Pelvic floor physiotherapy, also referred to as women’s health physiotherapy, is a specialist area that supports women throughout a variety of stages in their life. This form of physiotherapy supports young women, pregnant and postnatal women, middle-aged women and women beyond menopause.
There are a plethora of reasons women may require the specialised treatment of a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Read on to learn if you might benefit from pelvic floor physiotherapy.
What do women’s health physiotherapists treat?
The pelvic floor is complex. As a result, a broad range of symptoms can occur.
A common issue that pelvic floor physiotherapists treat is incontinence. There are two types of incontinence, urinary and fecal. Urinary incontinence can present as stress incontinence, which can occur when there is heavy downward pressure on the pelvis from either running, jumping or coughing and sneezing. It can also present as urge incontinence, where the person suddenly feels the urge to urinate! This may be triggered by certain actions, like leaving the house, sliding keys into the door, or other triggers. This may cause leakage. Fecal incontinence can present as either loss of bowel contents or involuntary loss of wind. This is common in conjunction with conditions like IBS, constipation and diarrhea.
Incontinence is more than just a daily inconvenience. It can have significant, detrimental impacts on women (and male sufferers’) mental wellbeing and quality of life.
2. Pelvic pain
Pelvic pain can become present with chronic illnesses such as endometriosis and other pelvic disorders. These conditions can have a significant impact on women’s happiness, wellbeing and quality of life. Patients who present with pelvic pain can commonly experience a range of other symptoms, including dyspareunia (painful intercourse), bladder and bowel dysfunction, mental health problems, and relationship issues.
Pelvic pain may also be present in pregnant women, with the change in hormones and (perhaps more significantly) the substantial growth in their pelvic area, which places extra pressure on pelvic organs and public bones. Common issues with pelvic pain are tight pelvic floor and pelvic floor dysfunction.
3. Pregnancy and post-natal
As mentioned, pregnancy puts a considerable strain on women’s bodies. The effects of a growing baby and fluctuating hormones both create rapid changes in joints, muscles and ligaments. One of the most common pregnancy-related musculoskeletal conditions is Pelvic girdle pain (sacroiliac and pubic symphysis). This affects 1 in 5 pregnant women. This presents as inflammation and subsequent irritation and pain in the joints of the pelvis.
Pregnant women and postnatal women may also suffer from rectus diastasis, also referred to as abdominal separation. This is a common condition wherein the large abdominal muscles separate due to pregnancy. This can happen during pregnancy and can linger post-pregnancy.
Pregnant women may choose to see a pelvic floor physio at any time during their pregnancy, however, many women find it most beneficial to receive treatment early on in their second trimester, around 35 weeks for birth preparation, and at 6 weeks post-pregnancy. That said, it is best to listen to your body, as every woman will have their own unique experience – nobody is the same!
Fortunately, many of the physical discomforts of pregnancy that occur throughout the various stages (both pre and postnatal) can be alleviated with the help of a pelvic floor physiotherapist.
Pelvic floor physiotherapists also routinely treat prolapse. This occurs when there is a bulging, or bearing down of any of the pelvic organs, which may cause pain, dysfunction, or a feeling of pressure. Common causes of prolapse include vaginal childbirth, chronic coughing, chronic constipation and the consequential straining on the toilet, hormonal changes after menopause and obesity.
What are the risk factors for women’s health problems?
Common risk factors for pelvic floor problems include:
- Weak pelvic floor muscles or lack of awareness of the pelvic floor muscles
- Tight pelvic floors muscles, which may be caused by overtraining (common in athletes),
- Chronic constipation, IBS
- Pelvic surgery
- Medications provided post-surgery that may cause constipation (e.g. opioids such as endone)
- Anxiety and other mental health conditions
- Manopause (changes in oestrogen or progesterone)
- Chronic respiratory issues (asthma, hayfever)
- Certain neurological conditions
- Back pain
- Repetitive heavy lifting, especially postnatally.
- Poor diet
It’s very common for a pelvic floor physiotherapist to form part of a woman’s multidisciplinary team, with other health professionals ranging from gynecologists, general practitioners, psychologists, dietitians and more.
What should you expect during your pelvic floor physiotherapy appointment?
Your first pelvic floor appointment can be a little intimidating. But pelvic floor physiotherapists are highly experienced, fully trained and are naturally compassionate people. Your physiotherapist will start off with a discussion about your symptoms, asking you what symptoms you are having and how your pelvic floor issues impact your day to day life.
Depending on the type of pelvic floor issue you are experiencing, your pelvic floor physiotherapist may request if it is ok to perform an internal examination. It is entirely up to you whether you choose to have this performed or not. Throughout internal examinations, communication is prioritised, and your pelvic floor specialists will continuously check in with how you are feeling.
During an internal examination, your pelvic floor physio can assess your pelvic floor strength, whether it is overactive or underactive, any dysfunction, and they can help relieve pain too. It works as a comprehensive assessment of your pelvic floor, as well as relieving muscles and any tension in the pelvic floor. Many women do find this treatment incredibly helpful, and best of all, your pelvic floor physio will teach you how you can continue treatment at home.
Beyond Your Pelvic Floor Physio Appointments
Pelvic floor physiotherapy empowers you with the knowledge and confidence to continue at-home treatment. You will be able to perform pelvic floor exercises at home, while also being equipped with tips and tricks on how to manage your pelvic floor symptoms in day-to-day life.
Pelvic floor physiotherapy is a life-changing treatment that substantially improves the quality of life of women.
Whatever pelvic floor issue you are dealing with, BodyViva’s specialised women’s health services empower women to restore their pelvic floor health and improve their day to day life. Our pelvic floor physiotherapist, Saba, is friendly, compassionate and incredibly knowledgeable. If you’d like to book your pelvic floor physiotherapy appointment, contact BodyViva on (07) 3841 8015.