Holly Tanner, PT, DPT, MA, OCS, WCS, PRPC, LMP, BCB-PMB, CCI is a faculty member and the Director of Education at Herman & Wallace. She owns a private practice that focuses on pelvic rehabilitation and on chronic myofascial pain. Along with H&W faculty member Stacey Futterman, she co-authored the Male Pelvic Floor course.
In the US, vasectomy is one of the most common procedures performed, and it is often completed in an outpatient setting with a local anesthetic. Fortunately for most folks, it’s well-tolerated and the advice to rest and ice is enough to allow full recovery. Unfortunately, there are those who don’t recover with ease and are left with chronic pain complications. This is a population that is often left out of the clinical rehabilitation setting, and there is not yet robust literature to catch up with the positive clinical results pelvic rehab providers observe when treating post-vasectomy pain.
The goal of a vasectomy is typically contraception. The tube known as either the vas deferens or the ductus deferens is interrupted so that sperm does not travel to its typical destination outside the body via the urethra. This disruption in the tube takes place within the spermatic cord as it passes through the scrotum as this area is easily accessible. There are several techniques that can disrupt the tube where the sperm travels including, but not limited to, clamping, cauterization, or excision. The procedure leaves a small incision in the scrotal tissue.
Complications of a vasectomy may include bleeding and hematoma, infection, sperm granuloma (discussed below), chronic scrotal pain, seminal vesicle abscess (rare), and early or late canalization. (Sihra et al., 2007) Interestingly, some patients report less pain after vasectomy. (Leslie et al., 2007) Theories about the cause of post-vasectomy pain include interstitial fibrosis in the epididymal duct and perineurial fibrosis. (Lee et al., 2012) When we consider the anatomy, within the canal there may also be nerve irritation from the genitofemoral nerve, for example, or other connective tissues. If a patient had pain prior to the procedure in the low back, lower abdomen, or groin, the patient’s system may have been vulnerable to complications due to a sensitized system.
Examination & Rehab Efforts
When a patient presents with pain post-vasectomy, symptoms may worsen with prolonged sitting, with pressure from clothing, or in association with sexual or fitness activities. Because there has been a local insult to the tissues, it is logical to check the site of the procedure for any breakdown, signs of significant inflammation, swelling, and to examine for signs of infection such as fever. (Most patients have returned to their medical provider once pain develops, but if they haven’t, a referral is appropriate.) If the pain can be reproduced locally at the site of the procedure, the pain can often be managed by local treatment. You might find benefit in exam procedures such as a trunk or hip extension for the soft tissue tensioning as well as mechanical loading; palpation to the abdominal wall as well as within the spermatic cord. Treatment can address guarding of the area, general wellness (nutrition, movement, mental health), simple modalities such as heat, and gentle self-mobilization to the painful area.
Granulomas can form following a vasectomy, and while usually asymptomatic, a granuloma may be responsible for post-vasectomy pain. They are described as a “bag-like” structure with disintegrating spermatozoa that form at the cut ends of a vasectomy. (Chatterjee et al., 2001) If the granuloma is painful, very light manual mobilization of the thickened area may be done to alleviate pain (see image below). Mobilization of the spermatic cord itself via the testicle or more proximally may also prove helpful. Local modalities such as ultrasound or heat may improve symptoms as well, but clinically I have found that gentle manual therapy and movement exercises are enough to resolve the pain within a few weeks. Patients can be instructed to complete self-mobilization to the area of the granuloma, and as they often are scared to touch the area, helping alleviate this fear is useful in healing.
Post-vasectomy syndrome is very challenging for patients to manage, as they are often dismissed once the procedure is completed. Patients will share that they have been told “everything looks healed” and that the pain should go away on its own. Most providers are unaware of the role of pelvic rehab clinicians, and many pelvic rehab providers are less knowledgeable about conditions related to the scrotum and spermatic cord. For patients who do not respond to conservative intervention, vasectomy reversals have been found to be significantly helpful in reducing pain, though it’s often undesired due to the goal of contraception that inspired the vasectomy. (Herrel et al., 2015; Polackwith et al., 2015). Ideally, patients will be provided with an early recommendation to pelvic rehab so that further procedures or undoing of the vasectomy is avoided.
If you’d like to learn more about post-vasectomy syndrome and many other conditions that can go unrecognized and under-treated, the next opportunity to take the Male Pelvic Floor course is coming up July 9-10,2021!
Megan Pribyl, PT, CMPT is a practicing physical therapist at the Olathe Medical Center in Olathe, KS treating a diverse outpatient population in orthopedics including pelvic rehabilitation. Megan’s longstanding passion for both nutritional sciences and manual therapy has culminated in the creation of her remote course, Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist, designed to propel understanding of human physiology as it relates to pelvic conditions, pain, healing, and therapeutic response. She harnesses her passion to continually update this course with cutting-edge discoveries creating a unique experience sure to elevate your level of appreciation for the complex and fascinating nature of clinical presentations in orthopedic manual therapy and pelvic rehabilitation.
As a course developer and instructor for the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehab Institute, it is a privilege to continue sharing my passion for nutrition and pelvic rehabilitation with professionals nationwide. Interest in the topic continues to grow, and many pelvic rehab providers have identified nutrition as the “missing link” in their clinical practice. Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist has helped hundreds of pelvic rehab professionals integrate nutrition-related information into their clinical practice since 2015.
In the realm of nutrition, few questions provoke discussion with the same fervor as our title question: Organic Food vs. Conventional: Is There Any Difference? This question deserves a multi-dimensional answer - not unlike many topics in nutrition - including accessibility concerns, ethical factors for farmers, socio-economic factors, and our unique agricultural construct here in the United States. But the question about organic vs. conventional might just be the most important one deserving a thoughtful discussion to unravel the complexities around the topic of food.
You see, the answer to this question has profound implications for us. As we expand our ability to identify potential root contributors to conditions commonly encountered in pelvic rehabilitation, we must factor in nutrition. At first glance, it might be a stretch to see how one might link organic foods and potential effects on conditions such as constipation, inflammatory bowel diseases, IBS, PBS, and endometriosis for example. However, looking at food in a functional way, we acknowledge there may be under-appreciated qualitative differences between foods grown organically or produced conventionally.
Take, for example, the recent article by Kesse-Guyot et.al., 2020. which discusses the prospective association between organic food consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes. In this study of over 30,000 participants, those with the highest quintile of organic food consumption compared to those with the lowest quintile had a 35% lower risk of having type 2 diabetes. The conclusion made by the authors was that organic food consumption was inversely associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Said a different way, the study described a phenomenon where, for example, you might eat an organic bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and I might eat the same serving size conventional bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. If we extrapolate the comparison over our entire dietary intake pattern, you would have a 35% lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes compared to me…..despite you and I “eating the same foods”. How can this be possible? And might this begin to explain the sheer exasperation and frustration that can evolve in persons trying to make positive dietary changes - only to find they have no notable effect? How many times do you hear someone say “I am trying to eat healthily but it doesn’t seem to make a difference”.
Keeping in the context of type 2 diabetes, it is very well established that reductions in the richness and diversity of healthy microbes inhabiting the large intestine (gut dysbiosis) are correlative to metabolic syndrome. In those with type 2 diabetes, microbiomes showed a decrease in anti-inflammatory, probiotic, and other [beneficial] bacteria that could be pathogenic. (Das et al, 2021) Appreciating the differences between organic vs conventional - it is also well established that organic foods do carry less residue of herbicides and pesticides. These residues - which are found in higher concentration in conventionally produced foods - have been implicated in the same reduction in richness and diversity of microorganisms in the gut - which is contributory to dysbiosis. (Rueda-Ruzafa et all, 2019) Therefore it now seems not just plausible - but probable that there is a distinguishable difference between organic and conventional diets - to a degree at which all health care providers would do well to take notice.
In a report on the history of organic agriculture, author George Kuepper points out that:
“Pioneers of the organic movement believed that healthy food produced healthy people and that healthy people were the basis for a healthy society.”
And if organic foods can be a part of that, our patients deserve to know that these scientifically documented differences exist.
As our awareness of the connection between nutrition and health grows, so does the need to follow the science to share evidence-based and evidence-informed information. It is now more important than ever to have a working knowledge of nutrition basics as a pelvic rehabilitation professional. Plan to join us at one of our upcoming remote offerings of “Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist”: June 19-20 where we will explore this and many additional - and fascinating facets of the nutrition discussion.
Das, T., Jayasudha, R., Chakravarthy, S., Prashanthi, G. S., Bhargava, A., Tyagi, M., . . . Shivaji, S. (2021). Alterations in the gut bacterial microbiome in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus and diabetic retinopathy. Sci Rep, 11(1), 2738. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-82538-0
Kesse-Guyot, E., Rebouillat, P., Payrastre, L., Alles, B., Fezeu, L. K., Druesne-Pecollo, N., . . . Baudry, J. (2020). Prospective association between organic food consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: findings from the NutriNet-Sante cohort study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act, 17(1), 136. doi:10.1186/s12966-020-01038-y
Kuepper, George. (2010) A Brief Overview of the History and Philosophy of Organic Agriculture. Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture. http://kerrcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/organic-philosophy-report.pdf Accessed May 14, 2021.
Rueda-Ruzafa, L., Cruz, F., Roman, P., & Cardona, D. (2019). Gut microbiota and neurological effects of glyphosate. Neurotoxicology, 75, 1-8. doi:10.1016/j.neuro.2019.08.006Images:
Fears about treating men’s health conditions are limiting access to care or are creating potential for harm in the field of pelvic health. Many cisgender women (women whose gender identify matches the sex likely assigned at birth) express concerns about working with cisgender men beyond a lack of knowledge about conditions related to prostate issues, urinary leakage, or genital pain. Are these fears warranted, are they fair? Rather than assert that ciswomen should simply move beyond their concerns, the field of pelvic health and the patients with whom we work may be better served by digging in and talking more openly about such fears. Following are some of the concerns or comments I have heard expressed by cisgender women within the context of treating men’s health matters:
Rather than a reader making a judgement about the above comments, we should ask ourselves as a profession if the above topics have been properly addressed in our training or if we are encouraged to work through this area of professional and personal intersecting concerns. We could view the concerns expressed through the lens of providing equal care, in other words, are we discriminating against someone based on their genitals? Or through a lens of safety- is there an actual (as well as perceived) threat from a cisgender woman who is alone in a treatment room with a cisgender man? If that’s potentially true, how are we mitigating this risk? Where does the anatomical line end between personal beliefs such as “I can touch another man’s shoulder, but not perineal area”? Are we practicing ethically if we are denying access to care or providing less than comprehensive care? Is a therapist truly worried about their primary relationship by doing this work because their partner does not approve? And more importantly, can we provide needed guidance or support to address some of the above obstacles?
I commonly have the opportunity to work with men who have seen other self-identified female therapists first. Here is what I often hear:
This information is not shared to shame the caring professionals in our field. What needs to happen, however, for elevating the inclusiveness of care, is a continual dialogue and recognition of the support needed to work with sensitive conditions and the vulnerabilities of both patients and providers. It is potentially harmful to reject patients based on gender, or to provide lesser care based on genitals. To further this conversation, the Institute has partnered with author and educator Leticia Nieto, who holds a degree in psychology and who wrote Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment: A Developmental Strategy to Liberate Everyone. Join Leticia and me (Holly Tanner) for our first 3-hour discussion that emphasizes talking, feeling, and thinking through some of the above concerns and challenges. The class will focus on discussion more than lecture, and will aim to provide a space within which we can speak openly about how to move forward with the goal of improving comfort when working with men’s health issues and improving access to much needed pelvic health care. Note: this class is welcoming to all people with any gender identification, however, the emphasis will be on the topics discussed in this post.
Often pelvic floor therapists see men for post-prostatectomy urinary leakage. However, at least for me, that quickly led to seeing male patients for pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction. Male sexual dysfunction is a broad category and can consist of erectile dysfunction (ED), ejaculation disorders including premature ejaculation (PE), and low libido -- often there is a pelvic floor muscle (PFM) dysfunction component. Conservative treatment frequently consists of pharmacological and lifestyle changes for this population.
In normal sexual function, the male superficial pelvic floor musculature (bulbocavernosus and ischiocavernosus) work together to create increased intracavernosus pressure by limiting venous return, resulting in an erection. Ejaculation is created by rhythmic contractions of the bulbocavernosus muscle.
The authors of this systematic review were curious if pelvic floor muscle training was effective for treating erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation diagnoses, and if so to determine whether there is a treatment protocol. Ten studies were found that met the inclusion criteria, five that focused on ED and five that focused on PE. In total, there were 668 participants ranging in age from 30-59 years old. Studies were excluded if participants were post-prostatectomy and/or had a neurological diagnosis. The intervention was a pelvic floor program, and pelvic floor muscle contractions were either taught or supervised. Studies also included supportive treatment including biofeedback, lifestyle changes, and electrical stimulation.
The studies focused on erectile dysfunction listed a combination of hormonal, psychogenic, arteriogenic, and venogenic causes. The pelvic floor training ranged from 5-20 visits over 3-4 months and included a home exercise program. Pelvic floor training was similar in all studies and consisted of maximal quick contractions over one second and submaximal endurance holds over 6-10 seconds. Compliance to home exercise program was not assessed. Between 35% and 47% of participants reported a full resolution of symptoms. Subjective improvements were supported by improved maximal anal pressure and intracavernosus pressure. One study used the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) and showed significant improvement (p<0.05).
The studies focused on premature ejaculation noted participants had either lifelong or secondary PE. The pelvic floor training in these studies ranged from 12-20 sessions over 1-3 months. All studies used electrical stimulation as part of the pelvic floor muscle training. Four studies also used biofeedback. Only one study listed a home exercise program but did not report on compliance. The pelvic floor muscle training was compared to nothing in three studies, and to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) in the other two studies. Patient reported full resolution of symptoms was 55-83% in two studies, and there was a significant improvement in delay in heterosexual penetrative ejaculation (p<0.05) in three studies.
For both erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, pelvic floor muscle exercise prescription was 2-3 times per week with pelvic floor muscle contractions both maximal quick contractions and submaximal endurance holds. Significant results were shown with participants who were taught pelvic floor muscle contractions through a combination of verbal and physical means (typically biofeedback). Specific verbal cues were not reported. The authors suggest that electrical stimulation was helpful for training recruitment patterns; however, there was not a significant difference in outcomes for those with ED when using electrical stimulation. The authors suggest that pelvic floor muscle training can be part of a conservative treatment. It may be used with oral pharmacology for quick results, and may be beneficial with electrical stimulation and biofeedback, though more research is indicated.
If you are interested in learning more about treating male patients, consider attending Male Pelvic Floor: Function, Dysfunction, and Treatment!
Myers, C., Smith, M. “Pelvic floor muscle training improves erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation: a systematic review” Physiotherapy 105 (2019) 235–243
As more and more patients seek care for pelvic floor dysfunction, the need for more qualified practitioners is becoming apparent. Many patients prefer to see a clinician who they identify with, which is why it is important for practitioners of all genders to learn to treat pelvic floor dysfunction. Because much of the public's awareness of pelvic rehab comes out of women's health, the vast majority of pelvic health practitioners are women.
There is currently a shortage of male pelvic health practitioners. To help us understand why it is so important to fix that, we reached out to several male clinicians who have attended the Male Pelvic Floor: Function, Dysfunction, and Treatment course to ask them about the need for more men in the field. Here are some answers to the question:
Grant Headley of Bridgetown Physical Therapy of Portland, Oregon (www.bridgetownpt.com)
While as PT’s we all approach our patients with interest in helping them as individuals, some of our patients feel more comfortable sharing certain details with a provider of the same gender. Many of the hang-ups some men have about receiving care from a female provider are related to an older generation, to certain traditional or religious cultural beliefs, or to certain beliefs about propriety related to receiving care.
As acknowledged in our coursework, generally men have cultural barriers that traditionally do not permit sharing of vulnerability or weakness, especially in the sexual domain. Here are a few unsolicited statements I feel encapsulate what my own male patients have told me: Some heterosexual men feel more comfortable sharing the details of their dysfunction with a man because they find it difficult to admit vulnerability in the presence of a female. Some men prefer not to relay the clinically pertinent details of dysfunctional sexual encounters with a female because they do not wish to make the female practitioner uncomfortable. Many men feel that they can relay more detail about the mechanics of the sexual dysfunction or signs of improvement to a male provider. Some men have told me that they felt their sexual dysfunction was minimized or that they have been treated with patronizing language by a female pelvic PT in the past. Unfortunately, these patients attribute this negative experience to the PT being female, and they are not comfortable having a second opinion with a female.
Although we strive to present as open-minded and neutral to our patients, they may have an affinity for a male provider. This could foster a more constructive clinical partnership towards working on their goals if they perceive fewer communication barriers. I can offer my own experience as a past patient suffering with pelvic floor dysfunction; I was so desperate for help and I felt so grateful that there was a physical therapist in my city at all that was willing to help me. I did not care that she was female and that I had to receive treatment at a women's health clinic for new mothers in the University Hospital. Many female therapists reading this article have likely transferred lifesaving PT care to scores of men. This organization of H&W that does so much good for a sensitive aspect of men's care is dominated by women- this needs to be acknowledged as a net positive but also appreciated that much of the education and application of care is an adaptation from what has worked for women in the past. Many men will be so grateful to receive care and get better. Some men unfortunately will have barriers to receiving care and for those patients, we can seek out and encourage our male colleagues to get involved in pelvic rehab so we can all provide more access to care.
Lance Frank of Flex Physical Therapy in Atlanta (www.flexptatl.com)
Personally, as a male provider in pelvic health, I find that the men I treat are much more comfortable and at ease discussing topics like erections (or lack thereof) and sexual dysfunction, as well as incontinence, or pelvic pain. In a female dominated sub-specialty of physical therapy, sometimes as a male it can be intimidating and even embarrassing for some men to discuss these topics at all, let alone with a female; so having the option to speak and be treated by another male who may better understand the changes, anatomy, and problems they’re experiencing may feel a bit less daunting. Our culture has made male masculinity fragile and I think some populations of men who need pelvic floor rehab may feel embarrassed to be treated by a female clinician if their perception of being seen by a female is emasculating. Ultimately, I think there needs to be more men in this field because there needs to be better visibility of male pelvic health providers in general, as well as better representation of men acknowledging that male pelvic floor disorders exist and are willing and able to treat them.
Eddie Gordon of Flow Rehab in Seattle (www.flowrehab.com)
There are far fewer male physiotherapists treating men with pelvic floor dysfunctions, but I am hopeful this will change for the better. Lack of access to male pelvic physios is a relative barrier to care because some men are more comfortable seeing a male pelvic provider the same way most women would prefer seeing a female pelvic physio. In general, men do not typically seek treatment as frequently or early enough the way most women do. If male pelvic physios are not available, then men may more likely delay treatment, which could potentially worsen their problem. Ironically, when it comes to men with pelvic floor dysfunctions, men are underrepresented, but I am hopeful that more male PT’s will be joining the movement to educate the male population.
Milan Patel of Comprehensive Therapy Services in San Diego (comprehensivetherapy.com)
I believe it's important to have male providers in the pelvic health field for many reasons, one being the opportunity for connection. I think we connect best with reflections of ourselves and for men seeking out a pelvic health provider that can be hard to find. In my experience, pelvic physical therapy works best when your patient can be open and honest, and establishing a strong connection between therapist and patient is the first step. Another reason is that people should have options for the provider they want. In San Diego I am the only male pelvic physical therapy provider which means most men seeking pelvic floor therapy have no choice but to see a female. If you switched the genders in the last sentence you could see how that is problematic. Many women prefer to have their pelvic PT be a female, I just think guys should get the same choice.
Steven Lavender of The Physical Therapy Practice NYC in New York (thephysicaltherapypractice.nyc)
In my experience as a gay male practitioner practicing pelvic floor physio on only men:
Gay male patients usually prefer a gay provider because they feel like they don’t have to explain lifestyle issues and choices, they may be unused to being touched by women, and maybe misogynistic.
Some straight men have told me that they think a male practitioner would know more about their pelvic issues than a woman. Some men don’t think women are strong enough nor have long enough fingers to get to the places they need to be. Some straight men report they might be attracted to a female therapist and get an erection or feel embarrassed about appearing unmanly with their particular pelvic condition.
For some men being touched by a woman is a religious issue so many males of the Jewish and Muslim faiths prefer to see a male practitioner.
Some men could not care less who sees them as long as they get better.
One woman called me for advice or for an appointment from some distance because they "figured a gay man in New York City just might know more about my ass and ass pain than any local jack-assed doctor in my neck of the woods." True story.
If you are interested in learning to treat male patients, the Male Pelvic Floor: Function, Dysfunction, and Treatment course is a great place to start! The course is taking place twice more in 2019, this September 13-15, 2019 in Pasadena, CA, and again in Fort Myers, FL on October 19-21, 2019. We are already booked four times in 2020 as well, so be sure to check out the full course schedule for all available dates.
Rehabilitative ultrasound imaging has been used in clinical practice for well over a decade now. It has been used for core stabilization, as well as with female incontinence patients. In recent years, transperineal ultrasound imaging has emerged as a useful tool for assessing prolapses and identifying other women’s health issues in the anterior compartment.
Like other things in men’s pelvic health, the use of ultrasound imaging for rehabilitation has lagged behind that in women’s pelvic health. Ryan Stafford is a researcher that is working to change that. In 2012, Stafford began looking at the normal responses to pelvic floor contractions and what is seen on ultrasound in men. He has since taken his research further to examine differences in men that present with post-prostatectomy incontinence. Stafford, van den Hoorn, Coughlin, and Hodges performed a study looking at the dynamic features of activation of specific pelvic floor muscles, and anatomical parameters of the urethra. The study included forty-two men who had undergone prostatectomy. Some of these men were incontinent and others remained continent. Transperineal ultrasound imaging was used to obtain images of the pelvic structures during a cough, and a sustained maximal contraction. The research team calculated displacements of pelvic floor landmarks with contraction, as well as anatomical features including urethral length, and resting position of the ano-rectal and urethra-vesical junctions.
The data was analyzed and combinations of variables that best distinguished men with and without incontinence were reported. Several important components were identified in the study. Striated urethral sphincter activation, as well as bulbocavernosus and puborectalis muscle activation were significantly different between men with and without incontinence. When these two parameters were examined together, they were able to correctly identify 88.1% of incontinent men. They further reported that poor function of the puborectalis and bulbocavernosus could be compensated for if the man had good striated urethral sphincter function. However, the puborectalis and bulbocavernosus had less potential to compensate for poor striated urethral sphincter function. This is important for a therapist that works with post prostatectomy patients to know. This can explain part of why some men improve and do so well after a prostatectomy and others don’t, even with therapy to help. If the striated urethra sphincter is damaged and its normal responses are changed during surgery, then incontinence after prostatectomy may be more likely.
Using ultrasound imaging, the therapist can examine and see exactly where a man is deficient in response; whether it is the puborectalis, or the striated urethra sphincter. It is exciting to see this new research and see how rehabilitative ultrasound imaging can influence men’s pelvic health! Come and learn how to use ultrasound imaging for your men’s pelvic health patients as well as your women’s health and back pain patients! You will see how ultrasound imaging can change your practice and how much your patients will enjoy seeing real-time images of their contractions! Thanks to our partnership with The Prometheus Group, this course includes hands-on training on the latest in pelvic ultrasound imaging.
1. Stafford R, Ashton-Miller J, Constantinou C, et al. Novel insights into the dynamics of male pelvic floor contractions through transperineal ultrasound imaging. J. Urol. 2012; 188: 1224-30.
2. Stafford RE, van den Hoorn W, Couglin G, Hodges P. Postprostatectomy incontinence is related to pelvic floor displacements observed with trans-perineal ultrasound imaging. Neurol and Urodyn. 2018; 37:658-665.
Image credit Gupta et al. 2016 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajur.2016.11.002 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214388216300881#fig2
Most people are told that inguinal hernia repair is a low risk surgery. While death or severe injury is rare, penile or testes pain after hernia repair is not a novel or recent finding. In 1943, Magee first discussed patients having genitofemoral neuralgia after appendix surgery. By 1945, both Magee and Lyons stated that surgical neurolysis gave relief of genital pain following surgical injury (neurolysis is a surgical cutting of the nerve to stop all function). However, it should be noted that with neurolysis, sensory loss will also occur, which is an undesired symptom for sexual function and pleasure. In 1978 Sunderland stated genitofemoral neuralgia was a well-documented chronic condition after inguinal hernia repair.
Let’s do a quick anatomy review. The inguinal canal is located at the lower abdomen and is actually an extension of the external oblique muscles. Is travels along the line from the ASIS to the pubic tubercle, occupying grossly the medial third of this segment. It has a lateral ring where contents from the abdomen exit and a medial ring where the contents of the canal exit superficially. This ring contains the spermatic cord (male), round ligament (female), as well as the ilioinguinal and genitofemoral nerves. For males, in early life, the testes descend from the abdominal cavity to the exterior scrotal sac through the inguinal canal, bringing a layer of the obliques, transverse abdominus, and transversalis fascia with them within the first year of life. Just as a female can experience prolapse from prolonged increased intra-abdominal pressure, a male can have a herniation through the anterior abdominal wall and inguinal canal with increased abdominal pressure. Such pressure inducing activities can be lifting, coughing, and sports activities. When this occurs, an inguinal hernia repair is generally indicated. Because the genitofemoral nerve is within the contents of the inguinal canal, it can be susceptible to surgery in this area. The genitofemoral nerve has sensory innervation to the penis and testes and is responsible for the cremasteric reflex. Symptoms of genitofemoral neuralgia in men can be penis or testes pain, numbness, hypersensitivity, and decreased sexual satisfaction or function.
In 1999 Stark et al noted pain reports as high as 63% post hernia repair. The highest rates of genitofemoral neuralgia are reported with laparoscopic or open hernia repair (Pencina, 2001). The mechanism for GF neural entrapment is entrapment within scar or fibrous adhesions and parasthesia along the genitofemoral nerve (Harms 1984, Starling and Harms 1989, Murovic 2005, and Ducic 2008). It is well known that scar and adhesion densify and visceral adhesions increase for years after surgery. Thus, symptoms can increase long after the surgery or may take years to develop. In 2006, Brara postulated that mesh in the region can contribute to subsequent genitofemoral nerve tethering which can be exacerbated by mesh in the inguinal or the retroperitoneal space. With an anterior mesh placement, there is no fascial protection left for the genitofemoral nerve.
Genitofemoral neuralgia is predominately reported as a result of iatrogenic nerve damage during surgery or trauma to the inguinal and femoral regions (Murovic et al, 2005). However, genitofemoral neuropathy can be difficulty and elusive to diagnose due to overlap with other inguinal nerves (Harms, 1984 and Chen 2011).
In my clinical experience, I have seen such symptoms after hernia repair, but also after procedures near the inguinal region such as femoral catheters for heart procedures, appendectomies, and occasionally after vasectomy.
As a pelvic PT, what are we to do with this information? First off, we can realize that all pelvic neuropathy is not necessarily due to the pudendal nerve. In the anterior pelvis, there is dual innervation from the inguinal nerves off the lumbar plexus as well as the dorsal branch of the pudendal nerve. When patients have a history of inguinal hernia repair, we can consider the genitofemoral nerve as a source of pain. Medicinally, the only research validated options for treatment are meds such as Lyrica or Gabapentin that come with drowsiness, dizziness and a score of side effects. Surgically neurectomy or neural ablation are options with numbness resulting, however, many patients do not want repeated surgery or numbness of the genitals. As pelvic therapists, we can manually fascially clear the path of the nerve from L1/L2, through the psoas, into and out of the canal and into the genitals. We can also manually directly mobilize the nerve at key points of contact as well as doing pain free sliders and gliders and then give the patient a home program to maintain mobility. Pelvic manual therapy can offer a low risk, side-effect free option to ameliorate the sequella of inguinal hernia repair. Come join us at Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment in Chicago this Spring to learn how to effectively treat all the nerves of the lumbar plexus.
Cesmebasi, A., Yadav, A., Gielecki, J., Tubbs, R. S., & Loukas, M. (2015). Genitofemoral neuralgia: a review. Clinical Anatomy, 28(1), 128-135.
Lyon, E. K. (1945). Genitofemoral causalgia. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 53(3), 213.
Magee, R. K. (1943). Genitofemoral Causalgia: New Syndrome. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 98(3), 311.
Sunderland S. Nerves and nerve injuries. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1978
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a debilitation complication of radical prostatectomy, which is a treatment for prostate cancer. ED is caused by a variety of causes, diabetic vasculopathy, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, psychological issues, peripheral vascular disease and medication; we will focus on post-prostatectomy ED and the role of penile rehabilitation in its management.
Radical prostatectomy can result in nerve injury to the penis. Moreover, significant fibrotic changes take place in the corpus cavernosum of the penis postoperatively. It takes approximately 1-2 years for erectile function to return after radical prostatectomy. This is a period of “neuropraxia,” during which there is transient cavernosal nerve dysfunction. However, a prolonged “flaccid state” might lead to irreversible damage to the cavernous tissue 1.
Research on penile hemodynamics in these patients have shown that venous leakage is also implicated in its pathophysiology. An injury to the neurovascular bundles likely leads to smooth muscle cell death, which then leads to irreversible veno-occlusive disease.
There is a potential role of hypoxia in stimulating growth factors (TGF-beta) that stimulate collagen synthesis in cavernosal smooth muscle. Prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) was found to suppress the effect of TGF-β1 on collagen synthesis.
The goal of Penile Rehabilitation is to limit and reverse ED in post-prostatectomy patients. The idea is to minimize fibrotic changes during the period of “penile quiescence” after nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy. Several approaches have been tried, including PGE1 injection, vacuum devices, and phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors.
Mulhall and coworkers followed 132 patients through an 18-month period after they were placed in “rehabilitation” or “no rehabilitation” groups after radical prostatectomy, and 52% of those undergoing rehabilitation (sildenafil + alprostadil) reported spontaneous functional erections, compared with 19% of the men in the no-rehabilitation group 2.
Alprostadil is a vasodilatory prostaglandin E1 that can be injected into the penis or placement in the urethra in order to treat ED. Montorsi, et al. studied the use of intracorporeal injections of alprostadil starting at 1 month after bilateral nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy and reported a higher rate of spontaneous erections after 6 months compared with no treatment 3. Gontero, et al. investigated alprostadil injections at various time points after non–nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy and found that 70% of patients receiving injections within the first 3 months were able to achieve erections sufficient for intercourse, compared with 40% of patients receiving injections after the first 3 months 4.
VCD is an external pump that is used to get and maintain an erection. Raina, et al evaluated the daily use of a VCD beginning within two months after radical prostatectomy, and reported that after 9 months of treatment, 17% of patients using the device had return of natural erections sufficient for intercourse, compared with 11% of patients in the nontreatment group 4.
PDE-5 inhibitors (such as Sildenafil) are the first-line treatment for ED of many etiologies. Several studies have shown that the use of PDE-5 inhibitors might lead to an overall improvement in endothelial cell function in the corpus cavernosum. Chronic use of oral PDE-5 inhibitors suggest a beneficial effect on endothelial cell function. Desouza, et al. concluded that daily sildenafil improves overall vascular endothelial cell function. However, Zagaja, et al. found that men taking oral sildenafil within the first 9 months of a nerve-sparing procedure did not have any erectogenic response 4.
Overall, accumulating scientific literature is suggesting that penile rehabilitation therapies have a positive impact on the sexual function outcome in post-prostatectomy patients. It must be noted that these methods do not cure ED and should be used with caution.
1Penson DF, McLerran D, Feng Z, et al. 5-year urinary and sexual outcomes after radical prostatectomy: results from the prostate cancer outcomes study. J Urol. 2005;173:1701-1705.
2Mulhall J, Land S, Parker M, et al. The use of an erectogenic pharmacotherapy regimen following radical prostatectomy improves recovery of spontaneous erectile function. J Sex Med. 2005; 2:532-540.
3Montorsi F, Guazzoni G, Strambi LF, et al. Recovery of spontaneous erectile function after nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy with and without early intracavernous injections of alprostadil: results of a prospective, randomised trial. J Urol. 1997;158:1408-1410.
4Gontero P, Fontana F, Bagnasacco A, et al. Is there an optimal time for intracavernous prostaglandin E1 rehabilitation following non- nerve sparing radical prostatectomy? Results from a hemodynamic prospective study. J Urol. 2003;169:2166-2169.
Managing a medical crisis such as a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming for an individual. Faced with choices about medical options, dealing with disruptions in work, home and family life often leaves little energy left to consider sexual health and intimacy. Maintaining closeness, however, is often a goal within a partnership and can aid in sustaining a relationship through such a crisis. The research is clear about cancer treatment being disruptive to sexual health, yet intimacy is a larger concept that may be fostered even when sexual activity is impaired or interrupted. Last year, when I was asked to speak to the Pacific NW Prostate Cancer Conference about intimacy, I was pleasantly surprised to find a rich body of literature about maintaining intimacy despite a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Sexual health and sexuality is a social construct affected by many factors including mood, stress, depression, self-image, physiology, psychology, culture, relational and spiritual factors (Beck et al., 2009; Weiner & Avery-Clark, 2017) Prostate cancer treatment can change relational roles, finances, work life, independence, and other factors including hormone levels.(Beck et al., 2009) Exhaustion (on the part of the patient and the caregiver), role changes, changes in libido and performance anxiety can create further challenges. (Beck et al., 2009; Hawkins et al., 2009; Higano et al., 2012) Recovery of intimacy is possible, and reframing of sexual health may need to take place. Most importantly, these issues need to be talked about, as renegotiation of intimacy may need to take place after a diagnosis or treatment of prostate cancer. (Gilbert et al., 2010)
If the patient brings up sexual health, or we encourage the conversation, there are many research-based suggestions we can provide to encourage recovery of intimacy, several are listed below.
- Manage general health, fitness, nutrition, sleep, anxiety and stress
- Redefine sex as being beyond penetration, consider other sexual practices such as massage/touch, cuddling, talking, use of vibrators, medication, aids such as pumps (Usher et al., 2013)
- Participate in couples therapy to understand partners’ needs, address loss, be educated about sexual function (Wittman et al., 2014; Wittman et al., 2015)
- Participate in “sensate focus” activities (developed by Masters & Johnson in 1970’s as “touch opportunities”) with appropriate guidance (Weiner & Avery-Clark 2017)
Within the context of this information, there is opportunity to refer the patient to a provider who specializes in sexual health and function. While some rehabilitation professionals are taking additional training to be able to provide a level of sexual health education and counseling, most pelvic health providers do not have the breadth and depth of training required to provide counseling techniques related to sexual health- we can, however, get the conversation started, which in the end may be most important.
In the men’s health course, we further discuss sexual anatomy and physiology, prostate issues, and look at the research describing models of intimacy and what worked for couples who did learn to renegotiate intimacy after prostate cancer.
Beck, A. M., Robinson, J. W., & Carlson, L. E. (2009, April). Sexual intimacy in heterosexual couples after prostate cancer treatment: What we know and what we still need to learn. In Urologic oncology: seminars and original investigations (Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 137-143). Elsevier.
Beck, A. M., Robinson, J. W., & Carlson, L. E. (2013). Sexual Values as the Key to Maintaining Satisfying Sex After Prostate Cancer Treatment : The Physical Pleasure–Relational Intimacy Model of Sexual Motivation. Archives of sexual behavior, 42(8), 1637-1647.
Gilbert, E., Ussher, J. M., & Perz, J. (2010). Renegotiating sexuality and intimacy in the context of cancer: the experiences of carers. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(4), 998-1009.
Hawkins, Y., Ussher, J., Gilbert, E., Perz, J., Sandoval, M., & Sundquist, K. (2009). Changes in sexuality and intimacy after the diagnosis and treatment of cancer: the experience of partners in a sexual relationship with a person with cancer. Cancer nursing, 32(4), 271-280.
Higano, C. S. (2012). Sexuality and intimacy after definitive treatment and subsequent androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 30(30), 3720-3725.
Ussher, J. M., Perz, J., Gilbert, E., Wong, W. T., & Hobbs, K. (2013). Renegotiating sex and intimacy after cancer: resisting the coital imperative. Cancer Nursing, 36(6), 454-462.
Weiner, L., Avery-Clark, C. (2017). Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy: The Illustrated Manual. Routledge, New York.
Wittmann, D., Carolan, M., Given, B., Skolarus, T. A., An, L., Palapattu, G., & Montie, J. E. (2014). Exploring the role of the partner in couples’ sexual recovery after surgery for prostate cancer. Supportive Care in Cancer, 22(9), 2509-2515.
Wittmann, D., Carolan, M., Given, B., Skolarus, T. A., Crossley, H., An, L., ... & Montie, J. E. (2015). What couples say about their recovery of sexual intimacy after prostatectomy: toward the development of a conceptual model of couples' sexual recovery after surgery for prostate cancer. The journal of sexual medicine, 12(2), 494-504.
Men who present with chronic pelvic pain frequently have symptoms referred along the penis and into the tip of the penis, or glans. Symptoms may include numbness, tingling, aching, pain, or other sensitivity and discomfort. The tip of the penis, or glans, is a sensory structure, which allows for sexual stimulation and appreciation. This same capacity for valuable sensation can create severe discomfort when signals related to the glans are overactive or irritating. One of the most common complaints with this symptom is a level of annoyance and distraction, with level of bother worsening when a person is less active or not as mentally engaged with tasks. Wearing clothing that touches the tip of the penis (such as underwear, jock straps, jeans, or snug pants) may be limited and may worsen symptoms. When uncovering from where the symptoms originate, the culprit is often the dorsal nerve of the penis, which is sensible given that the glans is innervated by this branch of the pudendal nerve. If we consider this possibility (because certainly there are other potential causes) we find that there are many potential sites of pudendal nerve irritation to consider. First, let’s visualize the anatomy of the nerve.
Following the usually accepted descriptions of the dorsal nerve, we know that it is a terminal branch of the pudendal nerve that primarily is created from the mid-sacral nerves. This can lead us to include the lumbosacral region in our examination and treatment, yet in my clinical experience, there are other sites that more often reproduce pain in the glans. As the dorsal nerve branches off of the pudendal, usually after the location of the sacrotuberous ligament, it passes through and among the urogenital triangle layers of fascia where compression or irritation may generate symptoms.
As the nerve travels towards the pubic bone, it will pass inferior to the pubic bone, a location where suspensory ligaments of the penis can be found as well as pudendal vessels and fascia. This is also a site of potential compression and irritation, and palpation to this region may provide information about tissue health. Below is a cross-section of the proximal penis, allowing us to see where the pudendal nerve and vessels would travel inferior to the pubic bone.
As the dorsal nerve extends along either side of the penis, giving smaller branches along its path towards the glans, the nerve may also be experiencing soft tissue irritation along the length of the penis or even locally at the termination in the glans.
Palpation internally (via rectum) or externally may be a part of the assessment as well as treatment of this condition. Oftentimes, tip of the penis pain can be reproduced with palpation internally and directed towards the anterior levator ani and the connective tissues just inferior to the pubic bone. It may be difficult to know if the muscle is providing referred pain, or if the nerve is being tensioned and reproducing symptoms, however gentle soft tissue work applied to this area is often successful in reducing or resolving symptoms regardless of the tissue involved. In my experience, these symptoms of referred pain at the tip of the penis is often one of the last to resolve, and the use of topical lidocaine may be helpful in managing symptoms while healing takes place. Home program self-care including scar massage if needed, nerve mobilizations, trunk and pelvic mobility and strengthening, and advice for returning to meaningful activities can play a large role in resolution of pain in the glans.
If you would like to learn more about treating genital pain in men, consider joining me in Male Pelvic Floor: Function, Dysfunction, & Treatment. The 2018 courses will be in Freehold, NJ this June, and Houston, TX in September.