Aparna Rajagopal, PT, MHS is the lead therapist at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital's pelvic dysfunction program, where she treats pelvic rehab patients and consults with the sports therapy team. Her interests in treating peripartum patients and athletes allowed her to recognize the role that breathing plays in pelvic dysfunction. She has just joined the Herman & Wallace faculty and co-authored the new course, "Breathing and the Diaphragm: Pelvic and Orthopedic Therapists", which helps clinicians understand breathing mechanics and their relationship to the pelvic floor.
Aparna was kind enough to introduce herself to us here on The Pelvic Rehab Report.
Thank you for your time Aparna! To start, tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Aparna. I’ve been a physical therapist for 22 years. About 16 years ago I switched focus from orthopedics to treating pregnancy and postpartum patients and that’s where my initial interest in pelvic care started. In 2006 following my pregnancy and birth of my daughter, my interest in pelvic care grew with my special interest becoming pelvic pain.
I teach and mentor the pelvic health therapists within the fairly large hospital system that I work at and collaborate with our spine center team and our sports team.
What can you tell us about this new breathing course that is not mentioned in the “course description” and “objectives” that are posted online?
Physical therapy has evolved and continues to evolve as we speak. Regional inter dependence, wherein the different systems interplay, and one structure influences another, is fascinating. No longer is the body considered and treated as independent fragmented pieces. The ‘core’ with the contribution of the Diaphragm and the pelvic floor is so much more than just the Transverse Abdominis and the Multifidus working together. Fascial restrictions of the lower abdomen and the pelvis can influence how the low back feels, thoracic stiffness can influence the interplay between the various abdominal muscles by way on their insertion into the lower ribs, musculo- skeletal pain and postural deviations can stem from incorrect breathing patterns etc.
Normal breathing rate is about 10 times every minute. Breathing incorrectly reinforces wrong movement patterns tens of thousand times a day with negative consequences on the musculoskeletal system.
This course offers an in depth look at the diaphragm from the perspective of both orthopedic and pelvic therapists and attempts to tie in the diaphragm to the thoracic spine, the ribs, the pelvic floor, the core, posture and finally the athlete.
What essential skills does the breath course add to a practitioner’s toolkit?
The practitioner will walk away with the ability to view the patient as a “whole”. It offers a different perspective on neck and back pain, posture/ alignment along with the ability to assess for and connect breathing and the diaphragm to stability/ the core, continence issues and the Autonomic Nervous System.
As therapists we already do a great job of addressing strength issues, assessing and correcting posture, mobilizing etc. You can add to your treatment options by learning how the diaphragm works in concert with other muscles (especially the abdominals) and systems, identifying breathing pattern dysfunctions and postures, and movement patterns which may be linked to breathing pattern dysfunctions. This understanding is beneficial for both orthopedic and pelvic patients.
What inspired you to create this course? What void does this new offering fill?
I have used breathing and evaluation of the diaphragm as a part of pelvic care for several years now. As the mentor for the pelvic program at my hospital, and as a part of the spine team and sports team, I work with pelvic therapists, orthopedic therapists, manual certified therapists, and sports certified therapists. Through my interactions I have come to realize that although many of the therapists are aware that the Diaphragm and breathing are important, they are unsure of how to assess for dysfunctions and address those dysfunctions. I initially started conducting classes within the hospital system. At the same time Leeann who is a sports certified therapist and holds a manual therapy certificate and I started collaborating on our patients. Using a combination of her knowledge and effective manual techniques with my pelvic care and breathing techniques we realized that along with my pelvic patients; our back and neck patients, and her sports patients were all benefitting from this combined approach. We realized along the way that we had information worth sharing with our colleagues that would benefit them in treating their patients, and started classes within the hospital system and that is how this class was born!
What was your process like creating this course?
As a trained pelvic therapist, I have incorporated and used breath and the diaphragm in my treatment for over a decade. Leeann and I have created this course using a combination of our clinical experiences, our education in our respective chosen paths of patient care, and most importantly using recent and relevant research articles from journals to guide us extensively in creating this course.
Breathing and the Diaphragm: Pelvic and Orthopedic Therapists is a new course being offered next March 27-29, 2020 in Sterling Heights, MI, and again on December 11-13, 2020 in Princeton, NJ. It is created and taught by Aparna Rajagopal, PT, MHS and Leeann Taptich, PT, DPT. Come learn how the diaphragm and breathing can affect core and postural stability through intra-abdominal pressure changes. As an integrated approach, the course looks at structures from the glottis and the cervical region to the pelvic floor and helps in understanding a multi component system that works together.
As so many of our patients are shallow breathers, I found this research on the effects of mindful attention to the breath (MATB) on prefrontal cortical and amygdala activity especially informative and relevant to patient care. Twenty-six healthy volunteers with no prior meditation experience were introduced to MATB by an experienced meditation teacher and instructed to practice a 20-minute audio guided MATB meditation daily for 2 weeks.1 At the end of the 2-week training period, subjects underwent fMRI scanning while viewing distressing emotional images with MATB and with passive viewing (PV). Participants were shown aversive pictures or no pictures and were instructed to “Please focus your attention on your breath as you were instructed in the training” or “Please watch the picture without changing anything about your feelings.” Subjects indicated their current affect on a 7 point scale ranging from -3 (very negative) to +3 (very positive).
Breathing frequency significantly decreased during MATB compared to PV. Researchers controlled for this by including breathing frequency as a covariate in further behavioral and brain data analysis.
Analysis of affective ratings showed that participants felt significantly less negative affect when viewing distressing visual stimuli during MATB than PV. During negative visual stimuli, MATB significantly decreased bilateral amygdala activation compared to PV. Also, right amygdala activation decrease specifically correlated with successful emotional regulation. That is, those participants with greater reductions in right amygdala activation reported greater reductions in aversive emotions during the MATB. In addition, emotion-related functional connectivity increased between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala during the viewing of negative images and MATB.
It’s exciting to have some initial science behind the benefits of MATB. I teach all of my patients MATB and have found it rewarding to get feedback from participants in my courses about their integration of MATB into their own patient care. Patients with complex pain conditions can be challenging to treat, however sometimes a simple practice of taking 2 to 3 minutes prior to and/or at the end of a treatment to have a patient calmly focus on their breath with the mindful attitudes of acceptance, kindness and curiosity can help a person shift from tension and distress to calm and confidence. I look forward to presenting this and additional research on the impact of mindful meditation on brain structure and function in my upcoming course, Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment, in Seattle, November 4 and 5. Hope to see you there!
1. Doll A, Holzel BK, Bratec SM, et al. Mindful attention to breath regulates emotions via increased amygdala-prefrontal cortex connectivity. Neuroimage. 2016;134:305-313.