Indulgences over the holiday season lead many to experience symptoms of indigestion, part of the discomfort that fuels our renewed January focus on exercise and “eating right”. With this in mind, we need to have a discussion about how we as a nation handle GI distress or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) symptoms. Typically, here in the US, there are 2 methods we typically use: 1. The quick way by popping a Tums or Rolaids or 2. The prolonged way by taking PPI’s (proton pump inhibitors) or H-2 blockers on a regular basis (eg. Pepcid AC or Zantac). Both are reliable ways to efficiently feel a little less GI distress.
The immediate relief strategies neutralize the acid that is already in the stomach whereas the longer-acting PPI’s and H-2 blockers actually block or suppress acid production in the stomach. And even though these “longer term” drugs are designed for short term use, the more I inquire about their use with my patients, the more a troublesome pattern emerges. Many of my patients struggling with complex symptom constellations (eg. a non-relaxing pelvic floor, perineal skin issues, gut issues, anxiety, depressive symptoms etc.) describe that they have taken these “digestive aides” continually for years. YEARS! To take care of their indigestion or digestive discomfort that began YEARS ago.
So, this approach is fine, yes? We know acid reflux can lead to esophageal irritation, not to mention pain and nagging discomfort. It can lead to disordered sleep and its associated sequelae. In extreme cases, esophageal irritation could even progress to esophageal cancer. Therein lies the justification for using drugs that suppress or block acid production in the stomach over the long term. Even though long term safe use of these drugs has never been established.
Hmmm. I hope this is cause for pause. It’s true we don’t want GERD or indigestion, yet it remains pervasive. The prevalence of at least weekly GERD symptoms in the US is approximately 20%,3 with overall prevalence estimated up to 30% in the US. 2 This prevalence of GERD is deemed “exceedingly common”, ranking as the most frequent gastrointestinal diagnosis associated with outpatient clinic visits in the US 1. For as frequently as I see these drugs listed on patient intake forms - or forgotten to be listed since it is such a part of one’s routine - I feel strongly that we are dealing with an epidemic I call “indigestion nation”.
Instead of blaming our stomach acid, it’s time for us to start scratching our heads and asking why. Why are so many struggling with digestion? And is there a better way to get a handle on this under-appreciated situation?
Next question: how often is nutrition or food digestibility considered in scenarios involving GERD symptoms, GI upset or indigestion? When I ask my patients about this, the standard answer prevails: they try their best to avoid known triggers including fried and spicy foods. Beyond that, there is little forward thinking in terms of where our collective indigestion originates.
Further, how many health care providers or patients contemplate what long-term acid suppression might look like? I happen to be one of those……so in my pondering, I peeled back layers of my own mental cloudiness on the topic and kept asking questions about basic principles of digestion such as: 'Isn’t our stomach is SUPPOSED to be acidic?' (Answer: it is) and 'What happens if it isn’t?' (Answer: lots of undesirable things). From there, I began connecting the dots and found points of clarity.
How often is the other side of this coin discussed? Is it common knowledge that in order to digest proteins, there has to be acid in the stomach? Is it common knowledge that the acid in the stomach kills or deactivates harmful viruses and bacteria that could otherwise gain access to the rest of our system via the intestinal barrier? The unfortunate answer is no, this isn’t common knowledge nor frequently discussed principles of digestion. Especially not in our conquest to battle indigestion.
We are conditioned to seek the quick fixes to our digestive woes - woes which have increased in prevalence in North America by approximately 50% relative to the baseline prevalence in the early to middle 1990s.1 Our go-to quick (Tums and Rolaids) and long term strategies (Zantac, Pepcid AC) are not without consequences. And I’m not even referring to the recently elucidated serious issue of the H-2 blocker ranitidine (generic Zantac) containing N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA)…. a probable human carcinogen. 4
Facts like these will sometimes get us to take notice, however, the more pervasive problem is this: components of our diets have become so difficult to digest, so physiologically incompatible with us, that we forget to examine this issue through such a simple lens. If our diet consists of foods that are difficult to break down or contain substances that can be disruptive to our digestive processes, it’s no surprise our body may reject them or be unable to digest them fully. If our diet consists of foods that are designed for nourishment, naturally pre-digested and ready to assimilate or use by the body for building blocks and fuel, our body will know how to break them down and utilize them fully…..miraculously reducing the digestive burden and improving symptoms of GI distress including GERD and indigestion.
It sounds simple enough.
But in this day and age, the savvy health care provider will do well to learn and appreciate the breadth and depth of this concept and what it means to you as both a consumer of food and one who cares for others who consume food - all of your patients. This understanding -especially for a pelvic rehab provider- is critical to harness. From simple but nuanced concepts one can help prompt remarkable changes. I’ve seen it firsthand innumerable times.
I invite each of you to learn more about this fascinating topic and how it interrelates with so many facets of your patient experiences. Take advantage of the multiple offerings of Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist across the nation in 2020. Join me at live course events in San Diego, CA on March 20-22; Columbia, MO on July 24-26; Winfield, IL on September 25-27; or Seattle, WA on November 6-8 to take your understanding of the far-reaching effects of digestion to the next level!
1. Richter, J. E., & Rubenstein, J. H. (2018). Presentation and Epidemiology of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Gastroenterology, 154(2), 267-276. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2017.07.045
2. Eusebi LH, Ratnakumaran R, Yuan Y, et al. Global prevalence of, and risk factors for, gastro- oesophageal reflux symptoms: a meta-analysis. Gut. 2017
3. El-Serag HB, Sweet S, Winchester CC, et al. Update on the epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review. Gut. 2014; 63(6):871–80. [PubMed: 23853213]
4. Mahase, E. (2019). FDA recalls ranitidine medicines over potential cancer causing impurity. BMJ, 367, l5832. doi:10.1136/bmj.l5832
The female sexual response cycle is more than physical stimulation. As pelvic therapists, we frequently find ourselves treating pelvic pain that has interrupted a woman’s ability to enjoy her sexuality and sensuality. As physical therapists, we focus on the physical limitations and pain generators as a way of helping patients overcome their functional limitations. However, many of us find that once many of the physical symptoms have cleared with pelvic floor and fascial stretching, our patients are still apprehensive to engage physically, or they are not able to derive pleasure. There is clearly a gap that needs to be bridged that goes beyond pain.
Last year I taught my class, Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment. I was honored and astounded to have Dee Hartmann, PT in my class. For those of you who do not know Dee, she has been a champion of our field for a long time, and she has been instrumental in elevating physical therapy as a first line of treatment in pelvic pain through her work, international leadership, and representation in multiple organizations, including APTA SOWH, ISSVD, IPPS, NVA, ISSWSH, and as an editor for the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
In this manual nerve class, I was teaching how to treat the path of the genitofemoral nerve, which affects the peri-clitoral tissues and sensation. We also covered manual therapy approaches to decrease restriction in the clitoral complex and improve the blood flow response in this region. Dee was fascinated and looped me into what she had been working on for the past several years. She has been working as part of a company called Vulvalove with her partner, sex therapist, Elizabeth Wood on studying and teaching women how to recapture their sensuality. Immediately, we wanted to combine forces in some way to present a way to approach these issues. So, when Dee invited me to present with Elizabeth and her at the Combined Sections Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association (CSM) this year, I was humbled and excited to jump on board.
With improved tissue mobility in the clitoral and vaginal area, blood flow is able to improve through any previously restricted tissues. With any manual therapy or soft tissue work, it is expected that cutaneous circulation of blood and lymph will alter. In studies, a measure of this blood flow, VPA (Vaginal Pulse Amplitude) is higher in the arousal than the non-arousal state in women.4 “The first measurable sign of sexual arousal is an increase in the blood flow. This creates the engorged condition, elevates the luminal oxygen tension and stimulates the production of surface vaginal fluid by increased plasma”.5 Manual therapy can likely affect this.1,2. During our CSM talk, I will discuss the neurovascular anatomy and will have a brief video of manual techniques to enhance these pathways in my portion of the presentation.
In the 19th century, female orgasm and sensuality was believed to be more vaginal, but as the 20th century unfolded, understanding of the clitoral tissues improved. More recent research reveals the origin of female pleasure is more complex, involving the clitoris, vulva, vagina, and uterus.3 However, female response is more complicated than just anatomy below the waist.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of autonomic nervous system health and the ability to flux between sympathetic and parasympathetic states. Autogenic training and meditation or mindfulness have been shown in multiple studies to improve HRV. A study by Stanton in 2017 demonstrated that even one session of autogenic training can increase HRV and VPA (Vaginal Pulse Amplitude, a measure of arousal). In our talk at CSM, Dee will cover the role of autogenics and how to specifically and practically use our autonomic state to influence our perception and feeling of pleasure. Dee will also cover extensive clitoral anatomy to have a better understanding of how this intricate complex functions and is structured in women.
Elizabeth Wood, a former sex therapist who is now a sex educator, will then present on the arousal cycle and what can be done physiologically to prepare the arousal network for climax. Elizabeth will help us to better define and understand the roles of arousal, calibration, and exploring sensuality, including exercises to help a patient have a more fulfilling experience once the physical pain is resolved. As Elizabeth says, “Knowledge is an antidote to shame and an invitation to pleasure”.
If you will be at CSM, please come join us at the opening session, Thursday February 13 from 8am-10am (PH2540), “Now That The Pain Is Gone, Where’s the Pleasure”.
If you can’t make it to CSM, I hope to see you at one of my nerve classes, “Lumbar Nerve Manual Therapy and Assessment” this year in Madison, WI April 24-26 or Seattle, WA October 16-18 to further explore manual therapies to improve sensation and neural feedback loops and to continue this conversation!
1. Portillo-Soto, A., Eberman, L. E., Demchak, T. J., & Peebles, C. (2014). Comparison of blood flow changes with soft tissue mobilization and massage therapy. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(12), 932-936.
2. Ramos-González, E., Moreno-Lorenzo, C., Matarán-Peñarrocha, G. A., Guisado-Barrilao, R., Aguilar-Ferrándiz, M. E., & Castro-Sánchez, A. M. (2012). Comparative study on the effectiveness of myofascial release manual therapy and physical therapy for venous insufficiency in postmenopausal women. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(5), 291-298.
3. Colson, M. H. (2010). Female orgasm: Myths, facts and controversies. Sexologies, 19(1), 8-14.
4. Rogers, G. S., Van de Castle, R. L., Evans, W. S., & Critelli, J. W. (1985). Vaginal pulse amplitude response patterns during erotic conditions and sleep. Archives of sexual behavior, 14(4), 327-342.
5. Stanton, A., & Meston, C. (2017). A single session of autogenic training increases acute subjective and physiological sexual arousal in sexually functional women. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 43(7), 601-617.
Lila Abbate PT, DPT, OCS, WCS, PRPC is the creator and instructor of Bowel Pathology Function & Dysfunction and the Pelvic Floor, a course which instructs in comprehensive evaluation and treatment techniques for bowel pathologies and dysfunctions, including fecal incontinence, chronic constipation, and the relationship between constipation and rectal and/or abdominal pain. Join Dr. Abbate in one of five events taking place in 2020!
Bowel dysfunction can be very rewarding to treat. Most pelvic health physical therapists are nervous about diving into bowel treatment. When I was training with my mentor, Elise Stettner, PT she used to remind me that “any PT can treat urinary symptoms. The patients who are really suffering are those bowel dysfunctions.” That statement really stuck with me and mentoring with her and treating those patients created a passion for treating patients who suffer from bowel dysfunction.
Within the term bowel dysfunction, fecal urgency, is a common symptom and is under-researched. In 2019, Similis, et al published A Systemic Review and Network Meta-Analysis Comparing Treatments for Faecal Incontinence, doesn’t even mention physical therapy and pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation as an intervention for fecal incontinence and fecal urgency treatment.
Anecdotally, I have a lot of pelvic health patients and even generalized orthopedic patients who report that having bowel urgency is a more apparent symptom in their life after having a back or hip surgery. What started as a once-in-a-while problem, fecal urgency has crept up and become the new normal in their lives. They have subliminally re-routed their day to accommodate their bowel movements in order avoid incidences and accidents whether its waiting to eat breakfast until they get to work, waiting to drink a favorite drink until they are near a toilet or taking supplements before bed to empty their bowels before they start their day in order to avoid accidents during their day. Learning to treat bowel urgency can tremendously help patients regain control and abolish their symptoms.
Bowel urgency has many parallels to urinary urgency. The colon is giving the signal too soon, potentially at an inappropriate time, and the muscles need to be strong enough to hold the urge of defecation back in order to postpone. The failure occurs when one part of the continence mechanism fails. Bowel Pathology Function & Dysfunction and the Pelvic Floor course helps you to learn how to treat and guide your patients and conquer all types of bowel dysfunction.
Similis et al, A systematic review and network meta-analysis comparing treatments for faecal incontinence. Int J Surg. 2019 Jun;66:37-47. doi: 10.1016/j.ijsu.2019.04.007. Epub 2019 Apr 22.
For over 25 years my practice has had a focus on children suffering from bloating, gas, abdominal pain, fecal incontinence and constipation. Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGID) are disorders of the brain -gut interaction causing motility disturbance, visceral hypersensitivity, altered immune function, gut microbiota and CNS processing. (Hyams et al 2016). Did you know that children who experience chronic constipation that do not get treated have a 50% chance of having issues for life?
The entire GI system is as amazing as it is and complicated. Its connection to the nervous system is fascinating, making it a very sensitive system. In her book GUT, Giulia Enders talks about Ninety percent of the serotonin we need comes from our gut! The psychological ramifications of ignoring the problem are too great (Chase et el 2018). Last year an 18-year-old patient of mine had to decline a scholarship to an Ivy League University because she needed to live at home due to her bowel management problem.
Unfortunately, FGID conditions can lead to suicide and death. Over 15 years ago my children’s pediatrician told me about an 11-year-old boy who hung himself because he had encopresis. In 2016 a 16-year-old girl suffered a cardiac arrest and died because of constipation.
The problems with children are different than for adults and need to be addressed with a unique approach.
Study and understand gastrointestinal anatomy, physiology, function and examination techniques. The entire GI system is as amazing as it is complicated. Its connection to the nervous system is fascinating, making it a very sensitive system. Ninety percent of the serotonin we need comes from our gut! The psychological ramifications of ignoring the problem are too great.
Encopresis leads to a weak internal/external anal sphincter and pelvic floor muscles and constipation leads to pelvic floor muscles that can’t relax. Confused? When the Rectal Anal Inhibitory Reflex or RAIR fails from bypass diarrhea the sphincter muscles relax, and feces leaks out. This constant leakage leads to weak sphincter and pelvic floor muscles. When it happens on a regular basis most children don’t feel it, however their peers smell it and life changes.
My course, Pediatric Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, teaches how to coordinate the muscle function based on the tasks required.
One painful bowel movement can lead to withholding for the next due to fear of the pain happening again. The muscles of the pelvic floor then tighten to hold the poop in. This actually does not make the muscle strong but instead makes it confused. The muscle then is controlled by the consistency of poop being too hard and painful to let out or too loose and not able to hold in.
Managing functional GI disorders is a process. It takes the bowel a long time to re-train and it requires patience and skill to know how to do it. Many therapists and patients themselves get frustrated and compliance fails. This is mostly due to lack of knowing how to titrate medications and give the bowel what it needs (other than proper nutrition that is!) It's like retraining a person to walk after a stroke, the brain needs to relearn normal bowel sensations.
Most families don’t realize how severe constipation can be. It is an insidious problem that gets ignored until it is too late.
Typically, what I hear from parents is their child was diagnosed with constipation and was advised to take a daily laxative. So, which one is the best one? How do they all work? Once leakage occurs again the laxative is discontinued as we think the bowel must be empty and this medication is causing the leaks which is counterproductive. Now the frustrating cycle of backing up or being constipated begins again. The constipation returns, the laxative is restarted, the loose stool leaks out and the laxative is stopped and that is the REVOLVING DOOR or what I refer to as children riding the “Constipation Carousel”. The bowel is an amazingly beautiful, smart but also sensitive organ that does not like this back and forth and therefore will not learn how to be normal. In the meantime, they experience distended abdomens and dysmorphia ending up in eating disorder clinics. I had an 11-year-old girl taking Amitriptyline for abdominal pain all because of a pressure problem in the gut not knowing how to work the pelvic floor with the diaphragm and her core.
No two children are the same and no two colons are the same. Laxatives need to be titrated to the specific needs of your child’s colon and motility of their colon not their age or body weight.
The success in getting children to have regular bowel movements of normal consistency without any fecal leaks is based not only teaching how to titrate laxatives but also how to sense urge, become aware of the pelvic floor muscles and learn how NOT to strain to defecate, retrain the core and diaphragm with the ribcage and integrate developmental strategies for function. Teaching Interoception- what my body feels like when I have an urge- is an important part of this course. This is especially important for those children born with anorectal malformations or congenital problems such as imperforate anus or Hirschsprung’s Disease.
In this class we use visceral techniques, manual therapy techniques, sensory techniques and neuromuscular reeducation and coordination to retrain the entire system.
Come and explore the amazing gut with me and learn how to improve the health and well-being of your patients, in Pediatric Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders!
1. Hyams, JS, et al. Childhood Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: Child/Adolescent. Gastroenterology volume 150, 2016;1456-1468.
2. Drossman DA. Functional gastrointestinal disorders: history, pathophysiology, clinical features and rome IV. Gastroenterology 2016;150:1262-1279
3. Robin SG, Keller C, Zwiener R, et al. Prevalence of Pediatric Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Utilizing the Rome IV Criteria. J Pediatr 2018; 195:134.
4. Koppen IJN, Vriesman MH, Saps M, Rajindrajith S, Shi X, van Etten-Jamaludin FS, Di Lorenzo C, Benninga MA, Tabbers MM. Prevalence of Functional Defecation Disorders in Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Pediatr. 2018 Jul;198:121-130.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.02.029. Epub 2018 Apr 12.
5. Zar-Kessler C, Kuo B, Cole E, Benedix A, Belkind-Gerson, J. Benefit of pelvic floor physical therapy in pediatric patients with dyssynergic defecation constipation. 2019 Dig Dis https://doi.org/10.1159/000500121/
6. Chase J, Bower W, Susan Gibb S. et al. Diagnostic scores, questionnaires, quality of life, and outcome measures in pediatric continence: A review of available tools from the International Children’s Continence Society. J Ped Urol (2018) 14, 98e107
Leeann Taptich DPT, SCS, MTC, CSCS is Co-Author of the new Herman & Wallace offering, Breathing and Diaphragm: Pelvic and Orthopedic Therapist. Leeann leads the Sports Physical Therapy team at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Michigan where she mentors a team of therapists. She also works very closely with the pelvic team at the hospital which gives her a very unique perspective of the athlete.
According to a paper from Manual Therapy, the thoracic spine is the least understood part of the spine, despite the huge role it plays in both movement and in regulation of our Autonomic Nervous System.1 Researchers found that the thoracic spine is the least studied of the three spinal regions; thoracic, cervical, and lumbar. I am frequently asked by fellow therapists for help in objectively assessing and treating the thoracic region which has led to the realization that even amongst experienced therapists the thoracic spine’s importance is less understood especially in terms of its function.
Anatomically, the thoracic spine along with the ribs and sternum provide a frame that supports and protects the lungs and heart. Despite the rigidity that is required to fulfill that function, the thoracic spine contributes significantly to a person’s ability to rotate.2
One of the biggest roles the thoracic spine plays is in the regulation of the Sympathetic Nervous System, which is a part of the Autonomic Nervous System. The sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “Fight or Flight” system is in overdrive in our patients who present with pain. One of the many complications that arise from an upregulated sympathetic system is increased respiratory rate and/or dysfunctional breathing.3 Carefully applied manual therapy techniques to the thoracic region can help regulate the Autonomic Nervous System by affecting the diaphragm, the intercostals, and other respiratory musculature.4 Specific thoracic mobilizations/manipulations can improve respiratory function.4
In the Breathing and Diaphragm course, Aparna Rajagopal and I discuss the importance of the thoracic spine from both a regional and global perspective. Thoracic spine assessment is taught along with multiple mobilization techniques and manipulations all of which will help the clinician link the thoracic spine to the treatment of pelvic pain, low back pain, and breathing pattern disorders. Join Aparna and I in either Sterling Heights, MI this March or Princeton, NJ in December for Breathing and the Diaphragm: Pelvic and Orthopedic Therapists: From Assessment to Clinical Applications for Pelvic and Orthopedic Therapists!
1. Heneghan NR, Rushton A. Understanding why the thoracic region is the ‘Cinderella’ region of the spine. Man Ther. 2016; 21: 274-276.
2. Narimani M, Arjamand N. Three-dimensional primary and coupled range of motions and movement coordination of the pelvis, lumbar, and thoracic spine in standing posture using inertial tracking device. Journal of Biomechanics. 2018; 69: 169-174.
3. Bernston GG. Stress effects on the body: Nervous system. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress/effects-nervous. January 18, 2020.
4. Shin DC, Lee YW. The immediate effects of spinal thoracic manipulation on respiratory functions. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2016; 28: 2547-2549.
Mia Fine, MS, LMFT, CST joins the Herman & Wallace faculty in 2020 with her new course on Sexual Interviewing for Pelvic Health Therapists! The new course is launching this April 4-5, 2020 in Seattle, WA; Lecture topics include bio-psycho-social-spiritual interviewing skills, maintaining a patient-centered approach to taking a sexual history, and awareness of potential provider biases that could compromise treatment. Labs will take the form of experiential practice with Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual-Sexual Interviewing Skills, case studies and role playing. Check out Mia's interview with The Pelvic Rehab Report, then join her for Sexual Interviewing for Pelvic Health Therapists!
Tell us about yourself, Mia!
My name is Mia Fine, MS, LMFT, CST and I’ve been a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist for four years. I am an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and my private practice is Mia Fine Therapy, PLLC. I see these kinds of patients: folks with Erectile Dysfunction, Pre-mature Ejaculation, Vaginismus, Dyspareunia, Desire Discrepancy, LGBTQ+, Ethical Non-monogamy, Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, Relational Concerns, Improving Communication.
What can you tell us about the new course?
This course will offer a great deal of current and empirically-founded sex therapy and sex education resources for both the provider as well as the patient. This course will add the extensive skills of interviewing for sexual health. It also offers the provider a new awareness and self-knowledge on his/her/their own blind spots and biases.
How will skills learned at this course allow practitioners to see patients differently?
Human beings are hardwired for connection, intimacy, and pleasure. Our society often tells us that there is something wrong with us, or that we are defective, for wanting a healthy sex life and for addressing our human needs/sexual desires. This course will broaden the provider’s scope of competence in working with patients who experience forms of sexual dysfunction and who hope to live their full sexual lives.
What inspired you to create this course?
This course was inspired by the need for providers who work with pelvic floor concerns to be trained in addressing and discussing sexual health with their patients.
What resources were essential in creating your course?
Becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Medical Family Therapist requires three years of intensive graduate school. Additionally, a minimum of two years of training to become an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and hundreds of hours of direct client contact hours, supervision, and consultation. I attend numerous sex therapy trainings and continuing education opportunities on a regular and ongoing basis. I also train incoming sex therapists on current modalities and working with vulnerable client populations.
How do you think these skills will benefit a clinician in their practice?
It is vital that providers working with pelvic floor concerns have the necessary education and training to work with patients on issues of sexual dysfunction. It is also important that providers be aware of their own biases and be introduced to the various sexual health resources available to providers and patients.
What is one important technique taught in your course that everybody should learn?
Role playing sexual health interview questions is an important experience in feeling the discomfort that many providers feel when asking sexual health questions. This offers insight not only into the provider experience but also the patient’s experience of uncomfortability. Role playing this dynamic illustrates the very real experiences that show up in the therapeutic context.
Sexuality is core to most human beings’ identity and daily experiences. When there are concerns relating to our sexual identity, sexual health, and capacity to access our full potential, it affects our quality of life as well as our holistic well-being. Working with folks on issues of sexual health and decreasing sexual dysfunction encourages awareness and encourages healing. Imagining a world where human beings don’t walk around holding shame or traumatic pain is imaging a world of health and happiness.
Pelvic pain is a common diagnosis that we see as pelvic floor therapists. Pelvic pain is pain located in the lower abdomen, but above pubic symphysis, and is associated with various causes; myofascial pain, neuropathies, endometriosis, painful bladder, and irritable bowel syndromes. A common symptom of pelvic pain is deep dyspareunia or pain with deep vaginal penetration. Vulvar pain is different, as it is below pubic symphysis, and has several sub-classifications. These sub-classifications can often be confusing. The National Vulvodynia Association has a free online education that explains the different sub-types very succinctly. This article focuses on provoked vestibulodynia, which is the most commonly studied.
PVD or Provoked Vestibulodynia often has superficial dyspareunia which can negatively affect sexual functioning, which can lead to changes in psychological function and quality of life. Women with PVD often complain of greater pain during and after intercourse, pain catastrophization, and allodynia when compared to women with superficial dyspareunia but without PVD. These symptoms indicate central nervous system upregulation or sensitivity. This study sought to investigate the impact of these symptoms.
Pelvic pain encompassed a variety of complaints: “dysmenorrhea, deep dyspareunia, dyschezia, chronic pelvic pain, back pain, or diagnosed or suspected endometriosis”. Participants were excluded if postmenopausal or if self reported never sexually active.
One hundred twenty nine participants were divided into those with pelvic pain and PVD (43), and those with pelvic pain alone (87). For this study PVD was diagnosed as superficial dyspareunia (>4/10) and positive Q-tip test with a fixed pressure of 30g. Those with did not meet this criteria were considered to have pelvic pain alone.
The two groups were compared for superficial and deep sexual discomfort severity, sexual quality of life; fear avoidance, feelings of guilt, frustration, etc, physical examination of trigger points along abdominal wall (positive Carnett test), and numeric pain scale of various painful lumbo-pelvic regions.
Of the 129 participants notable findings in both the two groups include 31% had confirmed endometriosis, 40% suspected of endometriosis, and in the remaining 18% had no confirmed or suspected endometriosis. The authors found that the pelvic pain + PVD group had significantly more superficial dyspareunia (p=<.001) and deep dyspareunia (p=.001) which was rated >7/10 for both. This group was also had greater (3x more likely to have) depression symptoms, greater anxiety, and catastrophizing, and was more likely to have painful bladder syndrome than the pelvic pain alone group. There were no differences between the two groups for irritable bowel syndrome or abdominal wall tenderness.
This research is consistent with other research findings. The authors explore various causes of the findings including; cross- sensitization - where there may be cross talk of nerve signals from viscera to viscera and viscera to muscular structures that converge in the spinal cord. The authors note that the poor relationship between PVD and irritable bowel and PVD and abdominal wall tenderness limit that theory. They explore the psychological symptoms may be a consequence of pelvic pain or it may be that having anxiety/depression may make women more sensitive to developing pelvic pain and PVD. This sounds like a little chicken or egg theory. The authors suggest that those with PVD and pelvic pain may benefit from a more intensive multi-disciplinary approach including; “medical, surgical, psychological, or physical therapy approaches”.
Bao, C., Noga, H, Allaire, C. et al. “Provoked Vestibulodynia in Women with Pelvic Pain” Sex Med 2019; 1-8
Four years ago, I sat with a tiny nugget in my arms and I stared in awe of this beautiful creature. She was perfect, she was amazing, she was… hungry! And I had no idea what to do.
Breastfeeding is at the core of our human experience and it is what defines us as mammals. Have you ever stopped to think about the link between mammal, mammary gland, and mama? And yet, for something so natural, it sure can take a lot of work to figure out.
In advance of the breastfeeding courses for physical therapists in Phoenix and New Jersey this year, I’ve prepared a list of my favourite myths about breastfeeding. Take a look and tag us on social media if any of them surprised you!
We’re starting off with one that seems obvious: surely, men can’t produce milk in sufficient quantities to feed an infant. If they could, then couples around the world would split parenting duties very differently. Right?
Let’s take a deeper dive into this myth. First, it depends on how you define a man. There are trans men who give birth and then feed their infants. There are also gender nonbinary people who don’t give birth and can still lactate. The permutations of unique situations are plentiful. Some refer to this practice as breastfeeding, while others call it chestfeeding. Ask the individual about their preferred terms, just like you would talk about pronouns. For more information on gender and chestfeeding, check out this article1.
An interesting fact about men and lactation is that domperidone – one of the most common medications in breastfeeding medicine – can contribute to male lactation, even when it is being taken for a different indication2. Domperidone elevates the levels of prolactin, a hormone that signals the lactocytes in the breast to produce milk.
If you’ve looked on postpartum Facebook groups and blogs, you’ve likely seen discussions of undersupply, not having enough milk, and the seemingly uphill battle to make more. There are countless forum posts on switch feeding, power pumping, galactalogues (medications and herbs to increase milk production), etc. Perceived insufficient milk consistently appears among the top reasons for supplementation or breastfeeding cessation3,4,5.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I made plans to exclusively breastfeed her, pump once a day, and donate the extra milk to a local milk bank. Surely, I thought, the only consequence of making extra milk would be the work involved in making the donations. None of this actually happened but that’s a story for another day.
What I’ve come to learn from working with patients is that in the production of milk, any mismatch of supply and demand can impact a person’s quality of life. Signs of oversupply include6:
Fast milk flow can also make the task more difficult for babies with an uncoordinated suck/swallow/breathe pattern. If the mechanics or timing is off, the infant will prioritize airway protection and may appear to go on and off the breast throughout the feed.
Have you seen it? There’s an image that makes the rounds on social media and it compares the milk-producing components of breast tissue to a flower. This imagery is beautiful, and it sparks conversation every time I see it. If you can’t picture it, think of the milk ducts as the spokes of a bicycle with lobules at the end of each one. They’re neatly arranged in a perfect circle.
If this is how the ducts are arranged, then the infant’s mandible and tongue will draw milk from the affected area during feeds and that will help to resolve the “blockage.” In reality, though, the ducts do not follow straight paths from lobule to nipple. They wind and weave around each other, branching along the way, and milk that comes out the lateral side of the nipple may have originated in the medial part of the breast7.
There’s a second reason why the chin pointing won’t resolve a blocked duct: it turns out that there’s no evidence for the existence of a blockage in the first place. We often picture a blocked duct like a coronary artery, with an obstruction that is preventing the flow of milk (or blood) through the vessel. In reality, the ducts are easily collapsible7 and localized inflammation8 and swelling can compress the ducts, preventing milk flow.
Our last myth is perhaps the most pervasive of the list. Many people – including physicians – think that the difference between mastitis and blocked ducts is that mastitis involves a pathogen or infection. Depending on where you live, it may be common practice to prescribe antibiotics for all cases of mastitis.
According to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the World Health Organization, infection is only one of the causes of the condition8,9. Mastitis is defined as inflammation of the breast, which may be infectious or non-infectious in nature. Non-infectious cases can be attributed to mechanical factors such as distension of the breast alveoli and/or chemical factors like pro-inflammatory cytokines entering the parenchyma8.
What this means is that there are many cases of mastitis that can benefit from someone who can help with inflammation management. To me, that sounds like a physical therapist. We have a role to play not only in the local tissue, but also in the biopsychosocial approach that’s required in addressing a person’s pain.
Learn more aboutevidence-based management principles for breastfeeding conditions at the Herman & Wallace course Breastfeeding Conditions: Mastitis, Nipple Pain, and Maternal Factors in Lactation, taking place this year in Phoenix, AZ this March and Princeton, NJ this August. I look forward to discussing these topics and more!
1. MacDonald, T. (2018). Transgender parents and chest/breastfeeding. Retrieved from https://kellymom.com/bf/got-milk/transgender-parents-chestbreastfeeding/
2. Sanis Health Inc. (2015). Domperidone product monograph [PDF file]. Retrieved fromhttps://pdf.hres.ca/dpd_pm/00030125.PDF
3. Li, R., Fein, S. B., Chen, J., & Grummer-Strawn, L. M. (2008). Why mothers stop breastfeeding: mothers’ self-reported reasons for stopping during the first year. Pediatrics, 122(Supp. 2), S69-S76.
4. Gatti, L. (2008). Maternal perceptions of insufficient milk supply in breastfeeding. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 40(4), 355-363.
5. Ahluwalia, I. B., Morrow, B., & Hsia, J. (2005). Why do women stop breastfeeding? Findings from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System. Pediatrics, 116(6), 1408–1412.
6. La Leche League International (n.d.). Oversupply. Retrieved from https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/oversupply
7. Ramsay, D. T., Kent, J. C., Hartmann, R. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2005). Anatomy of the lactating human breast redefined with ultrasound imaging. Journal of anatomy, 206(6), 525-534.
8. World Health Organization. (2000). Mastitis: causes and management (No. WHO/FCH/CAH/00.13). World Health Organization.
9. Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. (2008). ABM clinical protocol# 4: mastitis. Breastfeeding Medicine, 3(3), 177-180.
If you work with orthopedic patients, I am sure that you have had a back-pain patient that you have discharged, only for them to return a year later suffering from another episode of pain. We all know that once someone suffers from a back injury, they are more likely to develop a chronic issue. Even patients with insidious back pain and no specific injury often develop chronic issues and can have pain that waxes and wanes after the initial episode.
What happens in the body to cause this? Most of us have learned that the pelvic floor, transverse abdominus, and the deep fibers of the lumbar multifidus play an important role in stabilization. With injury, these muscles can become less effective in stabilizing the spine and pelvis. Studies have shown that muscle atrophy in the lumbar multifidus has been shown to occur with injuries and persist after resolution of the pain.1
I recently did additional research to find out other reasons that cause these local stabilizing muscles to not function optimally. I found that these muscles also can suffer from arthrogenic muscle inhibition after an episode of low back pain.2 Arthogenic inhibition is a deficit in neural activation to a muscle. It is thought to occur due to a change in the discharge of articular sensory receptors due to swelling, inflammation, joint laxity, and damage to afferent nerves.2 EMG studies have shown reduced neural activity in the deeper fibers of the multifidus in patients with back pain.3
Another thing that fascinated me was that cortical changes in the brain also occur with low back pain. Changes in cortical representation of the multifidus and the body’s ability to voluntarily activate the muscle has been noted.4 Motor retraining has been shown to reorganize the motor cortex with regards to the transverse abdominus.5 Also, improvement in brain organization and function occurs after resolution of back pain.6
This is good news for patients! As therapists, we may not be able to do anything with respects to arthogenic inhibition. However, we can work on motor retraining for the core muscles. It has been shown that specific training that targets the multifidus can restore the neural activity to the multifidus and lead to improvement of pain and function.7,8 Training the multifidus can be difficult for therapists to teach. However, studies have found that ultrasound guided biofeedback is helpful for patients to learn to contract their multifidus.9,10
Come learn more about the multifidus and how it relates to back pain and stability. In Rehabilitative Ultrasound Imaging: Women's Health and Orthopedic Topics we will go over how to help your patients learn to activate and strengthen their multifidus. Join me on February 28 - March 1st in Raleigh, NC to learn new ways to help your patients!
1. Hides JA, Richardson CA, Jull GA. Multifidus muscle recovery is not automatic after resolution of acute, first‐episode low back pain. Spine 1996;21:2763–2769.
2. Russo M, Deckers K, Eldabe S, et al. Muscle control and non-specific chronic low back pain. Neuromodulation: Technology at the neural interface. 2018; 21 (1): 1-9.
3. D'Hooge R, Hodges P, Tsao H, Hall L, Macdonald D, Danneels L. Altered trunk muscle coordination during rapid trunk flexion in people in remission of recurrent low back pain. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2013;23:173–181
4. Massé‐Alarie H, Beaulieu L‐D, Preuss R, Schneider C. Corticomotor control of lumbar multifidus muscles is impaired in chronic low back pain: concurrent evidence from ultrasound imaging and double‐pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation. Exp Brain Res 2015; 234:1033–1045.
5. Tsao H, Galea MP, Hodges PW. Driving plasticity in the motor cortex in recurrent low back pain. Eur J Pain 2010;14:832–839.
6. Seminowicz DA, Wideman TH, Naso L et al. Effective treatment of chronic low back pain in humans reverses abnormal brain anatomy and function. J Neurosci 2011;31:7540–7550
7. França FR, Burke TN, Caffaro RR, Ramos LA, Marques AP. Effects of muscular stretching and segmental stabilization on functional disability and pain in patients with chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2012;35:279–285.
8. Goldby LJ, Moore AP, Doust J, Trew ME. A randomized controlled trial investigating the efficiency of musculoskeletal physiotherapy on chronic low back disorder. Spine. 2006;31:1083–1093.
9. Ghamkhar L, Emami M, Mohseni‐Bandpei MA, Behtash H. Application of rehabilitative ultrasound in the assessment of low back pain: a literature review. J Bodyw Mov Ther 2011;15:465–477.
10. Van K, Hides JA, Richardson CA. The use of real‐time ultrasound imaging for biofeedback of lumbar multifidus muscle contraction in healthy subjects. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2006;36:920–925
Herman & Wallace is excited to announce an upcoming course on pelvic rehab for the gender diverse patient, written and instructed by Dr. Laura Meihofer, DPT, ATC. As Dr. Meihofer indicated in a recent blog, "[t]he number of individuals who identify as transgender is growing each year. The Williams Institute estimated in 2016 that 0.6% of the U.S. population or roughly 1.4 million people identified as transgender (Flores, 2016)... With the rise of individuals who identify as transgender, gender non-binary and intersex, healthcare professionals have equally seen an influx of patients who require care throughout their discovery and transition."
The new course from Dr. Meihofer is called "Gender Diversity and Pelvic Health: Comprehensive Care for Transgender Men and Women", and it will be debuting on May 29-31, 2020 in Livingston, NJ.
Dr. Meihofer was kind enough to share some thoughts about the new course, her practice, and herself with The Pelvic Rehab Report. Thank you, Laura!
Tell us about yourself, Laura!
My name is Laura Meihofer and I’ve been a physical therapist for 7 years. I work at Mayo Clinic and I see patients throughout the gender spectrum who most commonly struggle with pelvic floor dysfunctions relating to overactive muscles such as: chronic and acute pelvic pain, urinary frequency/urgency/incontinence/hesitancy, constipation, pain with intercourse, low back and hip pain.
What can you tell us about your new course, "Gender Diversity and Pelvic Health"?
Currently there are roughly 1.25 million transgender identified individuals in the United States and this number is growing. This course will help to dispel the idea of “other” when treating this demographic and demonstrate how much sameness there is when treating pelvic floor dysfunction.
These skills will greatly benefit any practice as this population is so underserved, they are looking for allies that are not just nice but competent. When you are able to successfully treat gender diverse patients, they spread the word about the great care they received and you now have a strong referral base. Taking this course opens up a whole new referral base of amazing people.
This course will not only feature videos from thought leaders in the field but will also highlight testimonials from patients and caregivers who have undergone their own gender transitions.
What essential skills does your course add to a practitioner’s toolkit?
I think the most important technique that attendees will learn will be how to assess a trans women and trans man after they have undergoing genital reconstruction surgery. Attendees will gain competence in the care of the gender diverse patient at any stage during their gender transition.
What was your inspiration to create this course for trans-identified patients?
Working at a major medical institution, I found that it was difficult finding providers in a patient’s area that were competent in care of a transgender patient. As I talked more and more with various physical therapists I realized they were thirsty for knowledge on how to serve these individuals. So I created the course!
What prepared you to create this course?
The most important thing I have done for this course is treat hundreds of patients who are trans identified throughout their gender journey. This allowed me to not only see all the medical interventions they went through but also to hear their personal journey of transition. These experiences expanded my empathy for what they go through and inspired me to search within myself on how I can be better for them. This desire to improve opened a creative well inside of me from which this course grew.
Discuss the effect conditions covered in your course have on a patient’s quality of life, your experience treating patients with this condition, and how their quality of life has increase after successful treatment.
Individuals who identify as transgender suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction just like our cis gender folks. There is no current data to capture the prevalence of pelvic floor issues in this specific population to date, however there is research to support the overall lack of care these individuals receive. Based on the results from the U.S. Transgender Survey which surveyed 28,000 respondents, the numbers in the health care field were staggering.
33% of respondents had at LEAST one negative experience with a health care provider in the last year due to being transgender. Negative experiences were qualified as verbal harassment, refusal of treatment or having to teach the health care provider about transgender people to receive appropriate care. 23% of respondents did not see a doctor when they needed to due to fear of being mistreated as a transgender person.
This course aims has two primary aims:
1) Educate providers on the unique concerns that transgender individuals experience related to hormone replacement and surgical techniques.
2) Equip attendees to provide competent care for this demographic
Join Dr. Meihofer for Gender Diversity and Pelvic Health this May 29-31, 2020 in Livingston, NJ!