The Value of Biofeedback: Perceived or Real?

A recent Cochrane summary about feedback and biofeedback for urinary incontinence has been published that supports patient perception of benefit for symptoms. The summary was first published on-line in July of 2011. 24 trials were included in this review, and the authors compared research of pelvic floor muscle training with studies that included feedback or biofeedback to augment the pelvic floor muscle training. Women who received biofeedback in their rehabilitation for urinary incontinence were less likely to report that they did not improve. Interestingly, compared to those who did not receive biofeedback, there was no significant difference in cure rates or in leakage episodes.

So why would a woman perceive that she has increased recovery of her symptoms simply through the addition of biofeedback to her rehabilitation program? The authors report that in the studies in which biofeedback was included, the subjects spent more time with the therapists. Is it this fact that leads to the increased rate of reported benefit? Speaking from professional experience, I utilized biofeedback consistently when I began working with patients who have urinary incontinence, and as I gained more skills, I used the biofeedback less. (Keep in mind that biofeedback is a global term accompanying any type of information, such as visual or auditory, and that in this article biofeedback refers to electromyographic (EMG) measurement of muscle activity.) As I resumed use of biofeedback, I was reminded of the value of having the patient really "see" the effects of their attempts at muscle activation. Perhaps the internal validation on the patient's part that he or she has a true impact on the machine via the body is quite powerful in itself.

We do know for a fact from the wide body of literature on the topic that urinary incontinence and the perceived interruption in function impacts quality of life ratings. Perhaps the patients who have an increased awareness of their own empowerment through muscular effort, home program practice, and therapist validation of patient effort with biofeedback training also affects the perceived impact of urinary incontinence. If a patient perceives increased benefit from therapy, does that perception then influence quailty of life?

An important take-home point from this research summary is this: the literature supports biofeedback as a tool that augmentspelvic floor muscle training. Biofeedback is not a tool that stands alone in rehabilitation; EMG training is utilized as a part of the process, following synthesis of information gained from the examination and evaluation of the patient. Some providers who refer for pelvic rehabiltation seem to think that biofeedback alone should be utilized, while other providers do not believe we should be using biofeedback with their patients. The needs of the specific patient should drive that decision making, and we as pelvic rehab providers must continually educate our providers about the various tools we have to treat urinary incontinence and other pelvic floor disorders.

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Only Five Seats Left in PF2A Boston!

There are only five seats left in the Pelvic Floor Level 2A course in Boston on March 22-24!

This course will be offered at Marathon Physical Therapy and is the designed as a next step (after Pelvic Floor Level One) in completing the clinicians’ ability to comprehensively evaluate the female and male pelvic floor by learning colorectal examination and treatments.

Don't miss this chance to build you clinical skill set and take advantage of the only Northeast offering of this course in 2013 - REGISTER today!

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Group shot of the Participants of our course in Dubai!


Our host asked the participants of the most recent 11-day pelvic rehab training seminar in Dubai, United Arab Emirates to hold the flag of their home country. Look at the "global village" that attended this course! These physiotherapists will be returning to their home countries as Herman & Wallace-trained "Pelvic Ambassadors".

There's Institute-founder, Holly Herman, who instructed this course, in the middle.

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What's in a name: IC or PBS?

If you have been following research in pelvic pain, you may be aware of the diagnostic terms interstitial cystitis (IC) as well as painful bladder syndrome (PBS). And there's always bladder pain syndrome (BPS), or hypersensitive bladder syndrome. While you may have heard at some point that health care providers should use PBS preferentially over IC, that recommendation does not seem to have stuck, and the Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA) has decided to utilize "IC" until a more definitive diagnostic criteria and test are developed. Much of the literature you will continue to see published will choose to include both IC and PBS together in the title, and recent research has attempted to further define the diagnosis as having a relationship to ulcers versus no ulcers.

Recognized subtypes of IC include ulcerative (5-10% of those with IC) and non-ulcerative (90% of those with IC). According to the ICA, patients who have non-ulcerative IC have tiny glomerulations or hemorrhages on the bladder wall, indicative of inflammation, but not specific to IC. In patients who have ulcerative IC, Hunner's ulcer's or patches of red, bleeding areas are noted on cystoscopy. Recent research aimed to find out if female patients with ulcerative versus non-ulcerative IC have different symptoms or characteristics. 214 women (36 with ulcerative IC, 178 with non-ulcerative IC) were included in this research. While both groups reported triggers such as certain foods, exercise, and stress, more patients who had non-ulcerative IC reported pain with intercourse.

On the Brief Pain Inventory, one of the outcomes tools used in this study, both groups reported similar numbers of painful areas, with lower abdominal and pelvic pain followed by low back pain. Words used to describe the pain were, however, different among the two subtypes of IC: patients with non-ulcerative IC reported aching, cramping, and tenderness, while patients in the ulcerative group reported sharp, stabbing, and hot burning pain. Aside from these differences, the patients in the two groups did not share significant differences in the outcomes measured. The authors suggest that further research is needed to provide more information about the different presentations of patients who have IC/PBS.

For those of us in pelvic rehabilitation, the most important aspect of our care is to treat what is found, and that can only be accomplished through excellent examination and evaluation techniques. If you are interested in learning more about IC, the ICA website provides a wide array of tools for patients and providers. Until then, we will continue to see IC, PBS, BPS, and other abbreviations that point out that there is much yet to learn about this disabling condition.

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Testicular Dysfunction- Do Not Miss!

Even if you currently are not treating male patients in your pelvic rehabilitation program, continue to read for critical information about testicular pathology. Any male patient (or family member, friend, or loved one) can present with a sudden onset of symptoms that require medical follow-up. Testicular pathology, as pointed out in this article from Medscape, can be benign or life-threatening. (If you are not able to view the article, you can first create a free user account for Medscape and then view the information. Medscape is also a great resource as they will send you weekly article reviews on various medical topics.) The article has images of testicular pathology throughout the presentation which can help in understanding the anatomy and pathology present. Following are a few diagnoses that are highlighted in the article, and that may mimic clinical symptoms of thoracolumbar radiculopathy or pelvic pain.

Testicular torsion: Commonly occurring in adolescent males, torsion happens when the testicle twists, impairing the blood flow to and from the testicle. If the twisting last 4-6 hours or longer, the testicle can become necrotic and no longer be viable. Pain, swelling, and erythema are common in this condition, and any patient who presents with acute onset of scrotal pain must be examined for this condition.

Testicular fracture: Blunt trauma can cause significant injury to the testicles, and conservative management may be all that is required. The testicle itself can fracture, or be degloved, and a significant hematoma can occur. Surgical intervention may be required for preservation of the testicle.

Hydrocele: Fluid can collect either in the scrotum or in the spermatic cord (the "tube" that extends from the lower abdominal wall to the scrotum, carrying neurovascular and other structures). A painless lump may be the first sign of this condition. Aspiration or surgical resection may be required.

Varicocele: An enlargement of the veins within the scrotum can lead to a varicocele. While this may not cause dysfunction for the patient, a varicocele can lead to infertility and possibly discomfort due to the dragging sensation and increased pressure from enlargement.

Epididymitis: Testicular swelling, redness, and tenderness may be caused by an infection to the epididymis, a structure within the scrotum. A patient who presents with these symptoms may also have a fever and should be evaluated medically.

In addition to the above diagnoses, a testicular tumor might be first noted as a firm, painless nodule in either testicle. According to the Medscape article, a testicular tumor is the most common solid tumor found in men ages 20-35. Men need reminders just as women do for completing testicular self-exams and reporting any concerns to the physician. Here is a link to information on testicular self-exams, in case you find it helpful for patient education purposes. Keep the above information in mind when a patient presents with a change in symptoms or sudden, severe pain in the testicles.

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Pelvic Rehab Taking over the World


The first ever Herman & Wallace course in the United Arab Emirates wraps up next week, and the Institute is eagerly looking forward to brining our mission to some other exciting international locations in the next few months.

In early January, Herman & Wallace faculty member Michelle Lyons will be teaching Oncology and the Pelvic Floor, a course covering gynocological, colorectal, prostate and testicular cancers and current cancer treatments and their implications for the pelvic floor at Mullingar General Hospital in Westmeath, Ireland.

Following that course, Michelle will be traveling to Kuwait City, Kuwait to teach a similar seminar to a group of women's health physiotherapists. The Kuwait course will focus on Oncology and Women's Health and will cover gynocologic, colorectal and breast cancer treatment.

In February, Michelle will return to Ireland to teach Herman & Wallace's Pelvic Floor Level One course at the School of Health Sciences at the University of Ulster.

We are so proud to have an international faculty member spreading the pelvic rehab gospel across the globe!

If you would like to catch Michelle teaching stateside, she will be instructing Care of the Pregnant Patient in Houston, TX in April and Care of the Postpartum Patient in Salt Lake City in October, two courses she helped develop with the rest of our team of faculty Pregnancy and Postpartum experts, or, as we call them, "Preg-perts". These courses are brand new in 2013 and we are excited to be offering these expanded course topics!

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Support Women's Health in the Congo


The Women's Action Initiative is an organization whose mission is to "empower women to prioritize pelvic and perinatal health as an integral element of their overall well being and quality of life". Founded in 2008 by Angela Hughes Halliwell, a mother of two, the WAI is currently waging a campaign to combat the effects of obstetric fistula in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Currently, millions of women in the Congo are living with unrepaired obstetric fistula caused by inadequate medical care during labor and delivery. The consequent tearing between the vagina and bladder, the vagina and rectum, or both causes leakage between the tissue that results in urinary and fecal incontinence.

Women with fistula are often mocked, ridiculed and isolated for their incontinence, and are sometimes abandoned by their families and husbands.

The WAI is currently raising money to send a team of three women's health physical therapists and a urogyn surgeon to Goma to treat, rehabilitate and educate these women. Their goal is to raise $50,000 for this endeavor.

Herman & Wallace support this mission and has made a donation towards this project. If you would also like to donate, you can do so here.

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Holly Herman teaching in Dubai!


Institute founder and faculty member Holly Herman is jet-setting yet again! This time, she is teaching an 11-day intensive seminar on women's health and pregnancy and postpartum for physiotherapists in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

There are 26 participants in this course, all of them women, who hail from India, Pakistan, Baharain, Indonesia, UAE, Saudi, UK, and Oman.

The intensive course will cover topics from Herman & Wallace's Pelvic Floor Level 1, 2A and 2B and 3 courses, as well as our Pregnancy and Postpartum series of courses. For the first time ever this country, female physiotherapists will learn internal evaluation and treatmetn techniques for female patients, as well as using biofeedback to assess pelvic floor patients.

We are elated to be able to bring the mission of the Institute to such a broad audience across the globe!

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With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us, the concept of gratitude may be fresh in our minds. Choosing to live with gratitude is often correlated with positive health benefits, such as increased energy, optimism, and empathy, according to the Psychology Today website. Most of us in the healing professions find reward in our work because of the expressed appreciation of others, and we can all tell meaningful stories about the patients who touched our own hearts with their thanks. Such support can boost our own energy levels and help us get through the paperwork or the more difficult patient encounters.

Gratitude, or thankfulness, invites a person to reflect on the aspects of her life that are providing meaningfulness. It is not necessary to be thankful only for the gifts that life brings; a person may also be grateful for a challenging interpersonal experience or life event as we often learn significant lessons during those times. There are abundant resources to encourage the building of a gratitude-filled life, and most of them are quite simple, require very little in terms of investment, and are described as methods that can change a person's outlook and improve quality of life.

According to an article written by Randy and Lori Sansone (click here for full text of the article), both psychologists, an attitude of gratitude can be cultivated by:

  • Keeping a journal with entries listing statements of things you were grateful for during the day or week
  • Thinking about a person for whom you are grateful (I would add "or a pet" as so many people have wonderful animal companions)
  • Writing or sending a letter to someone who you are grateful towards
  • Meditating on gratitude
  • Completing a "Count Your Blessings" exercise
  • Practicing saying "thank you" with sincerity and meaning
  • Writing thank you notes
  • Being prayerful about gratitude

While our patients may enjoy and benefit from discussions about the above, especially when working towards healing from chronic pain issues, there are many benefits to be gained in many domains of life. For example, gratitude has been described as being important for maintaining intimate relationships, encouraging prosocial behavior by helping others to feel socially valued, and improving job satisfaction. Click here for an excellent article about gratitude and being appreciated in the workplace (and what to do if you do not feel appreciated.)

There is even an app called HappyTapper that allows you (or a patient) to write down five things each day for which you are grateful. If that's not enough to be thankful for, it only costs 99 cents! There are also several free online journals available if you search the terms "free gratitude journal." With the holiday season and the New Year approaching, talk tends to turn to items desired and wishes for a healthier, better body and changes in income or relationshp. What would it sound like if we chose instead to focus on all that we already have and express our gratitude? In the words of physician Christiane Northrup, "Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value into your life." As we enter the holiday season, and winter, a time of turning inward, may you attract more wonderful things into your life.

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Over the Counter Birth Control?


In a new committee opinion, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) wrote that birth control pills should be sold as an over-the-counter drug, meaning "the pill" would be available to women without a doctor's prescription or a preliminary medical examination.

According to ACOG, unintended pregnancies accounted for 50% of all American pregnancies in the past 20 years, a rate that is "unacceptably high", according to ACOG. According to the Institute of Medicine, women with unintended pregnancy are "more likely to smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy, have depression, experience domestic violence, and are less likely to obtain prenatal care or breastfeed. Short interpregnancy intervals have been associated with adverse neonatal outcomes, including low birth weight and prematurity, which increase the chances of children’s health and developmental problems."

"A potential way to improve contraceptive access and use, and possibly decrease the unintended pregnancy rate, is to allow over-the-counter access to [oral contraceptives]," the Committee on Gynecologic Practice wrote in the opinion.

Concerns regarding the use of birth control pills include their being linked to increased risk of blood clots and venous thromboembolism (VTE), a potentially deadly condition. The committee says that the risk is, however, "extremely low" and that only 3 out of every 10,000 women using oral contraceptives experience VTE, lower than the rate of women who experience VTE while pregnant or after having just given birth. (Abstract). ACOG says that women should self-screen for most contraindications to oral contraceptives using checklists and that a doctor's screening should not be required.

Other concerns cited are that, when no longer required to visit a doctor in order to obtain a prescription, many women will not receive the pelvic exams, pap smears and STD tests which they would typically receive when seeing a doctor to obtain birth control.

While ACOG asserts that making birth control available over the counter will lower the over-all cost of the pills (on average, uninsured American women spend $16 a pack for the pill) some worry that, when no longer covered by insurance as a prescription drug, the cost of their birth control will actually go up.

This opinion, though ground breaking, is unlikely to change the way oral contraceptives are dispersed in the immediate future. Changing the availability of birth control pills would require drug companies to seek permission from the government to sell the pills without a prescription, and it is unclear if any companies will do so.

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