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Pelvic Pain, Sexual Function, and Yoga

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 Yoga10(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

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Manual Therapy – Use your Head to Guide your Hands

What if we were only taught treatment techniques during our healthcare training with no theory or explanation as to why or on whom or under what circumstances they should be used? Focusing on “how to” but ignoring the “discernment as to why” would make for a weak clinician. Manual therapy for the pelvic floor is a treatment approach to implement once we have used our heads and palpation skills to reveal the underlying source of dysfunction.

Pastore and Katzman (2012) published a thorough article describing the process of recognizing when myofascial pain is the source of chronic pelvic pain in females. They discuss active versus latent myofascial trigger points (MTrPs), which are painful nodules or lumps in muscle tissue, with the latter only being symptomatic when triggered by physical (compression or stretching) or emotional stress. Hyperalgesia and allodynia are generally present in patients with MTrPs, and muscles with MTrPs are weaker and limit range of motion in surrounding joints. In pelvic floor muscles, MTrPs refer pain to the perineum, vagina, urethra, and rectum but also the abdomen, back, thorax, hip/buttocks, and lower leg. The authors suggest detecting a trigger point by palpating perpendicular to the muscle fiber to sense a taut band and tender nodule and advise using the finger pads with a flat approach in the abdomen, pelvis and perineum. They emphasize a multidisciplinary approach to finding and treating MTrPs and making sure urological, gynecological, and/or colorectal pathologies are addressed. A thorough subjective and physical exam that leads to proper diagnosis of MTrPs should be followed by manual physical therapy techniques and appropriate medical intervention for any corresponding pathology.

Halder et al. (2017) investigated the efficacy of myofascial release physical therapy with the addition of Botox in a retrospective case series for women with myofascial pelvic pain. Fifty of the 160 women who had Botox and physical therapy met the inclusion/exclusion criteria, and the primary complaint in all those subjects was dyspareunia. The Botox was administered under general anesthesia, and then the same physician performed soft tissue myofascial release transvaginally for 10-15 minutes, with 10-15 additional minutes performed if rectus muscles had trigger points. The patients were seen 2 weeks and 8 weeks posttreatment. Average pelvic pain scores decreased significantly pre- and posttreatment, with 58% of subjects reporting improvements. Significantly fewer patients (44% versus 100%) presented with trigger points on pelvic exam after the treatment. The patients who did not show improvement tended to have inflammatory or irritable bowel diseases or diverticulosis. Blocking acetylcholine receptors via Botox in combination with pelvic floor physical therapy could possibly provide longer symptom-free periods. Although the nature of the study could not determine a specific interval of relief, the authors were encouraged as an average of 15 months passed before 5 of the patients sought more treatment.

The need for the specific treatment for myofascial pelvic pain is determined by a clinician competent in palpation of the pelvic floor musculature finding trigger points and restrictions in the tissue. Listening to a patient’s symptoms and understanding pelvic pathology allow for better treatment planning. Manual Therapy Techniques for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist is a comprehensive course to enhance knowledge in your head to lead your hands in the right direction for assessing/treating patients with pelvic pain.


Pastore, E. A., & Katzman, W. B. (2012). Recognizing Myofascial Pelvic Pain in the Female Patient with Chronic Pelvic Pain. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing : JOGNN / NAACOG, 41(5), 680–691. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1552-6909.2012.01404.x
Halder, G. E., Scott, L., Wyman, A., Mora, N., Miladinovic, B., Bassaly, R., & Hoyte, L. (2017). Botox combined with myofascial release physical therapy as a treatment for myofascial pelvic pain. Investigative and Clinical Urology, 58(2), 134–139. http://doi.org/10.4111/icu.2017.58.2.134

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Fecal Incontinence May Surrender to Stem Cells

While recently visiting Seattle with my daughter, we had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Ghislaine Robert, owner of Sparclaine Regenerative Medicine. She is a highly respected sports medicine doctor who has steered much of her practice towards regenerative medicine, with a focus on stem cell and platelet enriched plasma (PRP) injections. She brought to my attention the use of stem cells for pelvic floor disorders. And, like any successful practitioner, she encouraged me to research it for myself.

In 2015, Cestaro et al. reported early results of 3 patients with fecal incontinence receiving intersphincteric anal groove injections of fat tissue. They aspirated about 150ml of the fat tissue and used the Lipogem system technology lipofilling technique to provide micro-fragmented and transplantable clusters of lipoaspirate. The intersphincteric space was then injected with the lipoaspirate. A proctology exam was performed at 1 week, 1 month, and 6 months following the procedure. All 3 patients all had reduced Wexner incontinence scores 1 month post-treatment and a significant improvement in quality of life 6 months post-procedure. Resting pressure of the internal anal sphincter increased after 6 months, and the internal anal sphincter showed increased thickness.

A 2016 study by Mazzanti et al., used rats to explore whether unexpanded bone marrow-derived mononuclear mesynchymal cells (MNC) could effectively repair anal sphincter healing since expanded ones (MSC) had already been shown to enhance healing after injury in a rat model. They divided 32 rats into 4 groups: sphincterotomy and repair (SR) with primary suture of anal sphincters and a saline intrasphincteric injection (CTR); SR of anal sphincter with in-vitro expanded MSC; SR of anal sphincter with minimally manipulated MNC; and, a sham operation with saline injection. Muscle regeneration as well as contractile function was observed in the MSC and MNC groups, while the control surgical group demonstrated development of scar tissue, inflammatory cells and mast cells between the ends of the interrupted muscle layer 30 days post-surgery. Ultimately, the authors found no significant difference between expanded or unexpanded bone marrow stem cell types used. Post-sphincter repair can be enhanced by stem cell therapy for anal incontinence, even when the cells are minimally manipulated.

Finally, in 2017, Sarveazad et al. performed a double-blind clinical trial in humans using human adipose-derived stromal/stem cells (hADSCs) from adipose tissue for fecal incontinence. The hADSCs secrete growth factor and can potentially differentiate into muscle cells, which make them worth testing for improvement of anal sphincter incontinence. They used 18 subjects with sphincter defects, 9 undergoing sphincter repair with injection of hADSCs and 9 having surgery with a phosphate buffer saline injection. After 2 months, there was a 7.91% increase in the muscle mass in the area of the lesion for the cell group compared to the control. Fibrous tissue replacement with muscle tissue, allowing contractile function, may be a key in the long term for treatment of fecal incontinence.

As long as accessing human-derived stem cells is a viable option for patients, the preliminary studies show promise for success. With fecal incontinence being such a debilitating problem for people, especially socially, stem cells are definitely an up and coming treatment, and we should all keep up on this research. After all, who wouldn’t spare some adipose tissue for life-changing, functional gains?


Cestaro, G., De Rosa, M., Massa, S., Amato, B., & Gentile, M. (2015). Intersphincteric anal lipofilling with micro-fragmented fat tissue for the treatment of faecal incontinence: preliminary results of three patients. Videosurgery and Other Miniinvasive Techniques, 10(2), 337–341. http://doi.org/10.5114/wiitm.2014.47435
Mazzanti, B., Lorenzi, B., Borghini, A., Boieri, M., Ballerini, L., Saccardi, R., … Pessina, F. (2016). Local injection of bone marrow progenitor cells for the treatment of anal sphincter injury: in-vitro expanded versus minimally-manipulated cells. Stem Cell Research & Therapy, 7, 85. http://doi.org/10.1186/s13287-016-0344-x
Sarveazad, A., Newstead, G. L., Mirzaei, R., Joghataei, M. T., Bakhtiari, M., Babahajian, A., & Mahjoubi, B. (2017). A new method for treating fecal incontinence by implanting stem cells derived from human adipose tissue: preliminary findings of a randomized double-blind clinical trial. Stem Cell Research & Therapy, 8, 40. http://doi.org/10.1186/s13287-017-0489-2

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Breathing for Life: Efficacy of Prenatal Yoga

During labor, I had no problem breathing out. My hang up came when I had to inhale - actually oxygenate my blood and maintain a healthy heart rate for my almost newborn baby. When extra staff filled the delivery room, and an oxygen mask was placed over my face, my husband remained calm but later told me how freaked out he was. He was watching the monitors that showed a drop in my vitals as well as our baby’s. In retrospect, I wonder if practicing yoga, particularly the breathing techniques involved with pranayama practice, could have prevented that moment.

Prenatal PranayamaA research article by Critchley et al., (2015) broke down breathing to a very scientific level, determining the consequences of slow breathing (6 breaths/minute) versus induced hypoxic challenges (13% inspired O2) on the cardiac and respiratory systems and their central neural substrates. Functional magnetic resonance imaging measured the 20 healthy subjects’ specific brain activity during the slow and normal rate breathing. The authors mentioned the controlled slow breathing of 6 breaths/minute is the rate encouraged during yoga practice. This rate decreases sympathetic activity, lessening vasoconstriction associated with hypertension, and it prevents physiological stress from affecting the cardiovascular system. Each part of the brain showed responses to the 2 conditions, and the general conclusion was modifying breathing rate impacted autonomic activity and improved both cardiovascular and psychological health.

Vinay, Venkatesh, and Ambarish (2016) presented a study on the effect of 1 month of yoga practice on heart rate variability in 32 males who completed the protocol. The authors reported yoga is supposed to alter the autonomic system and promote improvements in cardiovascular health. Not just the breathing but also the movements and meditation positively affect mental health and general well-being. The subjects participated in 1 hour of yoga daily for 1 month, and at the end of the study, the 1 bpm improvement in heart rate was not statistically significant. However, heart rate variability measures indicated a positive shift of the autonomic system from sympathetic activity to parasympathetic, which reduces cortisol levels, improves blood pressure, and increases circulation to the intestines.

Bershadsky et al., (2014) studied the effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on cortisol levels, affect and depression in the 34 women who completed pre, mid, and post pregnancy saliva tests and questionnaires. While levels of cortisol increase naturally with pregnancy, yoga was found to minimize the mean levels compared to the days the subjects did not participate in yoga. After a single 90-minute yoga session, during which breathing was emphasized throughout the session, women had higher positive affect; but, the cortisol level was not significantly different from the control group. Overall, the authors concluded yoga had potential to minimize depression and cortisol levels in pregnancy.

Considering the positive effect of slow breathing practiced in yoga, the positive shift in the autonomic nervous system function and the decrease in cortisol levels, yoga is gaining credibility as an effective adjunct to treatment during pregnancy. If a woman enters the delivery room with a solid practice of slow breathing under her belt, she may be equipped to handle the intensity of contractions and the pain of pushing a little better. Yoga may help a woman breathe for her life and her baby’s as well.

If you're interested in learning more about yoga for pregnant patients, consider attending Yoga as Medicine for Pregnancy with Ginger Garner, PT, DPT, ATC/LAT, PYT. The next opportunity is in Fort Lauderdale, FL on January 28th and 29th, 2017. Don't miss out!


Critchley, H. D., Nicotra, A., Chiesa, P. A., Nagai, Y., Gray, M. A., Minati, L., & Bernardi, L. (2015). Slow Breathing and Hypoxic Challenge: Cardiorespiratory Consequences and Their Central Neural Substrates. PLoS ONE, 10(5), e0127082.
Vinay, A., Venkatesh, D., & Ambarish, V. (2016). Impact of short-term practice of yoga on heart rate variability. International Journal of Yoga, 9(1), 62–66.
Bershadsky, S., Trumpfheller, L., Kimble, H. B., Pipaloff, D., & Yim, I. S. (2014). The effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on affect, cortisol and depressive symptoms. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 20(2), 106–113.

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Supporting the use of yoga for urge urinary incontinence symptom management

Urinary incontinence (UI) can be problematic for both men and women, however, is more prevalent in women.  Incontinence can contribute to poor quality of life for multiple reasons including psychological distress from stigma, isolation, and failure to seek treatment. Patients enduring incontinence often have chronic fear of leakage in public and anxiety about their condition.  There are two main types of urinary leakage, stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and urge urinary incontinence (UUI).


SUI is involuntary loss of urine with physical exertion such as coughing, sneezing, and laughing.   UUI is a form of incontinence in which there is a sudden and strong need to urinate, and leakage occurs, commonly referred to as “overactive bladder”.  Currently, SUI is treated effectively with physical therapy and/or surgery.  Due to underlying etiology, UUI however, can be more difficult to treat than SUI.  Often, physical therapy consisting of pelvic floor muscle training can help, however, women with UUI may require behavioral retraining and techniques to relax and suppress bladder urgency symptoms.  Commonly, UUI is treated with medication.  Unfortunately, medications can have multiple adverse effects and tend to have decreasing efficacy over time.  Therefore, there is a need for additional modes of treatment for patients suffering from UUI other than mainstream medications. 


An interesting article published in The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine reviews the potential benefits of yoga to improve the quality of life in women with UUI. The article details proposed concepts to support yoga as a biobehavioral approach for self-management and stress reduction for patients suffering with UUI.  The article proposes that inflammation contributes to UUI symptoms and that yoga can help to reduce inflammation.


Surfacing evidence indicates that inflammation localized to the bladder, as well as low-grade systemic inflammation, can contribute to symptoms of UUI.  Research shows that women with UUI have higher levels of serum C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), as well as increased levels of inflammatory biomarkers (such as interleukin-6).  Additionally, when compared to asymptomatic women and women with urgency without incontinence, patients with UUI have low-grade systemic inflammation.  It is hypothesized that the inflammation sensitizes bladder afferent nerves through recruitment of lower threshold and typically silent C fiber afferents (instead of normally recruited, higher threshold A-delta fibers, that respond to stretch of the bladder wall and mediate bladder fullness and normal micturition reflexes).  Therefore, reducing activation threshold for bladder sensory afferents and a lower volume threshold for voiding, leading to the UUI.


How can yoga help?
Yoga can reduce levels of inflammatory mediators.  According to the article, recent research has shown that yoga can reduce inflammatory biomarkers (such as interleukin -6) and C-reactive protein.  Decreasing inflammatory mediators within the bladder may reduce sensitivity of C fiber afferents and restore a more normalized bladder sensory nerve threshold.


Studies suggest that women with UUI have an imbalance of their autonomic nervous system.  The posture, breathing, and meditation completed with yoga practice may improve autonomic nervous system balance by reducing sympathetic activity (“fight or flight”) and increasing parasympathetic activity (“rest and digest”).


The discussed article highlights yoga as a logical, self-management treatment option for women with UUI symptoms.  Yoga can help to manage inflammatory symptoms that directly contribute to UUI by reducing inflammation and restoring autonomic nervous system balance.  Additionally, regular yoga practice can improve general well-being, breathing patterns, and positive thinking, which can reduce overall stress.  Yoga provides general physical exercise that improves muscle tone, flexibility, and proprioception.  Yoga can also help improve pelvic floor muscle coordination and strength which can be helpful for UUI.  Yoga seems to provide many benefits that could be helpful for a patient with UUI. 


In summary, UI remains a common medical problem, in particular, in women.  While SUI is effectively treated with both conservative physical therapy and surgery, long-term prescribed medication remains the treatment modality of choice for UUI.  However, increasing evidence, including that described in this article, suggests that alternative conservative approaches, such as yoga and exercise, may serve as a valuable adjunct to traditional medical therapy.


Tenfelde, S., & Janusek, L. W. (2014). Yoga: a biobehavioral approach to reduce symptom distress in women with urge urinary incontinence. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(10), 737-742.

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