By Marzena Bard, PTA
Are you one of those people who stretches religiously but still feels stiff as a board? The stretches work for a short while, and then you’re back to square one? Most likely it is because the stretches are working only at the muscle level, and you want to go deeper to the connective tissue level - fascia, tendons, ligaments.
In yin yoga, the poses are held for 3-5 minutes and focus on deep, mindful breathing. We use props such as bolsters, yoga blocks, and pillows because one should never feel pain or discomfort while in yoga poses. The length of time spent in a particular posture helps deepen the stretch and keeps the benefits longer. All you need to do is to stay there and pay attention to your breath. You might find that this is an easy way to get into a little bit of meditation as well.
Addressing tight pelvic floor muscles means you need to provide more length and relaxation to muscles surrounding the pelvis, eg hamstrings, quadriceps, hip adductors, and hip abductors. Holding the stretches for a longer time may increase awareness of your whole pelvis and the muscles in and around it.
A randomized controlled trial, conducted in 2015 at Lund University in Sweden, performed a five week yin yoga-based intervention with stressed adults. It showed decreased plasma adrenomedullin and increased psychological health, highlighting the physiological and psychological benefits that yin yoga has to offer.
Yin yoga may also help to:
Yin yoga is not suitable for: pregnant women, people with osteoporosis or osteopenia, and people with hypermobility. Ask us if including yin yoga in your physical therapy program is suitable for you!
Three of the key poses of yin yoga are demonstrated below.
1. Deer pose – hold 3-5 minutes each side (option with block)
2. Butterfly Pose – hold 3-5 minutes each side (option with block)
3. Melting Heart Post – hold 3-5 minutes each side
Disordered eating and pelvic health
By Katelyn Sheehan, PT
Around the holidays and the new year there is a lot of focus on celebration and on trying to live a healthier lifestyle. Usually this includes changes in our usual diet or eating habits. Patients will often bring up how the holidays and their changes in diet are affecting their symptoms. So, I wanted to discuss how your diet and pelvic health can impact each other.
A lot of patients that we see are aware that how much they drink, and what they eat can affect their bowel and bladder habits, but they don’t always know all the effects it can have on their pelvic floor function. In fact, some pelvic floor dysfunction can even cause us to alter our eating habits. In this article disordered eating could be defined as altered eating habits such as increased or decreased volume of food intake or altered food intake quality. This is including, but not limited to other eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, binge eating, and anorexia nervosa.
Here are a few things our diet AND pelvic floor impact:
Since there is a large overlap between how our diet can impact us and the how the pelvic floor can impact us we often see a correlation between abnormal eating habits and pelvic floor dysfunction.
Our diet can also directly impact the function of the pelvic floor:
If you have noticed your diet impacting your pelvic floor function, or you have noticed your pelvic floor symptoms impacting your diet please talk to a pelvic health physical therapist to help you devise a plan and see if your pelvic floor could be driving your symptoms. One thing you can do to help is keep a bowel/bladder log. You can use many apps, make your own, ask your therapist for one, or use this link.
Can you spread your toes?
By Donna Zamost, PTA
Even wide shoes tend to be too narrow in the toe box. Shoes need to be wide across the balls of the feet for a proper fit, but they also need to be wide across the toes. Shoes that have a narrow toe box will squish the toes together. Take your shoes off and notice that your toes are the same width as your metatarsal bones. (Or should be!) Therefore, doesn’t it make sense the toe box should also be as wide as the ball of your foot?
The natural spread of your toes is known as toe splay.
It is an important part of how a foot functions. Toe splay is necessary for ankle stability and arch support, as well as activation of the intrinsic foot muscles (muscles within the feet). Allowing the toes to maintain their natural spread promotes a good base of support. This not only helps with balance, but it helps to reduce stress at the front of the foot when pushing off during walking and running. In shoes with a tapered or narrow toe box, the big toe angles in and all the toes are squished together, reducing the base of support. Over time, this can cause painful issues, such as bunions, hammer toes and ingrown toenails.
After years of dancing in this type of shoe, when I would take my shoes off, my toes would stay squished together. Over time, this unnatural position of my toes led to bunions and arthritis. I even required surgery in one of my big toes to restore a normal range of motion and allow me to walk without pain. Understandably, I am now very careful with my choice of shoes.
If your toes feel a bit squished together, there are things you can do to help restore your natural toe splay: While sitting, cross your ankle onto your opposite thigh and interlace your fingers between your toes to help spread them out. You can use your fingers to help stretch the toes and then when comfortable, use your fingers to move your toes up and down and in circles.
Another great tool that is becoming popular is something called toe spacers. These are made of soft silicone and help to spread the toes apart, allowing them to go back into their proper alignment. Toe spacers are available on the internet. I have a pair from a company called Correct Toes and I often wear them around my house while bare foot. I’ll even wear them in my athletic shoes during my power walks. I can definitely feel the difference in my body when my toes and feet are in the correct alignment.
So, if you are guilty of wearing shoes that have reduced your proper toe splay, switch your shoes to a pair with a wider toe box and try the above suggestions. Or come see us at Connect PT. We’ll have you back on your toes in no time!
Making peace with your nervous system
by Karen Bruno, PT
Sometimes we're looking for something easy and quick to help us regain balance during our busy day. Here is a quick vagus nerve-regulating exercise that can be done daily. It will help to:
During pregnancy, your abdominal wall lengthens. The muscles have been working because even though they were stretched, the baby kept them on tension. Remember feeling like your abdominal wall was so tight? How could it stretch any more?! Picture a long string from the bottom of your sternum to your pelvis over your pregnant belly. Now the baby is delivered and suddenly the tension on the long rope is gone. The abdominal muscles are now hanging down, feeling loose, almost like they aren’t even yours. So many women are told to start working on their abdominal muscles lying flat. But, when you lie flat, picture the string again as your muscles. It is loose, and we cannot contract our muscles in their full length. We need to flip over, so the muscles can be all the way long. We also need to get the ribs moving. Rib motion will help the abdominal muscles, the diaphragm, and other core muscles working sooner!
You can try it in a few positions - pick the one most comfortable for you. Remember that you should be facing down, since we want the belly to be able to fall down:
Start with your belly relaxed, hanging down, no tension in the muscles. Inhale and feel your ribs expand wide, but gently. Then start your exhale with a gentle “shhhh” sound, like you are calming your baby to sleep. The “shhhhh” sound should start to create some tightening in your abdominal muscles. The loudness of the “shhh” may affect the amount of tightening you feel.
Once you feel the abdominal muscles tightening, gently help them draw in. Can you feel the tension start lower, above the pubic bone, and then the middle and upper abdomen tightens? As you start to reach the end of your exhale, can you feel the ribs tightening in as well?
Now inhale. Feel the ribs move wide and back, opening like an umbrella. Now, we use the muscles in reverse by slowly lowering the abdominal muscles back down. Slow down. We need to use our muscles to control this without dropping them. They are still strengthening even though they are getting longer.
Repeat these steps. This is a gentle exercise, so you can do it throughout the day. Be mindful of how you feel to judge how much you should do this. I would recommend at least 3 times a day for 10 reps minimum. This can be done if you had a vaginal delivery or a c-section. It is just breathing and gentle tension as you are just following your breath. Pick the position that best suits how you feel.
By Bryn Zolty, PT
One treatment we consider for our patients is a stimulation known as interferential current. The use of electrical stimulation for reducing pain and muscle strengthening is well known. But this special current can help your GI tract move a little faster. For our patients, it's 2 electrodes on your abdomen and 2 placed on your back. It feels like a tingling sensation.
Studies on interferential current for slow transit show it increases colonic activity. Beyond that, there are some theories on the mechanism of action. A few of these theories include: it affects the pacemaker cells of the GI tract, stimulates the enteric nervous system to the GI tract, or it stimulates the cells that are responsible for peristalsis.
What we do know is that it is non-invasive, cost-effective, and can be done at home. Many patients that we talk to are on an endless search for supplements. Slow transit constipation typically does not respond to laxatives and fiber. Therefore, this may be a good option to reduce over the counter supplements and improve your transit time.
Our pelvic therapists would be happy to discuss this type of stimulation with you and determine if this should be a part of your treatment.
J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2018 Jan; 24(1): 19–29. Published online 2018 Jan 1. doi: 10.5056/jnm17071
Pessaries change pelvic floor muscles
By Bryn Zolty, PT
Pelvic organ prolapse is experienced by many women as heaviness in the vagina. For some women this experience is painful, dull, aching. For others it feels as if there is something in the vagina or sliding out. This can occur when a woman has pelvic floor muscle injury and in the presence of increased tissue mobility such as hypermobility disorders. It is commonly seen after a vaginal delivery.
Different images of two different pessary shapes used with permission from Pelvic Guru®, LLC | www.pelvicglobal.com
Although these conditions all sound like weakness and lengthened muscles, as clinicians we often see an increase in pelvic muscle tension and activity. What appears to happen is when a woman stands up, the feeling of heaviness and falling out increases, and either knowingly or unknowingly, she increases the pelvic floor muscle that tries to hold the organs in. This can be seen on biofeedback as pelvic muscle overactivity.
A pessary is a device fitted for a woman that helps reduce the symptoms of heaviness by insertion into the vagina and providing support that your body is not able to provide. New research suggests it may also improve muscle function. One hypothesis is that the muscle will stop contracting all day in attempts to decrease the symptoms of the pelvic organ prolapse. This hypothesis states that the muscles, specifically the puborectalis, will now assume a more normal resting position/tension and therefore allow for better muscle function.
If you are experiencing symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse and other pelvic muscle dysfunctions, talk to your providers about the use of pessaries to not only improve the symptoms of the heaviness, but improve the way the muscles work. These muscles have important functions for urination, defecation, continence, movement, core strength, and sexual function.
CrossFit and pelvic floor dysfunction
By Jennifer Watt, PT
This time of year for Crossfitters is the CrossFit Games season, where it starts with a worldwide event called the CrossFit Open. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world and of all ages and physical abilities compete in three workouts given across the timespan of three weeks. As someone who has been doing CrossFit since 2018, this will be my fourth CrossFit Open season that I have competed in. CrossFit has become my passion.
Now as a pelvic floor physical therapist, I have run into a common situation at my gym. We look up on the white board that has the WOD (workout of the day) and I would see the term “double unders.” Double unders is a form of jump roping where your jump rope must go under you twice. As soon as I see that, I see many of both my female and male buddies head to the bathroom, and in many cases multiple times before the workout starts.
There is a well known video clip from CrossFit titled “Do You Pee During Workouts?” And when I watched it I got some interesting topics from the CrossFit community. Some say they definitely leak urine during double unders and box jumps. Many basically said it was a part of life as a CrossFitter and simply manage with pads. But is it okay?
As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I would say it is not okay. Peeing when exercising is telling us that there is a problem with our pelvic floor. A normal pelvic floor is simply one that can do all its functions – maintain continence, support the pelvic contents and contribute towards optimal movement during functional tasks. Now there are several reasons why it may not be normal or that there is pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.
What is pelvic floor dysfunction exactly? Pelvic floor dysfunction is simply where your pelvic floor is not doing its job properly. The pelvic floor is designed to provide support for your pelvic organs, help control intra abdominal pressure, control your urine and bowel movements, and help provide pleasure during sexual intercourse. One form of dysfunction could be that you have a weak pelvic floor. Common reasons why it is weak are: pregnancy and childbirth, surgery or other medical procedures, posture and behavioral habits, and lack of exercise. Another could be an overactive pelvic floor which is a condition where there may be increased pelvic floor muscle tension at rest, increased voluntary or involuntary contractile activity, or a decreased ability to fully relax the pelvic floor muscles. You could also have a damaged pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor might have been through a lot. Childbirth, cancer and radiotherapy, and other conditions can contribute to tearing, scarring and damage to the pelvic floor muscles. The nerves to the area can be damaged, the muscles themselves can become detached from the pubic bone, scarring from surgery and childbirth can cause asymmetrical contractions.
So what are some things to help? First and foremost, like I said before peeing when working out is NOT normal and should be addressed. Seeing your primary care physician, urologist, gynecologist, and to get a referral for pelvic floor physical therapy. These are health care providers who have taken extensive coursework, some even board certified, on the pelvic floor muscle anatomy and will be able to properly assess your own situation and create a plan specifically for you. Other things to consider, particularly in the realm of CrossFit. Try not to rely on items like lifting belts, braces, wraps, and other means of support. This allows you to really be aware of your physical limitations and hopefully will keep you from moving or lifting something you shouldn’t. Rely on good technique with all movements. Sometimes during these WODs, we push ourselves so much that technique goes out the window. And lastly what ties both the supports and technique is straight ego. Focus and train on your weaknesses and build upon them. If we’re leaking when we hit a certain amount of double unders or box jumps, then make that your target and to slowly build upon that. As I said, leaking during workouts is not normal and one should address it and not let it go.
Pelvic floor symptoms can be the reason that women stop exercising and end up living a more sedentary lifestyle. Don’t let this be you!
Dolphin on the table & skier stretches
Beat those winter blues by getting up to stretch with Marzena Bard, PTA. When you can't get to the gym, these easy stretches are great to begin and end the day or to break up sitting all day at the computer.
Watch the video tutorial below.
Every pregnant woman has an abdominal diastasis, or diastasis recti, at the end of their pregnancy. It's a massive stretch on the abdominal wall that makes the connective tissue at the center very thin. Some heal in the first six weeks postpartum, but many need more time. We're here to help women that need help strengthening their belly after baby.
Watch Bryn Zolty, PT demonstrate the criss-cross method with kinesiotape to support the diastasis and help activate your abdominal muscles correctly.
Self-compassion and pain management
By Karen Bruno, PT
Can self-compassion really help when you are in pain?
Let’s explore this. First, what is self-compassion? Self-compassion is giving yourself kindness, forgiveness and understanding when confronted with personal failures or discomfort. Basically, it means giving yourself the care and gentleness that you would give to a beloved friend or a child who is in need of support. In the words of Dr. Kristen Neff, a self -compassion expert and teacher, "Instead of mercilessly judging yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?" (1) It is an acceptance of your humanness even when things don’t go your way.
So, what does self- compassion have to do with chronic pain? Recent research suggests that self-compassion is associated with better outcomes, such as lower levels of depression, pain-anxiety, physical and psychosocial disability, and higher levels of pain acceptance. Higher levels of self-compassion supports engagement in meaningful activities and use of pain coping strategies. (2)
What does that mean for you?
Self-compassion has been found to be beneficial in situations related to the ineffective way we respond to things, how we talk to ourselves and the behaviors we engage in. So, when you notice yourself worrying, thinking or talking negatively, isolating yourself, or beating yourself up, choose to use a better approach of treating yourself with care, gentleness and kindness. (3)
What can you do?
This PDF download summarizes the relationship between self-compassion and pain.
Self-care is also an integral component of self-compassion.
We have heard it before from the airlines, "“put your own mask on first, then help someone else." Remember that you are your own best advocate and as you care for yourself, you model for others how to care for themselves, you teach others how you want to be treated, and you harness the resources to be of service to others. Just do it! You are worth it.
"Life is full of disappointments, failures and setbacks. None of those things can permanently stop you. You have the power within you to overcome anything that life throws at you. There is nothing more powerful than a made up mind. Surround yourself with people who remind you that you matter, and support you in ways that matter most to you. No person, situation or circumstance can define who you are. Don't give up, cave in or stop believing that it's possible. It's not over until you win."
I have an obturator internus?
The obturator internus sits inside the pelvis and travels around out the back of the pelvis to the femur (thigh bone). This muscle rotates the hip out, moves the leg wide when it’s forward, and stabilizes the hip.
The obturator internus can become tensioned or spasmed from overworking, muscle imbalances, injuries, and postural changes.
Some symptoms of obturator internus muscle tension include:
The obturator internus has many pain referral sites. So symptoms can vary from one day to the next.
Other symptoms that would indicate that you should be checked for tension in the pelvic muscles include:
I commonly see high-level athletes hold tension in the obturator internus muscle. Gymnasts, horseback riders, spin class cyclers, runners, and dancers tend to have spasms here. In any post-operative hip surgery in which rotation is limited, as with a hip replacement, this muscle can be a source of pain or contribute to the onset of urinary incontinence.
I find that many patients have gone to traditional PT and had no relief. Some have had X-rays, MRI, and injections.
During an internal pelvic floor evaluation, when the muscle is pressed on by the therapist, it often reproduces the pain the patient has been experiencing. Many patients are relieved to find out where the pain is coming from and that it is easily treated.
I think back to my orthopedic treating days and wish I could have sent all of my patients with hip pain not finding relief with traditional methods, and referred them to a pelvic PT. Besides a Gynecologist or Urogynecologist, a pelvic PT is the only person checking manually to see if the obturator internus is a source of pain.
I have a special interest in the obturator internus because of personal experience with symptoms. Always having a tendency towards muscle tension, after pregnancy and abdominal diastasis weakness, my usual exercises resulted in pain. Pain in the hip, painful sitting, and when enough tension builds I am scared to sneeze! But these muscles can be stretched and released, and the muscle imbalances restored.
If you have any of these symptoms, seek a pelvic physical therapist. A quick evaluation of the pelvic muscles can rule in or out the obturator internus and a treatment plan can be made for you.
Biofeedback: A Tool in the Toolbox
By Bryn Zolty, PT
As rehabilitation therapists we all learn techniques to evaluate and treat patients. Often we refer to all these techniques as tools in our toolbox. Like a good carpenter, we strive to have a toolbox full of techniques so that we can provide the best care for each patient. We all have our favorite tools. With clinical experience and evidence based research, therapists may pick one tool more often for the job than another. However, I feel strongly that a tool will work better if you have been properly trained and had lots of practice with that tool. This applies to the use of biofeedback, specifically in this case, for pelvic muscle dysfunction. It is a tool in our toolbox. Not the only one, but one of my favorites. And a tool supported by medical evidence.
Through the mentoring process I learned many more uses for biofeedback for pelvic floor dysfunction. I learned to teach the patient how to use their muscles during tasks, functional movements, strengthening, coordinating a bowel movement breath, and more! These are things I have always taught, but now the patient and I could actually observe the muscle recruitment during the teaching. I could adjust my cueing and teaching to fit that person.
Not many patients walk into the office complaining that they have problems with their pelvic floor just laying in bed. But lying on your back is the only position many therapists use the biofeedback in. I use the biofeedback in a toileting position, during the movement that makes them leak urine, and in poses to relax or strengthen. It helps patients find out what their body is doing during the task that is most meaningful to them. Again, this is patient-centered care.
What is biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a tool to help a patient change behaviors or responses. More technically, it is electromyography, EMG. It measures muscle recruitment. That means if done correctly, it measures a targeted muscle when you activate it. If I put the surface electrodes (small stickers) on a muscle and ask you to squeeze or contract, the graph on the computer will show if you are able to contract the muscle. In pelvic floor biofeedback we have the option of surface electrodes or internal sensors. This is always a discussion with the patient to find out what method they are most comfortable with.
Am I appropriate for biofeedback?
Often a patient is told at a doctors appointment that they need biofeedback. I receive many scripts that request biofeedback for muscle training. The doctor may have concerns about the patient performing the correct program. Also, many gastrointestinal doctors have done testing that shows that there is incoordination of the pelvic floor during attempted bowel movements. This means the patient squeezes their muscles when they should relax, making it difficult to evacuate stool.
Your first visit with a therapist is an evaluation. One of the many things we look for is your ability to coordinate your muscles. This means we have you contract, relax, and isolate muscles. If you are having difficulty with verbal and physical cueing, you may be appropriate.
Research shows that almost half of patients being told to kegel will actually push and bear down instead of squeezing and lifting. It is also common that patients will contract their abdomen at the same time and have difficulty isolating the pelvic floor. Also, a cause of constipation can be pelvic floor activation when the muscles should be relaxing.
A pelvic physical therapist has special training to perform internal pelvic floor evaluations. This internal evaluation provides us with valuable information to help you with your dysfunction. However, it is so important for a therapist to present all the options for evaluation and treatment. Not everyone needs or is comfortable with internal vaginal or rectal muscle evaluation. I like to inform each patient of all the information I can gather from each technique and let them decide. It is their care, their body, and their decision. Surface EMG can offer the patient and therapist a look at activation and coordination and help their symptoms without any internal contact. Some patient populations that may benefit from biofeedback because internal contact isn’t possible include:
Pelvic floor therapists need to be incredibly sensitive. Our patients share with us things their family may not even know. We need to build trust before many patients feel comfortable, if ever, with internal evaluation. This does not mean they do not get therapy! I see a huge relief in many of my patients when I explain that they do not ever need to have internal treatment. I tell them what I could do instead, and the pros/cons. Many of them choose biofeedback.
What is a session like?
Prior to the biofeedback session, I discuss all the options. First we discuss sensor options. Most of my patients choose the surface electrodes, but internal sensors are an option that can then be used for biofeedback and if stimulation is part of their plan of care. If you are a child or have severe internal pain, the surface electrodes are used. These are placed peri-anally. That means on either side of the anus.
I usually have my patient put their pants back on, or a gown if they prefer for the session. We move around and the more comfortable a patient is the better the session. I will cue the patient through long or short squeezes, coughing, relaxation, bowel movement breathing, or whatever it is that we identified in the evaluation or we find on the biofeedback that needs to be addressed. I try different cues, screens or tones to get the desired outcome. I often find that the patient can achieve the goal on their own by monitoring the screen. If you figure out a problem on your own, you usually remember it better! Many patients need just one session to get started, some patients require more. It all depends on the patient because patient-centered care is so important.
Are there side effects? Can I get hurt?
Patients need to know that the biofeedback detects your muscles’ activity. No electrical charge goes into you during biofeedback. The machine will not hurt you. Squeezing muscles repeatedly can create muscle soreness. Just like after a workout at the gym. If increased resting tension is seen on the biofeedback and pain is associated with kegels, then I focus on muscle relaxation, physiological quieting, body scans, posture, etc. But it is possible that you are sore from exercising the muscles.
Courses and certification
There are several organizations that offer coursework for therapists. My path took me to Herman and Wallace for most of my pelvic floor training. I recently took a more biofeedback focused course from Biofeedback Training and Incontinence Solutions. I have been fullfilling my mentoring requirements through Tiffany Lee from Biofeedback Training and Incontinence Solutions. For information on coursework and mentoring, visit www.pelvicfloorbiofeedback.com. The BCIA offers certifications in different fields of biofeedback including pelvic muscle dysfunction. They require didactic course completion, mentoring, certification exams, and hours. Their website includes information for therapists hoping to become certified, as well as a board certified practitioner database for patients to locate certified therapists at www.BCIA.org.
Q&A for men: third edition
Question from Kirk: I am an avid bike guy. I go outdoor trail riding on weekends, over 60 miles, if the weather is good. On my weekdays, I do spin classes to stay in shape. I have begun noticing a dull ache in my testicles that won’t go away, even if I skip a day of riding. I went to my urologist because of my testicular pain. After some tests and an ultrasound, she said there is nothing wrong with my scrotum, but that I should lay off the bike riding. It is my favorite way to blow off steam after a long week at the office. Is bike riding related to my testicular pain? If so, do I have to stop altogether?
Answer from Becca: Kirk, I understand how distressing it is to have undiagnosable pain in your pelvis. While working in a pelvic floor physical therapy clinic, we treat men like you all the time. Your testicular pain may be caused by tension in the small muscles of the saddle region of your body. The nerves and soft tissues of the groin are delicate and often get upset when they are compressed, as they would be during prolonged sitting on your bike seat. In your particular case, these bodily structures are also being jostled around quite a bit, especially during your trail rides on bumpy terrain. Spin classes also present a particular strain on the saddle area, as you are likely raising your butt off the seat for increased resistance and then slamming your body right back down to a sitting position a few moments later.
Bike riding is your passion, and I wouldn’t want to rid you of something you like, especially if it is helping you “blow off steam after a long week at the office”. There are a few modifications that may help ease the pressure off your testicles and decrease your pain. Firstly, buy a seat for your trail bike that is specially designed for people with pelvic pain. There are many from which to choose, and they will often have a hole cut out of the seat, so that your pelvic floor will not be in contact with any surface while you ride. Secondly, when outdoors, try to bike on level surfaces for now. The rugged land of the trails is like riding a Jeep in the jungle. What you want to do to rest your pelvic floor muscles and scrotum is to travel on level terrain (cement), which will feel like riding your grandfather’s Cadillac with superb suspension. I know, it won’t be the same, but bear with me. Your testicles need this rest right now. Thirdly, if you are going to do spin classes, buy your own bike seat designed for pelvic pain sufferers, install it before a class, and avoid the alternating standing/sitting repetitions that spin classes are famous for.
In time, your testicles will heal and you may get back to the point when you can resume trail riding. Also, if you have the time, find a pelvic floor physical therapist. The tight muscles of your pelvic floor can be stretched and any possible soft tissue restrictions within your scrotum can be addressed as well. By doing this, you will be sending your testicles on a much-needed vacation and they will thank you for it in the future.
Question from Lou: My partner and I are fairly certain that we are done having children. I am considering having a vasectomy but am worried that something might go wrong. Can you tell me about this surgery and what I might expect if I get it in the future?
Answer from Becca: I understand that this is a major decision, Lou, and you are not alone in the vast number of men who consider this procedure and are held back by trepidation about what the long-term implications might be. Let’s start with the anatomy or plumbing in how all this works. The sperm of a male is stored in tiny little coil, called the epididymis, that is located directly above each testicle. That sperm waits until it is needed, and then travels from the epididymis down a long tube called the vas deferens. The sperm then mixes with seminal fluid and is ejaculated through the penis. (This is a highly simplified explanation, but you get the idea). The procedure known as the vasectomy entails cutting both of the long tubes that serve as a conduit of the sperm to the ejaculatory fluid.
The surgery involves one or two small incisions in the scrotum. The vas deferens is cut and a small piece may be removed, leaving a gap between the two ends. The physician then sears the ends of the tube, and ties little knots on each end. This is then performed on the opposite vas deferens. Afterwards, there may be one to two small scars on the scrotum which heal rapidly. Then, voila! This surgery is a 99% effective form of birth control.
The recovery time after a vasectomy is quite short. You will need a few days of rest and some ice on the groin. After undergoing this surgery, many men are satisfied that they 1) no longer have to use condoms if they have a single sex partner and 2) do not have to burden their female partner with the more tricky forms of birth control, which do not offer as high a protection against pregnancy.
There is a small risk of side-effects for this surgery, including the formation of a granuloma (a small lump of scar tissue where the vas deferens has been cut), though this is often not pain-producing. The sensation and quality of ejaculation will usually remain completely unchanged. I hope that I have answered your questions, Lou, and best of luck in making your decision!
Question from Sergio: I am in my mid-thirties and have a very high-stress corporate job. On the days when I work 12 plus hours, my girlfriend often wants to have sex late at night. I find that I take longer to finish and that my ejaculation is more like a dribble than the forceful explosions that I usually have. Is something wrong? What should I do about this?
Answer from Becca: Sergio, this is a great question and a common cause of concern for men. It all boils down to the lives that we live today. Many men have high-stress corporate jobs. Which means they are under tremendous pressure for long hours, they are often sitting, and their tension is traveling down to the muscles upon which they sit. This is the perfect description of mild pelvic floor tension. Just as some people carry their muscular tension in their shoulders or low backs, you are storing it in your pelvic floor, Sergio. And these days, with the way that we work and live in our society, your need for increased time to ejaculate and the decreased power of your ejaculation are both incredibly common.
While it wouldn’t hurt to see a urologist to rule out any other problems, these sexual issues are likely caused by tightness in your pelvic floor muscles. In order for arousal to take place, the muscles of the pelvic floor should lengthen and allow blood to pool within the testicles and penis. If these muscles are tight, they may not be allowing enough blood into these tissues and erections may be less rigid. This would cause a delay in ejaculation, resulting in increased time to finish the job. Furthermore, that decreased blood flow into the groin would result in less pressure generated to create the “forceful explosions” that you typically experience, Sergio. A weak dribble of seminal fluid at climax may often result.
In summary, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong here, Sergio, except that you are living in the world today. My suggestion would be to practice some form of stress reduction at the end of these long workdays. It could be as simple as listening to some calming music during your commute home. You might want to do some simple stretches on the floor or spend time with your girlfriend without rushing into sex late in the evenings. Finally, you could reschedule sex for early mornings or weekends. This would assist your pelvic floor in being more primed and relaxed to achieve the quality of arousal and ejaculation that you deserve.
Foye: I think that the biggest problem is that the vast majority of physicians unfortunately have a huge blind spot when it comes to understanding coccyx [tailbone] pain. We learned almost nothing about the coccyx in medical school. This leads to four main problems.
Dela Rosa: Your book Tailbone Pain Relief Now! describes the many reasons why people end up with tailbone pain. Are there 1 or 2 causes of tailbone pain that are more common than others?
Foye: Great question! By far the most common cause coccyx pain is when there is an unstable joint between the bones of the coccyx. Many medical textbooks and websites incorrectly state that the coccyx is a single fused bone. But that is rarely true. In the vast majority of humans, there are 3 to 5 individual coccygeal bones, with variability in whether there is fusion between any of those bones. Most people have at least a few coccygeal joints. And most people with coccyx pain have joint hypermobility (excessive movement) as the source of their pain.
The second most common cause of coccyx pain is a "bone spur"; extending from the lowest tip of the coccyx. When this happens at the bottom of the coccyx, there is thickening of the bone that projects backwards, often coming to a sharp focal point. It’s almost like a tiny icicle made of bone. This bone spur pinches the skin between the spur and the chair where the patient sits, and especially when they sit leaning partly backwards.
Dela Rosa: Thank you for clarifying the common causes of tailbone pain. In your book, you detail some of the seat cushions and medications that may help. People ask about injections for pain. As a pain management doctor, would injections be helpful for these causes and if so, could you describe how and what kind?
Foye: Sure it's a great question. Medications by mouth have a couple of big problems with them, which is why a lot of times medication given focally by a small local injection could be superior.
When medications are given by mouth, number one they go through multiple places throughout the body. If you're taking medication by mouth, they can cause side effects in the stomach, the intestines, the liver, and the kidneys, so the side effects can be quite limiting.
The second problem with medications by mouth is that because the medicine travels throughout the entire body, it gets diluted out. So only a minuscule amount of the medication actually makes it to the tailbone where the patient needs it the most. Many of these patients do respond to medication given locally at the site. Typically, that's done under fluoroscopic guidance. Fluoroscopy is like x-ray up on a computer screen, and using fluoroscopy we can target a specific location at the tailbone. I'm generally opposed to blind injections, which is where injections are done without any image guidance because 1) you can't guarantee where the medication is going to go and whether it's actually given at a place where it's going to be helpful, and 2) you also can get into problems if it's given in the wrong place - it can cause side effects.
So back to your question, which was about the diagnoses like hypermobility or a bone spur... Absolutely those can respond very, very well to placing medication locally at the spot under image guidance. Often that's a combination of steroid which helps to fight inflammation, and also local anesthetic which can be given as a nerve block and can be very helpful when there's hyperactivity or hyperirritability of the nerves.
Dela Rosa: How is the x-ray your center performs different than how many other facilities perform the test?
Foye: Here at the Coccyx Pain Center, the biggest difference is that we take coccyx x-rays while the patient is sitting down, since that is when tailbone pain hurts the most. I have trained the radiology technicians here regarding how to properly perform this technique, which was first developed in France. Very few places in the United States have ever heard of this approach and even fewer are experienced at doing these x-rays properly. We have evaluated and treated thousands of patients with tailbone pain, many of whom fly in from around the country and internationally. And it is extremely common that patients had previous imaging studies that were read as being normal. But then they come here and our seated x-rays show that when the person sits down and leans backwards (putting their body weight onto the coccyx) they often have very dramatic dislocations or other abnormalities that would be completely undetected if the x-rays had not been done while the patient was sitting. It is a huge relief for patients to finally have an answer as to what is causing their pain. Then, when we have identified a specific cause for their pain, we can provide treatments for that specific cause, which is much more likely to be helpful than generic treatments done blindly without a diagnosis.
Foye: A lot of this goes back to and starts with the general lack of awareness that physicians, radiologists and radiology technicians have about tailbone pain. Frequently, they lump it all in with low back pain. Lumbosacral pain is thousands of times more common than tailbone pain. A lot of the automatic checkoff boxes that people have on their radiology x-ray or MRI forms will have a box to check off for lumbar spine or lumbosacral spine, but they will not have a box to check off for the coccyx or tailbone just because it is thousands of times less common. So what happens is that the primary care doctor, or the orthopedic surgeon, or the pain management doctor, will check off the box and order lumbar or lumbosacral x-rays or MRI, and then that doesn't even include the tailbone at all.
The next problem then is that the study gets done and the patient is told that there's nothing wrong, and that there's no explanation for their pain when really the images did not even include the symptomatic area, or worse yet, it shows an incidental finding of the lumbar spine that may not be causing any symptoms at all. But now they start down the treatment path of epidural injections, and even spine surgery and other things for a part of the body that wasn't even causing the problem. So basically back to your question about what the patient can do: 1) look at the orders, look at the x-ray or MRI orders, make sure that the ordering physician has specifically explicitly requested imaging of the coccyx, and 2) when you go into the radiology center, make a point of talking to the radiology technician and being crystal clear with them that this is not your lumbar spine, that this is not up in the small of your back at the belt line, that the pain is specifically down at the coccyx, and make sure that the radiology technician is going to include that part of the anatomy within the study. It really does require a certain amount of self-advocacy by the patient unfortunately to fight this uphill battle against the ignorance that's out there.
Dela Rosa: I'm just curious, have people come to you from outside of the US? Or are you mostly seeing people domestically?
Foye: Most of my patients travel in from out-of-state and about a third of my patients fly in. It's maybe 5% or less that are international. Within the last six to 12 months, I've had patients from Japan, Sweden, Africa, the UK, New Zealand, and I think two from Australia. Which really just gets back to that there's this unmet need out there and patients who are not able to find local clinicians who will either take them seriously or that know the appropriate testing and treatments to provide.
Dela Rosa: How do you work with pelvic floor physical therapists in the treatment of tailbone pain?
Foye: As a physician specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), I'm a strong advocate for the role of physical therapists in treating patients who are suffering from painful musculoskeletal conditions. Historically, a big problem was that very few physical therapists were comfortable or experienced in treating pelvic floor problems. Fortunately, that has been improving in recent years.
The pelvic floor is often described as being like a muscular sling, or hammock, which supports and holds up the pelvic organs. The back end of that sling has attachments to the coccyx. Pelvic floor physical therapists and I often collaborate on figuring out the "chicken and the egg" phenomenon. By that I mean that we assess whether a patient is having tailbone pain due to pulling and tugging onto the tailbone caused by tightness and spasms of the muscles that attach to the coccyx. Or, sometimes it could be just the reverse: a painful condition at the coccyx itself might be causing reactive muscle spasm and guarding of the pelvic floor. If evaluation and treatment at one location is not providing adequate relief, then it often makes sense to collaborate and to consult each other, to help the patients find the answers and relief that they deserve.
The return to running after delivery
By Bryn Zolty, PT, DPT
*This article is based on Return to running postnatal-guidelines for medical, health and fitness professionals managing this population. Tom Groom, Grainne Donnelly and Emma Brockwell
Most orthopedic injuries have protocols after surgery for rehabilitation prior to returning to sport. However, there is not a set protocol for women after giving birth to return to their prior level of activity safely. Many women have very limited knowledge of their pelvic floor or ability to strengthen the muscles to support their organs and keep them from leaking urine or bowel movements. Very frequently, women are not even aware of pelvic organ prolapse (POP). POP occurs when the pelvic floor muscles are weakened and the bladder, uterus, or rectum can start to press into or drop out of the vagina.
The research shows that women should wait until 3-6 months postpartum to return to running. For women anxious to return to running, that seems forever! The reason to wait is based on healing time. For vaginal births, the pelvic floor muscles are stretched greatly, and the levator hiatus (pictured below) can take as long as 12 months to become closer to baseline. In addition, the pelvic floor muscles, connective tissue and nerve healing is maximized by 4-6 months (Staer-Jensen et al. 2015). That means that women should seek a pelvic floor physical therapist after vaginal births as soon as they are cleared in order to maximize their ability to heal these tissues.
In both cases, vaginal or cesarean, the recommendation is to have a pelvic health physical therapist evaluate the pelvic floor and abdomen prior to returning to high impact exercise. High impact exercise in female athletes was found to have a 4.59 fold increase in risk of developing pelvic floor dysfunction compared to low impact (De Mattos Lorenco et al 2018). Running has been associated with a rise in intra-abdominal pressure and increased ground reaction force between 1.6 and 2.5 times bodyweight when running at a moderate pace (Gottschall and Kram 2005). These statistics are not to show that women should avoid high impact exercise, but should make sure women are physically prepared to return to sport.
The article concluded that return to running should occur 3-6 months postpartum in the absence of the following symptoms:
Other symptoms in addition to those listed above, that if experienced a woman should seek out a physical therapist include:
In addition, there are recommendations on the amount of strength and endurance in the pelvic floor and fascial support that should be present for running to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction. These measurements can be evaluated by a pelvic floor physical therapist.
The full article can be found for free here.
Goom, Tom & Donnelly, Grainne & Brockwell, Emma. (2019). Returning to running postnatal – guideline for medical, health and fitness professionals managing this population.
Is what you are eating contributing to your pain? Can the choice of food you eat actually help to relieve pain? Can nutritional interventions ease your pain? The answer is that nutritional interventions are often effective in reversing chronic pain. Simple dietary changes that remove inflammatory foods and replace it with better choices can help to reverse chronic pain conditions. Pain conditions are often due to an imbalance in the body’s chemistry. This can be due to many factors, such as a lack of nutrients in your diet, stress overload, lack of exercise, increased inflammation, insulin resistance and environmental factors. Nutritional interventions can be one element for shifting the chronic pain response.
In the links below, Joe Tatta, PT, DPT, addresses components of various anti-inflammatory diets and their benefits. Dr. Tatta is a physical therapist and Founder of the Integrative Pain Science Institute, an education company that supports practitioners as they explore integrative models for pain. In these blogs, there is a review of the current literature of the types of foods and diet that can ease the pain associated with various health conditions.
These are some general guidelines. There is not a “one-size fits all” eating plan as you are unique and complex. Start by making a few changes in your diet and notice how you feel. For example, you can eliminate sugar and processed foods. Making limited changes will assist in recognizing how those particular foods impact you. Is there a relationship between food and pain? Going slowly and changing one or two things at a time is recommended so that you can identify whether a particular modification had an effect.
What happens if you eat a dessert or two, have some alcohol or coffee, or eat some other food that is generally considered inflammation provoking? By all means - enjoy it and savor the experience! There will be more on that in an upcoming blog. Resume the low inflammation regimen when you can and just move forward.
What you choose to eat has an influence on your overall health and resolving pain. Nutrition and diet affect both the physical and psychological processes that impact chronic pain, and good nutrition can be a pivotal component to attain and sustain optimal function and quality of life.
Making delicious and nutritious meals and desserts can be simple. Here is a simple 3 ingredient treat to get you started.
Blueberry Banana Muffins
For reference, check out the Integrative Pain Science Institute.
Pelvic floor Q&A for men: first edition
Question from Don:
“I am 32 years old and have no difficulty with sex. I do find that it is hard for me to pee after ejaculation. Is this normal? And should I be forcing out pee after sex?”
Answer from Becca:
“What you are describing is very normal. The muscles of your pelvic floor that allow you to maintain an erection and expel semen during ejaculation are in a shortened position during sex. These same muscles must be completely relaxed and elongated to allow urine to exit the urethra. Asking your body to pee immediately after having sex is like decelerating a car from 90 mph to a full stop. The pelvic floor muscles are too revved up after climax to stretch and relax. Instead of ‘forcing out pee after sex’, try sitting on the toilet and taking some deep breaths. This will allow whatever is within the bladder to naturally come out of your penis. And if you do not have the urge to pee after sex, you needn’t try this at all.”
Question from Gary:
“I am 53 years old and in pretty good shape. I have diabetes and my erections are not as strong as they used to be. My doctor has tried to give me Cialis; it works only some of the time, and it is very expensive. Are there any tips that you could offer as a pelvic floor physical therapist to improve my erections?”
Answer from Becca:
“Erectile dysfunction and diabetes are often linked. This is because having high blood sugar in the body alters circulation of blood and leads to nerve damage over time. The good news is that this type of erectile dysfunction can be reversed with good lifestyle choices. Maintaining a good diet for stable blood sugar, regular exercise and stress reduction can all help to improve your sexual response. From a physical therapy perspective, we can teach you how to isolate and contract your pelvic floor muscles during sex (also known as Kegel exercises), and improve your core strength. This will allow for increased rigidity of erections. You are one of so many men with exactly the same problem; there is help in pelvic floor physical therapy for a better sex life.”
Question from Pedro:
“I am 28 and began having groin pain over one year ago. I have penile pain along my shaft and up towards the tip, both during and after sex. It helps when I masturbate versus have sex with someone else, because I can avoid the tip of my penis and ejaculate with much less pain. I am not having sex with anyone at the moment, but I am worried because I used to get morning erections and now I don’t. Is this normal? I can’t exactly ask my friends.”
Answer from Becca:
“This is a multi-pronged question, so I want to be careful that I address each part of it. First, a great place for you to start if you have penile pain would be to go to a physician. There may be an infection under your foreskin (known as Balanitis), certain cancers or scar tissue development within the penis (also named Peyronie’s disease. You may have seen commercials on television about this diagnosis). Once your physician has ruled out any medical cause for the pain in your penis, a pelvic floor physical therapist can assess the musculature of your pelvis to determine if there are any imbalances or muscle tension that may be driving your pain.
“Second, having pain in the penis is one of the symptoms of Chronic Male Pelvic Pain Syndrome. That is not to say you have this diagnosis, Pedro. But this description of your problem is more common than you know. In pelvic floor physical therapy, we treat many men with penile, testicular, perineal and rectal pain. The causation of this pain is often tight musculature in the saddle area. Relaxation of these muscles can do wonders, but it is often difficult for guys to learn how to relax this region of the body without some guidance.
“Thirdly, many men with such symptoms tend to prefer masturbation to sex with a partner, especially when they are having a flare-up of pain. This is because, just as you mentioned, only you know what hurts and how to avoid pain during sex. Your partner will have a more challenging time working around your specific pain. That said, once your symptoms are decreasing in severity, the reintroduction of sex with a partner can be a creative and exciting learning curve. Physical therapists can help with this area of problem-solving with both partners.
“Lastly, morning erections are the body’s natural response from overflow of the parasympathetic nerves in your spine. In other words, the nerves are sending calming signals to the pelvis during sleep. This explains why having erections in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning is not a result of having erotic dreams or a person feeling aroused, per se; rather, the body is in a calm state and the testicles and penis become engorged with blood during sleep. Your lack of morning erections is consistent with your penile pain. This is because your pelvis is not relaxing appropriately during the sleep cycle to facilitate those erections. Many men with pelvic pain find that their morning erections return once their symptoms of pain are better managed. This is a good sign that the muscles of the pelvis are relaxing and allowing the return of painfree arousal and improved sex.”
Kegels for pelvic pain?
By Bryn Zolty, PT, DPT
However, there is research that suggests that women who have painful penetration and have not yet had children, three maximum Kegels can significantly lower vaginal resting pressure and surface EMG(1). Lower resting pressure and surface EMG, or biofeedback, translates to lower muscle tension, improved function, and less pain.
Biofeedback can be a very helpful tool to determine if this type of treatment is right for you. Small electrodes (stickers) are placed on either side of the anus. These electrodes connect to a computer that measures the muscle activity in the pelvic floor. As you watch the computer, a therapist will guide you through how to contract and relax your pelvic floor and try the three maximal contractions. If the tension in the pelvis is reduced, the therapist will provide you with your home exercise program that includes the three maximal contractions.
Can maximal voluntary pelvic floor muscle contraction reduce vaginal resting pressure and resting EMG activity? Naess, I. & Bø, K. Int Urogynecol J (2018) 29: 1623.