Stephanie Prendergast, a pelvic floor physical therapist who is a co-founder and LA’s clinical director of the Pelvic Health & Rehabilitation Center, says that while information on pelvic floor issues isn’t always easily accessible, doctors can spend some time online looking at medical journals and learning about different disorders so they can better treat their patients.
As physical therapists, are our hands are amazing gifts and phenomenal diagnostic tools that we can use to assess restrictions, tender points, swelling, muscle guarding, atrophy, nerve irritation and skeletal malalignment. We also use our hands to treat out these problems, provide feedback to the muscles, and facilitate the activation of certain muscle groups. There have been a great number of manual techniques that have evolved over the course of physical therapy’s history. Let’s go over a few.
Squats: Squats are a great holistic exercise because they engage many muscles at once. To do a body-weight squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then slowly bend your knees, dropping your hips and glutes down and back, keeping your back straight, as if you’re sitting down on a chair. (You can place your hands on your hips or stretch them out in front of you for balance.) Bend your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor, then return to an upright position. Repeat 10 times, up to three times per day.
One of the great benefits to skin rolling is it increases the circulation in the area to which it was applied. Often times, areas that are tight or restricted are receiving reduced blood flow and oxygen. By bringing blood flow to the area, toxins can be cleared and the healing contents of the blood are brought to the injured area. Skin rolling can also restore the mobility of surrounding joints and nerves, which can help to restore normal function. By allowing the skin to move more freely, pelvic congestion, heaviness and aching can be effectively treated.
With her finger inside me, Christensen mentioned that the three superficial pelvic floor muscles on each side were very tight and tensed when she touched them. I was too tight and in pain for her to check the deepest muscle (the obturator internus). Finally, she checked to see if I could do a Kegel or relax the muscles, and I was unable to do either.
The muscles of the pelvic floor must work together and in coordination to perform specific tasks. The pelvic floor has to contract, elongate and relax in very precise ways to perform basic functions like urination, defecation, support the pelvis and organs, and sexual function and pleasure. If your pelvic floor muscles and/or nerves fail to do what they are supposed to do at the right time, problems like painful sex, erectile dysfunction, constipation, and incontinence can occur.
During the internal exam, your physical therapist will place a gloved finger into your vagina or rectum to assess the tone, strength, and irritability of your pelvic floor muscles and tissues. Internal exams and internal treatment are invaluable tools that are taught to pelvic floor physical therapists. It can tell us if there are trigger points (painful spots, with a referral pattern or local); muscle/tissue shortening; nerve irritation and/or bony malalignment that could be causing your pain directly or inhibiting the full function of your pelvic floor muscles. We can also determine if your pelvic floor has good coordination during the exam. A pelvic floor without good coordination, may not open and close appropriately for activities such as going to the bathroom, supporting our pelvis and trunk, sexual activity, and keeping us continent.
Once we determine the cause of our patient’s pelvic floor dysfunction, we design a plan tailored to the patient’s needs. At Beyond Basics, we have a diverse crew of physical therapists who bring their own training and background into each treatment. What is really beautiful about that, is that all teach and help each other grow as practitioners. It will be difficult to go over every single type of treatment in one blog post, but we will review some of the main staples of pelvic floor rehab.
“I intentionally try and distract you during treatment, so that you don’t focus too much on the pain of the treatment. Furthermore, talking during our sessions continues to build rapport which is so important — it builds trust, makes you feel more comfortable, and also makes it more likely that you will return for your follow-up visits so that you will get better,” she says.
Issues with the pelvic floor can arise from a multitude of reasons. Infections, previous surgeries, childbirth, postural and lifting problems, and trips and falls can all bring on pelvic floor dysfunction. Pelvic floor pain can persist well after the cause of it has been removed. So it is entirely possible to feel the effects of an old infection, surgery or injury, days to years after they occur. Anyone who has had long standing abdomino-pelvic pain, or pain that they can’t seem to get rid of after seeking the help of medical doctors or other healthcare providers is a good candidate for a pelvic floor physical therapy evaluation and possible curative treatment.
The term “vaginal massage” may not be legit—practitioners don’t like to use it—but the treatment is. In fact, it’s part of a well-rounded therapy regimen for pelvic floor physical therapy. Certified specialists in this field can help women who are dealing with pain during sex—something 75% of women experience at some point in life, according to research.
Pain can emerge because of lifestyle factors and underlying medical problems. Sitting all day can affect the nerves in your saddle, which may translate into a burning pain in your vulva, explains Rhonda K. Kotarinos, DPT, a specialist in pelvic floor dysfunction in the Chicago area. The discomfort of chronic vaginal infections or holding urine all day long can also lead someone to “walk around with their pelvic floor clinched to their ears. It can make your pelvic floor very angry,” she says.
Kelly is a certified Personal Trainer with NASM, a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher, and has her B.S. in Kinesiology from San Diego State University. She is co-owner of Roaming Yogi Adventures, a yoga and adventure-based retreat. She believes that having fun and well-rounded exercise is the key to maximizing strength, flexibility, and mental health.
Perform bridges. Kegels are not the only way to strengthen your pelvic floor. There are numerous exercises you can do, and a great one is bridges. Start by laying on your back with your knees bent, keeping your feet about a fist distance apart. Then flex your lower abdominal muscles and lift your hips off the ground slightly. Your buttocks should barely be off of the floor and you should keep your inner core muscles flexed. Hold for 3 seconds and slowly return your hips to the ground.
“I would recommend that people call the facility and maybe schedule the first appointment and see how you feel about it. I also think patient support groups tend to have closed Facebook groups and they can recommend people in certain geographical areas. I know people call [our practice] a lot and we try and get them paired up with somebody we trust in their area,” Prendergast says.
Other devices. There are various other devices that are sold to help with pelvic floor exercises. Basically, they all rely on placing the device inside the vagina with the aim of helping the pelvic muscles to exercise and squeeze. There is little research evidence to show how well these devices work. It is best to get the advice from a continence advisor or physiotherapist before using any. One general point is that if you use one, it should be in addition to, not instead of, the standard pelvic floor exercises described above.