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Transabdominal Ultrasound In The Assessment Of Abdominal And Pelvic Floor Muscles

Authors: Tamara Rial, PhD, CSPS, Kathleen Doyle-Elmer, PT, DPT and Rebecca Keller, PT, MSPT, PRPC

Tamara Rial, PhD, CSPS, co-founder and developer of Low Pressure Fitness will be presenting the first edition of Low Pressure Fitness and Abdominal Massage for Pelvic Floor Care Level 2 and 3 in Princeton, New Jersey in September, 2019. Rebecca Keller and Kathleen Doyle-Elmer are certified Low-Pressure Fitness specialists with training in rehabilitative ultrasound imaging. In this article, the authors discuss and explore the use of transabdominal ultrasound during Low Pressure Fitness on the abdominal and pelvic floor structures.

Real-time ultrasound imaging is a reliable and valid method to evaluate muscle structure, activity and mobility. Over the past few years, there has been increasing interest in the use of transabdominal ultrasound in the field of rehabilitation. The additional value of ultrasound imaging is that it allows for real-time analysis and visual feedback during the performance of pelvic floor and abdominal exercises (Hides et al., 1998). In the field of pelvic health, this is of notable importance when assessing proper movement of the deep abdominal and pelvic muscles during voluntary muscle actions. Transabdominal ultrasound has been found to be a safe, noninvasive, and accurate method to assess and observe muscular and fascial activity (Khorasani et al., 2012). When therapists learn how to properly use and apply ultrasound imaging, this technique can be a comprehensive tool for the clinician and a comfortable procedure for the patient. Moreover, it may be the method of choice for some patients who don’t want to have an internal pelvic examination (Van Delft, Thakar & Sultan, 2015). In this regard, a cross-sectional study found a moderate-to-strong correlation between ultrasound measurements and both digital examination and perineometry for the assessment of pelvic floor muscle actions (Volløyhaug et al., 2016).

Recently, Low Pressure Fitness has gained popularity as a pelvic floor training program aimed at reducing pressure on the pelvic structures while engaging the stabilizing muscles through postural and breathing exercises. In order to evaluate proper execution of Low-Pressure Fitness exercises as well as abdomino-pelvic muscle function during this type of training, real-time transabdominal ultrasound can be a clinically relevant tool.

Sagittal and Transverse Pelvic Floor/Urinary Bladder Assessment

The amount of movement of the bladder base on transabdominal ultrasound is considered an indicator of pelvic floor muscle mobility during pelvic floor muscle exercises (Khorasani et al., 2012). When properly executed, the Low-Pressure Fitness technique will allow the bladder to lift and the pelvic floor muscles to contract. These observed actions can be cued and progressed due to the real-time imaging biofeedback of the ultrasound. Because of the postural activation and diaphragm lift occurring during Low Pressure Fitness, the bladder fascial support system is tensioned resulting in a desirable bladder lift.

For example, we used a Pathway® Musculoskeletal Rehabilitative Ultrasound Imaging unit with a curvilinear transducer and Prometheus Pathway® rehabilitative ultrasound software utilizing the pre-set parameters (Abdominal Wall 7.5MHz and Bladder 5.0MHz) during a Low-Pressure Fitness basic supine posture. A standardized bladder filling protocol was used before imaging to ensure sufficient bladder filling to allow clear imaging of the base of the bladder and pelvic floor muscles.

For the transverse view, radiologic standards were used, and the ultrasound transducer was placed in the transverse plane suprapubically and angled in a caudal/ posterior direction to obtain a clear image of the inferior-posterior aspect of the bladder. The participant was asked to perform the Low-Pressure Fitness Demeter exercise in the supine position with a neutral pelvis and knees flexed (Figure 1).

Demeter exercise with postural technique and with postural and abdominal vacuum technique combined
Figure 1. Demeter exercise with postural technique and with postural and abdominal vacuum technique combined.

The following video illustrates the pelvic floor/urinary bladder during: a) resting position; b) active pelvic floor contraction; c) Low Pressure Fitness Demeter exercise and; d) Low Pressure Fitness Demeter exercise combined with a voluntary pelvic floor muscle contraction. It is noticeable a greater bladder lift and pelvic floor activation with the postural and breathing cueing added to an active pelvic floor contraction than with the pelvic floor contraction alone.


Video of the behavior of the pelvic floor muscles in a sagital and transversal view during the supine position of Low Pressure Fitness and with the combination of an active pelvic floor muscle contraction.

 

Lateral Abdominal Wall Assessment

The lateral abdominal muscle ultrasound assessment allows us to observe the structural changes produced in the transversal section of the abdominal muscles in the midpoint between the anterior iliac crest and the costal angle. At low levels of contraction, the extent of transverse abdominis thickening measured using ultrasound is reported to be a valid method of assessment compared with either fine wire electromyographic measures of transverse activity (McMeeken et al., 2004). It is well established in the scientific literature that the lateral abdominal muscles provide stability to the trunk in different functional activities. Therefore, the assessment of the size, thickness and sliding of the abdominal wall is important for patients who present with lumbo-pelvic and/or pelvic floor dysfunctions. In this regard, patients with low back pain show different abdominal wall muscle activation patterns (i.e. less slide of the abdominal fascia and muscle thickness) than those without low back pain (Gildea et al., 2014; Unsgaard-Tondel et al., 2012).

Figure 2 shows the three muscle layers of the lateral wall in the resting position. The superficial layer corresponds to the external oblique, the middle layer to the internal oblique and the deep layer to the transverse abdominal muscle.

View of the right lateral abdominal wall at rest
Figure 2. View of the right lateral abdominal wall at rest.

A key breathing component of the Low-Pressure Fitness program is the abdominal vacuum which manipulates intra-abdominal, intra-thoracic and intra-pelvic pressures during the breath-holding phase. Another key aspect of Low-Pressure Fitness is the shoulder girdle activation, spine elongation and ankle-dorsiflexion (Rial & Pinsach, 2017). Of note, previous studies have demonstrated greater transverse abdominis activation when performing ankle dorsi-flexion (Chon et al., 2010). We used transabdominal ultrasound to assess the lateral abdominal wall response during ankle dorsiflexion, shoulder girdle activation and the abdominal vacuum during Low Pressure Fitness.

In the following video, a voluntary (active) abdominal contraction is performed in order to distinguish this action from the involuntary abdominal contractions during Low Pressure Fitness. Afterwards, the postural technique of ankle dorsiflexion and shoulder girdle activation are performed in the Demeter exercise with arms in middle position (Figure 1). Lastly, an abdominal vacuum maneuver is added to the postural technique. If the exercises are properly executed, the progressive sliding and thickness of the abdominal muscles throughout exercise sequence should be observable (Figure 3).

Ultrasound imaging at rest and during the complete LPF technique
Figure 3. Ultrasound imaging at rest and during the complete LPF technique.

 

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Video of a voluntary (active) abdominal contraction or draw-in maneuver is performed in order to distinguish this action from the involuntary abdominal contractions that occur during Low Pressure Fitness in a supine position

Muscle thickness of the transverse and internal oblique as well as a noticeable slide of the anterior abdominal fascia are observable during the Demeter exercise of Low-Pressure Fitness. This exercise pattern reflects an abdominal draw-in maneuver and a “corseting effect”. In this regard, notice the lateral pull or displacement of the edge of the anterior fascial insertion of the transverse the internal oblique muscle.

Navarro et al., (2017) used transabdominal ultrasound to assess the muscular responses of the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles in a group of women who underwent pelvic physiotherapy over two months. They found a significant increase in the transversal section of the transverse abdominis, external oblique, and internal oblique muscles when compared to resting in the supine position. Similar to the position assessed by Navarro et al. (2017), we also assessed the pelvic floor and abdominal muscle responses during a Low-Pressure Fitness supine exercise.

Transabdominal ultrasound can provide a noninvasive and informative visual biofeedback when training patients with Low Pressure Fitness. This ultrasound imaging can be a valuable tool to both the client and the clinician to objectify progress, assist with validating correct Low-Pressure Fitness form with positioning and vacuum/hypopressive maneuver as well as a motivational technique for the client. As demonstrated during our rehabilitative ultrasound imaging, observable bladder lift, pelvic floor activation and desirable lateral abdominal muscular corseting (slide and thicking) occurs during Low Pressure Fitness postural exercises and breathing. Since Low Pressure Fitness is a progressive exercise program, qualified instruction, technique driven progression and understanding pelvic floor health are needed to optimize patient outcomes.


Chon SC, Chang KY, You JS. Effect of the abdominal draw-in manoeuvre in combination with ankle dorsiflexion in strengthening the transverse abdominal muscle in healthy young adults: a preliminary, randomised, controlled study. Physiotherapy 96: 130-6, 2017.
Gildea JE, Hides JA, Hodges PW. Morphology of the abdominal muscles in ballet dancers with and without low back pain: a magnetic resonance imaging study. J Sci Med Sport. 17(5): 452-6, 2014.
Khorasani B, Arab AM, Sedighi Gilani MA, Samadi V, Assadi H. Transabdominal ultrasound measurement of pelvic floor muscle mobility in men with and without chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome. Urology, 80: 673-7, 2012.
McMeeken JM, Beith ID, Newham DJ, Milligan P, Critchley DJ. The relationship between EMG and change in thickness of transversus abdominis. Clin Biomech 19: 337–342, 2004.
Hides JA, Richardson CA, Jull GA. Use of real-time ultrasound imaging for feedback in rehabilitation. Man Ther. 3:125-131,1998.
Navarro B, Torres M, Arranz B, Sanchez O. Muscle response during a hypopressive exercise after pelvic floor physiotherapy: Assessment with transabdominal ultrasound. Fisioterapia 39: 187-94, 2017.
Rial T, Pinsach P. Practical Manual Low Pressure Fitness Level 1. International Hypopressive & Physical Therapy Institute, Vigo, 2017.
Unsgaard-Tøndel M, Lund Nilsen TI, Magnussen J, Vasseljen O. Is activation of transversus abdominis and obliquus internus abdominis associated with long-term changes in chronic low back pain? A prospective study with 1-year follow-up. Br J Sports Med, 46(10): 729-34, 2012.
Van Delft K, Thakar R, Sultan AH. Pelvic floor muscle contractility: digital assessment vs transperineal ultrasound. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol, 45: 217-22, 2015. Volløyhaug I, Mørkved S, Salvesen Ø, Salvesen KÅ. Assessment of pelvic floor muscle contraction with palpation, perineometry and transperineal ultrasound: a cross-sectional study. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol 47: 768-73, 2016.

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Post-prostatectomy Penile Rehabilitation

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a debilitation complication of radical prostatectomy, which is a treatment for prostate cancer. ED is caused by a variety of causes, diabetic vasculopathy, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, psychological issues, peripheral vascular disease and medication; we will focus on post-prostatectomy ED and the role of penile rehabilitation in its management.

Post-prostatectomy-related Erectile dysfunction

Radical prostatectomy can result in nerve injury to the penis. Moreover, significant fibrotic changes take place in the corpus cavernosum of the penis postoperatively. It takes approximately 1-2 years for erectile function to return after radical prostatectomy. This is a period of “neuropraxia,” during which there is transient cavernosal nerve dysfunction. However, a prolonged “flaccid state” might lead to irreversible damage to the cavernous tissue 1.

Research on penile hemodynamics in these patients have shown that venous leakage is also implicated in its pathophysiology. An injury to the neurovascular bundles likely leads to smooth muscle cell death, which then leads to irreversible veno-occlusive disease.

There is a potential role of hypoxia in stimulating growth factors (TGF-beta) that stimulate collagen synthesis in cavernosal smooth muscle. Prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) was found to suppress the effect of TGF-β1 on collagen synthesis.

Role of Penile Rehabilitation

The goal of Penile Rehabilitation is to limit and reverse ED in post-prostatectomy patients. The idea is to minimize fibrotic changes during the period of “penile quiescence” after nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy. Several approaches have been tried, including PGE1 injection, vacuum devices, and phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors.

Mulhall and coworkers followed 132 patients through an 18-month period after they were placed in “rehabilitation” or “no rehabilitation” groups after radical prostatectomy, and 52% of those undergoing rehabilitation (sildenafil + alprostadil) reported spontaneous functional erections, compared with 19% of the men in the no-rehabilitation group 2.

Prostaglandin E1 (PGE1)

Alprostadil is a vasodilatory prostaglandin E1 that can be injected into the penis or placement in the urethra in order to treat ED. Montorsi, et al. studied the use of intracorporeal injections of alprostadil starting at 1 month after bilateral nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy and reported a higher rate of spontaneous erections after 6 months compared with no treatment 3. Gontero, et al. investigated alprostadil injections at various time points after non–nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy and found that 70% of patients receiving injections within the first 3 months were able to achieve erections sufficient for intercourse, compared with 40% of patients receiving injections after the first 3 months 4.

Vacuum constriction device (VCD)

VCD is an external pump that is used to get and maintain an erection. Raina, et al evaluated the daily use of a VCD beginning within two months after radical prostatectomy, and reported that after 9 months of treatment, 17% of patients using the device had return of natural erections sufficient for intercourse, compared with 11% of patients in the nontreatment group 4.

PDE-5 Inhibitors

PDE-5 inhibitors (such as Sildenafil) are the first-line treatment for ED of many etiologies. Several studies have shown that the use of PDE-5 inhibitors might lead to an overall improvement in endothelial cell function in the corpus cavernosum. Chronic use of oral PDE-5 inhibitors suggest a beneficial effect on endothelial cell function. Desouza, et al. concluded that daily sildenafil improves overall vascular endothelial cell function. However, Zagaja, et al. found that men taking oral sildenafil within the first 9 months of a nerve-sparing procedure did not have any erectogenic response 4.

Overall, accumulating scientific literature is suggesting that penile rehabilitation therapies have a positive impact on the sexual function outcome in post-prostatectomy patients. It must be noted that these methods do not cure ED and should be used with caution.


1Penson DF, McLerran D, Feng Z, et al. 5-year urinary and sexual outcomes after radical prostatectomy: results from the prostate cancer outcomes study. J Urol. 2005;173:1701-1705.
2Mulhall J, Land S, Parker M, et al. The use of an erectogenic pharmacotherapy regimen following radical prostatectomy improves recovery of spontaneous erectile function. J Sex Med. 2005; 2:532-540.
3Montorsi F, Guazzoni G, Strambi LF, et al. Recovery of spontaneous erectile function after nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy with and without early intracavernous injections of alprostadil: results of a prospective, randomised trial. J Urol. 1997;158:1408-1410.
4Gontero P, Fontana F, Bagnasacco A, et al. Is there an optimal time for intracavernous prostaglandin E1 rehabilitation following non- nerve sparing radical prostatectomy? Results from a hemodynamic prospective study. J Urol. 2003;169:2166-2169.

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Simple Screening Questionnaire for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Earlier diagnosis is clearly a huge need for patients with pelvic floor dysfunction. Many patients suffer with their symptoms for years before even hearing the words “pelvic floor,” or realizing that a pelvic floor physical therapist may be able to help. For interstitial cystitis, one large survey article found fewer than 10% of patients with the condition had been correctly diagnosed with IC, even after years of symptoms and visits with multiple doctors.

Even after being diagnosed, patients still don’t learn about how the pelvic floor can be causing or exacerbating their symptoms. In one study of our interstitial cystitis patients, 46% learned about the importance of the pelvic floor on their own and sought out treatment independently, while nearly half felt they were referred by their physician to physical therapy far too late, as a ‘last resort.’ This is despite the fact that many of these patients had seen five or more physicians and physical therapy is considered the most proven treatment for IC by the American Urological Association.

Physicians, orthopedic physical therapists, other practitioners, and patients themselves need a simple, proven way to identify pelvic floor dysfunction to help patients find pelvic floor physical therapy earlier in their medical journey.

In a large survey of our patients with confirmed pelvic floor dysfunction, we examined what symptoms and medical history was most closely correlated with pelvic floor dysfunction. Any screening questionnaire would ideally be able to identify a wide variety of pelvic floor dysfunction, including patients with chronic pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse, orthopedic pain with a pelvic floor component (low back, hip, groin), urinary urgency/frequency, and/or bowel dysfunction.

While these patients all had different medical diagnoses, many symptoms were common across the patient population. The most common were pelvic pain (84%), urinary urgency, frequency, or incontinence (81%), orthopedic pelvic pain (71%) and symptoms that worsen with prolonged sitting (68%).

Based on the survey results, we created the Cozean Pelvic Dysfunction Screening Protocol to screen for pelvic floor dysfunction and published the results in the International Pelvic Pain Society (2017). The goal was to correctly identify more than 80% of the patients with pelvic floor dysfunction (sensitivity). For ease of use by both practitioners and patients, the questions were phrased so they could be answered with a simple ‘yes/no’ (as a check box). If patients answers ‘yes’ to 3 or more of the questions, pelvic floor dysfunction is highly likely.

 

Testing the Model

In a model like this, we would expect a normal (bell-shaped) distribution curve of answers from patients with pelvic floor dysfunction. Some patients will score on the high end, others on the low, and the majority would be clustered in the middle. This is what we observe with use of the questionnaire, as seen by the trendline in the blow graph. Most patients with confirmed pelvic floor dysfunction cluster in scores between 3 and 7, with a few scoring at 8 or higher. Less than one out of ten patients with pelvic floor dysfunction score below a 2 on the questionnaire and would not be captured by this measure.

Specificity: 91%. More than 90% of patients with confirmed pelvic floor dysfunction were correctly identified by this screening protocol. Additional testing is required on a general population without PFD to determine the specificity of the questionnaire.

Average: 5.2. Of patients with confirmed PFD, the average score according to this screening protocol was 5.2 with a median score of 5 and a mode of 6. This is in line with what would be expected with a normal distribution curve.

We hope this 10-question survey is able to help patients with pelvic floor dysfunction be diagnosed earlier - whether by their physician, other physical therapists, or themselves – and seek pelvic floor physical therapy earlier in their medical journey. Please feel free to use the printable version of this protocol with your patients or in working with local practitioners.

Nicole Cozean will be teaching the course Interstitial Cystitis: Holistic Evaluation and Treatment in Princeton, NJ from April 6-7, 2019.

Nicole CozeanNicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, in Orange County, California. Nicole was named the 2017 PT of the Year, is the first physical therapist to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, and is the award-winning and best-selling book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University and teaches continuing education courses through the prestigious Herman & Wallace Institute.

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An Interview with Featured Practitioner Adina Leifer, PT, DPT, PRPC

Adina Leifer, PT, DPT, PRPC recently passed the Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification exam and was kind enough to discuss her career with us. Adina Leifer, PT, DPT, PRPC practices at ABLe Pelvic Physical Therapy in Atlanta, GA. Thank you for the interview, Dr. Leifer, and congratulations on earning your certification!

Adina Leifer, PT, DPT, PRPCHow did you get involved in the pelvic rehabilitation field?
After graduating from Touro College, and receiving my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. I began to work in an outpatient sports rehab setting. While looking for continuing education courses, I happened upon Herman and Wallace through the Touro College website. They were hosting PF1 at their New York City campus. I knew nothing about pelvic health and rehabilitation at that time. Holly Herman and Tracy Sher taught that first class, after 3 days of class, I was hooked. I knew that pelvic health and wellness was my calling. It has been 9 years since I took that first course and I could not be happier.

What patient population do you find most rewarding in treating and why?
Not sure I can pick one diagnosis or patient population as my favorite. I feel that with each patient that comes to see me, they have either lost ability or do not have normal function of their bladder, bowel or sexual functioning. When I can treat them successfully and educate patients in proper strength and mobility of their pelvic muscles. When I can provide them with the tools so that they can function in their lives, there is nothing more rewarding then that.

Describe your clinical practice:
I currently have my own outpatient practice in Atlanta, GA. I treat adult men and women with any and all pelvic muscle dysfunction and diagnoses.

What has been your favorite Herman & Wallace Course and why?
My favorite course from Herman & Wallace was the capstone course given by Nari Clemons and Jennafer Vande Vegte. I felt this course was informative with practical hands on information for everyday patient treatment. As well as, really helping me to prepare for the PRPC exam.

What motivated you to earn PRPC?
Having practiced for over 9 years and taken many courses through Herman & Wallace, I felt my knowledge and experience made me a specialist. As I was building my own practice, I felt that I wanted the credentials and letters after my name to prove that I was truly a specialist in this field.

What advice would you give to physical therapists interested in earning PRPC?
Go for it! Study the coursework and anatomy. Trust in the knowledge that you have and take the test! You will be very happy that you did.

Certified Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioners have experience treating a wide variety of pelvic floor dysfunction conditions in men and women throughout the lifecycle. Each certified practitioner has passed a comprehensive exam, and has directly treated pelvic patients for more than 2,000 hours. To learn more about the Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification, visit our certification page.

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Effects of Exercise on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Few patients discuss polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in orthopedic manual therapy, but one lady left a lasting impression. She was adopted and did not know her family’s medical history or her genetics. At 18, she had a baby as a result of rape. At 34, she was married and diagnosed with POCS. She struggled with infertility, anxiety, obesity, and hypertension. Although I saw her for cervicalgia, the exercise aspect of her therapy had potential to impact her overall well-being and possibly improve her PCOS symptoms.

Polycystic Ovary SyndromePericleous & Stephanides (2018) reviewed 10 studies that considered the effects of resistance training on PCOS symptoms. Some of these symptoms include the absence of or a significant decrease in ovulation and menstruation, which can lead to infertility; obesity, which in turn can affect cardiovascular health and increase the risk of diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome; and, mental health problems. Research has shown resistance training benefits include lowering body fat, improving insulin resistance and glucose metabolism, and increasing insulin sensitivity in type II diabetes. Although it has been documented that obesity and insulin resistance can exacerbate PCOS symptoms, resistance training is not a common recommendation in healthcare settings for patients with PCOS . Studies have shown diet and exercise are essential to improve cardiac and respiratory health and body makeup in patients with PCOS, as the combination improves the Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), ovulation, testosterone levels, and weight loss. One systematic review found that weight loss can improve PCOS symptoms without consideration of diet; however, most other studies find intake of various macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) may lead to different results, and the effects of resistance training can only be optimized with appropriate dietary changes. These authors concluded caloric consumption and macronutrient habits must be considered in conjunction with resistance training to determine the greatest impact on improving PCOS symptoms.

Benham et al., (2018) also performed a recent systematic review to assess the role exercise can have on PCOS. Fourteen trials involving 617 females of reproductive age with PCOS evaluated the effect of exercise training on reproductive outcomes. The data published did not allow the authors to quantitatively assess the impact of exercise of reproductive in PCOS patients; however, their semi-quantitative analysis allowed them to propose exercise may improve regularity of menstruation, the rate of ovulation, and pregnancy rates in these women. Via meta-analysis, secondary outcomes of body measurement and metabolic parameters significantly improved after women with PCOS underwent exercise training; however, symptoms such as acne and hirsutism (excessive, abnormal body hair growth) were not changed with exercise. The authors concluded exercise does improve the metabolic health (ie, insulin resistance) in women with PCOS, but evidence is insufficient to measure the exact impact on the function of the reproductive system.

Increasing our knowledge about comorbidities such as PCOS, regardless of our practice setting, can help us provide better education to the patients we treat. Perhaps exercise compliance can increase when patients are told multiple long-term benefits, not just immediate symptom relief. More often than not, a patient’s 4-6 week interaction with us could motivate and promote healthy lifestyle changes.


Pericleous, P., & Stephanides, S. (2018). Can resistance training improve the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome? BMJ Open Sport — Exercise Medicine, 4(1), e000372. http://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000372
Benham, J. L., Yamamoto, J. M., Friedenreich, C. M., Rabi, D. M. and Sigal, R. J. (2018), Role of exercise training in polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Clin Obes, 8: 275-284. doi:10.1111/cob.12258

Suggested newly published resource for readers…
Teede, H. J., Misso, M. L., Costello, M. F., Dokras, A., Laven, J., Moran, L., … Yildiz, B. O. (2018). Recommendations from the international evidence-based guideline for the assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 33(9), 1602–1618. http://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dey256

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Updates to the Sacral and Lumbar Nerve Courses

Faculty member Nari Clemons, PT, PRPC recently created a two-course series on the manual assessment and treatment of nerves. The two courses, Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment and Sacral Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment, are a comprehensive look at the nervous system and the various nerve dysfunctions that can impact pelvic health. The Pelvic Rehab Report caught up with Nari to discuss these new courses and how they will benefit pelvic rehab practitioners.

Nari Clemons

What is "new" in our understanding of nerves? Are there any recent exciting studies that will be incorporated into this course?

The course is loaded with a potpourri of research regarding nerves and histological and morphological studies. There are some fascinating correlations we see with nerve restrictions, wherever they are in the body. Frequently the nerves are compressed in fascial tunnels or areas of muscular overlap, then the nerve, wherever the location, frequently has local vascular axonal change, which increases the diameter of the nerve and prohibits gliding without pain. This causes local guarding and protective mechanisms. Changing pressure on the nerve can change that axonal swelling and allow gliding without pain.

New pain theory also supports that much of pain perception is the body perceiving danger or injury to a nerve. By clearing up the path of the nerve and mobilizing it, we can decrease the body's perception of nerve entrapment and thus create change in pain levels.

What do you hope practitioners will get out of this series that they can't find anywhere else?

I hope they will leave the course able to treat the nerves of the region, which is essentially the transmission pathway for most pelvic pain. I don't know of other courses that have this emphasis.

You've recently split your nerve course in two. Why the split?

I didn't want this class to be a bunch of nerve theory without the manual intervention to make change. After running the labs in local study groups, we found it took more time for people's hands to learn the language, art, and techniques of nerve work. To truly do the work justice and for participants to have a firm grasp of the manual techniques without being rushed, we found it takes time, and I wanted to honor that, as well as treating enough of the related factors and anatomy to make real and lasting change for patients.

How did you decide to divide up content?

Basically, we divided them up by anatomical origin:

The lumbar course covers the nerves of the lumbar plexus, the abdominal wall when treating diastasis, and treatment of the inguinal canal (obturator nerve, femoral nerve, iliohypogastric, ilioinguinal, genitofemoral nerves). Also, the lumbar nerves have more effect in the anterior hip, anterior pelvis, and abdominal wall.

The sacral nerve course covers all the nerves of the sacral plexus (pudendal, sciatic, gluteal/cluneal, posterior femoral cutaneous, sciatic, and coccygeal nerves), as well as subtle issues in the sacral base and subtle coccyx derangement work as well as the relationship with the uterus and sacrum, to take pressure off the sacral plexus. The sacral nerves have more effect in the posterior and inferior pelvis and into the posterior leg and gluteals.

What are the main stories that either course tells?

Both courses tell the story of getting closer to the root of the pain to make more change in less time.  Muscles generally just respond to the message the nerve is sending.  Yet, by treating the nerve compression directly, we are getting much closer to the root of the issue and have more lasting results by changing the source of abnormal muscle tone. Rather than an intellectual exercise of discourse on nerves, we devote ourselves to the art of manual therapy to change the restrictions on the pathway of the nerve and in the nerve itself.

If someone went to the old nerve course, what's the next best step for them?

The first course was initially all the lumbar nerves with a dip into the pudendal nerve. They would want to take the sacral nerve course, as those nerves were not covered in the first round.

Anything else you would like to share about these courses?

Sure. Essentially, we will take each nerve and do the following:

  1. Thoroughly learn the path of the nerve
  2. Fascially clear the path of the nerve
  3. Manually lengthen supportive structures and tunnels that surround the nerve.
  4. Directly mobilize the nerve
  5. Glide the nerve
  6. Learn manual local regional integration techniques for the nerve after treatment
  7. Receive handouts for and practice home program for strengthening and increasing mobility in the path of the nerve

Join Nari at one of the following events to learn valuable evaluation and treatment techniques for sacral and lumbar nerves

Upcoming sacral nerve courses:
Sacral Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment - Winfield, IL
Oct 11, 2019 - Oct 13, 2019

Sacral Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment - Tampa, FL
Dec 6, 2019 - Dec 8, 2019

Upcoming lumbar nerve courses:
Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment - Phoenix, AZ
Jan 11, 2019 - Jan 13, 2019

Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment - San Diego, CA
May 3, 2019 - May 5, 2019

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September is Gynae Cancer Awareness Month

September is Gynae Cancer Awareness Month – but how aware are we as clinicians of the signs and symptoms, the epidemiology and the sequalae of treatment afterwards? As pelvic rehab specialists, we have the privilege of helping women live well after cancer treatment ends, both on a ‘local’ pelvic area (bladder, bowel, sexual and pelvic pain management strategies) but also on a more ‘global’ level – dealing with issues such as cancer related fatigue, bone health and cardiovascular concerns.

We know that women who are diagnosed with cancer of the vulva, vagina, cervix, endometrium or ovaries are treated with a combination of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. However, with improving treatment and better survival rates, there is evidence that a variety of pelvic health concerns may arise for these women, both during and after treatment. (Hazewinkel et al 2010). For example, urinary incontinence is reported in 80% of women treated for endometrial cancer, with more severe symptoms and impact on quality of life in those who had adjuvant radiation (Erekson et al 2009) In Malone’s 2017 paper, ‘The patient’s voice: What are the views of women on living with pelvic floor problems following successful treatment for pelvic cancers?’, the author notes that ‘…there is currently a lack of knowledge regarding the effects of PFD on QoL in this cohort. Patients do not always report these problems to their health care providers and clinicians may underestimate symptoms…In the context of having survived cancer, PFD may be seen as relatively trivial. However, in the context of resuming normal living, the symptoms experienced by the survivors may be significant’.

This can present a clinical conundrum – often pelvic rehab therapists are nervous when working with a patient who has a current or previous gynecologic cancer diagnosis, but similarly oncology rehab specialists may have qualms about dealing with pelvic health issues, with the result that these women fall through the cracks and do not have their pelvic health issues managed properly (or at all). Theodore Roosevelt once said ‘No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care’ and this is especially relevant for oncology pelvic rehab. Often you may be the first clinician to ask about bladder, bowel or sexual function or dysfunction. An understanding of the effects of cancer treatments on the pelvis is important but so too is the wealth of information you may already have about bladder, bowel and sexual health as well as neuroscience and pain education.

The most important thing is to ask these women about their pelvic health concerns – the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship defined cancer survivorship as extending from ‘the time of diagnosis and for the balance of life’. An emphasis on quality of life has been emphasised – if we know that cancer survivors may not independently volunteer information about their pelvic floor dysfunction, it is our responsibility to ask the questions and comprehensively treat and advocate for these women, in order to help them live well after cancer treatment ends.


  1. Hazewinkel MH. Sprangers MA, Velden Jvd, Vaart CH, Stalpers LJ, Burger MP ‘Longterm cervical cancer survivors suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms: A cross-sectional matched cohort study’ Gynecol Oncol 2010;117(2):381-6
  2. Erekson EA, Sung VW, Disilvestro PA, Myers DL ‘Urinary symptoms and impact on quality of life in women after treatment for endometrial cancer’ Int Urogynecol J 2009;20(2):159-63
  3. Malone P, Danaher D, Galvin R, Cusack T ‘The patient’s voice: What are the views of women on living with pelvic floor problems following successful treatment for pelvic cancers?’ Physiotherapy Practice and Research 38(2017)93-102
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Osteoporosis and Multiple Sclerosis: Patient Study Part 2

The following is part two in a series documenting Deb Gulbrandson, PT, DPT's journey treating a 72 year old patient who has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) since age 18. Catch up with Part one of the patient case study on the Pelvic Rehab Report here. Dr. Gulbrandson is a certified Osteoporosis Exercise Specialist and instructor of the Meeks Method, and she helps teach The Meeks Method for Osteoporosis course.

On Maryanne’s second visit, she reported she had been doing her “homework” and didn’t have any questions. Just to be sure, we reviewed them and I had her demonstrate. In Decompression position, she was lying supine with her hands on her abdomen, a common mistake I see. Usually this is due to tightness in pec minor with protracted scapulae. Patients unknowingly resort to the path of least resistance to take the strain off of the muscles. I explained to her that we want to use gravity to gently lengthen those muscles and “widen” the collarbones to allow for improved alignment. With her shoulders abducted to approximately 30 degrees and palms up, I propped a couple of small towels under her forearms which allowed her shoulders to relax into a more posterior and correct position.Osteoporosis Evaluation

“Today we begin the Re-alignment routine,” I said, “starting with the Shoulder Press.” I showed her how to gently press the back of her shoulders down into the mat without arching her lumbar spine. “As you press your shoulders down, exhale through your mouth as if you’re fogging a mirror. This will help activate your core muscles to keep your back in good alignment. Hold for 2-3 seconds, and then relax. Repeat 3 times.” Maryanne looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “Did you say do 3 reps?” she asked. “I do 2 sets of 20 reps at the gym,” she said with obvious pride in her voice. “Yes, that’s where we start, and there are a couple of reasons. First, these are very site specific exercises which focus on the exact areas that need strengthening. Exercises done in a gym setting are often more general and usually involve compensation.  We are minimizing any compensation such as allowing your low back to arch. There is probably weakness in those upper back muscles as well as the tightness seen in your anterior chest muscles and we need to go slowly. Also, we are simultaneously stretching while we strengthen. Our society is so forward biased (we work on computers, drive cars, make beds, eat- it’s all forward, forward, forward), that the anterior muscles get tight and the upper back muscles get overstretched and weak. We need to reverse that pattern. Take a look at our younger population and their texting postures. Yikes! We will be layering on more exercises as your technique improves so you’ll be doing more than just 3 reps, I promise.”

After the Shoulder Press we proceeded with the Head Press, Leg Lengthener and Arm Lengthener, spending time to make sure her cervical spine stayed in neutral as she pressed her head down into the mat. Head Press (cervical retraction) performed in supine allow patients to have something to press against and helps inhibit the tendency to move into cervical extension. It can also be done standing against the wall with a small pillow or folded towels between the occiput and the wall.

We ended with Maryanne in standing at the kitchen sink to promote functional activities and weight bearing positions.  I reminded her to do the Foot Press through the floor using the Triangle of Foot Support visual. This helped to elongate her spine. “Imagine a bungie cord running from the top back of your head to the ceiling” I said which further increased her standing height. “Now I want you to imagine a shelf running straight out from your breastbone with a glass of some very expensive fine drink sitting on it. Do not spill your libation! Oh, and one last thing Maryanne. Breathe!!!” At which point she collapsed into laughter and our session was over. “Busted”, she said.

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Mindful Attention to the Breath Reduces Amygdala Activity

As so many of our patients are shallow breathers, I found this research on the effects of mindful attention to the breath (MATB) on prefrontal cortical and amygdala activity especially informative and relevant to patient care. Twenty-six healthy volunteers with no prior meditation experience were introduced to MATB by an experienced meditation teacher and instructed to practice a 20-minute audio guided MATB meditation daily for 2 weeks.1 At the end of the 2-week training period, subjects underwent fMRI scanning while viewing distressing emotional images with MATB and with passive viewing (PV). Participants were shown aversive pictures or no pictures and were instructed to “Please focus your attention on your breath as you were instructed in the training” or “Please watch the picture without changing anything about your feelings.” Subjects indicated their current affect on a 7 point scale ranging from -3 (very negative) to +3 (very positive).Mindfullness

Breathing frequency significantly decreased during MATB compared to PV. Researchers controlled for this by including breathing frequency as a covariate in further behavioral and brain data analysis.

Analysis of affective ratings showed that participants felt significantly less negative affect when viewing distressing visual stimuli during MATB than PV. During negative visual stimuli, MATB significantly decreased bilateral amygdala activation compared to PV. Also, right amygdala activation decrease specifically correlated with successful emotional regulation. That is, those participants with greater reductions in right amygdala activation reported greater reductions in aversive emotions during the MATB. In addition, emotion-related functional connectivity increased between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala during the viewing of negative images and MATB.

It’s exciting to have some initial science behind the benefits of MATB. I teach all of my patients MATB and have found it rewarding to get feedback from participants in my courses about their integration of MATB into their own patient care. Patients with complex pain conditions can be challenging to treat, however sometimes a simple practice of taking 2 to 3 minutes prior to and/or at the end of a treatment to have a patient calmly focus on their breath with the mindful attitudes of acceptance, kindness and curiosity can help a person shift from tension and distress to calm and confidence. I look forward to presenting this and additional research on the impact of mindful meditation on brain structure and function in my upcoming course, Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment, in Seattle, November 4 and 5. Hope to see you there!


1. Doll A, Holzel BK, Bratec SM, et al. Mindful attention to breath regulates emotions via increased amygdala-prefrontal cortex connectivity. Neuroimage. 2016;134:305-313.

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Trauma Awareness in Pelvic Health

In July of this year, I was invited to present in Christchurch, New Zealand as part of a teaching tour that took in Singapore, Australia and Tasmania. The topic of my class was female pelvic pain, so we discussed Endometriosis, Vulvodynia, Sexual Health and many other sub-topics but we had several discussions about the effects of trauma on pelvic pain. For those who have visited Christchurch, it is a beautiful city but it is still reeling from a series of massive earthquakes, that started in September 2010. The most devastating was in February 2011, when 185 people were killed and 6600 people were injured. Everywhere you go in Christchurch, there are reminders – from the constant buzz of ongoing construction, to structures that are waiting demolition, like the beautiful old cathedral that was beside our hotel. Usually, when I teach, we do some ‘housekeeping’ announcements about fire drills and exits; in Christchurch it was ‘In the event of an earthquake…’. I wondered how the near constant reminders were affecting the inhabitants, so I read of how ‘…people called living with continual shaking, damaged infrastructure, insurance battles and unrelenting psychological stress ‘the new normal’. There are several ongoing research studies, looking at the effects of this trauma and how it is still having an effect on the people of Christchurch.

If you’ve attended Pelvic Floor Level 1 with Herman & Wallace, you’ll remember we quote a study from Van der Welde about the effects of perceived danger on muscle activity in the upper trapezius and pelvic floor muscles. We also discuss the work of Levine, of ‘Waking the Tiger’ fame, who explores the somatic effects of trauma in our bodies – and how trauma, much like pain, is whatever we say it is.

I became intrigued with the topic, so I was delighted to hear that Lauren Mansell has created a course to deal exactly with this topic. I was even more delighted when she sat down for a chat with me to explore the nuances of trauma awareness, boundary setting and self-care for therapists, especially pelvic therapists, who work with those who have experienced trauma of any kind.

I hope you find this conversation as interesting as I did! Here is our conversation:


1. ‘Vaginismus, a Component of a General Defensive Reaction. An Investigation of Pelvic Floor Muscle Activity during Exposure to Emotion-Inducing Film Excerpts in Women with and without Vaginismus’ van der Velde, J & Laan, Ellen & Everaerd, W. (2001)
2. ‘Waking The Tiger’ by Peter A. Levine (1997)

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