About 5 or 6 years ago I met a woman (who is now a friend) and upon discussing our professions, she dubbed me a “vagina physical therapist.” In fact, most of the people I interact with socially find it somewhat amusing yet intriguing that I devote many hours of my week helping women who experience a variety of issues with yes, their vaginas, or to put it more correctly, with their entire pelvic region – bones, joints, muscles, nerves and any type of activity that involves using these body parts. I’ve seen a lot of surprised faces, heard all sorts of remarks and laughed a lot about all of this. However, this does not change the fact that women experience problems with urination, defecation, sexual function, menstrual pain, pregnancy-related and postnatal pain and each of these has its own unique impact on their quality of life. They are told that it is normal and many times not offered any options for treatment. The good news is that there IS help for anyone experiencing these sorts of problems. Several resources exist to help women find qualified practitioners. In addition to doctors who specialize in pelvic floor dysfunction, physical therapy has emerged as an effective treatment. Pelvic health physical therapists utilize a combination of interventions, ranging from manual therapy to muscle re-education, behavioral training, strengthening and functional training.
How do I know if I need to see a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic health?
That is a great question! Here is a simple checklist you can use. If you answer yes to at least one of these items it may be a good idea to set up an appointment for a physical therapy evaluation with a pelvic health specialist. 2-3 or more? I’d call right away.
How do I find a practitioner in my area who specializes in pelvic health?
Several providers and organizations are committed to treating pelvic floor dysfunction. My friends at Pelvic Guru created a resource to help you locate practitioners in your area. Click here to search this list.
I am already seeing a physical therapist for another problem. Can this person help me with my pelvic health problems too?
That depends. The physical therapists who treat pelvic floor dysfunction have special training to properly assess the function of the pelvic floor muscles, in addition to knowledge of general orthopedic concepts. What typically sets us apart is the ability to evaluate the internal pelvic floor muscles. These groups of muscles can only be accessed by a vaginal or rectal examination. Not every person with pelvic floor related symptoms will need treatment of these muscles but special knowledge of how they function and the ability to correctly evaluate this is imperative so that you can receive the appropriate interventions and care. You can download and print a copy of the checklist mentioned above and give it to your physical therapist to use as a guide. He or she should be able to tell you whether you would benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy and if you require a referral.
If you are working with another physical therapist your pelvic health PT will likely coordinate care with that person. This helps to ensure continuity of care and that you are able to integrate both therapies quickly.
Whether the idea of “vagina physical therapy” or pelvic physical therapy is new to you or you are familiar with it, one thing is for certain: it has been shown to be an effective treatment option for many conditions including those listed above. It is recognized as a first line intervention for stress urinary incontinence, bladder pain and pelvic organ prolapse. Thinking you may want to see a pelvic health physical therapist? We are here waiting for you!
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