This blog contains an interview with Alyson N Lowrey, PT, DPT, OCS. Alyson treats the pelvic floor patient population through an orthopedic approach, working closely with pelvic floor specialists. Alyson’s clinical interests include evaluation/treatment of chronic pain, lumbar and cervical spine disorders, foot and ankle disorders, pelvic pain, and clinical instruction. Alyson is the co-instructor for the new H&W course, Pain Science for the Chronic Pelvic Pain Population - Remote Course scheduled for July 17-18, 2021.
Q: Who are you? Describe your clinical practice.
A: I work in an outpatient hospital-based clinic where I am able to provide true 1:1 care to patients of all ages and orthopedic conditions. Since pelvic floor therapy came to our clinic, I have developed strong clinical and personal relationships with pelvic floor therapists. We have been able to successfully combine our respective expertise into a wholistic approach for improving patient’s functional outcomes. My knowledge and relationships with pelvic floor therapy have allowed me as an ortho clinician to recognize when a patient’s dysfunction may have a pelvic floor component and refer appropriately. I am also in a unique opportunity where my pelvic floor colleagues will co-treat or transition care of a patient to me to continue to improve their overall function by providing functional strengthening and neuromuscular re-education to the pelvic floor musculature and other supportive muscular systems. This relationship also allows us to treat comorbid orthopedic conditions and pelvic dysfunctions such as low back pain or SIJ dysfunction as well.
Q: How did you get involved in the pelvic rehabilitation field?
A: I became involved with pelvic rehabilitation through working in a clinic with Tara Sullivan. Her knowledge is immense and our working relationship has shaped and changed how I assess patients. My practice has expanded drastically knowing so much more about pelvic floor dysfunction. I also have personal struggles with pelvic pain, which has given me a patient’s perspective as well on how important pelvic rehabilitation is.
Q: If you could get a message out to other clinicians about pelvic rehab what would it be?
A: I would encourage all ortho clinicians to educate themselves on pelvic rehab. Pelvic rehab is not yet fully integrated into our DPT curriculums and is often treated as a very separate area of dysfunction. Integrating pelvic floor function and dysfunction into my ortho world has drastically changed how I see and treat many patients.
Q: What made you want to create this course, Pain Science for the Chronic Pelvic Pain Population?
A: Tara and I wanted to create this course to help other clinicians become more proficient at treating chronic pain. A large portion of our caseloads is chronic pain both generally and with pelvic conditions. Patients with these conditions are often overlooked and not treated appropriately by the medical system at large. They are often dismissed or mislead that they have something drastically wrong with them, or worse, nothing wrong with them at all. This population often has the most functional deficits and the worst clinical outcomes. We want to change that.
Q: What need does your course fill in the field of pelvic rehabilitation?
A: There is a need in rehabilitation and medicine to understand pain from a biopsychosocial approach and to treat chronic pain conditions from that perspective. Pain is complex, and treatment is complex. Chronic pelvic pain is a subdivision of prevalent chronic pain that is not talked about or treated often enough.
Q: Who, what demographic, would benefit from your course?
A: Any clinician who treats chronic pain conditions can benefit from this course.
If you would like to learn more about chronic pelvic pain, you can join Alyson at Pain Science for the Chronic Pelvic Pain Population - Remote Course scheduled for July 17-18, 2021.
In the United States, estimated direct medical costs for outpatient visits for chronic pelvic pain (CPP) is more than $2.8 billion per year.1 In a 2017 study in the Clinical Journal of Pain by Sanses et al, a detailed musculoskeletal exam of clients with CPP can assist both physicians as well as physical therapists in differential diagnosis and appropriate referrals for this population.
Evaluating a client with pelvic pain requires a skill set that includes direct pelvic floor as well as musculoskeletal test item clusters. The prioritization of which depends upon many factors including clinician discipline, experience, specialty vs. general setting, as well as client history, presentation and goals. In addition to the direct pelvic floor assessment, there are additional key musculoskeletal screening tests that are an essential part of a pelvic pain assessment. New this year, my course Finding the Driver in Pelvic Pain will incorporate the use of Real Time Ultrasound in neuromuscular assessment and re-education of the pelvic floor and abdominal wall during the Sunday morning lab session.
Peery et al (2012) noted that abdominal pain was one of the most common presenting reasons for an outpatient physician visit in the United States. Abdominal pain is one of the many complaints that our clients may report requiring differential diagnosis including urogynecologic, colorectal, musculoskeletal, visceral or neurogenic causes. Lower abdominal quadrant pain may denote serious emergent pathology. Clinical findings, physical exam and client symptoms in addition to smart differential diagnosis must be used to determine if the abdominal pain is musculoskeletal in nature. Direct access requires physical therapists to perform a skilled initial screening for abdominal pain in order to determine if it is abdominal wall versus a visceral origin. Physicians are fluent in ruling out emergent pathology but may not be familiar with musculoskeletal tests for non-emergent pathology. Assessment of bowel and bladder function and habits are essential to perform. This blog specifically addresses three physical exam tests that can be performed as part of abdominal wall pain screening. According to Cartwright et al, the location of the abdominal pain should drive the evaluation.
Carnett’s test is a simple clinical test that assesses abdominal pain response when a client tenses their abdominal muscles. A positive Carnett’s sign denotes the origin of symptoms within the abdominal wall with a negative tests suggesting intra-abdominal pathology. The test is performed in supine, the clinician gently palpating the area of abdominal pain and has the client lift their head and shoulders off the table. Conditions such as myofascial trigger points, scar and muscular pain would be flared with palpation of the contractile tissue with activation of the abdominal wall muscles. If the pain is due to visceral origin, appendicitis for example, the pain would remain unchanged with palpation with head lift. Although some perform Carnett’s test by lifting both legs off the table, this method may cause unnecessary pain in clients with poor lumbopelvic control. (Figure 1) The head and shoulder lift option is felt to be comparable method of performing Carnett’s test.
Blumberg’s sign is most commonly used to rule in appendicitis, peritonitis or a visceral driver of right lower quadrant pain. The test is performed by the clinician applying deep pressure over McBurney’s point (Figure 2) with an abrupt and rapid release of pressure. Although there are anatomical variations in appendix location, pain reproduction is consistent with a positive test and immediate referral to the ER is indicated.
Thoracic dysfunction, including disc herniation, can result in abdominal pain.2 In thoracic discogenic driven abdominal pain, symptoms would likely be exacerbated by coughing, sneezing, spinal flexion and activities that would increase spinal loading. A simple screening for this is seated thoracic traction. If the client reports reduction or resolution of symptoms with traction, further musculoskeletal tests including regional movement and PIVM testing could be implemented to rule in or rule out need for diagnostic imaging.
In the Herman Wallace course “Finding the Driver in Pelvic Pain” participants learn a comprehensive musculoskeletal screen including abdominal, neural mobility and conductivity, pelvic ring, pelvic floor and biomechanical contributing factors to pelvic pain. Evidence based test item clusters are defined, along with their diagnostic accuracy, for all associated systems in order to outline a comprehensive screen for pelvic pain clients. To learn more about musculoskeletal screening for pelvic pain, check out faculty member Elizabeth Hampton PT, DPT, WCS, PRPC, BCB-PMD’s course Finding the Driver of Pelvic Pain, which is next offered Jun 28, 2019 - Jun 30, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. We are fortunate to have Dick Poore, President of The Prometheus Group present on Sunday June 30th for technical support for the Real Time Ultrasound portion of the course.
1. Sanses et al. "The Pelvis and Beyond: Musculoskeletal Tender Points in Women with Chronic Pelvic Pain". Clin. J. Pain. 2016 Aug. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000307
2. Papadakos et al. "Thoracic Disc Prolapse Presenting with Abdominal Pain: Case Report and Review of the Literature". Ann. R. Coll. Surg. Engl. 20019 Jul. doi: 10.1308/147870809X401038
Recent data suggests that there are about 4 million American women diagnosed with endometriosis, but that 6/10 are not diagnosed. Currently, using the gold standard for diagnosis there are potentially 6 million American woman that may experience the sequelae of endometriosis without having appropriate management or understanding the cause of their symptoms.
The gold standard for endometriosis is laparoscopy either with or without histologic verification of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus. However, there is a poor correlation between disease severity and symptoms. The Agarwal et al study suggests a shift to focus on the patient rather than the lesion and that endometriosis may better be defined as “menstrual cycle dependent, chronic, inflammatory, systemic disease that commonly presents as pelvic pain”. There is often a long delay in symptom appreciation and diagnosis that can range from 4-11 years. The side effects of this delay are to the detriment of the patient; persistent symptoms and effect of quality of life, development of central sensitization, negative effects on patient-physician relationship. If this disease continues to go untreated it may affect fertility and contribute to persistent pelvic pain.
The authors suggest a clinical diagnosis with transvaginal ultrasound for patients presenting with persistent or cyclic pelvic pain, patient history, have symptoms consistent with endometriosis, or other findings suggestive of endometriosis. The intention of using transvaginal ultrasound is to make diagnosis more accessible and limit under diagnosis. It is not intended to minimize laparoscopy as a diagnostic tool or treatment option.
The algorithm for a clinical diagnosis evaluates patient presentation of the following:
Of course, there are differential diagnosis for endometriosis, and those are symptoms of non-cyclical patterns of pain and bladder/bowel dysfunction that would indicate IBS, UTI, IC/PBS. A history of post-operative nerve entrapment of adhesions. Examination positive for pelvic floor spasm, severe allodynia in vulva and pelvic floor, masses such as fibroids. It is important to note that these other diagnoses can coexist with endometriosis and do not rule out possible endometriosis diagnosis.
Hopefully, diagnosing individuals earlier and possibly at a younger age would limit the disease severity and symptoms. This would allow this population to limit the possibility of central sensitization and pain persistence that can affect so much of daily life. Earlier diagnosis may affect infertility and allow this population to make informed decisions about family and career from a place of empowerment.
Agarwal SK, Chapron C, Giudice LC, Laufer MR, Leyland N, Missmer SA,Singh SS, Taylor HS, "Clinical diagnosis of endometriosis: a call to action", American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (2019), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2018.12.039.
Exciting news! Carolyn McManus, Herman & Wallace instructor of Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment, will be a presenter in programming at the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) World Congress on Pain in to be held in Boston, September 11 - 16. This conference brings together experts from around the globe practicing in multiple disciplines to share new developments in pain research, treatment and education. Participants from over 130 countries are expected to attend. The last time it was held in the U.S. was 2002, so it presents an especially exciting opportunity for those interested in pain to have this international program taking place in the U.S. Carolyn will present a workshop on mindfulness in a Satellite Symposia, Pain, Mind and Movement: Applying Science to the Clinic.
Carolyn has been a leader in bringing mindfulness into healthcare throughout her over-30 year career. She recognized early on in her practice how stress amplified patients’ symptoms and, as she had seen the benefits of mindfulness in her own life, it was a natural progression to integrate mindful principles and practices into her patient care. An instructor for Herman and Wallace since 2014, she has developed two popular courses, Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment and Mindfulness for Rehabilitation Professionals, enabling her to share her clinical and research experiences with her colleagues.
For many patients, pain is not linearly related to tissue damage and interventions based on structural impairment alone are inadequate to provide full symptom relief. Mindfulness training can offer a key ingredient necessary for a patient to make additional progress in treatment. By learning therapeutic strategies to build body awareness and calm an over-active sympathetic nervous system, patients can mitigate or prevent stress-induced symptom escalation. They can learn to move with trust and confidence rather than fear and hesitation.
A growing body of research in mindfulness-based therapies demonstrates multiples benefits for patients suffering with pain conditions. Research suggests that mindfulness training can be helpful to women preparing for childbirth and patients suffering from fibromyalgia, pelvic pain, IBS and low back pain. In addition, for patients with anxiety, mindfulness training may contribute to reductions in anxiety and in adrenocorticopropic hormone and proinflammatory cytokine release in response to stress. Authors of this study conclude that these large reductions in stress biomarkers provide evidence that mindfulness training may enhance resilience to stress in patients with anxiety disorders.
In addition to her presentation at the IASP World Congress Satellite Symposia, Carolyn will be sharing a more in-depth examination and practice of mindfulness in her upcoming course Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment, August 4 and 5 at Virginia Hospital Center, Arlington VA, and again November 3 and 4 at Pacific Medical Center in Seattle, WA. Please join an internationally-recognized expert for 2 days of innovative training in mindfulness that will both improve your patient outcomes and enhance your own well-being!
Duncan LG, Cohn MA, Chao MT, et al. Benefits of preparing for childbirth with mindfulness training: A randomized controlled trial. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 2017 May 12;17(1):140.
Fox SD, Flynn E, Allen RH. Mindfulness meditation for women with chronic pelvic pain: a pilot study. J Reprod Med.2011;56(3-4):158-62.
Garland EL, Gaylord SA, Paisson O. Therapeutic mechanisms of a mindfulness-based treatment for IBS: effects on visceral sensitivity, catastrophizing and affective processing of pain sensations. J Behav Med. 2012;35(6):591-602.
Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Balderson BH, et al. Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction vs cognitive behavioral therapy or usual care on back pain and functional limitations in adults with chronic low back pain: a randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2016;315(12):1240-9.
Hoge EA, Bui E, Palitz SA, et al. The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder. Psychiatry Res. 2018;262:328-332.
“Keep Calm and Treat Pain” is perhaps an affirmation for therapists when encountering patients suffering from pain, whether acute or chronic. The reality is this: treating pain is complicated. Treating pain has brought many a health care provider to his or her proverbial knees. It has also led us as a nation into the depths of the opioid epidemic which claimed over 165,000 lives between the years of 1999 and 2014 (Dowell & Haegerich, 2016). That number has swollen to over 200,000 in up-to-date calculations and according to the CDC, 42,000 human beings, not statistics, were killed by opioids in 2016 - a record.
So why has treating pain eluded us as a nation? The answers are as complicated as treating pain itself. Which is why we as health care providers must seek out not simply alternatives, but the truth in the matter. Why are so many suffering? Why has chronic pain become the enormous beast that it has become? What might we do differently, collectively, and how might we examine this issue through a holistic mindset?
In just a few weeks, I have the privilege of teaching amongst 10 physical therapy professionals and one physician from around the nation who with coordinated efforts created a landmark pre-conference course at CSM in New Orleans through the Orthopaedic Section of the APTA. Included in the 11 are myself and another Herman & Wallace instructor Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA who teaches “Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment” through the Institute.
The CSM pre-conference course title is “Keep Calm and Treat Pain” representing a necessary effort to provide the clinician with ideas and inspiration for helping the profession as a whole treat pain with an integrative approach.
“Pain and Nutrition: Building Resilience Through Nourishment” is the section I look forward to sharing. It will introduce concepts we can leverage to allow us confidence in seeking alternate ways of taming this beast which is chronic pain - ways which can enhance health and well-being of our clients in pelvic rehabilitation. We must not be passive observers of the opioid epidemic. We must come to terms with the fact that our nations go-to tool for treating pain unfortunately causes side-effects which can and does include loss of life. We can do better. And we will.
While the CSM pre-conference course will give you a taste of the nutrition concepts available to you, it is a mere tip of the nourishment iceberg. I continue my passion and mission with the two-day course titled “Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist”, an experience that can elevate your conversations with clients. It will pave a path of understanding for the provider, allowing us to share options, understanding, and hope. “Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist is coming next to Maywood, IL March 3 & 4, 2018. I welcome you to join me.
APTA CSM: https://apta.expoplanner.com/index.cfm?do=expomap.sess&event_id=27&session_id=13763. Accessed January 8, 2018.
CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html. Accessed January 8, 2018.
Dowell, D., & Haegerich, T. M. (2016). Using the CDC Guideline and Tools for Opioid Prescribing in Patients with Chronic Pain. Am Fam Physician, 93(12), 970-972.
Lerner, A., Neidhofer, S., & Matthias, T. (2017). The Gut Microbiome Feelings of the Brain: A Perspective for Non-Microbiologists. Microorganisms, 5(4). doi:10.3390/microorganisms5040066
Murthy, V. H. (2016). Ending the Opioid Epidemic - A Call to Action. N Engl J Med, 375(25), 2413-2415. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1612578
Perimenopausal pelvic health issues are, for many of us, some of the most common issues that we see in the women that we work with. Urinary incontinence is one of the most important issues for peri- and postmenopausal women. In Melville’s study1 of U.S. women, half of the participants between the ages of 50 and 90 experienced urine leakage every month. Zhu’s 2008 study2 looked at the risk factors for SUI - Multiple vaginal deliveries, Age/postmenopausal status, Chronic pelvic pain, Obesity, lack of exercise, constipation, and hypertension. But what is not often (enough) looked at in the research, is the link between urinary dysfunction and sexual dysfunction – usually because questions aren’t asked or assumptions are made. In Mestre et al’s 2015 paper3, they write ‘…Integrating sexual health in clinical practice is important. In women with pelvic floor disorders, the evaluation of the anatomical defects, lower urinary tract function and the anorectal function often receives more attention than sexual function.’
But are they linked?
In Moller’s exploration of this topic, they report that lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) have a profound impact on women’s physical, social, and sexual wellbeing. Unsurprisingly (to pelvic rehab specialists at least!), they found that the LUTS are likely to affect sexual activity. Conversely, sexual activity may affect the occurrence of LUTS. The aims of the Moller study were to elucidate to which extent LUTS affect sexual function and to which extent sexual function affect LUTS in an unselected population of middle-aged women in 1 year. A questionnaire was sent to 4,000 unselected women aged 40–60 years. Compared to women having sexual relationship, a statistically significant 3 to 6 fold higher prevalence of LUTS was observed in women with no sexual relationship. In women who ceased sexual relationship an increase in the de novo occurrence of most LUTS was observed. In women who resumed sexual relationship a decrease in LUTS was observed. In women whose sexual activity was unchanged no change in the occurrence of LUTS. So they rightfully concluded ‘…sexual inactivity may lead to LUTS and vice versa.’
In my Menopause course, we will explore the range of perimenopausal pelvic health issues that many women face and their inter-related nature – not just with each other but also how orthopaedic, endocrine and gastro-intestinal health issues influence pelvic health and wellness. Interested in learning more? Come and join the conversation in California in February 2018!
1. Melville JL, et al. Urinary incontinence in US women: a population-based study. Arch Intern Med 2005;165(5):537-42 - See more at: http://www.nursingcenter.com/lnc/JournalArticle?Article_ID=698029#sthash.cm8A90tS.dpuf
2. Zhu L1, Lang J, Wang H, Han S, Huang J. Menopause. 2008 May-Jun;15(3):566-9. The prevalence of and potential risk factors for female urinary incontinence in Beijing, China
3. Mestre M, Lleberia J, Pubill J, Espuña-Pons M Actas Urol Esp. 2015 Apr;39(3):175-82. Epub 2014 Aug 28. Questionnaires in the assessment of sexual function in women with urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Today we pick up on Jennafer Vande Vegte's interview with her patient, "Ben", about his experience overcoming chronic pelvic pain syndrome. Ben's quality of life improved so much that he has returned to school in order to become a PTA, with a focus on pelvic rehabilitation!
Describe your physical therapy experience. Talk about your recovery process. Include the physical, mental and emotional components.
For my initial visit, my therapist questioned and assessed my pain, then explained pelvic floor dysfunction. She made sure I understood that the evaluation and treatment process involved internal rectal work. After developing the condition and months of seeing doctors who didn’t listen, finally I found a physical therapist who was actually listening to me and determined to get to the bottom of what was going on. I could tell she already knew much about the mechanics (if not the exact cause) because she had treated other patients with the same issues. I immediately sensed a difference from any other health care professional in attitude, compassion, and knowledge. Of course, how do you know for sure? Well, you don’t. But after repeated visits and excellent results, you experience the difference. An important realization while going to Physical Therapy is learning to see the mind-body connection. In the back of my mind I sensed that my pain was being perpetuated by emotional trauma. This is not an intuitive way of thinking when you are in constant high-level, 5-alarm pain. I was obsessed with finding the cause of my pain, but chronic pain is extremely elusive and complicated.
Over the course of many months of PT though we couldn’t pinpoint what started the pain, we knew my nervous system was keeping it going. Sensory signals had somehow been rerouted through pain centers in the delicate and complicated highway interstate of the nervous system. It was as if the Fed Ex truck that was supposed to carry a package from Miami to Denver got rerouted to New York, stuck in traffic in Manhattan, flipped off by cab drivers, beaten up by gang members, contents of the truck shaken up by the driver trying to flee the city, and then finally finding the way out of New York to the true destination of Denver – with damaged goods, and shaking with anxiety. As to who the idiot dispatcher was who re-routed the truck to New York, well, he’s really good at keeping himself secret and innocent-looking. Jerk!
Physical therapy, over time, began to work for me. It released trigger points which are the first step in the long process of recovery. As we know, chronic tension must be addressed in tissues and nerves, and the mind must relearn how to remain in neutral. I found that as I gained periods of relief I could see that there truly was a mind-body connection beyond what I could imagine. My physical therapist and I both knew that nerves are the slowest recovering tissue in the body, and when you combine that with an anxious mind, you have a complicated puzzle to solve. There is definitely a closed circuit that develops with chronic pelvic pain. Pain causes anxiety, anxiety causes pain and circularly they feed one another.
During my physical therapy I joined a male pelvic pain message board online. I began understanding that most men who develop pelvic pain also have experienced traumatic emotional stress. And a large part of chronic pelvic pain is rooted in a mind-body dysfunction. I had to learn how to stop thinking catastrophically, especially during flare ups. I had to trust that my body would heal and think positively. I had to learn how to relax, take care of myself, eat well, stretch and exercise daily.
When I started physical therapy, I hoped to escape the pain. My first 5 month phase of physical therapy helped to loosen the chronically tightened pelvic sphincter muscles. However, I still had allodynia. In my second phase of physical therapy I began experiencing reduction of pain for a longer duration of time. After about a year of therapy, I finally got to a point where I could see there was significant improvement, even though some intermittent pain and anxious symptoms stubbornly persisted. In late spring of 2017, I finally felt like I had conquered the pain by 98%. Occasionally flares would still come, but they were brief and nothing like before physical therapy.
How has your experience with chronic pelvic pain changed you?
CPPS has profoundly changed me. I don’t take the little things for granted or sweat them anymore. I am grateful for not feeling that horrible, hellish sensation any longer. I appreciate having my mind pain and panic free. I speak my mind while respecting my own desires instead of belittling them. I am currently in school to become a Physical Therapy Assistant as through this process I learned that I’m actually much smarter than my middle school guidance counselor thought. I understand the mind is incredibly powerful, and fear rarely has the same power over me.
How do you handle flare ups?
I now handle brief flare ups with deep breaths, meditation, and/or just taking a step back and trying to zero in on what is really bothering me. At least now I can clearly think without debilitating pain and am able to function.
What would you like to say to other people who are struggling with chronic pelvic pain?
Oh, man. For the initial duration, I would say find a safe place where you can feel as comfortable as possible until the pain lessens. When it is bad, you sort of have to give in to it. However, part of this recovery is the physical mechanics of muscle and fascia. Physical Therapy is essential in the process of recovery to release this tension. I would tell them not to give up hope. You will not find many health professionals or websites that will tell you that you can beat this and recover 100%. But I will tell you, you can recover, 100%. You can. But for now, your full-time job is to work on recovery, and that includes lots of self-care, facing possible emotional pain, and physical therapy.
If you would like to learn more about addressing the mind body connection with patients please join us for Holistic Intervention and Meditation: Boundaries, Self-Care and Dialog in January. We will be exploring ways to help our patients heal to their fullest potential as well as keeping ourselves emotionally healthy in the process. Treating patients with persistent pain can be challenging for the best of us. Please come for this three-day course where you will leave feeling refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated to treat even your most complex patient.
Recently my coworkers and I celebrated a male patient’s recovery from a long and difficult journey with persistent pelvic pain. “Ben’s” case had many elements of what we normally see in our patients: chronic muscle holding, restricted fascia, allodynia, hyperalgesia, castrophizing and kenisiophobia. Ben was also very upfront about how his pain impacted his emotional well-being and vice versa. His healing process taught us a lot about the biopsychosocial aspects of treating persistent pain. Along his journey we dreamed of the day we could write a blog together and help other people learn from the experience. Ben also decided to make a career change entering school to become a PTA so that he could help others in pain. Here is my interview with this brave patient.
1. Tell us about how your pain started
My pain started with urethral burning. Tests showed there was no infection. In retrospect, the cause of pain could have been the beginning of tension on pudendal nerve branches from extreme stress and a series of traumatic incidents that happened within weeks of each other. They included a very embarrassing and stressful summer of unemployment, a father who had heart failure and triple bypass in the fall, and a girlfriend who gave me an ultimatum when I was too stressed to get an erection.
2. What medical tests or treatments were done?
When the pain started, I first thought it was a basic urinary tract infection. I went to the med center and was prescribed an antibiotic. After 3 days without change, I went back in and although they still found no sign of infection, they prescribed an additional antibiotic. The urethral pain never stopped and seemed to get worse. Following a series of visits to numerous doctors and urologists, I repeated tests on the prostate fluid, blood tests, and more bacterial tests. No infection. My PCP also made a fairly large overture of testing me repeatedly for HIV. For five months I had a blood test every month, all came back negative. This was damaging to my psyche. For those months I was terrified my life was over. In retrospect, that doctor was out of line, I changed doctors.
3. What were your thoughts when your doctor suggested physical therapy?
When the doctor suggested pelvic floor physical therapy, I was a little skeptical because I was still convinced that something was wrong in a chemical or infectious way (as is typical for most men with pelvic floor dysfunction). However, desperate to take away the constant pain, I followed the advice.
Stay tuned for part two of our conversation with Ben, coming up in our next post on the Pelvic Rehab Report!
Speaking with a runner friend the other day, I mentioned I was writing a blog on yoga for pelvic pain. She had the same reaction many runners do, stating she has doesn’t care for yoga, she never feels like she is tight, and she would hate being in one position for so long. Ironically, neither of us has taken a yoga class, so any preconceived ideas about it are null and void. I told her yoga is being researched for beneficial health effects, and one day we just might find ourselves in a class together!
Saxena et al.2017 published a study on the effects of yoga on pain and quality of life in women with chronic pelvic pain. The randomized case controlled study involved 60 female patients, ages 18-45, who presented with chronic pelvic pain. They were randomly divided into two groups of 30 women. Group I received 8 weeks of treatment only with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS). Group II received 1 hour, 5 days per week, for 8 weeks of yoga therapy (asanas, pranayama, and relaxation) in addition to NSAIDS (as needed). Table 1 in the article outlines the exact protocol of yoga in which Group II participated. The subjects were assessed pre- and post-treatment with pain scores via visual analog scale score and quality of life with the World Health Organization quality of life-BREF questionnaire. In the final analysis, Group II showed a statistically significant positive difference pre and post treatment as well as in comparison to Group I in both categories. The authors concluded yoga to be an effective adjunct therapy for patients with chronic pelvic pain and an effective option over NSAIDS for pain.
In the Pain Medicine journal, Huang et al.2017 presented a single-arm trial attempting to study the effects of a group-based therapeutic yoga program for women with chronic pelvic pain (CPP), focusing on severity of pain, sexual function, and overall well-being. The comprehensive program was created by a group of women’s health researchers, gynecological and obstetrical medical practitioners, yoga consultants, and integrative medicine clinicians. Sixteen women with severe pelvic pain of at least 6 months’ duration were recruited. The group yoga classes focused on lyengar-based techniques, and the subjects participated in group classes twice a week and home practice 1 hour per week for 6 weeks. The Impact of Pelvic Pain (IPP) questionnaire assessed how the participants’ pain affected their daily life activities, emotional well-being, and sexual function. Sexual Health Outcomes in Women Questionairre (SHOW-Q) offered insight to sexual function. Daily logs recorded the women’s self-rated pelvic pain severity. The results showed the average pain severity improved 32% after the 6 weeks, and IPP scores improved for daily living (from 1.8 to 0.9), emotional well-being (from 1.7 to 0.9), and sexual function (from 1.9 to 1.0). The SHOW-Q "pelvic problem interference" scale also improved from 53 to 23. The multidisciplinary panel concluded they found preliminary evidence that teaching yoga to women with CPP is feasible for pain management and improvement of quality of life and sexual function.
Whatever treatment we provide for our patients, we need to consider the individual and their often biased opinions or perceptions. Providing research and educating each patient on the efficacy behind the proposed therapy will likely impact their outcome. The Yoga for Pelvic Pain course can enhance a clinician’s understanding and allow them to better implement a potentially life-changing therapy for their clients.
Saxena, R., Gupta, M., Shankar, N., Jain, S., & Saxena, A. (2017). Effects of yogic intervention on pain scores and quality of life in females with chronic pelvic pain. International Journal of Yoga, 10(1), 9–15. http://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.186155
Huang, AJ, Rowen, TS, Abercrombie, P, Subak, LL, Schembri, M, Plaut, T, & Chao, MT. (2017). Development and Feasibility of a Group-Based Therapeutic Yoga Program for Women with Chronic Pelvic Pain. Pain Medicine. http://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnw306
Assuring patients with chronic pain they are not crazy by explaining the neurophysiology behind what is happening in their brain and body can be life changing. Increasing our patients’ knowledge about physical conditions can reduce anxiety and provide hope. As a healthcare provider, being confident in your differential diagnosis skills can help narrow down the physical source of pain, weed out the psychological components, and connect the dots to the neurological influence on the patient’s persistent symptoms.
A 2015 article in Pain Medicine (Gurian et al) found a direct association between pain sensitivity and treatment of chronic pelvic pain. The study involved 58 women with at least 6 months of pelvic pain, and they were evaluated on pain threshold using transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation before treatment and 6 months after a multidisciplinary approach to treatment of the pelvic pain. Pain intensity was also evaluated using the visual analog scale and the McGill questionnaire. Depending on the specific condition, treatment included manual therapy, physical therapy, pain medications, laparoscopy, oral contraceptives, nutrition intervention, or psychological support. After receiving treatment for 6 months, the pain threshold mean improved from 14.2 to 17.4. The effect sizes of 0.86 in the group with pain reduction and 0.53 in the group not achieving pain reduction were both within the 95% confidence interval. The authors concluded in this study that central sensitization does occur in patients with chronic pelvic pain, and treatment can reduce the general pain sensitivity of the patient.
Kutch et al., (2015) performed a study regarding the change in men’s resting state of neuromotor connectivity as affected by chronic prostatitis or chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS), showing men are also subject to central sensitization. Fifty-five men (28 males with pelvic pain for at least 3 months and 27 healthy males) completed the study, with resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging detecting the functional connectivity of the pelvis with the motor cortex (pelvic-motor). The right posterior insula and pelvic-motor functional connectivity was found to be significantly different in men with chronic pelvic pain and prostatitis versus the healthy control group. Contraction of the pelvic floor corresponded with activation of the medial aspect of the motor cortex, while the left motor cortex was more associated with contraction of the right hand. The authors concluded this relationship may explain the viscerosensory and motor processing changes that occur in men with CP/CPPS and could be the most important marker of brain function alteration in this group of patients.
As more research is being done on the neurophysiological level of pain, more truth can support the “it’s all in your head” accusation. However, it is a positive light to shed for a patient. The brain is powerful and controls how pain is perceived globally. Proper treatment of a chronic pelvic floor condition, for women and men, can help reduce stress on the brain and lessen pain sensitivity and perception in our patients. Never let a patient pursue the self-perception that they are crazy. Explain central sensitization and how sometimes the brain wins in the war of “mind over matter”; however, give them hope, explaining how the proper treatment can lessen the intensity of the battle wounds.
Maria Beatriz Ferreira Gurian, Omero Benedicto Poli Neto, Julio Cesar Rosa e Silva, Antonio Alberto Nogueira, Francisco Jose Candido dos Reis. (2015). Reduction of Pain Sensitivity is Associated with the Response to Treatment in Women with Chronic Pelvic Pain. Pain Medicine. 16 (5) 849-854; DOI: 10.1111/pme.12625
Kutch, J. J., Yani, M. S., Asavasopon, S., Kirages, D. J., Rana, M., Cosand, L., … Mayer, E. A. (2015). Altered resting state neuromotor connectivity in men with chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome: A MAPP: Research Network Neuroimaging Study. NeuroImage : Clinical, 8, 493–502. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2015.05.013