Earlier this week a blog post asked the question "Do male therapists belong in pelvic rehab?" With increased frequency, male therapists are participating in pelvic rehab coursework and practices. Some of the male therapists are even attending coursework as students. I asked Justin Stambaugh, a student from Duke University (who very much impressed me with his command of the material, and his calm, curious, and competent demeanor), a few questions about his path into pelvic rehab. Below are his responses.
Holly: How did your path lead towards pelvic rehab in general?
Justin: Pelvic rehab really necessitates an openness and sense of comfort regarding issues that can be seen as very personal, private, and even taboo. I was drawn to pelvic rehab because I am the type of person who doesn’t believe that individuals should have to suffer in silence because of fear or embarrassment of addressing their issues. I want people to know that they can and should seek treatment for their pelvic health issues, and that physical therapy can be a valuable resource in this regard.
I also value the complexity of pelvic rehab. In addition to the clinical aspect of care there is also the psychosocial element that adds to the scope and depth of treatment. I appreciate that pelvic rehab requires the clinician to continuously evaluate and adapt their approach in order to be proficient.
Additionally I find that often times many physicians, patients, and other physical therapists don’t realize the extent of what we are capable of treating, and how great of an impact we can have on someone’s life. I get excited about educating and promoting this side of the profession.
Holly: What is your viewpoint on how you will be perceived as a male therapist in treating pelvic rehab with a female patient?
Justin: As a male therapist in the pelvic rehab setting I understand that there are some female patients who will be hesitant to work with me solely because of my gender. I think this is an unfortunate fact, however it simply requires me to be a bit more industrious as a practitioner. Patients who may initially be uncomfortable with me due to my gender are really just asking me to prove to them that I know what I’m doing and that I am trustworthy. It is completely understandable that I need to win their trust before moving forward with any type of treatment. I respect my patients and ultimately just want what’s best for them. We can work together on achieving this goal, and find the correct path that suits each patient’s needs based on their comfort level. Often times I think of the phrase “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Although I am capable of performing an internal pelvic floor exam and subsequent treatment, there are also external approaches that may work just as well for an apprehensive patient depending on their presentation. This may also help gain their trust in order to implement more effective care in future sessions.
Holly: How do you think your generation differs from those before you in addressing the entire issue of gender?
Justin: I would like to think that my generation is more open regarding issues of sex and gender. However I think there are still many hurdles left to climb in this regard. I feel that socially my generation is part of an evolution in tolerance and empathy towards diversity with respect to issues such as gender, gender identity, sexual orientation etc. All of these qualities define some part of all of us and are constantly being communicated and evaluated. If we look back through history we see the dynamics of social inequality based on gender. Today we continue to see broad discussions regarding sex and gender. I feel that each generation continues to grow from these conversations and socially we persist in advancing our understanding and comfort regarding this topic.
Holly: Where do you see us (on the continuum) as a profession in normalizing the experience of having treatment directed to the pelvis by any gendered therapist to any gendered patient?
Justin: It would be my hope that in the future more institutions will instruct pelvic health with patient models that allow students to interact and conduct treatment based therapies in a clinical manner. I feel that in order to alleviate some of the gender based fears and apprehension regarding pelvic rehab from a professional perspective, all students should get to experience this aspect of physical therapy before deciding if its for them. I do feel it’s unfortunate that there are not more males who are interested in pelvic rehab. Oftentimes people are afraid of what they don’t know. It seems that perhaps pelvic rehab has remained somewhat enigmatic in that many individuals don’t get to experience this type of patient care, and therefore never approach it. It is such a great benefit to be able to work with this population of patients. I feel that the more exposure and normalization pelvic rehab gets to the patient population as well as to the professionals in the field of physical therapy the more we will see an increase in gender representation within the profession.
If the work of pelvic rehab is in the hands of students like Justin, we have so much to look forward to in our field. Thank you to Justin for being willing to articulate his thoughts and experience so that we can continue to explore issues of gender in pelvic rehabilitation.
This question is one that, a decade ago, may have made more sense to ask, as very few male therapists were engaged in the world of pelvic rehabilitation. Most pelvic rehabilitation practices still stem from programs developed in "Women's Health" so it's logical to see more female patients being treated, usually by female therapists. We are at an exciting time in the healing professions, and particularly in pelvic rehabilitation, when choice of provider may come to be based more on experience, personality and qualifications of the treating therapist than on the provider's or patient's gender. At the Institute's most recent entry-level Pelvic Floor 1 (PF1) courses, 2 male therapists were in attendance at 2 different PF1 courses on opposite sides of the nation. This shift (we tend to have an occasional male therapist within the pelvic floor series courses) has been noticed, and at the Institute, we have committed efforts at exploring if and how this shift affects our coursework. For example, are the instructors comfortable, are the female participants cool with it, and do the men feel welcomed? To find out a little more about the subject, I bring your attention to a few of the men who are currently representing the field of pelvic health.
Herman & Wallace Institute faculty member, Peter Philip, has treated both men and women in his practice for years. This treatment involves internal assessment and intervention when needed, and Peter approaches all of his patients with the same matter-of-fact, clearly defined consent. As a private practice owner, it makes sense that Peter is able to retain his patients regardless of the condition for which they are seeking care. Having to refer a patient to another therapist or clinic would negate the ability for a therapist to provide comprehensive care. On his website you will find a listing of women's health issues described next to sports, work, and other lifestyle injuries.
I posed the following question to Jake Bartholomy , physical therapist in Seattle, Washington: "Why is it so important for a male therapist to be involved in pelvic rehab, regardless if the goal is to focus on working with male or female or other gendered patients?" Jake's response reflects the value of offering choices to the patients he serves: "I believe it's important for people to have a choice in their therapist. Many people are shy and nervous to discuss their pelvic issues and if male or transgendered patients are more comfortable working with a male therapist, I'm proud to offer that service in the Seattle area."
I recall meeting Daniel Kirages, physical therapist and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California, at a male pelvic floor course years ago. When he introduced himself to the group, he joked that he was there as the token male "to break up the girl party." While this joke has stuck with me, it also drives home the point that it takes courage to show up at coursework which has previously been dominated by female therapists. Daniel has been involved in research, teaching in the classroom and online, and lecturing nationally about pelvic rehab.
In my experience as an instructor, the male therapists who attend pelvic rehab courses are exceptionally grounded, open-minded, and exude a quiet confidence that seems necessary for working with sensitive issues surrounding pelvic rehabilitation. Just for the record, we absolutely do believe that male therapists belong in pelvic rehabilitation coursework and practice, and we at the Institute are going to continue to explore how we can support all genders working in this much-needed, and good work. If you are interested in learning more about the course series or any specialty topics courses, check out our course listings here.
Among the challenges in research for chronic pelvic pain is the lack of consensus about diagnosis and intervention. Prominent researchers and physicians J. Curtis Nickel and Daniel Shoskes describe a methodology for classification of male chronic pelvic pain using phenotyping, which can be simply described as “a set of observable characteristics.” The authors point out in this article that men with complaints of pelvic pain have historically been treated with antibiotics, even though now it is known that most cases of “prostatitis” are not true infections. With most patients having chronic pelvic pain presenting with varied causes, symptoms, and responses to treatment, Nickel and Shoskes acknowledge that traditional medical approaches have not been successful.
In an attempt to improve classification of patients and subsequent treatment approaches, the UPOINT system was developed. The domains of the system include urinary, psychosocial, organ specific, infection, neurological/systemic conditions, and tenderness of skeletal muscles, and are listed below. Within each domain, the clinical description has been adapted from the original study (which can be accessed full text at the link above.)
-Urinary: CPSI urinary score > 4, complaints of urinary urgency, frequency, or nocturia, flow rate , 15mL/s and/or obstructed pattern
-Psychosocial: Clinical depression, poor coping or maladaptive behavior such as catastrophizing, poor social interaction
-Organ specific: specific prostate tenderness, leukocytosis in prostatic fluid, haematospermia, extensive prostate calcification
-Infection: exclude patients with evidence of infection
-Neurological/systemic conditions: pain beyond abdomen and pelvis, IBS, fibromyalgia, CFS
-Tenderness of skeletal muscles: palpable tenderness and/or painful muscle spasm or trigger points in perineum or pelvic muscles
Within the initial research utilizing the UPOINT classification system, the authors report that most patients fall into more than one domain, and that the more domains a person is identified with, the more severe the symptoms. The domains leading to the highest impact are the psychosocial, neurological/systemic, and then the tenderness domain. The referenced article points out that the most impactful domains are the ones that are non-prostatocentric, or focused on dysfunction within the prostate itself. Phenotyping may indeed lead to improved classification of and treatment of male chronic pelvic pain. If you are interested in learning more about male chronic pelvic pain, there are still two opportunities to take the Male Pelvic Floor continuing education course this year. In August of this year, the course will take place in Denver, and in November, the male course will return to Seattle.
A recent article titled "Pain, Catastrophizing, and Depression in Chronic Prostatitis/Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome" describes the variations in patient symptom report and perception of the condition. The article describes the evidence-based links between chronic pelvic pain and anxiety, depression, and stress, and highlights the important role that coping mechanisms have in reported pain and quality of life levels. One of the ways in which a provider can assist in patient perception of health or lack thereof is to provide current information about the condition, instruct the patient in pathways for healing, and provide specific care that aims to alleviate concurrent neuromusculoskeletal dysfunction.
Most pelvic rehabilitation providers will have graduated from training without being informed about chronic pelvic pain syndromes. And as most pelvic rehabilitation providers receive their pelvic health knowledge from continuing education courses, unless a therapist has attended coursework specifically about male patients, the awareness of male pelvic dysfunctions remains low. If you are interested in learning about male pelvic health issues, the Institute introduces participants to male pelvic health in the Level 2A series course. The practitioner who would like more information about male patients can attend the Male Pelvic Floor Function, Dysfunction, and Treatment course that is offered in Torrance, CA at the end of this month.
The authors in this study point out that chronic pelvic pain is not a disease, but rather is a symptom complex. Despite the persistent attempts to identify a specific pathogen as the cause of prostatitis-like pain, this article states that "…no postulated molecular mechanism explains the symptoms…" As with any other chronic pain condition, research in pain sciences tells us that behavioral tendencies such as catastrophizing is not associated with improved health. The authors utilized a psychotherapy model in developing a cognitive-behavioral symptom management approach and found significant reductions in CPP symptoms. The relevance of this information for our patient population includes having the ability to screen our patients for depression, to recognize tendencies to catastrophize, and to implement useful strategies for our patient.
What does your facility currently use as a depression screening tool? Having this information at hand when communicating with a referring provider is very helpful. Explaining the biology of the vicious cycle of emotional stress and pain responses can help a patient understand why following up on a referral to a psychologist or counselor may be helpful towards his health. Identifying catastrophizing as the patient who is hypervigilent about symptoms, ruminates about his condition, expresses an attitude of helplessness, or magnifies the threat of the perceived pain can aid in identification of the patient who needs more than a few stretches, a TENS unit, or manual therapy.
A new course offered this year by the Institute will provide excellent foundational background information as well as practical patient care techniques about emotional and psychological principles that influence chronic pain. This course, Integrating Meditation and Neuropsych Principles to Maximize Physical Therapy Interventions, is instructed by Nari Clemons, a physical therapist who excels in pelvic rehabilitation, and Shawn Sidhu, a psychiatrist with a special interest in mind body medicine. The course is offered only one time this year, in September in Illinois, so sign up early!