In pelvic rehab, if you ask therapists from around the country, you will most often hear that patients with pelvic dysfunction are seen once per week. This is in contrast to many other physical therapy plans of care, so what gives? Perhaps one of the things to consider is that most patients of pelvic rehab are not seen in the acute stages of their condition, whether the condition is perineal pain, constipation, tailbone pain, or incontinence, for example.
The literature is rich with evidence supporting the facts that physicians are unaware of, unprepared for, or uncomfortable with conversations about treatment planning for patients who have continence issues or pelvic pain. The research also tells us that patients don't bring up pelvic dysfunctions, due to lack of awareness for available treatment, or due to embarrassment, or due to being told that their dysfunction is "normal" after having a baby or as a result of aging. So between the providers not talking about, and patients not bringing up pelvic dysfunctions, we have a huge population of patients who are not accessing timely care.
What else is it about pelvic rehab that therapists are scheduling patients once a week? Is it that the patient is driving a great distance for care because there are not enough of us to go around? Do the pelvic floor muscles have differing principles for recovery in relation to basic strengthening concepts? Or is the reduced frequency per week influenced by the fact that many patients are instructed in behavioral strategies that may take a bit of time to re-train?
Pelvic rehabilitation providers are oftentimes concerned about the plans of care (POC) being once per week not because patients always need more visits, but because insurance providers are accustomed to seeing a POC with ranges of 2-3 visits per week, and in some cases, even 4-7 visits per week, based upon diagnosis, facility, and patient needs. To justify and support our once per week POC, we need only look to research protocols, to clinical care guidelines, and to clinical recommendations and practice patterns of our peers. For the following conditions, most of the cited research uses a once per week (or less) protocol or guideline:
Braekken et al., 2010: randomized, controlled trial with once per week visits for first 3 months, then every other week for last 3 months.
Croffie et al., 2005: 5 visits total, scheduled every 2 weeks.
Fantl & Newman, 1996: Meta-analysis of treatment for urinary incontinence, recommends weekly visits.
Fitzgerald et al., 2009: Up to 10 weekly treatments (1 hour in duration) was used in the largest randomized, controlled trial of chronic pelvic pain.
Hagen et al., 2009: Randomized, controlled trial using an initial training class, followed by 5 visits over a 12 week period.
Terra et al., 2006: Protocol used 1x/week for 9 weeks.
Weiss, 2001: 1-2 visits per week for 8-12 weeks.
Vesna et al., 2011: Children were randomized into 2 treatment groups with 1 session per month for the 12 month treatment period.
While not every patient is seen once per week in pelvic rehabilitation, Herman & Wallace faculty can tell you that once a week is the most common practice pattern observed for urinary dysfunction, prolapse, and pelvic pain. Certainly, a patient with an acute injury, a need for expedited care (limited insurance benefits, goals related to upcoming return to work or travel plans, or insurance expectations that dictate plan of care) may lead to frequency of visits that are more than once per week.
If you are interested in learning more about treatment care plans for a variety of pelvic dysfunctions, sign up for one of the pelvic series courses, and for special populations such as pediatrics, check out the Pediatric Incontinence continuing education course taking place in South Carolina at the end of this month!
Braekken, I. H., Majida, M., Engh, M. E., & Bo, K. (2010). Can pelvic floor muscle training reverse pelvic organ prolapse and reduce prolapse symptoms? An assessor-blinded, randominzed, controlled trial. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 203(2), 170.e171-170.e177. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2010.02.037
Croffie, J. M., Ammar, M. S., Pfefferkorn, M. D., Horn, D., Klipsch, A., Fitzgerald, J. F., . . . Corkins, M. R. (2005). Assessment of the effectiveness of biofeedback in children with dyssynergic defecation and recalcitrant constipation/encopresis: does home biofeedback improve long-term outcomes. Clinical pediatrics, 44(1), 63-71.
Fantl, J., & Newman, D. (1996). Urinary incontinence in adults: Acute and chronic management. Rockville, MD: AHCPR Publications.
FitzGerald, M. P., Anderson, R. U., Potts, J., Payne, C. K., Peters, K. M., Clemens, J. Q., . . . Nyberg, L. M. (2009). Adult Urology: Randomized Multicenter Feasibility Trial of Myofascial Physical Therapy for the Treatment of Urological Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndromes. [Article]. The Journal of Urology, 182, 570-580. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2009.04.022
Hagen, S., Stark, D., Glazener, C., Sinclair, L., & Ramsay, I. (2009). A randomized controlled trial of pelvic floor muscle training for stages I and II pelvic organ prolapse. International Urogynecology Journal, 20(1), 45-51. doi: 10.1007/s00192-008-0726-4
Terra, M. P., Dobben, A. C., Berghmans, B., Deutekom, M., Baeten, C. G. M. I., Janssen, L. W. M., ... & Stoker, J. (2006). Electrical stimulation and pelvic floor muscle training with biofeedback in patients with fecal incontinence: a cohort study of 281 patients. Diseases of the colon & rectum, 49(8), 1149-1159.
Weiss, J. M. (2001). Clinical urology: Original Articles: Pelvic floor myofascial trigger points: manual therapy for interstitial cystitis and the urgency-frequency syndrome. . [Article]. The Journal of Urology, 166, 2226-2231. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5347(05)65539-5
Vesna, Z. D., Milica, L., Stankovi?, I., Marina, V., & Andjelka, S. (2011). The evaluation of combined standard urotherapy, abdominal and pelvic floor retraining in children with dysfunctional voiding. Journal of pediatric urology, 7(3), 336-341.