My job as a pelvic floor therapist is rewarding and challenging in so many ways. I have to say that one of my favorite "job duties" is differential diagnosis. Some days I feel like a detective, hunting down and piecing together important clues that join like the pieces of a puzzle and reveal the mystery of the root of a particular patient's problem. When I can accurately pinpoint the cause of someone's pain, then I can both offer hope and plan a road to healing.
Recently a lovely young woman came into my office with the diagnosis of dyspareunia. As you may know dyspareunia means painful penetration and is somewhat akin to getting a script that says "lower back pain." As a therapist you still have to use your skills to determine the cause of the pain and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
My patient relayed that she was 6 months post partum with her first child. She was nursing. Her labor and delivery were unremarkable but she tore a bit during the delivery. She had tried to have intercourse with her husband a few times. It was painful and she thought she needed more time to heal but the pain was not changing. She was a 0 on the Marinoff scare. She was convinced that her scar was restricted. "Oh Goodie," I thought. "I love working with scars!" But I said to her, "Well, we will certainly check your scar mobility but we will also look at the nerves and muscles and skin in that area and test each as a potential pain source, while also completing a musculoskeletal assessment of the rest of you."
Her "external" exam was unremarkable except for adductor and abdominal muscle overactivity. Her internal exam actually revealed excellent scar healing and mobility. There was significant erythemia around the vestibule and a cotton swab test was positive for pain in several areas. There was also significant muscle overactivity in the bulbospongiosis, urethrovaginal sphincter and pubococcygeus muscles. Also her vaginal pH was a 7 (it should normally be a 4, this could indicate low vaginal estrogen). I gave her the diagnosis of provoked vestibulodynia with vaginismus. Her scar was not the problem after all.
Initially for homework she removed all vulvar irritants, talked to her doctor about trying a small amount of vaginal estrogen cream, and worked on awareness of her tendency to clench her abdominal, adductor, and pelvic floor muscles followed by focused relaxation and deep breathing. In the clinic I performed biofeedback for down training, manual therapy to the involved muscles, and instructed her in a dilator program for home. This particular patient did beautifully and her symptoms resolved quite quickly. She sent me a very satisfied email from a weekend holiday with her husband and daughter.
Although this case was fairly straightforward, it is a great example of how differential diagnosis is imperative to deciding and implementing an effective treatment plan for our patients. In Herman & Wallace courses you will gain confidence in your evaluation skills and learn evidence based treatment processes that will enable you to be more confident in your care of both straightforward and complex pelvic pain cases. Hope to see you in class!
Faculty member Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA is the instructor of Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment, a course which enables practitioners to learn about the impacts of cognitive and emotional state on pain. Herman & Wallace was very lucky to have her join the faculty in 2014, and she has written in to share more about her reasons for doing so. Join her in the Bay Area this May 14-15!
I am inspired to teach for Herman and Wallace because I need more colleagues to help meet the continual demand for my skills and treatment approach. I teach patients mindfulness, body awareness and strategies to self-regulate the nervous system. Patients need to learn how to pay attention to the body in a therapeutic manner, release muscle tension, reduce the stress reaction and adopt an attitude that promotes healing and well-being. With the ability to rest the mind in the present moment, listen to the body with mindful awareness and take control of reactions to stress and pain, patients can reduce pain, make greater progress with exercise programs and improve activity levels. There is a huge demand for this treatment approach. I always have a full schedule and an insanely long wait list. More therapists who can offer mindfulness-based pain treatment are needed.
I also want to get the word out that there is a lot we can do to prevent chronic pain. Research suggests that a reduction in pain inhibitory mechanisms contribute to persistent pain. These mechanisms can be influenced by stress and cognitive and emotional modulation. Working with patients in pain for over 30 years, I have developed a clear and simple way to explain the role of cognitive and emotional factors in pain perception. I find that once patients truly understand how their reactions can amplify or inhibit nociceptive pathways, they are empowered to take an active role in a holistic treatment approach. We can improve the chances of recovery for patients at risk of chronic pain by identifying them early early on and providing them with education and mindfulness-based strategies to self-regulate the nervous system. Patients can be offered specific skills to reduce the stress reaction, fear, catastrophic thinking and the negative attitudes that amplify and prolong pain.
I want to teach other therapists to successfully help patients in pain in the way I have for many years. One recent course participant made my day when she said to me, “I now have so much more to offer my patients.”
If you are interested in offering a new course with Herman & Wallace, don't hesitate to reach out! Fill out the form at https://www.hermanwallace.com/teach-with-us and let us know about your course idea and why you would be a good fit for the team.
Dr. Steve Dischiavi, MPT, DPT, SCS, ATC, COMT, a Herman & Wallace faculty member, recently co-authored a peer reviewed manuscript which reviewed hip focused exercise programs. Dr. Dischiavi currently teaches a hip related course in the Herman & Wallace curriculum titled “Biomechanical Assessment of the Hip & Pelvis: Dynamic Integration of the Myofascial Sling Systems.”
"An evidence based review of hip focused neuromuscular exercise interventions to address dynamic lower extremity valgus", published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, presents evidence related to current hip focused interventions within the physical therapy profession. We know that there has been an enormous increase in the amount of hip related diagnoses and surgeries, and this calls for better knowledge from the clinicians on how to manage these particular hip related pathologies. The review finds that insufficient research has been done "to identify and understand the mechanistic relationship between optimized biomechanics during sports and hip-focused neuromuscular exercise interventions... improved strength does not always result in changes to important biomechanical variables, and improved biomechanics in sports-related tasks does not necessarily equal improved biomechanical variables in performance of the sport itself".
Biomechanical Assessment of the Hip & Pelvis is an opportunity to explore manual movement therapy with a skilled researcher and practitioner. Dr. Dischiavi has woven a very creative and innovative philosophy to help clinicians design more comprehensive hip focused therapeutic interventions. His in-depth knowledge of the evidence has allowed him to create a program that will challenge clinicians in new ways to look at the hip, pelvis, and lower extremity and how the kinetic chain can be influenced by approaching it using a new lens.
Participants of his course will learn new ways to activate and strengthen groups of pelvic muscles that will benefit all patients from pelvic health clients, to professional athletes, to your elderly population. “All patients have the same bones, muscles, and gravitational pulls acting on them, its how they use these systems that varies significantly. A philosophical science can be generated, but the art is in implementing that science.”
Participants in the Biomechanical Assessment of the Hip & Pelvis course have enjoyed being challenged to look at the hip and pelvis in a different way. Practitioners will leave the course having learned a whole new way to develop and implement therapeutic exercises which are a different approach from the single plane non-weight bearing exercises that are traditionally prescribed to patients.
There are many courses and philosophies on how to screen for lower extremity injuries and how to evaluate movement dysfunction. What is really lacking for clinicians are options for therapeutic exercises which target the hip and pelvis in a relevant and functional manner. Most hip focused programs currently emphasize single plane movements and are dominated with concentric focused exercise. Dr. Dischiavi’s focus is targeted directly at human movement emphasizing tri-planar movements that are primarily eccentric in nature, recognizing that this is how the human body functions.
The following post comes to us from Herman & Wallace faculty member Tina Allen, PT, BCB-PMD who teaches many courses with the institute. Tina's new course, Manual Therapy Techniques for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist, will be debuting this October in San Diego, CA.
As a physical therapist who has been treating pelvic floor dysfunction for 20 years, the patient who still impacts me the most happens to be the second patient I ever treated. The patient was a 22 year old woman who, before she even was referred to me for pelvic pain, had already seen 14 medical providers and experienced 10 procedures including a hysterectomy. She had been told by more than half of her providers that this pain was “in her head”, that “she needed counseling”, and that there was no reason for her pain. With 4 years of clinical experience at the time, I felt discouraged and wondered how I was going to help her. Then I remembered that no one else could look at her muscles and biomechanics like a PT could.
I started out by educating her about the muscles “down there”, observed how she moved with her daily tasks and then I completed her seemingly first ever muscular evaluation of the perineum. After 6 sessions of down training, muscle reeducation, manual therapy, strengthening of her hip and teaching her how to self mobilize the tissues of the perineum, she reported a pain level of 3/10- the lowest her pain level had been since she was 13 years old! Of course, she asked why it took so long for her to be referred to PT.
While this felt like an extreme story to me at the time, I now know that this is still the reality for many of the clients that we work with as pelvic floor PT’s. This experience set up the aspiration for me to have medical residents in my clinic with me to teach them what PT can do for patients and so that the residents can better evaluate their patients. As pointed out in research in the Journal of Graduate Medical Education, residents in obstetrics and gynecology do not feel adequately prepared to manage the care of women who have chronic pelvic painWitzeman & Kopfman, 2014. Specifically, residents reported negative attitudes towards patients with pelvic pain, and feelings of not having enough time to address their patients’ needs. When asked about how they preferred to learn more about care of patients with pelvic pain, the residents were interested in one-on-one clinical teaching as well as use of diagnostic algorithms. At this point in time I have medical residents with me at least 2 days per month. It’s a start!
So, what does a typical day look like with a 1st year OB/GYN resident in your clinic?
First, I always do my best to let my clients know in advance that a physician will be with me that day. The patient can always decline but most patients are accommodating. I have found that most of our patients want to advocate for themselves and others by having that physician with us in our session to teach them about how PT has helped them.
I spend the first 30 minutes when the resident arrives by bringing out the pelvic floor muscle model and explaining the function of all the muscles and how those muscles impact function. I also describe how this function is impacted by fascia, the muscles of the trunk, biomechanics and mind/body connections. Then we start seeing patients. After I have reviewed the patient’s current status, we begin our session. The patient is asked to give the resident their history and medical history. It’s been wonderful to watch my patients teach the residents and to hear the patients be able to explain their condition including procedures and functional restrictions.
The residents will then be instructed to palpate and learn about restricted tissues, observe how the patient uses their pelvic floor muscles, core, trunk and legs with their daily tasks. The residents have the opportunity to observe how we progress the patient’s self care in therapy.
While the session may start with the resident feeling frustrated that they are not able to be seeing their own patients or preparing for their tests, it usually ends with the resident asking when they can come back to the clinic to learn more about what we do and how we can help patients.
I urge all of us to reach out and invite physicians, PA’s, ARNP’s, midwives, naturopaths and nurses into our clinics to learn. With a little advanced planning we can get patients the help they need as soon as possible.
Witzeman, K. A., & Kopfman, J. E. (2014). Obstetrics-Gynecology Resident Attitudes and Perceptions About Chronic Pelvic Pain: A Targeted Needs Assessment to Aid Curriculum Development. Journal of graduate medical education, 6(1), 39-43.
The following insight comes from Herman & Wallace faculty member Peter Philip, PT, ScD, COMT, PRPC, who teaches Differential Diagnostics of Chronic Pelvic Pain: Interconnections of the Spine, Neurology and the Hips for Herman & Wallace, as well as the Sacroiliac Joint Evaluation and Treatment course. Peter has been working with pelvic dysfunction patients for 15 years, and he has some insights and advice for male practitioners who are nervous about treating female patients.
As a male treating female patients suffering with pelvic pain, many considerations must be taken to ensure that the patient is comfortable partaking in the patient/clinician relationship. As clinicians treating the most intimate of pain, we all must be highly aware of the sensitivities that each of our patients has as it relates to their genitalia. Many patients wish to maintain their modesty while simultaneously wishing to eliminate that which is ailing them. It is common that the observation, and contact to the pelvis and genitalia be a component of our patient’s evaluation and subsequent treatment in order for an accurate diagnosis to be made. So, in order to best protect our patients and ourselves it will behoove us to take a few simple steps.
The Pelvic Rehab Report had an opportunity to interview Dawn Sandalcidi, the creator and instructor of "Pediatric Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction". Dawn has developed a pediatric dysfunctional voiding treatment program in which she lectures on nationally. Dawn has published articles in the Journal of Urologic Nursing, the Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy, and the Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. Let's hear more from Dawn about her Pediatric Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction course!
What essential skill does your course add to a practitioner’s toolkit?
Adding pediatrics to your practice truly allows you to treat the pelvic floor through the lifespan. If you are a pediatric therapist adding this most important specialty will complete the picture of your entire patient.
Will your course allow practitioners to see new/more patients?
There are so many therapists who tell me that while treating a parent they share a story about their child being a bed wetter or having incontinence. That has opened up many doors for including this population into my practice. Be careful though! Once the pediatricians, school nurses, pediatric urologists and GI docs know there is someone out there that can take care of kids you will be flooded with patients!!
Why did you develop this course?
I began treating pediatrics after having success with adult patients in a large urology practice over 25 years ago. One of the urologists called me and asked me to take care of this little girl who had already been operated on twice and was headed toward kidney transplants. My reply was "what is wrong with kids?????" So my journey began- observing surgery and learning how children developed pelvic floor dysfunction. This kiddo had vesicoureteral reflux or a back flow of urine form the bladder to the kidneys causing frequent infections and kidney damage. My goal in this course is to take the basic knowledge we have as therapists and apply it to a population of children who suffer terribly with urinary and fecal incontinence. The psychological side effects from incontinence are significant and we now have the tools to help!!
The following post was contributed by Herman & Wallace faculty member Ramona Horton. Ramona teaches three courses for the Institute; "Myofascial Release for Pelvic Dysfunction", "Mobilization of Visceral Fascia for the Treatment of Pelvic Dysfunction - Level 1: The Urologic System", and "Mobilization of Visceral Fascia for the Treatment of Pelvic Dysfunction - Level 2: The Reproductive System". Join her at Visceral Mobilization of the Urologic System - Madison, WI on June 5-7!
My physical therapy training and initial experience were in the US Army, so I had a strong bias toward utilization of manual therapy techniques based on a structural evaluation. When the birth of my 10 pound baby boy threw me head-long into the desire to become a pelvic dysfunction practitioner, I became plagued by the question: how do you treat the bowel and bladder, without treating the bowel and bladder? That, along with a mild obsession for the study of anatomy was the genesis of my desire to explore the technique of visceral mobilization.
The field of pelvic physical therapy has moved far beyond the rehabilitation of the pelvic floor muscles for the purpose of gaining continence, which was its origin. Now pelvic rehabilitation is a comprehensive specialty within the PT profession, treating a variety of populations and conditions (Haslam & Laycock 2015). Research has provided a greater understanding of the abdomino-pelvic canister as a functional and anatomical construct based on the somatic structures of the abdominal cavity and pelvic basin that work synergistically to support the midline of the body. The canister is bounded by the respiratory diaphragm and crura, along with the psoas muscle whose fascia intimately blends with the pelvic floor and the obturator internus and lastly the transversus abdominis muscle (Lee et al. 2008). The walls of this canister are occupied by and intimately connected to the visceral structures found within. These midline contents carry a significant mass within the body. In order for the canister to move, the viscera must be able to move as well, not only in relationship to one another, but with respect to their surrounding container. There are three primary mechanisms by which disruption of these sliding surfaces could contribute to pain and dysfunction: visceral referred pain, central sensitization and changes in local tissue dynamics.
Since the inception of physical therapy, manual manipulation of tissues has been a foundational practice within the profession. Manual therapy is a generic therapeutic category for hands-on treatment of a structural anomaly; it encompasses a variety of techniques which can be subdivided into either soft tissue based or joint based. Although the majority of manual therapy research has been on the musculoskeletal system, its effects are not exclusive to any particular region of the anatomy. The Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines the technique of mobilization as "the act of imparting movement, actively or passively, to a joint or soft tissue" (Farrell & Jensen 1992). Visceral mobilization is a treatment approach focusing on mobilizing the fascial layer of the visceral system with respect to the somatic frame; it therefore falls under the classification of soft tissue based manual therapies. Soft tissue and or fascial based manual therapies have higher-levels of evidence to support their use for treating musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction (Ajimsha & Al-Mudahka 2014; Gay et al. 2013). Although many models have been proposed, the specific mechanisms behind the response of the musculoskeletal system to manual interventions are still not fully understood (Bialosky et al. 2009; Clark & Thomas 2012).
The previous model of manual therapy directly relieving local tissue provocation has given way to a recognition that the observed clinical improvement is not simply a result of the practitioner directly altering the structure beneath their hands through mechanical means. Rather this improvement is a combination of afferent input influencing the neurophysiologic output, changes in the endogenous cannabinoid system, and even a placebo responses simply because of touch (Bialosky et al. 2009; McParland 2008; Gay et al. 2014).
There is significant clinical evidence that issues of somatic pelvic pain, bowel, bladder and reproductive system dysfunction may be the result of visceral referred pain, central sensitization and restrictions in visceral tissue mobility which may further contribute to dysfunction within the canister of core muscles. The musculoskeletal framework is a mysterious, perplexing and complicated system. It is unique in that it offers us a variety of tissues and techniques from which to choose in order to help our patients from a manual therapy perspective. Science has acknowledged that the visceral structures and their connective tissue attachments indeed have an influence on the function of the somatic frame, the question is can we manually manipulate these structures and bring about an effect with a reasonable degree of specificity while producing a therapeutic outcome.
Part 2 of this report will discuss the evidence to support visceral mobilization.
Ajimsha M.S., Al-Mudahka N.R. & Al-Madzhar J.A. (2015) Effectiveness of myofascial release: Systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 19, 102-112.
Clark B.C., Thomas, J.S., Walkowski S., Howell J.N. (2012) The biology of manual therapies. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 112 (9), 617-29.
Bialosky J., Bishop M. & Price D. (2009) The mechanisms of manual therapy in the treatment of musculoskeletal pain: a comprehensive model. Manual Therapy 14 (5), 531-538.
Gay C.W., Robinson M.E., George S.Z., Perlstein W.M. & Bishop M.D. (2014) Immediate changes after manual therapy in resting-state functional connectivity as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging in participants with induced low back pain. Journal of Manipulative and Physiologic Therapeutics 37 (6), 614-627.
Haslam J. & Laycock J. (2015) How did we get here? The development of women’s health physiotherapy special interest groups in the UK. Journal of Pelvic Obstetric and Gynecological Physiotherapy 116 (Spring), 15-24.
Farrell J.P. & Jensen G.M. (1992) Manual therapy: a critical assessment of role in the profession of physical therapy. Physical Therapy 72, 843-852.
Lee D.G., Lee L.J. & McLaughlin L. (2008) Stability, continence and breathing: The role of fascia following pregnancy and delivery. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 12 (4), 333-348.
McPartland J M (2008) Expression of the endocannabinoid system in fibroblasts and myofascial tissues. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 12(2), 169-182.