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How can Women’s Health Physical Therapy help me?

Marisa Ball, DPT, MTC

When it comes to women’s health, physical therapy is often underutilized due to misunderstanding.  Many consider women’s health physical therapy to be solely directed at incontinence.  Although incontinence issues are important and successfully treated, physical therapy can benefit women in so many other ways.  It encompasses pre- and post-partum dysfunctions, pelvic pain, education regarding the entire birthing process or C-section, post mastectomy and more.  Women’s health is important because women regularly live with discomfort and dysfunction.  For this reason we should know and understand what is considered normal and abnormal for our bodies.

 Incontinence is the inability to restrain natural discharges of urine or feces.  Such dysfunction is typically associated with the elderly and has become a condition that is all to often accepted as a part of aging.  However, women (and men) of all ages—as young as 16--may have small amounts of urine leakage.  Younger women, ages 16-25 typically experience leakage with high impact sports.  Urine leakage can also occur with laughing, coughing, sneezing, or while rushing to the restroom, but in all ages.

 Leakage is not a healthy function regardless of age or the amount of leaking.  Incontinence is due to decreased strength and control of the pelvic floor musculature.  The pelvic floor muscles help to close off the ureter (channel from the bladder) and rectum.  The problems of strength and control can be corrected through physical therapy.  An exam must be used to determine the condition and strength of the pelvic floor muscles.  Treatment may include the use of biofeedback or electrical stimulation to increase awareness of the pelvic floor and exercises for core stabilization, using associated muscles from the abdomen and back.  Eventually self-management is achieved through education and learning Kegel contractions, which maintain strength in the pelvic floor and prevent future leaking. 

 Pre- and post-partum women may obtain education and exercises from a physical therapist to help alleviate symptoms.  Along with the many changes experienced during and after pregnancy, there are mechanical changes that take place in the back and pelvis.  Many women experience back or leg pain associated with pregnancy especially during the third trimester.  Following a thorough exam, physical therapy can prescribe properly fitted braces or slings to lessen the pressure on the lower back.  Posture and positioning education for daily activities, as well as an exercise program are simple, conservative interventions used to maintain muscle balances throughout pregnancy and post-partum.  

 Pelvic pain is something no woman should endure.  With the exception of cramping during a menstrual cycle, which should not be excruciating - - if it is, see your gynecologist.  Pain in the pelvic area should not only be endured it is a sign that should not be ignored.  Pain that occurs with sexual intercourse, tampon insertion, or a constant pain in the pelvic area can be alleviated.  Such pains are typically associated with a tight pelvic floor.  The muscles in the pelvic floor can get tight just like any other muscles in the body.  When it is tight, it resists lengthening or stretching.  By learning to properly relax the pelvic floor followed by gentle exercises for the purpose of control, pelvic pain can be relieved.

 These are just a few examples of how women’s health physical therapy can improve common conditions and improve quality of life.  If you experience any of the above, please seek help.  If you have questions regarding this information or any symptoms you may have, please call. We can discuss your issues and determine if physical therapy is right for you.

 Marisa Ball is a physical therapist specially trained in women's health through the American physical therapy association.