Pelvic floor therapy can help reduce symptoms

Two Women LaughingPerhaps it’s happened to you … the urgent need to go to the bathroom (and perhaps not making it in time), having discomfort or pain during sex (and possibly being too unsettled to tell your doctor or even your partner), or leakage when lifting a heavy box, coughing or even laughing. These potentially awkward or embarrassing situations may be signs of pelvic floor dysfunction.

“Pelvic floor disorders, which affect all genders and ages, are extremely common, but they shouldn’t be the norm,” says Cammie Woodard, DPT, of Northwest Texas Healthcare System Physical Rehabilitation (Outpatient). Fortunately, therapists like Woodard are treating pelvic floor dysfunction with advanced therapies and techniques, helping improve patients’ quality of life significantly and without surgery.

Much like a sling, your pelvic muscles support the bladder, uterus and other organs. Like all muscles, they can overact, shorten, tighten or weaken with age, non-use, obesity and events such as sexual trauma or abuse, pregnancy and childbirth, resulting in pelvic floor dysfunction. Those with a history of frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and increasingly in their late teens to early 30s are diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction. Cammie notes, “Most of my patients are age 60 and younger, with the median age around 40.” Given men have a hard time admitting they have PFD and seeking help, she tries to keep them from feeling even more awkward and isolated.

Need for therapy

“Patients who have undergone joint replacement receive a prescription for therapy after,” says Woodard, “yet rehab is not prescribed for women following childbirth or for individuals treated for other urologic, gynecologic, oncologic, or colorectal conditions or other complications or diagnoses with advanced surgical options, when it could help restore the coordination, strength and, most importantly, overall function of their pelvic muscles.”

With pelvic floor dysfunction, the ability to relax, coordinate or activate the pelvic muscles properly is lost. Although patients can be asymptomatic, many experience urinary and fecal incontinence; constipation; urgency or frequency of urination; pain during sex (called dyspareunia); difficulty having a bowel movement; and hip, back, vaginal and pelvic pain.

Diagnosis and treatment

Pelvic floor dysfunction can often be diagnosed with simple tests in the office. Depending on one’s condition, non-surgical treatment plans may include a combination of biofeedback, myofascial release, pelvic strengthening (Kegel exercises) and relaxation practices, as well as lifestyle changes. One’s doctor may prescribe medication as well. “Everyone responds differently to therapy depending on the specific condition, compliance, comorbidities and environmental factors, etc.,” Woodard says, “but it is very rewarding to help someone get their life or intimacy back or reduce occurrence of UTIs.”

Remember your pelvic health

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, speak to your doctor or specialist. The sooner you identify and treat the issue, the better, as symptoms can worsen if left untreated. For more information, call 806-354-1774.