What is Pelvic Health?
Pelvic health refers to the state of optimal function
and comfort of the organs, muscles, joints, nerves and other soft tissue
that make up the area between our belly buttons and pelvic floor. Pelvic
health requires the optimal function of all of the systems in our body
including the urinary, reproductive, circulatory, nervous, respiratory,
integumentary (skin), and musculoskeletal systems. Pelvic health is
a generic term that is not specific to either gender. It relates to
all conditions involving the pelvic area; it is not limited to certain
ones like urinary incontinence.
All of these organ systems are treated by various medical and integrative
health-care providers, but physical therapists approach the issues pertaining
to the pelvis slightly differently. PT's treat movement imbalances that
limit function. They are trained in evaluation and treatment of dysfunction
primarily of the joints, muscles and nerves. However, when these structures
interfere with movement or quality of function of the other systems,
then physical therapists are able to integrate treatment to facilitate
restoration of normal function of all of the involved systems. Pelvic
health is important for many reasons - the pelvis is the base on which
our spine stands. It is the support for all of our internal organs and
the outlet for much of what goes on within these internal organs. And
of course the pelvis is important for its role in intimacy and reproduction.
Specially trained physical therapists are best able to integrate the
various systems involved in pelvic function and health.
Physical therapists who specialize in pelvic health acquire most of their
training following the completion of a graduate level program in physical
therapy. Classes they take range from workshops in musculoskeletal function
of the spine, sacrum, and hips to soft tissue treatment techniques including
myofascial release, visceral manipulation, and connective tissue massage.
Additional instruction is received in the evaluation of pelvic floor
muscle quality. Treatment techniques usually include patient education
regarding the involved structures and their function, manual therapy,
exercises, and guidance in understanding how poor mechanics is related
to pain and dysfunction.
Urinary incontinence is one of the most common conditions treated by physical
therapists practicing in this area. It is often thought that urinary
incontinence is a normal part of aging for both men and women.
Recent studies estimate only one-quarter of all women suffering from
urinary incontinence seek help. Often the help they receive is inadequate,
nothing more than a hand-out relaying instructions of how to perform
Kegels (pelvic floor exercises). Such information can be counterproductive
as it seems to be the answer, but if the individual is so weak she can
not identify the appropriate muscles, the exercises alone most often
fail. Attempting them only reinforces the imbalances that already exist.
A person can also have extremely tight muscles in the pelvic floor region
that interfere with normal ability to perform an appropriate contraction.
Failure to identify the underlying cause can result in the individual
failing at the exercise program and feeling as if there is nothing that
can be done to help them with this often life-altering condition.
Physical therapists trained in pelvic health issues can also treat painful
conditions that limit one's ability to void, move, sleep, be intimate,
and reproduce. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported
in their September 2001 issue (Vol. 185, p.545) that 16.7% of women
between the ages of 20-59 have pelvic pain that has lasted greater than
six months. The article also reported that of those women, only 40%
sought medical help. The numbers are not much different for men suffering
from pelvic pain. Many of these conditions are caused by either too
much tension in the pelvic floor muscles or by disease processes that
make the pelvic muscles tense. In the latter case, pain that would be
manageable becomes unbearable. In an article in the Journal of Urology
(166:2226-2231, 2001), Jerome Weiss MD states that it is essential that
patients should undergo a physical therapy evaluation and treatment
to correct any predisposing or perpetuating condition. Some of the diagnoses
that are successfully treated by physical therapy intervention include
painful menses, pudendal nerve entrapment, interstitial cystitis, endometriosis,
prostatitis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, abdominal adhesions, tail-bone
pain, vulvodynia, and uterine and bladder prolapse.
If you are experiencing any concerns related to the pelvic region of your
body and its function, it is important that you see an appropriate health-care
provider to rule out any serious medical condition that may be the cause
of pain or dysfunction. Once this is complete, if your physician does
not offer a physical therapy referral, ask for one!
Important Websites for Pelvic