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Pelvic, Sexual, and Bone Health at Menopause

A question that often comes up in conversation around menopause is that of pelvic health – the effects on bladder, bowel or sexual health…what works, what’s safe, what’s not? Is hormone therapy better, worse or the same in terms of efficacy when compared to pelvic rehab? Do we have a role here?

An awareness of pelvic health issues that arise at menopause was explored in Oskay’s 2005 paper ‘A study on urogenital complaints of postmenopausal women aged 50 and over’ stating ‘…Urinary incontinence and sexual problems, particularly decline in sexual desire, are widespread among postmenopausal women. Frequent urinary tract infections, obesity, chronic constipation and other chronic illnesses seem to be the predictors of UI.’

menopause symptomsMoller’s 2006 paper explored the link between LUTS (Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms) and sexual activity at midlife: the paper discussed how lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) have a profound impact on women’s physical, social, and sexual well being, and confirmed that LUTS are likely to affect sexual activity. However, they also found that conversely, sexual activity may affect the occurrence of LUTS – in their study a questionnaire was sent to 4,000 unselected women aged 40–60 years, and they found that compared to women having sexual relationship, a statistically significant 3 to 6 fold higher prevalence of LUTS was observed in women with no sexual relationship. They also found that women who ceased sexual relationship an increase in the de novo occurrence of most LUTS was observed, concluding that ‘…sexual inactivity may lead to LUTS and vice versa’.

So, who advises women going through menopause about issues such as sexual ergonomics, the use of lubricants or moisturisers, or provide a discussion about the benefits of local topical estrogen? As well as providing a skillset that includes orthopaedic assessment to rule out any musculo-skeletal influences that could be a driver for sexual dysfunction? That would be the pelvic rehab specialist clinician! Tosun et al asked the question ‘Do stages of menopause affect the outcomes of pelvic floor muscle training?’ and the answer in this and other papers was yes; with the research comparing pelvic rehab vs hormone therapy vs a combination approach of pelvic rehab and topical estrogen providing the best outcomes. Nygaard’s paper looked at the ‘Impact of menopausal status on the outcome of pelvic floor physiotherapy in women with urinary incontinence’ and concluded that : ‘…(both pre and postmenopausal women) benefit from motor learning strategies and adopt functional training to improve their urinary symptoms in similar ways, irrespective of hormonal status or HRT and BMI category’.

We must also factor in some of the other health concerns that pelvic health can impact at midlife for women – Brown et al asked the question ‘Urinary incontinence: does it increase risk for falls and fractures?’ They answered their question by concluding that ‘‘… urge incontinence was associated independently with an increased risk of falls and non-spine, nontraumatic fractures in older women. Urinary frequency, nocturia, and rushing to the bathroom to avoid urge incontinent episodes most likely increase the risk of falling, which then results in fractures. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment of urge incontinence may decrease the risk of fracture.’

If you are interested in learning more about pelvic health, sexual function and bone health at Menopause, consider attending Menopause Rehabilitation and Symptom Management.


Sexual activity and lower urinary tract symptoms’ Møller LA1, Lose G. Int Urogynecol J Pelvic Floor Dysfunct. 2006 Jan;17(1):18-21. Epub 2005 Jul 29.
A study on urogenital complaints of postmenopausal women aged 50 and over. Oskay UY1, Beji NK, Yalcin O. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2005 Jan;84(1):72-8.
Do stages of menopause affect the outcomes of pelvic floor muscle training? Tosun ÖÇ1, Mutlu EK, Tosun G, Ergenoğlu AM, Yeniel AÖ, Malkoç M, Aşkar N, İtil İM. Menopause. 2015 Feb;22(2):175-84. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000278.
‘Impact of menopausal status on the outcome of pelvic floor physiotherapy in women with urinary incontinence.’ Nygaard CC1, Betschart C, Hafez AA, Lewis E, Chasiotis I, Doumouchtsis SK. Int Urogynecol J. 2013 Dec;24(12):2071-6. doi: 10.1007/s00192-013-2179-7. Epub 2013 Jul 17

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Why do we need a prostatectomy rehabilitation course?

Sara Chan Reardon, DPT, WCS, BCB-PMD is a pelvic floor dysfunction specialist practicing in New Orleans, LA. Sara was named the 2008 Section on Women’s Health Research Scholar for her published research on pelvic floor dyssynergia related constipation. She was recognized as an Emerging Leader in 2013 by the American Physical Therapy Association. She served as Treasurer of the APTA’s Section on Women's Health and sat on their Executive Board of Directors from 2012-2015. Today she was kind enough to share a bit about her course Post-Prostatectomy Patient Rehabilitation, which is taking place twice in 2018.

My name is Sara Reardon, and I teach the Post-Prostatectomy Patient Rehabilitation course, which I wrote and developed in the year 2015. At the time, I had been a pelvic health Physical Therapist for over 10 years. Earlier in my career, I had taken the Pelvic Floor 2A course by Herman and Wallace Institute, which was a fantastic and thorough introduction to treating a male patient.

Over the years, I started seeing more and more men with post-prostatectomy urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction in my clinic. Urinary incontinence is the most common and costly complication in men following prostate removal surgery, and their quality of life is directly related to their duration of experiencing those symptoms. Evidence supports that pelvic floor muscle training started as soon as possible after surgery can help decrease incontinence and improve quality of life. I enjoyed being able to help men decrease their incontinence and improve their other symptoms after all they had been through following a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

No courses focused specifically on treating post-prostatectomy pelvic floor dysfunction were offered at the time, so I scoured the research, shadowed with physicians, observed surgeries, and attended urology conferences to understand how to effectively treat these individuals. Treating this population of men is fun, fulfilling, and rewarding, and I was inspired to help other pelvic health physical therapists dive deeper as I witnessed the impact pelvic health physical therapy can have on the quality of life of these patients. I love teaching this course, and I am excited to help other pelvic health professionals learn evidence based and effective treatment strategies to help these men navigate their recovery after prostatectomy.

Join Dr. Reardon in Philadelphia, PA on June 2-3, 2018 or in Houston, TX on November 10-11, 2018 to learn evaluation and treatment techniques for men recovering from prostatectomy surgery.

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Perineal Stimulation for Nocturia and Overactive Bladder in Elderly Women

A 2016 study by Kaori et al examined the effect of self administered perineal stimulation for nocturia in elderly women. A prior study using rodents found a soft roller used decreased overactive bladder syndrome (OAB), but a hard roller did not produce the same results. Kaori et al performed a similar study for elderly women in a randomized, placebo controlled, double blind crossover. Participants were 79-89 years old women who applied simulation to perineal skin for 1 minute at bedtime, using either active (soft, sticky elastomer) roller or a placebo (hard polylestrene roller). Participants did a 3-day baseline, followed by 3-day stimulation, then 4 days rest, then other stimuli for 3 days. There were 24 participants, 22 completed the study: 9 with OAB, 13 without OAB. The placement of the roller was not on the skin of the perineal body, but rather on the general peri-anal area with the diagram from the study showing an area just medial to the gluteal crease—where one would find the ischial tuberosity-- and anterior and lateral to the anal sphincter.

Across the subjects with OAB, change with the elastomer roller (soft and sticky feel) was more statistically significant than with the hard roller. Baseline micturition for the participants was 3.2+/- 1.2 times per night, measured as the number of urination between going to bed and arising. The group as a whole did not have a statistically significant difference, measured by at least one less time arising per night. However, in the OAB group, the difference was significant. The researchers theorized that the soft and sticky texture may induce more firing of somatic afferents nerve fibers.

The most commonly prescribed treatment for overactive bladder is anticholinergic therapy, but the side effects, including cognitive changes and lack of significant difference from controls, as well as the drying effect of these drugs in a post-menopausal-low-estrogen-pelvis, bring up questions of whether this is the best option in the elderly.(6)

In anesthetized animals, electrical stimulation and noxious stimuli decrease frequency of bladder contractions when applied to the perineal area (3-5). Somatic, afferent nerve stimuli (those theorized to be active with the soft roller) are used to treat OAB by modalities such as acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical stimulation to the perineum (2). So, stimulation of somatic visceral afferent nerves in the perineal region seems to have an effect on the bladder. However, with manual therapies, it seems we can also affect the somatic or visceral afferents. Essentially, visceral afferents convey information to the central nervous system about local changes in chemical and mechanical environments of a number of organ systems(7). Doing manual therapy between the urethral and bladder fascia would also theoretically cause stimulation of the visceral afferents to the central nervous system about that organ (bladder).

In our pelvic floor intro class (Pelvic Floor Level 1) at Herman Wallace, we discuss the role of Bradley’s neurology loop 3 and the inverse relationship between pelvic floor contraction (lifting the perineal area) and the bladder. One suppression technique we discuss is the contraction of the pelvic floor to quiet or inhibit bladder activity in the bladder retraining program. Bladder retraining has evidence level A (strong) for improving urgency and frequency with overactive bladder.

Clinicians who are ready to raise their manual game may try using the skills of prior series courses and adding the sophistication of manual techniques in the abdomen and pelvis to increase afferent firing in patients with OAB, as well as freeing up any fascial restrictions that may be interfering with full bladder excursion.

In the newly written Capstone course, we combine the prior level of education from the pelvic series (bladder strategies) with manual techniques to address the endopelvic fascia at the bladder base, in the fascial articulations along the perineum, and along its attachments to the coccyx, as well as combining internal work with sacral techniques to facilitate S234 afferents for bladder control. We discuss studies, such as this one, to explore advanced concepts of bladder and urethral fascial mechanics and neural entrapment affecting the bladder. We move out of the pelvic muscle and into the fascial contents of the abdominopelvic region, to allow such firing of the somatic afferents. And the perineal stimulation? We have an entire lab for perineal tissue and its effect on pelvic function. Physical therapists can manually address the perineum, urethral and bladder fascia with Capstone techniques. With such intervention, we get more CNS communication.

So, what about the roller? Well, the soft roller created change in rodents in a couple of studies. (Sato 2010). In this human study, it helped with OAB. Certainly, manual therapies in the region of the endopelvic fascia and suprapubic region may be of help for also stimulating the visceral afferents. Also, it could be worth it to have a high fall risk elderly patient with OAB type nocturia follow up your treatments with one minute of soft washcloth stroking in the area of the perineum for one minute at bedtime to see if it helps decrease the number of voids on a night time bladder diary.

Nari Clemons, PT, PRPC is a Herman & Wallace faculty member who helped author the Pelvic Floor Series Capstone: Advanced Topics in Pelvic Rehab course. She is also the creator and instructor of Pelvic Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment.


Main study: PLoS One. 2016 Mar 22;11(3):e0151726. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151726. eCollection 2016.Effects of a Gentle, Self-Administered Stimulation of Perineal Skin for Nocturia in Elderly Women: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Crossover Trial.Iimura K1,2, Watanabe N2, Masunaga K3, Miyazaki S1,2,4, Hotta H2, Kim H5, Hisajima T1,4, Takahashi H1,4, Kasuya Y3.
2. Exp Ther Med. 2013 Sep;6(3):773-780. Epub 2013 Jul 9., Acupuncture for the treatment of urinary incontinence: A review of randomized controlled trials.Paik SH1, Han SR, Kwon OJ, Ahn YM, Lee BC, Ahn SY.
3. Guo ZF. Transcutaneious electrical nerve stimulation in the treatment of patients with poststroke urinary incontinence. Clin Interv Aging. 2014; 851-6.
4. Sato A, The impact of somatosensory input on autonomic functions. Reve Physiol Biochem Pharmacol. 1997;130;1-328
5. Sato A. Mechanism of the reflex inhibition of micturition conractions of the urinary bladder elicited by acupuncture-like stimulation in anesthetized rats. Neurosci res. 1992 15:189-98
6). Effects of a Gentle, Self-Administered Stimulation of Perineal Skin for Nocturia in Elderly Women: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Crossover Trial. Iimura K, Watanabe N, Masunaga K, Miyazaki S, Hotta H, Kim H, Hisajima T, Takahashi H, Kasuya Y. PLoS One. 2016 Mar 22;11(3):e0151726. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151726. eCollection 2016.
7) John C. Longhurst, Liang-Wu Fu, in Primer on the Autonomic Nervous System (Third Edition), 2012

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Reflections on course design and development: Evolution of an idea

The following is the first in a series of posts by Erica Vitek, MOT, OTR, BCB-PMD, PRPC. Erica joined the Herman & Wallace faculty in 2018 and is the author of Neurologic Conditions and Pelvic Floor Rehab.

Erica VitekA well-respected colleague of mine brought something to my attention. My desire to learn everything possible about Parkinson disease and pelvic health was a unique passion, a combination of expertise not seen in many rehabilitation clinics.

Looking back, being passionate about how to physically exercise a person with Parkinson disease to produce the best functional outcome actually became a passion of mine when I was offered my first job. I was thrown into treating people with Parkinson disease in an acute care setting. I had very limited knowledge about Parkinson disease at the time, but I learned quickly from the vast opportunity that was offered to me through my place of work, which was the regions sought after Parkinson disease center of excellence. At the same time, I was eager to further advance my skills as a pelvic floor therapist, which I developed a substantial interest in when I was in college.

As I learned more about what people with Parkinson disease had to manage in their daily lives, it became very clear to me that autonomic dysfunction was a very challenging, and sometimes disabling, aspect of the disease. Being knowledgeable about the neurological and musculoskeletal system along with the urinary, gastrointestinal, and sexual systems seemed to fit well together but there was no specific place to go to combine this knowledge. The research I began collecting on this topic was abundant and very intriguing. Bringing this information together could be practice changing for me to help people living with Parkinson disease.

As clinicians, we already know how to be understanding about the very personal details of the people we work with. People with Parkinson disease deal with an extra layer of challenge, such as, bradykinesia, freezing of gait, and tremor affecting their day to day self-care and relationships. Adding urinary incontinence, constipation or sexual dysfunction to the list makes for even more difficult management.

How does one clinician share their passion with other clinicians that also have the same desires to give the best care to their patients with Parkinson disease? Having a great deal of respect for Herman and Wallace and what they have to offer clinicians practicing pelvic rehabilitation, it seemed like it could be the perfect fit for a course like this. The work that would lie ahead if this idea took off was overwhelming but did not hinder me from my proposal. In fact, it has led to an even larger scope addressing the of treatment of the pelvic floor for a multitude of neurologic conditions many of us see daily in our clinics. Pulling it all together to share is a process that will reward not only people with Parkinson disease in my practice but hopefully yours as well.

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Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy for Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic pain condition characterized by both pelvic pain and urinary symptoms.  It’s diagnosed by unexplained pain or pressure that is perceived to be related to the bladder, and affects more than 12 million Americans.  It’s often described as the sensation of a urinary tract infection, but without any bacterial infection.  Many patients report severe pain, often more intense than that associated with bladder cancer, and up to 85% of patients have accompanying pelvic floor dysfunction.

Pelvic floor physical therapy is the most proven treatment for interstitial cystitis.  It’s recommended by the American Urological Association (AUA) as a first-line medical treatment in their IC Guidelines, and is the only treatment given an evidence grade of ‘A’.  Furthermore, it’s the sole intervention that provides sustained relief; bladder treatments and oral medications must be continued indefinitely to provide benefit, if they work at all.


Research has demonstrated that at least 85% of patients with interstitial cystitis also have pelvic floor dysfunction.  In fact, many of the symptoms of IC can only be explained by the pelvic floor.  The majority of patients report painful intercourse, low back pain, hip pain, or constipation accompanying the condition; symptoms that have nothing to do with the bladder.

“More than 20 years of research supported by the National Institutes of Health and industry have failed to show that bladder-directed therapy is superior to placebo [for IC].  This fact suggests that the bladder may be an innocent bystander in a larger pelvic process.  As clinicians, we must be willing to look beyond the bladder and examine for pelvic floor issues and other causes of patient’s symptoms and not be too quick to begin bladder-focused treatments.” – Dr. Kenneth PetersPatients discover that Pelvic PT is an option

Despite this, many patients don’t learn about pelvic floor physical therapy for years after their diagnosis.  Many have to discover pelvic PT for themselves, or their doctor only mentions physical therapy as a last resort.  At PelvicSanity, we just published a study of our interstitial cystitis patients in the International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS) meeting, reporting on both patient outcomes and their experience with the medical system following their IC diagnosis.


In following the results for thirteen consecutive patients with an interstitial cystitis diagnosis, patients reported more than a 60% improvement in pain, symptom bother, and how much symptoms limited their daily activities.  On average, their pain level was at a 7.6 out of 10 upon initial evaluation, which fell to 2.6 after treatment.

ICimpPatients saw a relatively rapid improvement in their symptoms with treatment.  Over half (54%) reported an improvement in symptoms within their first three visits; 31% saw their first improvement in visits 4-6 and 15% required ten or more visits for subjective improvement.  Importantly, all patients in the study reported a better understanding of their condition and feeling more hopeful for recovery after their initial evaluation.


More than half of these patients reported seeing five or more medical doctors for their condition prior to beginning pelvic floor physical therapy, and had been prescribed multiple medications and undergone bladder treatments without success.  However, only a single respondent (7.7%) believed they had been referred to pelvic PT by their doctor at the appropriate time.  Nearly half (46%) had to find out about pelvic floor physical therapy for interstitial cystitis themselves, while the remainder felt they had been referred by their doctor far too late, as a last resort.

With more than 12 million women and men suffering with this condition in the United States alone, increasing education – for both doctors and patients – is vital.  In our upcoming course for physical therapists in treating interstitial cystitis (April 28-29, 2018 in San Diego), we’ll focus on the most important physical therapy techniques for IC, home stretching and self-care programs, and information to guide patients in creating a holistic treatment plan

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Menopause, Weight Gain, and Pelvic Health

The new year is here and with it, lots of motivational posting about exercise and weight loss…but how is this desire for ‘new year, new you’ affecting peri-menopausal women with urinary dysfunction? It has been established that the lower urinary tract is sensitive to the effects of estrogen, sharing a common embryological origin with the female genital tract, the urogenital sinus. Urge urinary incontinence is more prevalent after the menopause, and the peak prevalence of stress incontinence occurs around the time of the menopause (Quinn et al 2009). Zhu et al looked at the risk factors for urinary incontinence in women and found that some of the main contributors include peri/post-menopausal status, constipation and central obesity (women's waist circumference, >/=80 cm) along with vaginal delivery/multiparity.

Could weight loss directly impact urinary incontinence in menopausal women? In a word – yes. ‘Weight reduction is an effective treatment for overweight and obese women with UI. Weight loss of 5% to 10% has an efficacy similar to that of other nonsurgical treatments and should be considered a first line therapy for incontinence’ (Subak et al 2005) But do these benefits last? Again – yes! ‘Weight loss intervention reduced the frequency of stress incontinence episodes through 12 months and improved patient satisfaction with changes in incontinence through 18 months. Improving weight loss maintenance may provide longer term benefits for urinary incontinence.’ (Wing et al 2010)

The other major health issues facing women at midlife include an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes and Bone Health problems – all of which are responsive to lifestyle interventions, particularly exercise and stress management. In their paper looking at lifestyle weight loss interventions, Franz et al found that ‘…a weight loss of >5% appears necessary for beneficial effects on HbA1c, lipids, and blood pressure. Achieving this level of weight loss requires intense interventions, including energy restriction, regular physical activity, and frequent contact with health professionals’. 5% weight loss is the same amount of weight loss necessary to provide significant benefits for urinary incontinence at midlife.

Successful weight management depends on nutritional intake, exercise and psychosocial considerations such as stress management, but for the menopausal woman, hormonal balance can also have an effect on not only bladder and bowel dysfunction but changing metabolic rates, thyroid issues and altered weight distribution patterns. As pelvic rehab therapists, we are all aware that pelvic health issues can be a barrier to exercise participation but sensitive awareness of the other particular challenges facing midlife women can make the difference in developing a beneficial therapeutic alliance and a journey back to optimal health. If you would like to explore the topics surrounding optimal health at menopause, why not join me in California in February?


Climacteric. 2009 Apr;12(2):106-13. ‘The effects of hormones on urinary incontinence in postmenopausal women.’ Quinn SD, Domoney C. Menopause. 2009 Jul-Aug;16(4):831-6. The epidemiological study of women with urinary incontinence and risk factors for stress urinary incontinence in China’ Zhu L, Lang J, Liu C, Han S, Huang J, Li X. J Urol. 2005 Jul;174(1):190-5. Weight loss: a novel and effective treatment for urinary incontinence’ Subak LL, Whitcomb E, Shen H, Saxton J, Vittinghoff E, Brown JS. J Urol. 2010 Sep;184(3):1005-10. Effect of weight loss on urinary incontinence in overweight and obese women: results at 12 and 18 months Wing RR, West DS, Grady D, Creasman JM, Richter HE, Myers D, Burgio KL, Franklin F, Gorin AA, Vittinghoff E, Macer J, Kusek JW, Subak LL; Program to Reduce Incontinence by Diet and Exercise Group. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Sep;115(9):1447-63. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.02.031. Epub 2015 Apr 29. Lifestyle weight-loss intervention outcomes in overweight and obese adults with type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Franz MJ, Boucher JL, Rutten-Ramos S, VanWormer JJ. Lean, M, & Lara, J & O Hill, J (2007) Strategies for preventing obesity. In: Sattar, N & Lean, M (eds.) ABC of Obesity. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

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Gynecological Cancers Challenge the Pelvic Floor

When I work prn in inpatient rehabilitation, I have access to each patient’s chart and can really focus on the systems review and past medical history, which often gives me ample reasons to ask about pelvic floor dysfunction. So, of course, I do. I have yet to find a gynecological cancer survivor who does not report an ongoing struggle with urinary incontinence. And sadly, they all report that they just deal with it.

Bretschneider et al.2016 researched the presence of pelvic floor disorders in females with presumed gynecological malignancy prior to surgical intervention. Baseline assessments were completed by 152 of the 186 women scheduled for surgery. The rate of urinary incontinence (UI) at baseline was 40.9% for the subjects, all of whom had uterine, ovarian, or cervical cancer. Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) was reported by 33.3% of the women, urge incontinence (UI) by 25%, fecal incontinence (FI) by 3.9%, abdominal pain by 47.4%, constipation by 37.7%, and diarrhea by 20.1%. The authors concluded pelvic floor disorders are prevalent among women with suspected gynecologic cancer and should be noted prior to surgery in order to provide more thorough rehabilitation for these women post-operatively.

Ramaseshan et al.2017 performed a systematic review of 31 articles to study pelvic floor disorder prevalence among women with gynecologic malignant cancers. Before treatment of cervical cancer, the prevalence of SUI was 24-29% (4-76% post-treatment), UI was 8-18% (4-59% post-treatment), and FI was 6% (2-34% post- treatment). Cervical cancer treatment also caused urinary retention (0.4-39%), fecal urge (3-49%), dyspareunia (12-58%), and vaginal dryness (15-47%). Uterine cancer showed a pre-treatment prevalence of SUI (29-36%), UUI (15-25%), and FI (3%) and post-treatment prevalence of UI (2-44%) and dyspareunia (7-39%). Vulvar cancer survivors had post-treatment prevalence of UI (4-32%), SUI (6-20%), and FI (1-20%). Ovarian cancer survivors had prevalence of SUI (32-42%), UUI (15-39%), prolapse (17%) and sexual dysfunction (62-75%). The authors concluded pelvic floor dysfunction is prevalent among gynecologic cancer survivors and needs to be addressed.

Lindgren, Dunberger, & Enblom2017 explored how gynecological cancer survivors (GCS) relate their incontinence to quality of life, view their physical activity/exercise ability, and perceive pelvic floor muscle training. The authors used a qualitative interview content analysis study with 13 women, age 48–82. Ten women had UI and 3 had FI after treatment (2 had radiation therapy, 5 had surgery, and 6 had surgery as well as radiation therapy). The results showed a reduction in physical and psychological quality of life and sexual activity because of incontinence. Having minimal to no experience or even awareness of pelvic floor training, 9 out of the 10 women were willing to spend 7 hours a week to improve their incontinence. Practical and emotional coping strategies also helped these women, and they all declared they had the cancer treatments without being informed of the risk of incontinence, which impacted their attitude and means of handling the situation.

Research shows incontinence is a common occurrence after gynecological cancer treatment. It impacts quality of life after surviving a serious illness, and many women do not know pelvic floor therapy can improve their situation. Oncology and the Female Pelvic Floor is an ideal course for practitioners to take to help increase their knowledge on how to educate and treat this population.


Bretschneider, C. E., Doll, K. M., Bensen, J. T., Gehrig, P. A., Wu, J. M., & Geller, E. J. (2016). Prevalence of pelvic floor disorders in women with suspected gynecological malignancy: a survey-based study. International Urogynecology Journal, 27(9), 1409–1414. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00192-016-2962-3
Ramaseshan, A.S., Felton, J., Roque, D., Rao, G., Shipper, A.G., Sanses, T.V.D. (2017). Pelvic floor disorders in women with gynecologic malignancies: a systematic review. International Urogynecology Journal. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00192-017-3467-4
Lindgren, A., Dunberger, G., & Enblom, A. (2017). Experiences of incontinence and pelvic floor muscle training after gynaecologic cancer treatment. Supportive Care in Cancer, 25(1), 157–166. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-016-3394-9

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Role of ischiocavernosus and bulbocavernosus in male pelvic health

Male Pelvic FloorMany therapists transition to treating men with the knowledge and training from female patients. When therapists apply this knowledge, for the most part, it works. When we spend some attention on learning what is a bit different, we might be drawn to the superficial muscles of the perineum. This old anatomy image does a wonderful job of "calling it like it is" or using anatomical terms that describe an action versus naming only the structure. In the image we are looking from below (inferior view) at the perineum and genitals. Just anterior to the anus we can see the anterior muscles within the urogenital triangle, with the base of the shaft of the penis located just anterior to (above in this image) the anus and perineal body. Notice that at the midline, we see muscle names the "accelerator urine". Modern textbooks refer to this muscle as the bulbocavernosus, or bulbospongiosus. Taking the name of accelerator urine, we can understand that this muscle will have an effect on aiding the body in emptying urine. It does this through rhythmic contractions, most often noted towards the end of urination, when the typical spurts of urine follow a more steady stream. This assistance with emptying can take place because the urethra is located within the lower part of the penis, the portion known as the corpus spongiosum. Because the bulbocavernosus muscle covers this part of the penis, and the inferior and lateral parts of the urethra are virtually wrapped within the bulbocavernosus, the muscle can have an effect on emptying the urine in the urethra.

Notice that if you follow the fibers of the accelerator urine muscle towards the top of the image, where the penis continues, you will notice fibers of the muscle wrapping around the sides of the penis. These fibers will continue as a fascial band that travels over the dorsal vessels of the penis. This allows the muscle to also have a significant action during sexual activity, in which blood flow (getting blood into, keeping blood in, and letting blood out of the penis) is paramount.

On either side of the penis we can see what is labeled the erector penis. As these muscles cover the legs, or crura which form the two upper parts of the penis, when the muscles contract, blood is shunted towards the main body of the penis. This of course helps with penile rigidity, as the smooth muscles in the artery walls of the penis allow blood to fill the spongy chambers.

Once we discuss the usual functions of these muscles, we can then imagine the dysfunctions potentially created by less than optimal activity. Consider the difficulty that these muscles will create in contracting or relaxing if they are either too weak, or too tense. These issues can create difficulty emptying well the urethra, often leading to post-void dribble. Blood flow and therefore penile rigidity with erections may be negatively impacted by inability of these muscles to contract or stay contracted, and blood flow leaving the penis may be impaired if the muscles cannot relax. When we work with patients who have genital pain, pelvic floor muscle weakness, dyscoordination, or tension, we can often improve sexual function, bladder emptying, and tasks that might otherwise be affected by pain.

If you are interested in learning more about how to assess and treat these muscles, you have one more opportunity this year to attend the 3-day Male Course instructed by Holly Tanner. Holly has been teaching this course for over 10 years when she co-wrote the first course with colleague and faculty member Stacey Futterman. The course has been updated and turned into a 3-day course to include more manual therapy techniques. Hurry to grab one of the remaining spots in the October 27-29 course in Grand Rapids!

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Female Athletes: Fit to be Dry

At the peak of my racing career I won awards in all my races from 5k to marathon. While warming up I would scope out my competition, intimidated by muscular females wearing outfits to accentuate their physiques. Many times, appearance out-weighed running capacity. In a similar manner, one strong pelvic floor contraction produced by a female athlete does not always mean she has the endurance to stay dry in the long run.

Brennand et al. (2017) researched urinary leakage during exercise in Canadian women. A summary of their findings concluded that skipping, trampoline, jumping jacks, and running/jogging were most likely to cause leakage. To combat the problem, 93.2% emptied their bladder just before exercise, 62.7% required voiding breaks during exercise, and 37.3% actually restricted their fluid intake to minimize leakage. While 90.3% of women who reported leakage impacted their activity just decreased their intensity, 80.7% avoided the activity entirely. Many women used pads (49.2%). Interest in pelvic floor physiotherapy to improve their UI was high (84.6%), but 63.5% of women still sought pessary or surgical management. Unfortunately, 35.6% of the women had no idea treatment was even an option.

Nygaard & Shaw (2016) reviewed and summarized the cross-sectional studies regarding the association between physical activity and pelvic floor disorders. Trampolinists, especially those in the 3rd tertile of competition, even those who were nulliparous, experienced greater leakage. Competitive athletes in the highest quartile of time exercising were found to have 2.5 times the amount of urinary incontinence (UI) as the lowest inactive quartile; however, 2nd and 3rd quartile recreational athletes had no difference in UI compared to inactive women. Type and dosage of exercise were both factors in UI risk. Various studies showed habitual walking decreased UI in older women, moderate exercise decreased the risk of UI, and no exercise increased the risk of UI. The incidence of UI being related to having performed strenuous exercise early in life has been limited and variable, with one study of Norwegian athletes and US Olympians not having any greater UI later in life, while another showed middle-aged women who used to exercise 7.5 hours per week had a higher incidence of UI. This review also reported athletes had a 20% greater cross sectional area of the levator ani muscle and a greater pubovisceral muscle mean diameter; however, the pelvic floor strength recorded was lower than non-athletes.

Interestingly, Leitner et al. (2017) explored pelvic floor muscle activation for continent and incontinent females during running. For 10 seconds, EMG tripolar vaginal probe recorded activity at 7, 11, and 15km/h. No statistically significant differences between continent or incontinent subjects were found for the EMG values. Pre-activity and reflex activity mean EMG increased significantly with speed; mean pelvic floor muscle EMG activity during running was significantly above onset activation value; and, maximum voluntary contraction was exceeded 100% for all time intervals at 15km/h in women with UI. These authors suggested the stimulus of running could actually be beneficial in pelvic floor muscle training considering the reflex activity of the muscles.

At races now, I still silently survey my competition, but now I am more curious as to how many women are actually able to complete the run without leakage. The prevalence of UI among athletes continues and is becoming more of an open topic of conversation. The research as to how much and which kind of exercise correlates with UI or what activity and level of participation may be preventative for UI is growing. The need for pelvic floor therapists to treat athletes who are fit to be dry is ever increasing.


Brennand, E., Ruiz-Mirazo, E., Tang, S., Kim-Fine, S., Calgary Women’s Pelvic Health Research Group. (2017). Urinary leakage during exercise: problematic activities, adaptive behaviors, and interest in treatment for physically active Canadian women. International Urogynecology Journal. http://www.doi:10.1007/s00192-017-3409-1
Nygaard, I. E., & Shaw, J. M. (2016). Physical Activity and the Pelvic Floor. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 214(2), 164–171. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2015.08.067
Leitner M, Moser H, Eichelberger P, Kuhn A, Radlinger L. (2017). Evaluation of pelvic floor muscle activity during running in continent and incontinent women: An exploratory study. Neurourology and Urodynamics. 36:1570–1576. https://doi.org/10.1002/nau.23151

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The first time I experienced the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was when my patient dissociated during a treatment session and relived the rape that had occurred when she was ten years old. It was devastating. I didn’t know what to do. She was unresponsive to my intervention. Her eyes didn’t see me, alternating between wide-eyed, horrified panic and clenched-closed, lip biting excruciating pain. It was my late night and I was alone in the clinic. I sat helplessly next to my sweet patient hoping and praying that her torture would end quickly. When she finally stopped writhing, she slept. Deep and hard. Finally she woke up disoriented and scared. She grabbed her things and left. For me, this experience was my initiation into the world of trauma.

Approximately 5-6 % of men and 10-12% of women will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. Researchers believe that 10% of people exposed to trauma will go on to develop PTSD. The expression of PTSD symptoms can present differently in men and women. Men may have more externalizing disorders progressing along a scale that includes vigilance, resistance, defiance, aggression and homicidal thoughts. Women tend to present with internalizing disorders such as depression, anxiety, exaggerated startle responses, dissociation, and suicidal thoughts. The research is clear that both men and women with PTSD display changes in brain function. The mid brain (amygdala, basal ganglia and hippocampus) tends to be overactive in sounding alarm signals while the prefrontal cortex fails to turn off the mid brain when a threat is no longer present. Since the prefrontal cortex is not always functioning correctly, traditional talk therapy may not be as effective for treating PTSD. Instead, say many researchers, breath and movement exercises may help regulate brain functioning. Yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation have been shown to have a positive impact on down regulating the mid brain and improving cerebral output. As pelvic floor therapists we deal with trauma on a daily basis, whether we know it or not. Although we are not trained in psychology, understanding PTSD and equipping ourselves with tools to support our patients is imperative for both our patients and ourselves.

You might be wondering what happened after that frightful night in the clinic? My patient was determined to get better. She had a non-relaxing pelvic floor. She was a teacher and was plagued by urinary distress. She either had terrible urgency or would go for hours and not be able to empty her bladder. So we met with her therapist to learn strategies to help us to be able to work together without triggering dissociation. It was a slow road, but the three of us working together helped my patient not only reach her goals but to be able to be skillful enough to maintain her gains using a dilator for self-treatment.

If you would like to learn more about PTSD, meditation, yoga, chronic pain, psychologically informed practice and self-care for patients and providers please join Nari Clemons and I in Tampa in January as we present a new offering for Herman and Wallace, “Holistic Intervention and Meditation.” We would love to see you there.


Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 445-461.
Kerr, C. E., Jones, S. R., Wan, Q., Pritchett, D. L., Wasserman, R. H., Wexler, A., ... & Littenberg, R. (2011). Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex. Brain research bulletin, 85(3), 96-103.
Morasco, B. J., Lovejoy, T. I., Lu, M., Turk, D. C., Lewis, L., & Dobscha, S. K. (2013). The relationship between PTSD and chronic pain: mediating role of coping strategies and depression. Pain, 154(4), 609-616.
Olff, M., Langeland, W., & Gersons, B. P. (2005). The psychobiology of PTSD: coping with trauma. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30(10), 974-982.
The Role Of Yoga In Healing Trauma

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