It’s OK to be feeling (insert feeling) right now. (maybe: sad, fearful, angry, denial, numb, anxious, avoidant, bored?)
It’s OK to acknowledge those feelings.
It’s also OK to create a plan and direction about what we may do about our feelings, thoughts, and actions.
We can change how we think, what we do and ultimately how we feel.
Breathe. Place a hand on your chest and a hand on your abdomen. Practice inhaling long and deep as if you were pouring the air into your body- first filling the lower hand and then filling the top hand. Pause for a moment when you feel your canister is full and then exhale slowly (top to bottom or bottom to top- either works fine). I prefer breathing through my nose for inhale and exhale but know if you are congested, mouth breathing is fine or you can inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth- find what works for you. Work on increasing the number counted (silently in your mind) while you inhale, pause briefly and then exhale- making that number count on exhale the same or even longer. Make it a game to see how long and deep your breath can become. Reduce intensity if feeling lightheaded.
Focus on your breath and feel calmness. Return to this breathing whenever you can.
Body Scan/Progressive Relaxation. Take a moment and scan your body for pain or tension. You can start at the top of your body or where your feet are grounded to floor. Notice your body and allow it to be, without judgement. Then starting from the top of your body or the bottom, contract your muscles systematically and then relax. Or focus on the muscle group and allow the muscles to relax and slacken. Maybe send your long, deep breath to each area? Maybe think of color washing each area? Make your scan personal and positive for you. Check-in to your body without judgement and send gratefulness for the work your amazing body does.
Stand Big. Find a wall and place your backside onto it. Pretend there is a string at the crown of your head and imagine your head being pulled up towards the ceiling. Lift your chest as you are standing tall and use your slow, steady, deep breathing to create bigness and calmness. Relax your shoulders. Maybe place the back of your hands onto wall and feel the opening of your chest. Once you have practiced this posture, you can refer to this posture during your day. Stand big, breathe big, be big.
Intentionally SCHEDULE into your life what you love. Schedule time listening to your favorite music. Maybe take up playing an instrument? Practice singing in the shower or car. Set a timer and dance fervently. Create time to draw or paint or write. Make a recipe. Get frozen berries and make smoothies. Maybe add frozen spinach to your smoothie?
Pick up a book. Play a game, cards or even solitaire. Practice Sudoku. Take a bath or shower. Go for a long walk while keeping your distance from others. Find a workout you can do at home that makes you feel powerful. Whatever you love, turn it into a scheduled ritual. Make one small goal and work towards it. Focus on what we can do instead of what we cannot. Find some activity and fulfill a passion just for you. Make sleep a priority and know if you have a bad night, that the next night you will likely sleep better. Perhaps create a sleeping ritual? Call others and ask what they are doing for themselves? Remember to forgive yourself and to feel or express the feelings that are within you. We are all going through this together. Make you a priority and schedule yourself some HAPPY.
Lastly- try to limit the news, your phone and the frig. All of these can create negative feelings that do not fulfill us.
Breathe. Find love in positive activities. Be brave. Be grateful. Forgive.
We are all in this together.
Lauren Mansell DPT, CLT, PRPC is the author and instructor of the Trauma Awareness for the Pelvic Therapist course. She is also offering several courses via Zoom video conference during the Covid-19 pandemic, which can be found on our Remote Learning Opportunities page. Prior to becoming a physical therapist, Lauren counseled suicidal and homicidal SES at-risk youth who had survived sexual violence. Lauren was certified as a medical and legal advocate for sexual assault survivors in 1999 and has advocated for over 130 sexual assault survivors of all ages in the ED. Lauren's physical therapy specialty certifications include Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT), Pelvic Rehabilitation Professional Certificate (PRPC) and Certified Yoga Therapist (CYT). She is a board member of Chicagoland Pelvic Floor Research Consortium, American Physical Therapy Association Section of Women's Health and Section of Oncology.
Osteoporosis or low bone mass is much more common than most people realize. Approximately 1 in 2 women over the age of 50 will suffer a fragility fracture in their lifetime. A fragility fracture is identified as a fracture due to a fall from a standing height. According to the US Census Bureau there are 72 million baby boomers (age 51-72) in 2019. Currently over 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and 44 million have low bone mass.
Many myths abound regarding osteoporosis. Answer these 5 questions below to test your Osteoporosis IQ. 1
Fact: In addition to the statistic above regarding the incidence of fractures in women, up to 1 in 4 men over the age of 50 will suffer a fragility fracture.
Fact: Although we do lose bone density as we age, osteopenia or osteoporosis is a much more significant loss than seen in normal aging. DXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) is the gold standard for measuring bone density and the test shows whether an individual’s numbers fall into the normal, osteopenia, or osteoporosis range based on his or her age.
Fact: Osteoporosis has been called a “pediatric condition which manifests itself in old age.” Up until the age of 30 we build bone faster than it breaks down. This includes the growth phase of infants and adolescents and is also the time to build as much bone density as possible. By the age of 30, called our Peak Bone Mass, we have accumulated as much bone density as we will ever have. Proper nutrition, osteoporosis specific exercises, and good body mechanics in our formative years can all play a role in reducing the effects of low bone mass later on.
Fact: Two myths here. Flexion based exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, and toe touches are contraindicated for osteoporosis. A landmark study done by Dr. Sinaki from Mayo clinic showed women with osteoporosis had an 89% re-fracture rate after performing flexion based exercises. 2
Fact: Secondly, only 30% of vertebral compression fractures (VCF) are symptomatic meaning many individuals fracture without knowing it. This can lead to a fracture cascade as individuals continue performing movements and exercises that are contraindicated.
Fact: The DXA is a simple and painless test which lasts 5-10 minutes. You lay on your back and the machine scans over you with an open arm- no enclosed spaces. There is very little radiation. Your exposure is 10-15 times more when flying from New York to San Francisco.
How did you do? Feel free to share these myths with your patients, many of whom may have osteoporosis in addition to the primary diagnosis for which they are being treated. To learn more about treating patients with low bone density/osteoporosis, consider attending a Meeks Method for Osteoporosis course!
Let me start this plog (picture/blog?) by saying it had been almost 2 years since Nari Clemons and I taught Boundaries, Self Care, and Meditation for the first time. Nari had some amazing ideas to change some of the course material to reflect more of our hearts’ intention for personal reflection and transformative change. We were excited and nervous to see how our second run of this material would be received. We were also profoundly aware of how the (at times painful) events in our lives that led up to the development of the course have molded and shaped us into much healthier versions of ourselves. We wanted to share a bit about what we have learned and how it has changed us.
We met up in beautiful San Diego on Thursday. Because this course was Saturday to Mononday we had an added bonus of extra time to spend together. We decided to spend our time practicing what we talk about in class.
1. Get out in nature:
Tory Pines State Park provided much needed rejuvination. Ahh sea air.
2. Self-care is mandatory:
We spent Friday relaxing at a beautiful resort in Del Mar. We are learning we don’t need to justify or feel bad about caring for ourselves. It’s necessary and important. We are responsible for meeting our own needs and for refueling ourselves when we provide care for others.
3. Get out of your comfort zone:
The robes we got from the resort were super cozy and it was chilly on the beach, so why not walk the beach in a robe? We laughed at ourselves and others laughed at us and with us. But we were comfy and warm.
4. Do the work when it is time to do the work:
Instead of thinking and talking about the course all day we committed ourselves to being in the moment. When it came time to discuss the details of the next three days, a plan came together with relative ease. This is us working at the resort.
5. Challenges can change your perspective. And a change in perspective can help you with challenges:
This is a (terrible, sorry) picture of us interrupting our morning run to climb a tree. It was a fun challenge and gave us an interesting perspective on our day.
A little more about the course. Woah. The people who showed up came with open minds and hearts, ready and ripe for change. We had powerful times of sharing, listening, learning, and supporting. Meditation and yoga and a healing, honest and real atmosphere brought about transformation in the most beautiful awe-inspiring way. We were profoundly moved. The changes Nari suggested were PERFECT and I was grateful for her innovations. We were all pretty much out of our comfort zones, but that is where change happens.
In the words of one student, “This course couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time because I was in major burnout. I was becoming an unhappy person both professionally and personally. I needed to make a change. Now I am leaving this course empowered to care for myself so I can help patients in a healthy way and enjoy my job again. I am walking away from this course with so many valuable strategies and also feel so much more relaxed and hopeful”
6. Be silly sometimes:
Laugh a lot. Especially at work. Play jokes, have fun. You know what they say about all work and no play. Play.
7. At the end of the day Shake it off (and use pain science as needed):
Our last day we took a run to the beach. When crossing a rail line I tripped and bashed the HECK out of my lower leg. Since I could still run I repeated the mantra “Hurt not harm!!” (which we discuss in class) with great vigor until the throbbing subsided, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and the conclusion of our time in San Diego.
Last words of Wisdom:
Gratitude can change us in powerful ways.
A huge and heart felt thank you to Herman & Wallace, our host site, and for each and every participant. We couldn’t do what we do without you and for this we are eternally grateful.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
The lumbar sacral nerve plexus can be divided into the direction the nerves travel, either anterior or posterior. This post will focus on anterior hip nerves. I remember writing about the brachial plexus over and over in physical therapy school, but only a few times for the lumbosacral plexus. Patients frequently report anterior hip and pubic pain and can often have signs and symptoms of nerve entrapment. This article orients the reader to links between signs and symptoms and examination to help appropriately diagnosis specific nerves in the athletic population.
The obturator, femoral and lateral femoral cutaneous are more commonly entrapped in sports injuries. Although the three nerves that travel together through the inguinal canal (ilioinguinal, iliohypogastric, and genitofemoral) are less common, however surgery can create nerve entrapment sequelae.
There are a few places where the obturator nerve can become squished. Typically, as it leaves the obturator canal which presents at medial thigh pain, and then again in the fascia of the adductors which presents as pain with abduction. The challenge is to differentiate between the nerve and adductor strain. Obturator nerve entrapment will test positive with passive hip abduction and extension, but negative resisted hip adduction.
The femoral nerve can become entrapped in a kind of compartment syndrome as it goes between the psoas and iliacus. This can lead to compression to the neurovascular bundle with resultant swelling, edema, and ischemia. Signs of femoral nerve compression include anterior thigh numbness and paresthesias. Occasionally, this can also include the saphenous nerve with symptoms continuing along medial knee to foot. Femoral nerve entrapment can create quadricep muscle weakness and atrophy, with diminished or absent patella tendon reflexes. Symptoms are reproduced with hip extension and knee flexion thereby elongating the femoral nerve.
The lateral femoral cutaneous (LFC) nerve is sensory. Diagnosed as meralgia paresthetica, the LFC nerve is typically entrapped where it penetrates under the inguinal ligament just medial to the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS). Symptoms include numbness, tingling, hypersensitivity to touch, burning along outer thigh along the iliotibial band. The LFC nerve can often be compressed by wearing heavy belts (scuba divers, construction belts, etc). Special tests that indicate LFC are pelvic compression in side lying with involved side up to slack the inguinal ligament and Tinels sign.
Anterior hip pain is fairly common in pelvic floor patients. Differential diagnosis and treatment of these anterior nerves can allow patients to return to full daily function. To learn manual assessment and treatment techhniques for the lumbar nerves, consider attending Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment.
Martin R, Martin HD, Kivlan BR. Nerve Entrapment In The Hip Region: Current Concepts Review. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2017 Dec;12(7):1163-1173.
I recently assisted at a Pelvic Floor Level 2B course which has been updated with recent research, new sections, and less repetition from Pelvic Floor Level 1. In the course they mentioned this article which sparked a lively discussion and I had to learn more. It is rare to see a study with a large number of participants in pelvic health and especially with a vaginismus diagnosis.
Vaginismus is defined as a genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder along with dyspareunia under the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; Fifth Edition) in which penetration is often impossible due to pain and fear. Vaginismus is both a physical and psychological disorder as it exhibits both muscle spasms and fear/anxiety of penetration. Symptoms vary by severity. Common presentation is an inability or discomfort to insert/remove a tampon, pain with penetration, and complaints of “hitting a wall” in attempted penetration; and inability to participate in gynecological exams.
The authors of this study evaluated the severity of vaginismus. The penetrative history was used in addition to presentation at pelvic exam, and then given a level. There are 2 grading systems, Lamont and Pacik, that indicate the level of fear and anxiety about being touched. They found that those with severe vaginismus were Lamont levels 3 and 4, and Pacik level 5. For example, a Pacik Level 5 includes Lamont grade 4 “generalized retreat: buttocks lift up; thighs close, patient retreats” plus a visceral reaction such as “palpitations, hyperventilation, sweating, severe trembling, uncontrollable shaking, screaming, hysteria, wanting to jump off the table, a feeling of going unconscious, nausea, vomiting and even a desire to attack the doctor”.
241 patients participated in this study, with a mean duration of 7.8 years. 70% of participants were a Lamont level 4 or Pacik level 5 at baseline. The authors looked at previous treatments tried and coping strategies; 74% had tried lube, 73% had tried dilators, 50% had tried Kegels, 28% had tried physical therapy, 3% had tried a surgical vestibulectomy. The full table 2 is in the article. Most participants had a mean of at least 4 failed treatments.
The aim was to help these women to achieve pain free intercourse after treatment. In order to tolerate the treatment, many were sedated with midazolam before the Q-tip test, and more sedation given as needed. The treatment lasted for about 30 minutes and consisted of:
If the patient consented, her partner could be present during the procedure and was allowed to palpate the level of spasm with gloved digit and was educated on dilator insertion. The authors noted that many partners had a ‘profound’ experience.
A nurse worked with the couple for about two hours in the recovery room to help them be more comfortable moving the dilator in and out with minimal-to-no pain as the numbing agent lasts 6-8 hours. Three participants were treated each time and consented to meet each other. Patients were discharged with #4 dilator in place and asked to keep in until the next day. They were given Ibuprofen and sleeping aids as needed.
Participants return with partners and progress up to larger sizes (#5 and #6). They participate in group counseling with the primary researcher Dr. Pacik. This lasted about 5 hours; and consisted of education of dilator progression, returning to intercourse and lubricants. If participants wished to have private counseling instead that was granted. Many exchanged contact information. They were encouraged to continue seeing their healthcare clinicians as indicated; sex therapists, physical therapists, psychologists.
- 2 hours of dilator per day. Either in 1 sitting or 1 hour of dilator work x2 per day
- Progress to bigger sizes until #5 or #6 is comfortable
- 1 hour of dilator use per day and continue toward larger sizes
- 15-30 minutes of dilator use per day
- 10-15 minutes of dilator use per day or every other day
During the counseling session post-procedure, the recommendations for returning to intercourse included:
71% of participants achieved pain-free coitus 5 weeks after the procedure. 2.5% could not achieve coitus within one-year period although they could use #5 or #6 dilators. The participants were given a validated outcome tool, the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), before and after the procedure and at 1-month, 3-months, 6-months, and 1-year; with significant improvement at each interval. The patients were followed for one year, and often remained in contact with the authors for much longer ranging from 16-months to 9-years.
The authors propose that use of dilators at the time of botox and post procedure counseling and support help participants ‘break through’, whereas previous treatment may not be as multidimensional and limit efficacy. Botox lasts 2-4 months and allowed for dilation progression.
Initially after reading this article the treatment seemed a little drastic to me, but then I considered the women with this level of vaginismus are often not coming into my clinic. They may need this level of structure, consistently, and multidimensional treatment as half measures have failed them. I am so glad they were persistent and found the help they needed.
Pacik, P., Geletta, S. Vaginismus Treatment: Clinical Trials Follow Up 241 Patients. Sex Med 2017;5:e114-e123
The following post comes from Dawn Sandalcidi PT, RCMT, BCB-PMD author and instructor of the Pediatric Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction course, and the more recent follow-up course, Pediatric Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Dawn has developed a pediatric dysfunctional voiding treatment program in which she lectures on nationally. She has further studied pediatric conditions in post graduate work at Regis University. Dawn has published articles in the Journal of Urologic Nursing, the Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy, and the Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy.
Growing up, I was blessed to be around children with Cerebral Palsy (CP), which stimulated my desire to become a physical therapist, a career that I love more now than when I started nearly 38 years ago!
The incidence of Cerebral Palsy in Nepal is estimated to be over 60,000. The Self -Help Group for CP estimate that 80% of children (and adults) also present with bowel and bladder leakage which significantly affects their quality of life and leads to infections and other medical complications. Additionally, a recent pilot study revealed an incidence of urinary leakage in school children aged 10-16 years at 73%, as compared to 6-13% in developed countries. This has shown me a clear and meaningful need to help CP kids in Nepal who are tragically affected.
Pictures from http://www.cpnepal.org/about.html
Through a partnership with the University in Nepal, I will be training Nepali Physical Therapists how to treat children with bowel and bladder issues. Nepal currently does not have any trained providers - this training will provide sustainability as these providers will be able to treat multiples of children with bowel bladder issues, in addition to strategies for prevention. The plan is also to visit several villages with a Self-Help Group for Cerebral Palsy children to educate families and caregivers how to manage incontinence and constipation in these children.
I will be donating a 3-day training for PT’s and several caregiver trainings for this project. With your help I can secure needed supplies, bring physical therapists from remote villages to the course and help with travel expenses.
The Prometheus Group has generously donated an entire biofeedback system with pediatric animation to the hospital, but additional lead wires and electrodes are needed to run the system.
My goal is to raise approximately $6,000 to help improve the quality of life for these children.
Your Support Will Make a Great Impact:
A donation of any size will make a difference and will be tremendously appreciated. Please consider donating an amount that feels comfortable to you and know that you are impacting the health, well-being and quality of life for Nepalese children.
This is a personal mission - I’m asking for a personal donation (which unfortunately is not tax-deductible) to help me make a difference in the lives of these children. My hope is to train the physical therapists in Nepal who will in turn continue to train others. Training the trainers is the most sustainable way for me to begin this grass-roots process.
3 Options for donations
1. Venmo @Dawn-Sandalcidi- no fees
2. https://fundly.com/nepal-2020-1 (fees apply)
3. Mail a check directly (no fees) to:
3989 E. Arapahoe Rd #120
Centennial, CO 80122
Thank you so much for your consideration!
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