanded versus minimally-manipulated cells. Stem Cell Research & Therapy, 7, 85. http://doi.org/10.1186/s13287-016-0344-x
Sarveazad, A., Newstead, G. L., Mirzaei, R., Joghataei, M. T., Bakhtiari, M., Babahajian, A., & Mahjoubi, B. (2017). A new method for treating fecal incontinence by implanting stem cells derived from human adipose tissue: preliminary findings of a randomized double-blind clinical trial. Stem Cell Research & Therapy, 8, 40. http://doi.org/10.1186/s13287-017-0489-2

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Feeding the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis

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

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Vulvodynia: Foods May be Fueling the Fire

We are all familiar with the old saying, “You are what you eat.” A functional medicine lecture I attended recently at the Cleveland Clinic explained how chronic pain can be a result of how the body fails to process the foods we eat. Patients who just don’t seem to get better despite our skilled intervention make us wonder if something systemic is fueling inflammation. Even symptoms of vulvodynia, an idiopathic dysfunction affecting 4-16% of women, have been shown to correlate to diet.

In a single case study of a 28 year old female athlete in Integrative Medicine (Drummond et al., 2016), vulvodynia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were addressed with an elimination diet. After being treated by a pelvic floor specialist for 7 months for vulvodynia, the patient was referred out for a nutrition consultation. Physical therapy was continued during the vegetarian elimination diet. In the patient’s first follow up 2 weeks after starting eliminating meat, dairy, soy, grains, peanuts, corn, sugar/artificial sweeteners, she no longer had vulvodynia. The nutrition specialist had her add specific foods every 2 weeks and watched for symptoms. Soy, goat dairy, and gluten all caused flare ups of her vulvodynia throughout the process. Eliminating those items and supplementing with magnesium, vitamin D3, probiotics, vitamin B12, and omega-3 allowed the patient to be symptom free of both vulvodynia and IBS for 6 months post-treatment.

On the more scientific end of research, Vicki Ratner published a commentary called “Mast cell activitation syndrome” in 2015. She described how mast cells appear close to blood vessels and nerves, and they release inflammatory mediators when degranulated; however, mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) involves mast cells that do not get degranulated properly and affect specific organs like the bladder. She proposed measuring the number of mast cells and inflammatory mediators in urine for more expedient diagnosis of interstitial cystisis and bladder pain syndrome.

Sigrid Regauer’s correspondence to Ratner’s article followed in 2016 relating MCAS to bladder pain syndrome (BPS), interstitial cystitis (IC), and vulvodynia. He described vulvodynia as a pain syndrome with excessive mast cells and sensory nerve hyperinnervation, often found with BPS and IC. The vulvodynia patients had mast cell hyperplasia, most of which were degranulated, and 70% of the patients had comorbidities due to mast cell activation such as food allergies, histamine intolerance, infections, and fibromyalgia.

Considering the association between mast cells and acute inflammatory responses and how mast cells release proinflammatory mediators, it makes sense that dysfunctions such as vulvodynia as well as IC and BPS can result from an excessive amount and dysfunctional granulation of mast cells. Enhanced activation of mast cells causes histamine release, stimulating peripheral pain neurotransmitters (Fariello & Moldwin 2015). If medication and therapy do not solve a patient’s pain, perhaps eliminating the consumption of inflammatory foods could positively affect the body on a cellular level and relieve irritating symptoms of vulvodynia. Pardon the parody, but patients on the brink of being “insane in the brain” from vulvodynia will likely try anything to resolve being “inflamed in the membrane.”


Drummond, J., Ford, D., Daniel, S., & Meyerink, T. (2016). Vulvodynia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treated With an Elimination Diet: A Case Report.Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 15(4), 42–47.
Ratner, V. (2015). Mast cell activation syndrome. Translational Andrology and Urology, 4(5), 587–588. http://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2223-4683.2015.09.03
Regauer, S. (2016). Mast cell activation syndrome in pain syndromes bladder pain syndrome/interstitial cystitis and vulvodynia. Translational Andrology and Urology, 5(3), 396–397. http://doi.org/10.21037/tau.2016.03.12
Fariello, J. Y., & Moldwin, R. M. (2015). Similarities between interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome and vulvodynia: implications for patient management. Translational Andrology and Urology, 4(6), 643–652. http://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2223-4683.2015.10.09

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Disordered Eating and Bowel Dysfunction

In Megan Pribyl’s course on Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist, she discusses a wide variety of useful topics specific to nutrition and pelvic health. In her lecture on “Nutritional Homeostasis”, Megan counsels against missing an underlying eating disorder when working with a patient who has bowel issues. Work by Abraham and Kellow (2013) is cited, and in their article published in BMC Gastroenterology, the authors concur that many patients who have functional gastrointestinal complaints may also have disordered eating. How then, can we tell these patients apart, and get patients the most appropriate care? First let’s look at their research.

Patients who were admitted to a specialty unit for those with eating disorders in Australia were studied and were found to have conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, polycystic ovarian syndrome, treated celiac disease, and treated bipolar depression. All of the 185 patients completed the Rome II Modular Questionnaire to identify symptoms consistent with functional gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction. They also completed the Eating and Exercise Examination which collected data about behaviors including objective binge eating, self-induced vomiting, laxative use and excessive exercise.

Esophageal discomfort (heartburn and chest pain of non cardiac origin) was associated with excess exercise (more than 5 days/week). Self-induced vomiting was identified primarily in the patients diagnosed with bulimia. One interesting finding the researchers noted is that for patients who have disorder eating, pelvic floor symptoms that are not associated with functional constipation are a prominent feature. This data begs the question, how can we best screen for disordered eating in patients who present with bowel dysfunction that otherwise may fit with the symptoms and presentation of patients who do not have disordered eating?

Our first step may be to include important conditions and symptoms on our written or computer-based intake forms. Is “disordered eating” or bulimia, anorexia-nervosa included on your intake forms for patients? What about symptoms like heartburn, laxative use, or vomiting? (As an important aside, I always remember being surprised by a patient who had urinary incontinence when she told me that she leaked with vomiting. She had gone through a gastric bypass surgery and would vomit several times per week as a reaction to difficulty digesting food. There may be a few good reason therefore to include vomiting on a checklist.) As pelvic rehab providers, we can understand how frequent vomiting may lead to dehydration, intrabdominal and intrapelvic pressure, potential pelvic floor dysfunction, or how disordered eating may lead to other bowel dysfunctions such as constipation and/or fecal incontinence. If we also hold space for eating issues to be a concern, we may find that asking some valuable questions provides more information.

If you would like to learn more about nutrition and the pelvic health connections, you still have time to sign up for Megan Pribyl’s nutrition course which takes place in Lodi, California this June!.


Abraham, S., & Kellow, J. E. (2013) "Do the digestive tract symptoms in eating disorder patients represent functional gastrointestinal disorders?" BMC gastroenterology, 13(1), 1.

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Disruption of Bowel Obstruction via Visceral Manipulation

If an infomercial played in pre-op waiting rooms explaining all the possible side effects or problems a patient may encounter after surgery, I wonder how many people would abort their scheduled mission. As if having an abdominal or pelvic surgery were not enough for a patient to handle, some unfortunate folks wind up with small bowel obstruction as a consequence of scar tissue forming after the procedure. Instead of having yet another surgery to get rid of the obstruction, which, in turn, could cause more scar tissue issues, studies are showing manual therapy, including visceral manipulation, to be effective in treating adhesion-induced small bowel obstruction.

 

Amanda Rice and colleagues published a paper in 2013 on the non-surgical, manual therapy approach to resolve small bowel obstruction (SBO) caused by adhesions as evidenced in two case reports. One patient was a 69 year old male who had 3 hernia repairs and a laparotomy for SBO with resultant abdominal scarring and 10/10 pain on the visual analog scale. The other patient was a 49 year old female who endured 7 abdominopelvic surgeries for various issues over the course of 30 months and presented with 7/10 pain and did not want more surgical intervention for SBO. Both patients received 20 hours of intensive manual physical therapy over a period of 5 days. The primary focus was to reduce adhesions in the bowel and abdominal wall for improved visceral mobility, but treatment also addressed range of motion, flexibility, and postural strength. The female patient reported 90% improvement in symptoms, with significant decreases in pain during bowel movements or sexual intercourse, and the therapist noted increased visceral and myofascial mobility. Both patients were able to avoid further abdominopelvic surgery for SBO, and both patients were still doing well at a one year follow up.

 

In 2016, a prospective, controlled survey based study by Rice et al., determined the efficacy of treating SBO with a manual therapy approach referred to as Clear Passage Approach (CPA). The 27 subjects enrolled in the study received this manual therapy treatment for 4 hours, 5 days per week. The CPA includes techniques to increase tissue and organ mobility and release adhesions. The therapist applied varying degrees of pressure across adhered bands of tissue, including myofascial release, the Wurn Technique for interstitial spaces, and visceral manipulation. The force used and the time spent on each area were based on patient tolerance. The SBO Questionnaire considered 6 domains (diet, pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, medication, quality of life, and pain severity) and was completed by 26 of the subjects pre-treatment and 90 days after treatment. The results revealed significant improvements in pain severity, overall pain, and quality of life. Suggestive improvements were noted in gastrointestinal symptoms as well as tissue and organ mobility via improvement in trunk extension, rotation, and side bending after treatment. Overall, the authors conclude the manual therapy treatment of SBO is a safe and effective non-invasive approach to use, even for the pediatric population with SBO.

 

Myofascial release and visceral manipulation can disrupt the vicious cycle of adhesions causing small bowel obstruction after abdominopelvic surgical “invasion.” Learning specific techniques we may never have thought of can make a huge impact on certain patient populations. Quality of life for our patients often depends on how willing we are to increase our own knowledge and skill base.




Rice, A. D., King, R., Reed, E. D., Patterson, K., Wurn, B. F., & Wurn, L. J. (2013). Manual Physical Therapy for Non-Surgical Treatment of Adhesion-Related Small Bowel Obstructions: Two Case Reports . Journal of Clinical Medicine, 2(1), 1–12. PubMed Link
Rice, A. D., Patterson, K., Reed, E. D., Wurn, B. F., Klingenberg, B., King, C. R., & Wurn, L. J. (2016). Treating Small Bowel Obstruction with a Manual Physical Therapy: A Prospective Efficacy Study. BioMed Research International, 2016, 7610387. http://doi.org/10.1155/2016/7610387

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Dyssynergic Defecation: A Common Culprit of Chronic Constipation and Abdominal Pain

Faculty member Lila Bartkowski- Abbate PT, DPT, MS, OCS, WCS, PRPC teaches the Bowel Pathology, Function, Dysfunction and the Pelvic Floor course for Herman & Wallace. Join her in Tampa on April 2-3, or one of the other two events currently open for registration.

Constipation, an often under reported health issue, afflicts about 30% of Americans. ¹ The diagnosis of chronic constipation may seem like a simple concept, however the etiology of chronic constipation presents itself in many different forms. Dyssynergic defecation is one of many factors that can lead to a presentation of chronic constipation in a patient. Dyssynergic defecation or “paradoxical contraction” occurs when the muscles of the abdominals, puborectalis sling, and external anal sphincter function inappropriately while attempting a bowel movement. ² The lack of coordination of these muscles results in a contraction versus a lengthening of the pelvic floor muscles with baring down. Dyssynergic defecation is different than a structural issue such as a rectocele or hemorrhoids causing the inability to pass stool effectively or constipation due to slow colon transit time or pathological disease. Making the diagnosis of dyssynergic defecation by symptoms alone is often not reliable secondary to overlap of similar symptoms with chronic constipation due to factors such as a structural issue, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or irritable bowel disease (IBD). The diagnosis of dyssynergic defecation can be difficult and is often made through physiologic testing such as balloon expulsion testing or MRI with defecography. ² However, physical therapists can often manually feel that a paradoxical contraction is happening when asking a patient to bare down on evaluation.

Patients with dyssynergic defecation may present to pelvic floor physical therapy with complaints of: ¹ ²

  1. Abdominal symptoms such as bloating, pain, and cramping
  2. Poor response to laxatives and fiber supplementation that does not fully resolve their issue
  3. Have had testing for anatomical or neurological abnormalities with no significant findings
  4. Complaints of concomitant pelvic pain due to over activity of the pelvic floor muscles

Physical Therapists specializing in pelvic floor rehab can be a valuable part of the medical team with treating these patients. Biofeedback training by physical therapists has been shown to decrease anorectal related constipation symptoms and abdominal symptoms in patients with dyssynergic defecation. In a sample of 77 patients with dyssynergic defecation, physical therapists provided biofeedback training for 6-8 weeks that included manual and verbal feedback, surface EMG, exercises using a rectal catheter, rectal ballooning to improve rectal sensory abnormalities, ultrasound, pelvic floor and abdominal massage, electrical stimulation if needed, and core strengthening and stretching to improve the patients’ maladaptive habits while attempting to pass a bowel movement. Significant decreases were seen on all three domains (abdominal, rectal, and stool) on the PAC-SYM (Patient Assessment of Constipation) questionnaire post biofeedback training. ² It is noteworthy that 74% of these patients presented to the clinic with complaints of abdominal symptoms such as bloating, pain, discomfort, and cramping.

Knowing how to effectively treat these patients and ask the right questions is valuable in the scheme of pelvic floor rehab secondary to overlapping symptoms of different causes of chronic constipation. Physical therapists are able to provide these patients with conservative treatment that can effectively improve or eliminate their problem, recognize dyssynergic defecation as a possible differential diagnosis, and refer to the appropriate medical professional for further testing. Recognizing and treating dyssynergic defecation is something physical therapists will learn how to become effective at in the upcoming Herman and Wallace Course: Bowel Pathology, Function, Dysfunction & the Pelvic Floor April 2-3 in Tampa, FL and October 8-9 in Fairfield, CA.


1. Sahin M, Dogan I, Cengiz M et al. (2015). The impact of anorectal biofeedback therapy on quality of life of patients with dyssynergic defecation. Turk J Gastroenterol. 26(2):140-144

2. Baker J, Eswaran S, Saad R, et al. (2015). Abdominal symptoms are common and benefit from biofeedback therapy in patients with dyssynergic defecation. Clin Transl Gastroenterol. 30(6)e105. doi: 10.1038/ctg.2015.3

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Exploring the Spectrum of Bowel Dysfunction

As a child, I remember my grandmother rubbing my lower back to help me pass my stubborn stool, a problem which landed me in the hospital twice before I turned 10. Decades later, after the birth of my first baby, I had a grade III perineal tear that made me afraid I would never be able to control my stool from passing. At the time of each situation, I had no idea how many people of all ages experience the two extremes of bowel dysfunction. Thankfully, for patients struggling with either issue, whether it is chronic constipation or fecal incontinence, healthcare practitioners are becoming knowledgeable in how to treat both effectively through classes such as the Herman & Wallace course, “Bowel Pathology, Function, Dysfunction & the Pelvic Floor.”

In 2014, Kelly Scott, MD, authored an article entitled, “Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation in the Treatment of Fecal Incontinence.” She reviews the current literature and notes this area of study lacks high quality randomized controlled trials, and further research is needed to provide evidence on the efficacy of different treatment protocols. Up to 24% of the adult population has been shown to experience fecal incontinence. Under the umbrella of pelvic floor rehabilitation lies pelvic floor muscle training, biofeedback, rectal balloon catheters for volumetric training, external electrical stimulation, and behavioral bowel retraining. The goals of various biofeedback methods include the following: provide endurance training specifically for the anal sphincter and pelvic floor; improve rectal sensitivity and compliance; and, increase coordination and sensory discrimination of the anal sphincter. Overall, the success rate of pelvic floor rehabilitation for fecal incontinence in most of the studies is 50% to 80%, and it is considered safe as well as effective.

On the other end of the spectrum, Vazquez Roque and Bouras (2015) published an article regarding management of chronic constipation. Chronic constipation (CC) in the general population has a prevalence of 20%, and the elderly population has a higher rate than the younger population. Chronic constipation is commonly treated with stool softeners, fiber supplements, laxatives, and secretagogues. However, as in all areas of healthcare, a thorough examination needs to be performed to assess the source of the problem. Determining whether a patient exhibits slow transit constipation or a true pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) via blood work, rectal exam, and appropriate PFD tests is essential to provide the appropriate treatment. When the CC culprit is dysfunction of the pelvic floor, clinical trials have proven the efficacy of pelvic floor rehabilitation and biofeedback, making them optimal treatments.

When research indicates a particular type of rehabilitation is effective for treating a wide scope of issues in an area of the body, learning how and when to implement the techniques is paramount for a well-rounded practitioner. Most of us do not dream of treating chronic constipation or fecal incontinence; but, as we mature in our clinical practice, the spectrum of dysfunctions we discover through diagnostic testing and experience grows. Continuing education in previously unexplored territories can only expand the population to whom we provide relief.


Scott, K. M. (2014). Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation in the Treatment of Fecal Incontinence. Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery, 27(3), 99–105.
Vazquez Roque, M., & Bouras, E. P. (2015). Epidemiology and management of chronic constipation in elderly patients. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 10, 919–930.

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Mindfulness and Bowel Health

Reports in the media of research on mindfulness keep reminding us that mindfulness has positive effects on a wide variety of conditions. In the world of pelvic rehabilitation, which is broad when we consider the scope of the patient populations and diagnoses that we treat, we can find benefits from mindfulness to include bladder dysfunction, pain, and even bowel dysfunction. When specifically addressing bowel dysfunction, there are many studies that promote the benefits of mindfulness on bowel health, including the following research findings for the following topics:

Colitis

In 53 patients diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), some were randomized into a control group or a treatment arm that consisted of instruction in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). While mindfulness-based stress reduction did not, in this study, affect the flare-ups of patients with moderately severe ulcerative colitis, the MBSR “…had a significant positive impact on the quality of life…” when compared to patients in the control group. So even though the use of mindfulness did not appear to affect the disease, the patients utilizing mindfulness perceived a higher quality of life even during a flare of their colitis. (Jedel et al., 2014)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

In another study, 36 people (24 diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and 12 healthy subjects in control group) were studied. The patients who had IBS were divided into equal groups and were treated with either CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or MBT (mindfulness-based treatment.) The authors conclude that mindfulness-based therapy “…is an effective method to decrease symptoms of patients with IBS…” and that it was more effective than CBT at the 2 month follow-up. (Zomorodi et al., 2014)

Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)

In reference to the importance of addressing mind, body and spirit for patients who have inflammatory bowel disease, this article discusses the benefits of addressing the psychosocial impacts of gastrointestinal disorders, as the disorders are “…best understood by a combination of genetic, physical, physiological, and psychological factors.” (Jedel et al., 2012)

Functional Gastrointestinal (GI) Disorders

Although a recent analysis of studies on gastrointestinal disorders calls for improvement in methodological quality of the research, the article concludes that “…mindfulness-based interventions may be useful in improving FGID [functional gastrointestinal disorders] symptom severity and quality of life with lasting effects…” (Aucoin et al., 2014)

From these few studies we can see that mindfulness is an accepted and potentially helpful adjunct in improving patient symptoms and quality of life in those who have bowel dysfunction. Mindfulness is a tool that every therapist should have in the toolbox for offering to patients who can complete this self-care activity as part of a home program. If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively instruct in mindfulness, you still have time to register for the Caroline McManus continuing education course on Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment, taking place January 16-17 in Silverdale, Washington, on the beautiful peninsula.


Aucoin, M., Lalonde-Parsi, M. J., & Cooley, K. (2014). Mindfulness-Based Therapies in the Treatment of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Meta-Analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2014.
Jedel, S., Hankin, V., Voigt, R. M., & Keshavarzian, A. (2012). Addressing the mind, body, and spirit in a gastrointestinal practice for inflammatory bowel disease patients. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 10(3), 244-246.
Jedel, S., Hoffman, A., Merriman, P., Swanson, B., Voigt, R., Rajan, K. B., ... & Keshavarzian, A. (2014). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction to prevent flare-up in patients with inactive ulcerative colitis. Digestion, 89(2), 142-155.
Zomorodi, S., Abdi, S., & Tabatabaee, S. K. R. (2014). Comparison of long-term effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy versus mindfulness-based therapy on reduction of symptoms among patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology and Hepatology from bed to bench, 7(2), 118.

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Effects of Chewing on Appetite, Food Intake and Your Gut Hormones

If you celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday by enjoying food with family or friends, you may be lamenting the sheer amount of food you ate, or the calories that you took in. Did you know that chewing your food well can not only affect how much you eat, but also how much nutrition you derive from food? In a meta-analysis by Miquel-Kergoat et al. on the affects of chewing on several variables, researchers found that chewing affects hunger, caloric intake, and even has an impact on gut hormones. Ten papers that covered thirteen trials were included in the meta-analysis. From these trials, the following data are reported:

  • 10 of 16 studies found that prolonged chewing reduced a person’s food intake
  • chewing decreases self-reported hunger
  • chewing decreases amount of food intake
  • increasing the number of chews per bite increases gut hormone release
  • chewing promotes feeling full

Research about eating behavior theories are highlighted in this paper, and include a discussion of the variety of factors, both internal and external, that control eating. Chewing is described as providing “…motor feedback to the brain related to mechanical effort…” that may influence how full a person feels when eating foods that are chewed. On the contrary, foods and beverages that do not require much chewing may be associated with overconsumption due to the lack of chewing required. (This makes sense when considering sugar-laden, high-calorie beverages.) Additionally, chewing food mixes important digestive enzymes and breaks down the food properly in the mouth, making the process of digestion further along the digestive tract more efficient. Another study by Cassady et al. which assessed differences in hunger when chewing almonds 25 versus 40 times reported that increased chewing led to decreased hunger and increased satiety when compared to chewing only 25 times.

The theory presented, yet not concluded, in this paper is that chewing may affect gut hormones and thereby decrease self-reported hunger and decrease food intake. For various reasons, including deriving more nutrition from our food, avoiding overconsumption, or making the process of digestion more efficient, focusing more on the act of chewing our food can have beneficial affects. To learn more about health and nutrition, attend the Institute’s course Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist (link: https://hermanwallace.com/continuing-education-courses/nutrition-perspectives-for-the-pelvic-rehab-therapist). This continuing education course was written and instructed by Meghan Pribyl, who is not only a physical therapist who practices in pelvic rehabilitation and orthopedics, but who also has a degree in nutrition. Her training and qualifications allow her to share important information that integrates the fields of rehabilitation and nutrition. Your next opportunity to take this course is in March in Kansas City.


Cassady, B. A., Hollis, J. H., Fulford, A. D., Considine, R. V., & Mattes, R. D. (2009). Mastication of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite, and hormone response. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 89(3), 794-800. Miquel-Kergoat, S., Azais-Braesco, V., Burton-Freeman, B., & Hetherington, M. M. (2015). Effects of chewing on appetite, food intake and gut hormones: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Physiology & behavior, 151, 88-96.

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