Although many centers are familiar with retraining techniques to improve pelvic floor dysfunction, few have the multidisciplinary expertise to teach patients with constipation how to appropriately coordinate abdominal and pelvic floor muscles during defecation, and how to use bowel management techniques, along with behavior modification, to relieve symptoms. Because pelvic floor dysfunction can be associated with psychological, sexual or physical abuse and other life stressors, psychological counseling is often included in the evaluation process.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is common for many women and includes symptoms that can affect all aspects of everyday life and activities. Pelvic floor muscle (PFM) training is vital for treating different types of pelvic floor dysfunction. Two common problems are uterine prolapse and urinary incontinence both of which stem from muscle weakness. Without the ability to control PFM, pelvic floor training cannot be done successfully. Being able to control PFM is vital for a well functioning pelvic floor. Through vaginal palpation exams and the use of biofeedback the tightening, lifting, and squeezing actions of these muscles can be determined. In addition, abdominal muscle training has been shown to improve pelvic floor muscle function. By increasing abdominal muscle strength and control, a person may have an easier time activating the pelvic floor muscles in sync with the abdominal muscles. Many physiotherapists are specially trained to address the muscles weaknesses associated with pelvic floor dysfunction and through intervention can effectively treat this.
Once patients with pelvic floor constipation have these basic tools, they can begin retraining the pelvic floor muscles with biofeedback. Based on the principle of operant conditioning, biofeedback provides auditory and visual feedback to help retrain the pelvic floor and relax the anal sphincter. Biofeedback training is the treatment of choice for medically refractory pelvic floor constipation, with some studies showing improvement in more than 70 percent of patients. Patients also learn to identify internal sensations associated with relaxation and long-term skills and exercises for use at home.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is a common condition where you’re unable to correctly relax and coordinate the muscles in your pelvic floor to urinate or to have a bowel movement. If you’re a woman, you may also feel pain during sex, and if you’re a man you may have problems having or keeping an erection (erectile dysfunction or ED). Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles found in the floor (the base) of your pelvis (the bottom of your torso).
What sets pelvic floor physical therapists apart is their in depth understanding of the muscles and surrounding structures of the pelvic floor, beyond what was taught in physical therapy graduate school. What that means for a patient who is seeking the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist, is that his or her pelvic floor issues will be examined and treated comprehensively with both internal and external treatment, provide them with lifestyle modifications to help remove any triggers, and receive specific exercises and treatment to help prevent the reoccurrence of pain once he or she has been successfully treated.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is very different than pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic organ prolapse happens when the muscles holding a woman’s pelvic organs (uterus, rectum and bladder) in place loosen and become too stretched out. Pelvic organ prolapse can cause the organs to protrude (stick out) of the vagina or rectum and may require women to push them back inside.
Home exercise programs are essential for each patient. In the case of weakness, a patient will require more pelvic floor, core and functional strengthening and stability exercises. For overactive and pain conditions, the HEP typically consists of relaxation techniques, self-massages (both external and internal), gentle stretching, cardiovascular fitness as tolerated, and eventually pain-free core stability exercises. Both require postural and behavioral modifications and self-care strategies. For more information and detail, check out the book: Heal Pelvic Pain, by Amy Stein or her DVD: Healing Pelvic and Abdominal Pain here.
Joint mobilization is a common and favorite tool of most orthopedic physical therapists. We love it so much because it can have so many different benefits depending on the type of technique used. Maitland describes types of joint mobilization on a scale between 1 and 5. Grade 1 and 2 mobilizations are applied to a joint to help to lessen pain and spasm. These types of mobilizations are typically used when a patient is in a lot of pain and to help break the pain cycle. On a non-painful joint, grade 3, 4, and 5 (grade 5 requires post graduate training) mobilizations can be used to help restore full range of motion. By restoring full range of motion within a restricted joint, it is possible to lessen the burden on that and surrounding joints, thereby alleviating pain and improving function.
The pelvic floor muscles support various pelvic organs, including the bladder, prostate, rectum, and female reproductive organs. The muscles themselves are also involved in the functioning of the urinary and anal sphincters. When they are functioning normally, you are able to control your bowel and bladder movements by contracting and relaxing these muscles.
Rectocele: A rectocele is a bulge of the front wall of the rectum into the vagina. Normally, the rectum goes straight down to the anus (picture). When a patient with a rectocele strains, the stool may get caught in an abnormal pocket of the rectum which bulges into the vagina. This prevents the patient from emptying the rectum completely. Generally, rectoceles do not produce symptoms. As they grow larger, rectoceles may cause difficulty going to the bathroom, or cause leakage of stool after having a bowel movement. Rectoceles are more common in women who have given birth. Rectoceles are usually caused by thinning of the tissue between the rectum and vagina and weakening of the pelvic floor muscles.
Pelvic floor dysfunction can be diagnosed by history and physical exam, though it is more accurately graded by imaging. Historically, fluoroscopy with defecography and cystography were used, though modern imaging allows the usage of MRI to complement and sometimes replace fluoroscopic assessment of the disorder, allowing for less radiation exposure and increased patient comfort, though an enema is required the evening before the procedure. Instead of contrast, ultrasound gel is used during the procedure with MRI. Both methods assess the pelvic floor at rest and maximum strain using coronal and sagittal views. When grading individual organ prolapse, the rectum, bladder and uterus are individually assessed, with prolapse of the rectum referred to as a rectocele, bladder prolapse through the anterior vaginal wall a cystocele, and small bowel an enterocele.
Mechanistically, the causes of pelvic floor dysfunction are two-fold: widening of the pelvic floor hiatus and descent of pelvic floor below the pubococcygeal line, with specific organ prolapse graded relative to the hiatus. Associations include obesity, menopause, pregnancy and childbirth. Some women may be more likely to developing pelvic floor dysfunction because of an inherited deficiency in their collagen type. Some women may have congenitally weak connective tissue and fascia and are therefore at risk of stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Paradoxical Puborectalis Contraction: The puborectalis muscle is part of the control muscles that control bowel movements. The puborectalis wraps like a sling around the lower rectum. During a bowel movement, the puborectalis is supposed to relax to allow the bowel movement to pass. If the muscle does not relax or contracts during paradoxical contraction, it may feel like you are pushing against a closed door.
^ Mateus-Vasconcelos, Elaine Cristine Lemes; Ribeiro, Aline Moreira; Antônio, Flávia Ignácio; Brito, Luiz Gustavo de Oliveira; Ferreira, Cristine Homsi Jorge (2018-06-03). "Physiotherapy methods to facilitate pelvic floor muscle contraction: A systematic review". Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 34 (6): 420–432. doi:10.1080/09593985.2017.1419520. ISSN 0959-3985. PMID 29278967. S2CID 3885851.
As physical therapists, are our hands are amazing gifts and phenomenal diagnostic tools that we can use to assess restrictions, tender points, swelling, muscle guarding, atrophy, nerve irritation and skeletal malalignment. We also use our hands to treat out these problems, provide feedback to the muscles, and facilitate the activation of certain muscle groups. There have been a great number of manual techniques that have evolved over the course of physical therapy’s history. Let’s go over a few.