In the world of pelvic health, we are constantly meeting patients who are surprised to learn about the scope of what we do. Oftentimes, it is because we mention the pelvic muscles’ roles in sexual health that a patient will offer up symptoms with their sexual health, or ask a few more questions. Outside of pelvic health professionals asking about sexual function, do men bring up these issues with anyone? Not usually. In Fisher and colleagues 2-part “Strike up a conversation” study (2005), the authors reported that men who have erectile dysfunction (ED) are worried about their partner’s reaction, don’t want to admit to having a chronic problem, and frankly, just don’t even know where to start. Unfortunately, the partners of men who have ED have the same concerns. In addition, partners are worried about bringing it up and “making their partners feel worse about it.” When men did bring up sexual concerns with their physician, although they reported feeling nervous and embarrassed, they also reported feeling hopeful and relieved.
This issue was highlighted in a recent interview and article published on National Public Radio. The article shares that for war veterans, sexual intimacy is often affected, and yet, is often ignored. A Marine who suffered PTSD after a head injury and shrapnel to the head and neck describes how he had to go to the doctor several times just to work up the nerve to ask for help for his sexual dysfunction. He also shared how it was difficult to talk about “…because it contradicts a self-image so many Marines have.” Apparently you don’t have to be a Marine to feel the same intense pressure related to talking about sexual issues. I have spent more time in the past year trying to better understand why men don’t discuss these issues, with a best friend or partner, and each time, my question of “what would that be like if you brought it up?” is met with near bewilderment, as if revealing this issue were akin to revealing your deepest, darkest secret. Apparently, it is. Telling a buddy you have erectile dysfunction, for men, seems to be like showing your enemy where the chink in your armor is, or like setting yourself up to be the center of every “getting it up” joke for the remainder of your life.
The bottom line is that we can be part of the solution to this problem, because men must be certain that their medical provider knows about any emerging or worsening erectile dysfunction. Loss of libido, or changes in erectile function can be associated with heart issues, with diabetes, or with other major medical concerns. Research such as the referenced “strike up a conversation study” has demonstrated that health care providers or partners may positively influence a patient’s access to care. Once medical evaluation has been completed, the role of the pelvic health provider is critical in improving sexual health for men with dysfunction. If you are interested in learning more about the role of the pelvic health provider for erectile dysfunction or pain related to sexual function, the Male Pelvic Health continuing education course will be offered 3 times this year through the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute. Your next opportunity to learn about urinary and prostate conditions, male pelvic pain, sexual health and dysfunction is next month in Portland, Oregon.
Jason Hardage is a physical therapist who practices in Alameda, CA. He recently attended the Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment course which is written and instructed by faculty member Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA. Dr. Hardage was kind enough to send in the following review in order to help spread the good word about this powerful course. Your next opportunity to learn how to apply mindfulness practices in your clinic will be in Boston, MA on March 4-5, 2017.
Carolyn McManus' 2-day course, Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment, was truly outstanding. In my opinion, the integration of mindfulness into healthcare is a paradigm shift and in that sense Carolyn is a visionary who is ahead of her time, as she has been practicing in this arena for many years. Her expertise is clear (as is her joy in teaching).
In this course, she introduces the basic terminology, concepts, and mindfulness practices in a way that is experiential, practical, and accessible, with many tools and techniques to integrate into clinical practice. She thoroughly reviews the evidence in a way that is skillful and compelling and provides the theory as to how mindfulness works, then provides case studies from her own clinical practice. She also provides a brief survey of other tools and approaches that are complementary, such as yoga, loving kindness meditation, and motivational interviewing, then shows how to put it all together, including suggestions for documentation and billing. She is generous in sharing resources, including patient education materials and four open-access guided relaxation and meditation sessions from her Web site, as well as resources for continued study. Furthermore, she presents ways for the healthcare practitioner to use mindfulness for self care, to help combat the burnout that can come with serving those with complex needs in a demanding healthcare environment.
On November 15th, 2016 a new class of Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification was crowned! Today we get to celebrate with Andrea Wood, PT, DPT, PRPC from New York. Andrea was kind enough to share some of her thoughts on pelvic rehabilitation and what certification means to her. Thank you Andrea, and congratulations on earning your PRPC credential!Describe your clinical practice:I work in an orthopedic clinical practice that has one on one care which I think is valuable. I joined my practice to help offer another view that included pelvic floor knowledge to various patient cases. My coworkers and I collaborate a lot because we both may see things differently, and exchanging ideas is always invaluable for optimal patient outcomes. I really believe the best health care practitioners can admit when they don’t know everything and seek out other viewpoints to learn. How did you get involved in the pelvic rehabilitation field?I actually had no idea I originally wanted to do pelvic floor rehab. I was lucky to fall into it right out of graduate school up in Boston at a wonderful place called Marathon Physical Therapy. I found it fascinating how important it was to consider in a lot of patients, especially those presenting with hip, back, or pelvic pain. Two years into working, I found out I had mild congenital hip dysplasia in my left hip and underwent a periacetabular osteotomy to correct it. Going through the rehab on the other side as a patient and having to experience what it means to practice a lot of the principles I teach patients made me excited to continue to help people overcome obstacles. I’m a better physical therapist now because of my personal history. It taught me to always give patients the means to keep moving within their means and not provide only passive treatments. My two physical therapists that helped me through that became my biggest role models on how to approach complicated patient problems. What patient population do you find most rewarding in treating and why?I find it most rewarding to work with pelvic pain patients. I like to think of them as a puzzle. With those patients, I’m an orthopedic physical therapist first, because of how much influence other parts of the body can have on the pelvis. I also am a big advocate of collaborative health care with those patients, and when you bring a team of different views together (i.e. medical doctor, physical therapy, nutritionist, and psychologist to name a few) I find I learn something new each time. If you could get a message out to physical therapists about pelvic rehabilitation what would it be?It is not just about 3 layers of muscles in your pelvic floor and Kegels. Your pelvis is a center of your body with various biomechanical, vascular, and neurological influences. For example, erectile dysfunction in males can be influenced by pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, cardiovascular health, and psychological or neurological conditions. A woman with painful intercourse could have various contributing factors ranging from a back or hip problem to a dermatological skin issue. I think physical therapists not properly educated on pelvic floor rehab oversimplify it unknowingly. What has been your favorite Herman & Wallace Course and why?My favorite Herman & Wallace course was the Pudendal Neuralgia and Nerve Entrapment. That course opened my eyes up to pain science and how much we really don’t know about pain as a medical community. What lesson have you learned from a Herman & Wallace instructor that has stayed with you?That the amount of pain a patient may have does not always signify the amount of damage that is present. When patients realize this, they feel a lot more hopeful and in control. What do you find is the most useful resource for your practice?I love learning from other physical therapy blogs. Blog About Pelvic Pain by Sara Saunder and Julie Weibe’s blogs are two of my favorites to follow. I lend the book Pelvic Pain Explained to a lot of my patients. What motivated you to earn PRPC?I like to challenge myself, and I felt it was a good test to access areas I need improvement in and should study more or seek out further continuing education. What makes you the proudest to have earned PRPC?I’m proud to have earned the PRPC because I earned something that I am passionate about. Some people don’t get that blessing. What advice would you give to physical therapists interested in earning PRPC?Just being passionate and asking a lot of questions about what I don’t know in clinical practice provided me with best tools to prepare for the exam. What is in store for you in the future?Continuing to learn as much as I can. I plan on seeking out some continuing education in areas of physical therapy like neurology or cardiovascular issues that can all still influence the pelvic floor. I think its important to be a well rounded physical therapist.
Lymphedema with regards to women’s health is most commonly associated with breast cancer. Upper extremity lymphedema can be limiting and painful without a doubt, and I have seen women suffering from irritating edema and limited shoulder range of motion and function after radical mastectomy. However, we may not always consider lower extremity lymphedema which can occur as a result of urogenital cancers and their treatments. Our knowledge and skilled hands can impact the quality of life of these patients who may seek treatment for their post-cancer complications.
Mitra et al., published a 2016 retrospective study on lymphedema risk post radiation therapy in endometrial cancer. They considered 212 endometrial cancer survivors, and 7.1% who received adjuvant pelvic radiation therapy developed lower extremity lymphedema after treatment, whether they had chemotherapy or not. Finding at least 1 positive pathological lymph node was directly correlated with an increased risk of lymphedema, regardless of attempts to control pelvic lymph-node dissection. These statistics encourage finding prophylactic measures to take for stage III endometrial cancer patients to minimize the risk for long-term lymphedema. Regarding treatment for lower extremity lymphedema, this paper discussed compression stocking use, pneumatic compression stockings, and complex decongestive therapy, an intensive regimen of physical therapy and massage that is unfortunately not easily accessible for a majority of patients. The authors encouraged future research on the efficacy of exercise and compression for lymph node positive patients.
Shaitelman et al. presented a review of the progress made in the treatment and prevention of cancer-related lymphedema (2015). They stated gynecologic cancer treatment is associated with 25% incidence of lymphedema. Endometrial cancer had 1%, cervical cancer had 27%, and vulvar cancer had 30% incidence specifically. Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) can be an important part of cancer treatment, as lymphedema incidence was shown to average 9%. With treatment of genitourinary cancers, lymphedema occurred in 4% patients with prostate cancer, 16% patients with bladder cancer, and 21% patients with penile cancer. Shown to decrease limb volume and improve quality of life, the current standard of care is complete decongestive therapy (CDT). These authors state CDT involves the use of manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), bandaging on a daily basis, skin care, exercise, and a 3-phase protocol of compression. The use of SLNB helps identify the risk of lymphedema post cancer treatment; however, clinicians need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of lymphedema so the affected patient can be recognized early and referred to the appropriate specialist for treatment.
During labor, I had no problem breathing out. My hang up came when I had to inhale - actually oxygenate my blood and maintain a healthy heart rate for my almost newborn baby. When extra staff filled the delivery room, and an oxygen mask was placed over my face, my husband remained calm but later told me how freaked out he was. He was watching the monitors that showed a drop in my vitals as well as our baby’s. In retrospect, I wonder if practicing yoga, particularly the breathing techniques involved with pranayama practice, could have prevented that moment.
A research article by Critchley et al., (2015) broke down breathing to a very scientific level, determining the consequences of slow breathing (6 breaths/minute) versus induced hypoxic challenges (13% inspired O2) on the cardiac and respiratory systems and their central neural substrates. Functional magnetic resonance imaging measured the 20 healthy subjects’ specific brain activity during the slow and normal rate breathing. The authors mentioned the controlled slow breathing of 6 breaths/minute is the rate encouraged during yoga practice. This rate decreases sympathetic activity, lessening vasoconstriction associated with hypertension, and it prevents physiological stress from affecting the cardiovascular system. Each part of the brain showed responses to the 2 conditions, and the general conclusion was modifying breathing rate impacted autonomic activity and improved both cardiovascular and psychological health.
Vinay, Venkatesh, and Ambarish (2016) presented a study on the effect of 1 month of yoga practice on heart rate variability in 32 males who completed the protocol. The authors reported yoga is supposed to alter the autonomic system and promote improvements in cardiovascular health. Not just the breathing but also the movements and meditation positively affect mental health and general well-being. The subjects participated in 1 hour of yoga daily for 1 month, and at the end of the study, the 1 bpm improvement in heart rate was not statistically significant. However, heart rate variability measures indicated a positive shift of the autonomic system from sympathetic activity to parasympathetic, which reduces cortisol levels, improves blood pressure, and increases circulation to the intestines.
Myofascial release (MFR) can be one of your greatest treatment tools as a pelvic rehabilitation practitioner. Just in case you don’t think about fascia often here are a couple helpful things to remember. Fascia is the irregular connective tissue that covers the entire body, and it is the largest sensory system in the body, making it highly innervated. The mobilizing effect of MFR techniques occurs by stimulating various mechanoreceptors within the fascia (not by the actual force applied). MFR techniques can help to reduce tissue tension, relax hypertonic muscles, decrease pain, reduce localized edema, and improve circulation just to name a few physiological effects.
An interesting case report published in 2015 by the Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy1 offers a wonderful example of how a physical therapist used specific MFR techniques for a patient with clitoral phimosis and dyspareunia. The specific MFR techniques used helped to provide relief and restore mobility to the pelvic tissues for this patient.
Clitoral phimosis is adherence between the clitoral prepuce (also known as the clitoral hood) and the glans. This condition can be the result of blunt trauma, chronic infection, inflammatory dermatoses, and poor hygiene. In this case report, the 41-year-old female patient had sustained a blunt trauma injury to the vulva (when her toddler son charged, contacting his head forcibly into her pubic region). She presented to physical therapy with complaints of dyspareunia, low back pain, a bruised sensation of her pubic region, vulvar pain provoked by sexual arousal, decreased clitoral sensitivity, and anorgasmia. The physical therapist completed an orthopedic assessment for the lower quarter (including spine and extremities), as well as a thorough pelvic floor muscle assessment.
One of my dear patients was recently diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos sydrome (EDS). The diagnosis brought a sense of relief for sweet Katie who for years struggled with numerous health problems and was often misunderstood and under cared for by the medical community. Katie was referred to me 2 years ago at 28 for pelvic pain, endometriosis and IC. Upon exam we also discovered a significant elimination disorder and paradoxical elimination. Katie regularly timed her elimination and was spending at times up to 2 hours trying to empty her bowels. As we worked together we uncovered bilateral hip dysplasia, left hip labral tear, ilioinguinal and pudendal neruralgia and POTS (Postural Orthostatic Hypotension Syndrome). Katie already had a history of anxiety and depression but managed well with good family and friend support. When the diagnosis of EDS came, she finally felt like she had an explanation for why her body is like it is. This brought great relief as well as the knowledge that her condition was genetic and her conditions needed to be managed as best as possible to give her the most function, but would likely never be fully resolved.
In her book "A Guide to Living with Ehler's Danlos Syndrome" Isobel Knight does a beautiful job outlining the various genetic subtypes of Ehlers Danlos but also highlighting the fact that EDS hypermobility type (Type III) does not just affect the connective tissue in the musculoskeletal sytem leading to joint instability and hypermoblity, muscle tears, dislocations, subluxations, hip dysplasia and flat feet. EDS can also affect the body's systemic collagen leading to increased risk for endometriosis, POTS, Renauds, bladder problems, fibromyalgia, headaches, restless legs, ashtma, consitpation, bloatedness, prolapse, IBS symptoms, anxiety, depression and learning difficulties. She notes that some people have only a few of these systemic symptoms while others may be more affected. Per Isobel: "it is important that all symptoms are treated seriously and not ridiculed and that the appropriate medical support is given to them when necessary."
It seems that EDS is becoming more widely recognized. As rehabilitation specialists we should be alert to problems stemming from joint hypermobility when we notice how our patients position themselves. Often legs are curled up or double crossed. Upon questioning we might find that the patient has a history of being "double jointed" or was able to do "party tricks" with their bodies. The Bighton scale is a test of joint hypermobility which we should all be familiar with. It is also important to note that a patient may have hypermobility without having EDS, and that EDS is usually associated with pain. A rheumatologist, or in Katie's case a geneticist, can help confirm a suspected EDS diagnosis.
In the 80’s, I would stand in my older sister’s bedroom wearing a button-down, collared shirt under a sweater and beg her to “fix me.” I felt stuck and wanted to cry until she twisted the shirt and loosened the snags of the knitted covering and made the outfit lay properly together. The myofascial system can often make us feel the same way if what’s lying underneath the intricately woven network of tissue has trigger points and inflammatory mediators rearing their ugly heads. When myofascial restrictions strike the pelvic region, every move a person makes can tug at the affected fascia and magnify the pain.
How do we know if someone has myofascial pain syndrome? Itza et al., (2015) published a study on turns-amplitude analysis (TAA) efficacy for diagnosing the syndrome in patients with chronic pelvic pain. The 128 subjects (64 with chronic pelvic pain and 64 healthy controls) underwent electromyogram (EMG) tests conducted in the levator ani muscle and the external anal sphincter. The mean TAA data was analyzed automatically, and an increase in the score was considered to be positive, while a decrease was negative. An increased TAA was found in 86% of the patients (no difference between men and women), and 100% of the control subjects displayed no increase in TAA. This study showed TAA to be an effective means by which to diagnose myofascial pain syndrome of the pelvic floor.
What are some treatments being researched? Anderson et al., (2016) conducted a study on using a multi-modal protocol with an internal myofascial trigger point wand to treat men and women with chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS). After 6 days of training, male and female subjects with CPPS engaged in 6 months of pelvic floor trigger point release with an internal trigger point device that was self-administered in combination with paradoxical relaxation training. In the end, women and men subjects experienced similar reduction of symptoms as trigger point sensitivity decreased significantly.
Faculty member Jennafer Vande Vegte, MSPT, BCB-PMD, PRPC has written in to encourage us all to practice kindness and patience. A positive attitude can affect more than just your friends and family; your patients will benefit in so many ways as well!
First a little personal story. Several years ago my daughter was going through a tough time and we worked with a child psychologist. He was a wonderful man who taught my husband and I so much about how to raise a challenging kiddo. The foundation of what we needed to learn was the power of positive. People need nine (or so) positive interactions to override a negative one. Poor kid was definitely at a deficit! So if she did something that needed correcting, we were to give her a chance at a "do over" where sometimes we had to coach her to choose a better action. After she got it right, we lavished praise on our little pumpkin. And would you believe, not only did all that positiveness make a difference for her, it made a difference for her parents too!
Now back to the clinical. Just about two years ago I had the privilege of teaching with Nari Clemons. We taught PF2B together. Nari said something during one of her lectures that revolutionized my PT practice. She challenged us in lab to find three positive things about our lab partner and share those things before recognizing any deficits. How many times do we get finished with an evaluation and sit down with a patient and list all the things we found that need correction or help, perhaps drawing on our Netter images to fully illustrate the parts of their body that are broken or need fixing.
Herman & Wallace are pleased to announce a new course! Pudendal Neuralgia and Nerve Entrapment will be presented by Michelle Lyons in Freehold, NJ on June 17/18, 2017. We chatted with Michelle about this new course to hear her thoughts and get an overview of the contents
There are a number of courses which I teach for Herman & Wallace including Pelvic Floor Level 2A, my Male Oncology and Female Oncology and the The Athlete and the Pelvic Floor courses. They all have sections on pudendal dysfunction and it’s an area that participants always want more information on. There’s no other nerve that elicits the same interest, discussion and confusion! Nobody really talks about iliohypogastric or ulnar neuralgia with the same intensity as pudendal neuralgia, and no other nerve dysfunction provokes the same amount of controversy and mystery.
When I was approached about developing this course for the Institute, I jumped at the opportunity. For those who don’t know me, I really like to bring an integrative approach to my work, both clinically and educationally. I have experience and training in nutrition, coaching, yoga, Pilates and mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention and I think these fit really well alongside traditional pelvic rehab approaches. Manual therapy and bespoke exercise prescription will always be the bedrock of my approach, but sometimes our patients, especially those with chronic pain, need some extra support. I’m also a bit of an anatomy nerd, so the chance to delve deep into pelvic neuroanatomy and neurodynamics was too much to resist!