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Sacroiliac Joint: Some Confusion over Fusion

Rarely does a patient with sacroiliac joint dysfunction come to see us with a goal of having surgery. Sometimes surgery winds up being the last resort for relief if our efforts and the patient’s commitment to physical therapy and prescribed exercises fail. Some of the most recent research shows positive results from minimally invasive surgery; however, the bottom line is to make sure the most educated, clinically accurate diagnosis has been made in implicating the SI joint as the source of pain.

Capobianco et al (2015) performed a prospective multi-center trial regarding SI joint fusion using a minimally invasive technique in women with post-partum pain in the pelvic girdle. Eligibility for the study required subjects to have 3 out of 5 positive SI joint stress tests and at least 50% relief with image-guided intra-articular SI joint block with a local anesthetic. Of the 172 subjects in the study, 20 of the 100 females had post-partum pelvic girdle pain, and 52 subjects were male. Significant improvements in pain, quality of life, and function were found for not only the post-partum group but all groups 12 months after surgery. Worth noting is one to three weeks after surgery, the subjects engaged in physical therapy, two times per week for six weeks.

Whang et al (2015) assessed the 6-month outcomes of SI joint fusion using triangular titanium implants versus non-surgical management in a prospective randomized controlled trial. Of the 148 subjects chosen based on similar diagnostic criteria as the study mentioned above, 102 underwent surgery, and 46 had non-surgical management. Non-surgical management involved appropriate pain medication administration, physical therapy, intra-articular SI joint steroid injections, and radiofrequency ablation of sacral nerve roots, all based on individual needs. The surgical group subjects in this study were also asked to have physical therapy two times per week for six weeks anywhere from one to three weeks post-op. The results in a six month follow up showed “clinical success” of >80% in the surgical group and <25% in the non-surgical management group.

The Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine presented an article in July 2015 by Zaidi et al with results of a systematic review of literature regarding the surgical and clinical effectiveness of SI joint fusion. The studies included open as well as minimally invasive surgery, and the causes of surgery included SI joint degeneration and arthritis, SIJ dysfunction, postpartum instability, posttraumatic, idiopathic, pathological fractures, and HLA-B27+/rheumatoid arthritis. A mean rate of satisfaction with open surgery was 54%; whereas, the mean was 84% with minimally invasive surgery. Ultimately, the authors concluded, “serious consideration of the cause of pain” is necessary before embarking on SI joint fusion as the evidence for the surgery’s efficacy is lacking.

So, who is responsible for making the definite diagnosis for SI joint dysfunction? As many patients get minimal time in doctor offices, we have a professional responsibility to competently perform a thorough evaluation for our patients. When the diagnosis is “SI joint dysfunction,” rule out the lumbar spine and hip; and, of course, when “low back pain” or “hip pain” fills the diagnosis line, rule out/in the SI joint. If you are confused about how, it is time to consider taking the Sacroiliac Joint Evaluation and Treatment course!


References:
Capobianco, R., Cher, D., & for the SIFI Study Group. (2015). Safety and effectiveness of minimally invasive sacroiliac joint fusion in women with persistent post-partum posterior pelvic girdle pain: 12-month outcomes from a prospective, multi-center trial. SpringerPlus, 4, 570. http://doi.org/10.1186/s40064-015-1359-y
Zaidi, Hasan A., Montoure, Andrew J., and Dickman, Curits A. (2015). Surgical and clinical efficacy of sacroiliac joint fusion: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. (23)1:59-66. DOI: 10.3171/2014.10.SPINE14516
Whang, P., Cher, D., Polly, D., Frank, C., Lockstadt, H., Glaser, J., … Sembrano, J. (2015). Sacroiliac Joint Fusion Using Triangular Titanium Implants vs. Non-Surgical Management: Six-Month Outcomes from a Prospective Randomized Controlled Trial. International Journal of Spine Surgery, 9, 6. http://doi.org/10.14444/2006

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Degree of prolapse symptoms

The following post comes to us from Herman & Wallace faculty member Allison Ariail, PT, DPT, CLT-LANA, BCB-PMD, PRPC. Allison authored "Use of transabdominal ultrasound imaging in retraining the pelvic-floor muscles of a woman postpartum" and is a leading expert in the use of ultrasound imaging for pelvic rehab. She is the author and instructor of the Rehabilitative Ultrasound Imaging: Women’s Health and Orthopedic Topics offered with Herman & Wallace.

In the pelvic floor series we learn how to perform examinations for cystoceles and rectoceles. It can be more difficult for therapists to examine and quantify the degree of uterine descent. In the last few years translabial ultrasound imaging has also been used to identify what is happening in the anterior compartment upon Valsalva and pelvic floor contraction, including the uterus. This is helpful when trying to determine the degree of uterine prolapse. Degree of pelvic organ descent visible on by ultrasound has been shown to have a near-linear relationship with measures on the POPQ.

Clinically we see that some patients with severe prolapses have few symptoms, while other patients with smaller prolapses will have more severe complaints of symptoms. This can be puzzling to the clinician who is trying to treat prolapse patients. Shek and Dietz performed a study to set cutoff measures of uterine descent that will predict symptoms of prolapse. Translabial ultrasound imaging was performed on 538 women with 263 women reporting prolapse symptoms. Seventy-five percent of the women presented with grade two or greater prolapse on the POPQ, with most of being cystoceles or rectoceles. The women with more complaints of symptoms of prolapse were more likely to have uterine prolapse. There was a strong association between degree of uterine descent and symptoms of prolapse. They determined that an optimal cutoff to predict symptoms of prolapse due to uterine descent is a cervix descending to 15 mm above the pubic symphysis.

This study intrigues me and makes me wonder how much we are focusing on cystoceles and rectoceles and not looking at uterine prolapses. Using translabial ultrasound imaging is a nice tool to allow the clinician to see what is going on with all of the pelvic organs. With one Valsalva maneuver you are able to assess a lot of information including support of the pelvic organs. It also gives the clinician another way to quantify the degree of prolapse. Ultrasound imaging is a wonderful tool that clinicians can use for assessment as well as a biofeedback tool. If you are interested in learning how to perform this type of assessment, I will be teaching Rehabilitative Ultrasound Imaging: Women’s Health and Orthopedic Topics May 1-3 in Dayton, OH.

 


Shek KL, Dietz HP. What is abnormal uterine descent on translabial ultrasound? Int. Urogynecol J. 2015; 26(12)1783-7.

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Food and Emotional Eating

Food, at its basic level, provides us with nutrition and sustenance to perform our daily activities. Populations in tune with nature’s cycles of food tend to eat what is available locally based on climate and growth seasons. When societies move beyond simply eating food for energy, but also for flavor, pleasure, and even status, the face of nutrition changes. Whereas some diseases come from a lack of nutrition, many diseases we are faced with in the United States also come from an overabundance of food, with too many calories or too much sugar making up common causes of lack of health. The knowledge within the field of disordered eating is vast, and patients struggling with disordered eating may be fortunate enough to work with a specialist to help recover healthier habits. Even without a diagnosis of disordered eating, many us can identify with unhealthy eating habits, often guided by stress, fatigue, or emotions.

Prior research has studied how we access willpower under different conditions of cognitive stress. In part of this research, participants were given a number to recall (either 2 digits or 7 digits) and then while walking to another location were offered a snack of either fruit salad or chocolate cake. The authors found that the participants who had to recall a 7 digit number more often chose the chocolate cake, leading the researchers to theorize about the role of higher-level processing and making choices. (Shiv et al., 1999) While we may be aware of a tendency to overeat (or make poorer food choices) during times of stress, fatigue, or emotional distress, changing the habits can be very challenging.

“Hunger can be deceptive, and mindfulness can help distinguish emotional from true physical hunger.” -Susan Albers, PsyD

Resources that discuss improving our eating choices in the face of “emotional eating” offers many alternatives, or ways to soothe ourselves without eating. In her books about this topic, clinical psychologist Susan Albers offers advice that may be helpful for our own habit building and for offering basic advice for our patients who struggle with the issue. (While offering advice to patients about healthy eating and habits is within our scope of practice, if a patient has need for a referral to a counselor, psychologist, or nutritionist, we can coordinate such a referral with the patient’s primary care provider.) In her book titled “50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food: Mindfulness Strategies to Cope with Stress and End Emotional Eating”, Dr. Albers offers many strategies for altering our habits. Some of these ideas include using acupressure points, breathing, rituals, self-massage, yoga, writing, dancing, art, tea, or sex to defer ourselves from poor eating habits. While eating can be enjoyable and pleasurable, when our patients are struggling with over-eating or eating foods that don’t support nutritional or healing goals, having a discussion about these issues may be useful.

If you are interested in learning more about nutrition, consider joining your pelvic rehab colleagues at one of the two Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist courses this year! Your first chance to attend will be in Kansas City on March 5-6, and later on in Lodi, CA June 25-26.


Albers, S. (2015). 50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food: Mindfulness Strategies to Cope with Stress and End Emotional Eating. New Harbinger Publications.
Shiv, B., & Fedorikhin, A. (1999). Heart and mind in conflict: The interplay of affect and cognition in consumer decision making. Journal of consumer Research, 26(3), 278-292.

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Vagina Balls

Occasionally, as pelvic rehab providers, we will encounter the question from our patients, “Do vaginal weights help with urinary incontinence and pelvic floor performance?” The premise behind the use of vaginal cones or balls is that holding them actively in your vagina with your pelvic floor muscles helps to increase the performance (strength and endurance) of the pelvic floor muscles, assisting in reduction of urinary incontinence.

A recent systematic review (Midwifery, 2015) explores this topic for a specific population of post-partum women with urinary incontinence. The question to be answered was “Does the vaginal use of cones or balls by women in the post-partum period improve performance of the pelvic floor muscles and urinary continence, compared to no treatment, placebo, sham treatment or active controls?”. This review had extensive search criteria. The types of participants in the studies analyzed were post-partum women up to 1 year (when starting interventions) of any parity, that underwent any mode of birth or birth injuries, and had or did not have urinary incontinence. Exclusion criteria were pregnant women, anal incontinence, and major genitourinary/pelvic morbidity. Any frequency, intensity, duration of pelvic exercises with the devices, and any form, size, weight, or brand of vaginal balls or cones were considered. Participants could undergo any type of instruction, either from a health care provider, or self-taught from written materials.

Of the searched studies, all were randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials. The primary outcomes of the searched studies were pelvic floor muscle performance (strength or endurance) and/or urinary incontinence, both assessed with a valid or reliable method. 37 potentially useful articles were reviewed out of 1324 based on the search criteria, but only one article met all of the inclusion criteria and was included in this review with 192 relevant participants (Wilson and Herbison).

In the included study, the group that used vaginal cones (compared to control group) showed a statistically significant lower rate of urinary incontinence. However, when compared to the pelvic exercises group, the continence rates were similar at 12 months post-partum between the cone group and the exercising group. At 24-44 months post-partum, continence rates amongst all groups were similar, but follow-up rates were very low.

As pelvic rehabilitation providers, it is our job to promote pelvic health and assist our post-partum patients with their pelvic impairments, providing them with options to meet their goals. This review does not make a scientific statement of a preferred mode of pelvic exercise, however, it gives us one more option to consider when teaching patients about how to improve pelvic muscle performance to increase urinary continence following child birth. Pelvic exercise enhances pelvic performance, so if your patient would prefer to use vaginal cones or balls to do their pelvic exercise versus completing pelvic exercises without them, do what works best for the patient. One can argue that any pelvic exercise is better than none in improving performance. The use of vaginal cones or balls may be helpful for urinary continence in post-partum women, and provides us with one tool more when promoting pelvic health in our patients.


Oblasser, C., Christie, J., & McCourt, C. (2015). Vaginal cones or balls to improve pelvic floor muscle performance and urinary continence in women post-partum: A quantitative systematic review. Midwifery, 31(11), 1017-1025.
Wilson, P. D., & Herbison, G. P. (1998). A randomized controlled trial of pelvic floor muscle exercises to treat postnatal urinary incontinence. International Urogynecology Journal, 9(5), 257-264.

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Nocturia: The Elderly Night Club

While working with a 71 year old lady one day, I asked her about her sleep habits, thinking she would describe her neck position, since that it was I was treating. She quickly commented she gets up one to two times every night to use the bathroom. Without any hesitation, she then declared her sister and her friends all do the same thing. No one she knows who is close to her age can sleep through the night without having to pee. Realizing this was more of an issue for my patient than her neck at night, I proceeded to look into the research behind these nighttime escapades of the elderly.

In the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2013, Zeitzer et al. performed research regarding insomnia and nocturia in older adults. The introduction explains how 40-70% of older adults experience insomnia, and the greatest cause for sleep disturbance is the need to urinate in the middle of the night (nocturia). In epidemiological studies, between two-thirds and three-quarters older adults report disrupted sleep due to nocturia. The study performed by these authors involved men (average age of 64.3) and women (average age of 62.5) recording their sleep and toileting habits over the course of 2 weeks. The results showed over half the reported awakenings at night were secondary to nocturia. They had worse restfulness and efficiency of sleep associated with the log-reported need to get up to use the bathroom.

In a 2014 study by Tyagi, et al., the effect of nocturia on the behavioral treatment for insomnia in older adults was explored. The authors noted how nocturia being the primary reason for waking up at night increased proportionately with age with results ranging from 39.9% in people 18-44 years of age to 77.1% in the 65 years old or above population. The 79 participants in this study underwent brief behavioral treatment for their chronic insomnia or only received information. People with and without nocturia both demonstrated significant improvements in quality of sleep after receiving brief behavioral treatment versus the control group; however, the effect size was larger in the participants without nocturia. The authors concluded nocturia needs to be addressed first in order to experience the full benefit of behavior treatment for insomnia.

On a neurological level, a study from November 2015 by Smith, Kuchel, and Griffiths reported there could be a neural basis for voiding dysfunction in older adults. They found 3 separate neural circuits control voiding, and damage to the pathways feeding these circuits increases with age and can increase urge incontinence. Older adults experiencing neurological deficits may have difficulty discerning what to do when there is urgency and are susceptible to becoming incontinent. The authors recommend treatment of not just the bladder in older people but also therapies to address the structural and functional abnormalities of the neural circuits to provide the greatest results.

So, the next time I saw my patient, I explained to her she is definitely not alone in her nightly rendezvous to the bathroom when it comes to her age group. She has accepted this as “just how things are.” I would like to think there is something more we can do for the elderly population to keep them out of the nocturia “night club.” Taking the Geriatric Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation course by Heather S. Rader, PT, DPT, BCB-PMD, seems like an essential step in the right direction.


Tyagi, S., Resnick, N. M., Perera, S., Monk, T. H., Hall, M. H., & Buysse, D. J. (2014). Behavioral Treatment of Chronic Insomnia in Older Adults: Does Nocturia Matter? Sleep, 37(4), 681–687.
Zeitzer, J. M., Bliwise, D. L., Hernandez, B., Friedman, L., & Yesavage, J. A. (2013). Nocturia Compounds Nocturnal Wakefulness in Older Individuals with Insomnia. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine : JCSM : Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 9(3), 259–262.
Smith, Phillip P., Kuchel, George A., Griffiths, Derek. (2015). Functional Brain Imaging and the Neural Basis for Voiding Dysfunction in Older Adults. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine. 31(4), 549–565.

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Postpartum Neuropathies of the Lower Extremity

Postpartum lower extremity nerve injuries is an important topic that we have previously discussed on the blog. A review article(O'Neal 2015) published in the International Anesthesia Research Society journal discusses maternal neurological complications following childbirth. This article, designed to help anesthesiologists identify the symptoms of a neuropathy, discusses diagnosis, management, and treatment. With the incidence of obstetric neuropathy in the postpartum period estimated at 1%, most of the nerve dysfunction is related to compression injuries. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to, lower extremity pain, weakness, numbness, or bowel and bladder dysfunction. Neuraxial anesthesia can also occur, with issues such as epidural hematoma or an epidural abscess. Risk factors are described in the article as having a prolonged second stage of labor, instrumented delivery, being of short stature and nulliparity (delivering for the first time.)

Clinical pearls listed in the article include the following information that may be helpful in understanding a patient’s condition:

  • intramedullary spinal cord syndromes (inside the spinal cord) are usually painless, whereas the peripheral nerve syndromes (involving the spinal nerve roots, plexus, and single nerves) usually cause pain
  • bowel and bladder dysfunction often occurs early in the case of conus medullaris and late in the event of cauda equina syndrome
  • cauda equina syndrome often causes polyradicular pain, leg weakness, numbness, and deep tendon reflex changes and involves multiple roots
  • conus medullaris syndrome is not painful and causes saddle anesthesia and lack of significant sensory and motor symptoms in the lower extremities

In relation to prevention of neuropathies, the authors suggest that women who have diabetes or who have a preexisting neuropathy should be given extra attention. This may include protective padding during labor and delivery as well as frequent repositioning. Pelvic rehabilitation providers are a key player in the arena of birthing. Caring for women and educating them about peripartum issues is critical to helping women both prevent and heal from challenges encountered in relation to pregnancy and childbirth. If you would like to learn more about the topic of peripartum nerve dysfunctions, as well as many other special topics, please join us for the continuing education course Care of the Postpartum Patient. Your next opportunity to take this course will be in Seattle next March!


O’Neal, M. A., Chang, L. Y., & Salajegheh, M. K. (2015). Postpartum Spinal Cord, Root, Plexus and Peripheral Nerve Injuries Involving the Lower Extremities: A Practical Approach. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 120(1), 141-148.

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Pediatric Pelvic Floor: Training to Go

The day my son was born, my daughter had not defecated for 5 days, and her pain was getting pretty intense. My husband and his mom took her to Seattle Children’s Hospital for help, and they suggested using Miralax and sent them away. When they got back to my hospital room, my daughter was straining so hard it looked like she was about to give birth! Being physical therapists, my husband and I massaged her little muscles and told her to take deep breaths, and eventually she did the deed, yet not without a heart-breaking struggle. Little did I know then there is actually research to back up our emergency, instinctual technique.

Zivkovic et al (2012) performed a study regarding the use of diaphragmatic breathing exercises and retraining of the pelvic floor in children with dysfunctional voiding. They defined dysfunctional voiding as urinary incontinence, straining, weakened stream, feeling the bladder has not emptied, and increased EMG activity during the discharge of urine. Although this study focuses primarily on urinary issues, it also includes constipation in the treatment and outcomes. Forty-three patients between the ages of 5 and 13 with no neurological disorders were included in the study. The subjects underwent standard urotherapy (education on normal voiding habits, appropriate fluid intake, keeping a voiding chart, and posture while voiding) in addition to pelvic floor muscle retraining and diaphragmatic breathing exercises. The results showed 100% of patients were cured of their constipation, 83% were cured of urinary incontinence, and 66% were cured of nocturnal enuresis.

More recently, Farahmand et al (2015) researched the effect of pelvic floor muscle exercise for functional constipation in the pediatric population. Stool withholding and delayed colonic transit are most often the causes for children having difficulty with bowel movements. Behavioral modifications combined with laxatives still left 30% of children symptomatic. Forty children between the ages of 4 and 18 performed pelvic floor muscle exercise sessions at home, two times per day for 8 weeks. The children walked for 5 minutes in a semi-sitting (squatting) position while being supervised by parents. The patients increased the exercise duration 5 minutes per week for the first two weeks and stayed the same over the next six weeks. The results showed 90% of patients reported overall improvement of symptoms. Defecation frequency, fecal consistency and decrease in fecal diameter were all found to be significantly improved. Although not statistically significant, the number of patients with stool withholding, fecal impaction, fecal incontinence, and painful defecation decreased as well.

Parents may not be as aware of their children’s voiding habits once they are cleared from diaper duty after successful potty training occurs. To help prevent issues, keep the basics covered, such as making sure children are exercising regularly or being active, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating a diet that includes plenty of fiber. My daughter was only 26 months old when her constipation became a problem, so the stool softener was ultimately the way to go at that time, and everything worked out naturally over the next year. If she were still experiencing functional constipation, I would be delighted to know teaching her pelvic floor exercises (relaxation being the key aspect) and diaphragmatic breathing could be effective for keeping my crazy little girl regular in at least that area of her life!


Zivkovic V, Lazovic M, Vlajkovic M, Slavkovic A, Dimitrijevic L, Stankovic I, Vacic N. (2012). Diaphragmatic breathing exercises and pelvic floor retraining in children with dysfunctional voiding. European J ournal of Physical Rehabilitation Medicine. 48(3):413-21. Epub 2012 Jun 5.
Farahmand, F., Abedi, A., Esmaeili-dooki, M. R., Jalilian, R., & Tabari, S. M. (2015). Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercise for Paediatric Functional Constipation.Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research : JCDR, 9(6), SC16–SC17. http://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2015/12726.6036

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To Run or Not to Run During Pregnancy

The eve of my daughter’s 5th birthday has me reminiscing about my first pregnancy. I had recently surrendered my ACL on a ski slope and was contemplating surgery when I got confirmation I was pregnant. A seasoned surgeon had told me if I just wanted to return to running and not ski or do cutting sports (without a brace, anyway), I would probably be fine; so, I chose to forego the surgery and was running again 7 weeks later. Being my first pregnancy, I was not sure how hormones would affect my knee stability without an ACL or if the impact was safe for me and the baby or if my doctor would approve of my exercise choice of running. After all, pending ligamentous laxity from hormonal changes made running without an ACL seem risky while pregnant; but, runners tend to be, well, stubborn, when it comes to being able to run.

Deghan et al (2014) discuss the hormone relaxin and its effect on bone, muscle, tendon, ligaments, and cartilage. Interestingly, relaxin actually plays a role in the healing and remodeling of certain tissues in the body such as muscle and bone. However, the article also emphasizes how relaxin has been shown to reduce the integrity of the ACL and put female athletes at risk for injury. Lucky for me, that hormone couldn’t have its way with my knee since the ACL was already gone!

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine just published online October 4, 2015, encourages running and other high-impact sports before pregnancy to decrease the risk of pelvic girdle pain. The patients engaging in such exercises prior to being pregnant showed a 14% lower risk of having pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy. Out of 4069 women, 12.5% of the 10.4% of women who experienced pelvic pain were non-exercisers pre-pregnancy. The women who exercised 3-5 days per week and participated in high-impact aerobic exercise prior to being pregnant had less pelvic pain while pregnant.

Tenforde et al (2015) investigated the habits of competitive runners during pregnancy as well as breastfeeding. Out of 110 female runners, 70% continued to run during their pregnancy; however, only 31% continued into their 3rd trimester. Only 3.9% of the women got injured while running pregnant. In general, the competitive runners reduced their intensity and volume and ran primarily for fitness and health. The 84.1% of the women who ran during breastfeeding reported less postpartum depression and no negative impact on breastfeeding.

Looking back at my running log, I ran 3 miles under 10-minute pace two days before going into labor, and my daughter was even 9 days late. I continued to run because I love it and, quite simply, because I could. Personally, my blood pressure, weight, and glucose levels stayed healthy throughout the pregnancy. Even without an important stabilizing ligament in my knee and some extra pounds, I never experienced joint pain while running. On the trail where I ran, I got mixed responses from people coming the other way - mostly encouragement, but also some looks of disappointment or disgust (I didn’t say it was pretty) and an occasional know-it-all “warning.” Ultimately, any woman who has been running prior to pregnancy should be able to continue some level of running through the trimesters until her own body, the obstetrician, or a hard-kicking baby gives a reason to stop.


Dehghan, F., Haerian, B. S., Muniandy, S., Yusof, A., Dragoo, J. L., & Salleh, N. (2014). The effect of relaxin on the musculoskeletal system. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(4), e220–e229. http://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12149
Owe KM, Bjelland EK, Stuge B, Orsini N, Eberhard-Gran M, Vangen S. (4 October 2015). Exercise level before pregnancy and engaging in high-impact sports reduce the risk of pelvic girdle pain: a population-based cohort study of 39,184 women. British Journal of Sports Medicine. pii: bjsports-2015-094921. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-094921. [Epub ahead of print]
Tenforde AS, Toth KE, Langen E, Fredericson M, Sainani KL. (2015 Mar). Running habits of competitive runners during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Sports Health.;7(2):172-6. doi: 10.1177/1941738114549542.

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Effectiveness of Exercise for Managing Osteoporosis in Women Postmenopause

Commonly in physical therapy we treat patients with osteopenia or osteoporosis, however, they are usually in our office for another diagnosis such as back, hip, or pelvic pain as the primary complaint and we learn about the osteoporosis from health history review. Physical therapy is an opportunity to provide them with not just relief from their primary complaint, but a chance to learn from a professional how to move in a more healthy way and learn the right ways to exercises to make a regular routine that can help them to protect their body and even slow or stop bone mineral density loss. This is important as the primary concern for a patient with the diagnosis of osteoporosis is risk of fracture (especially of the hip or spine) due to minimal trauma because of low bone mineral density. So let’s make sure we are giving patients comprehensive exercise programs that address their primary complaint, however be comprehensive and include exercise modes that may reduce fractures and may improve bone mineral density.

An interesting article by Palombaro et al1 in 2013 from Physical Therapy discusses a Cochrane review by Howe et al2 and applies the findings from this review to an example patient similar to the participants reviewed in the study. The goal of the article is to link evidence in the literature with how we practice as PT’s. The topic explored in the systematic review by Howe et al was exercise for the management of osteoporosis in women postmenopause and which exercise approaches reduce the loss of bone mineral density or reduce chance of fractures in women who are healthy postmenopause. The systematic review2 included 43 randomized controlled studies of postmenopausal women age 45-70 where the intervention groups included exercises that improved aerobic capacity or improved aerobic capacity and muscle strength and had a comparison group completing “usual activity: or placebo intervention. The duration of exercise lasted from 6 months to 2 years in the various studies. The results of the review demonstrated decreased bone loss (of the spine or hips) in groups who performed any type of exercise compared to the control groups. The review also performed additional sub group analysis to take into account the various types of exercise programs in the studies and found favorable effect for all types of exercises completed (dynamic, low force, high force, weight bearing, or non-weight bearing) all had favorable effect on bone density. The take home message from this systematic review is that exercise programs combining various forms of exercises lasting 6 months to 2 years resulted in reduced risk for fracture, and a slightly beneficial effect on bone mineral density of the spine, trochanter, and neck of the femur in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.

At the end of this article1 the authors give a case of an active, postmenopausal female patient with history of osteopenia without a fracture seeking PT for an unrelated complaint. The authors took the findings from this review and showed the relevance of the findings, applying it to the patient and the outcome of care for this patient when giving her an exercise program. We can implement findings from this review simply to the common question posed by our patients… “what exercises should I be doing to help with my osteoporosis?”

Exercises for a patient with osteoporosis should be forms of exercises that may improve bone density by loading bones (weight bearing exercise) and by increasing muscle mass (strengthening resistive exercise) to produce mechanical load and stress to the bone. Also as we age we tend to experience changes with not just a reduction of bone mineral density, but also a reduction of muscle mass. Additionally complicating the natural progression of aging are balance and gait changes leading to impaired physical performance. We should be giving our patients a comprehensive exercise program including safe weight bearing exercises and a strengthening program. Common examples of weight bearing exercises include regular walking, jogging, jumping, dancing, and racquet sports. Common examples of strengthening activities would include use of resistive exercises for upper and lower body with bands, free weights or resistive equipment. All of these classifications of exercise were considered as beneficial in the review.

To learn more about helping postmenopausal patients, consider joining Michelle Lyons, PT, MISCP for "Menopause Rehabilitation and Symptom Management". This course will be taking place March 19, 2016 - March 20, 2016 in Atlanta, GA. Another great resource to consider is "Geriatric Pelvic Floor Rehab: Modifying Treatments for Seniors and Older Patients" with Heather S. Rader, PT, DPT, BCB-PMD, taking place January 16-17, 2016 in Tampa, FL.


1 Palombaro, K. M., Black, J. D., Buchbinder, R., & Jette, D. U. (2013). Effectiveness of exercise for managing osteoporosis in women postmenopause. Physical Therapy, 93(8), 1021-1025.
2 Howe, T. E., Shea, B., Dawson, L. J., Downie, F., Murray, A., Ross, C., ... & Creed, G. (2011). Exercise for preventing and treating osteoporosis in postmenopausal women (Review).

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Can Pelvic Floor Training Be Learned Through Internet or Postal Training?

Can patients benefit from a non-face-to-face treatment program for stress urinary incontinence? A recent study addressing this question was published in the British Journal of Urology International. This randomized, controlled trial utilized online recruitment of 250 community-dwelling women ages 18-70 years. Criteria was stress urinary incontinence (SUI) at least 1x/week, diagnosis based on self-assessment questionnaires, 2 days of bladder diaries, as well as a telephone interview with a urotherapist. The Outcomes tools included the International Consultation on Incontinence Questionnaire Short Form (ISIC-UI SF), the Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms Quality of Life (ICIQ-LUTSqol), the Patient Global Impression of Improvement, health-specific quality of life (EQ-VAS), use if incontinence aids, and satisfaction with treatment.

The participants were randomized into 2 pelvic floor muscle training groups: an “internet-based” group (n=124) and a group who were sent information in the mail (n=126). The internet-based program contained information about pelvic muscle contractions (8 escalating levels of training), behavioral training related to lifestyle changes. The internet group received email support from the urotherapist, and the postal group did not. Pelvic floor muscle training was instructed at at least 8 contractions 3 times/day. After the 3 month training period, the internet-based treatment group was advised to continue pelvic floor muscle training 2-3 times/week, whereas the mail training group were not given any advice about continued training frequency. Follow-up data was collected at 4 months post-intervention, at 1 year and 2 years. At 2 years follow-up, 38% of the participants were lost from the study.

Within both groups, the authors report that the International Consultation on Incontinence Questionnaire Short Form (ISIC-UI SF) and the Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms Quality of Life (ICIQ-LUTSqol) showed “highly significant improvements” after 1 and 2 years compared to baseline data. Much of the improvement occurred within the first 4 months of the study “…and then persisted throughout the follow-up period.” When comparing the internet group to the mail-only group, the perception of improvement following treatment was higher. Approximately 2/3 of the women in both groups reported satisfaction with the treatment even at the 2 year follow-up. The authors conclude that the internet or mail-based exercise programs may “…have the potential to increase access to care and the quality of care given to women with SUI [stress urinary incontinence] in a sustainable way.” Additionally, not all patients will improve significantly unless they have one-on-one intervention, leaving plenty of patients who do need our direct care.

If you would like to learn more about exercise prescription for urinary incontinence, consider attending one of Herman & Wallace's many continuing education courses.

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