Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why Didn't I Hear About Pelvic PT Before?

This is a very common question that I get from patients and there are a few reasons that this is usually the case.

First of all, most of the topics and diagnoses that I deal with are pretty sensitive subjects. I treat urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, pain with intercourse, penile and vaginal pain. These aren't usually topics that you're talking to your neighbors and co-workers about, so the word of mouth about this specialty can be pretty limited. I mean, think about it. If you had a shoulder injury or a knee injury and went to see a physical therapist who helped you, you'd be happy to tell anyone about it, right? So many of my patients laugh when I tell them this, because I've called them out. They have no intention of telling anyone about their "vagina therapist." At least not in the beginning, but we'll get back to that.

Another reason that people haven't heard of pelvic PT is that its relatively new. The Section of Women's Health, which is a section of focus through the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), was founded in 1977. I know that sounds like a long time ago to some, but relatively speaking this specialty is new. Compare that date with the founding of the APTA itself, back in 1921 and you can understand why the exposure for pelvic PT is not as high.

Going off on a tangent here, you may be wondering why the section of the APTA that Pelvic PTs often belong to is called the Section on Women's Health. Time for a little history lesson! This section of the APTA was originally named the Section on Obstetrics and Gynecology and it was
Originally called the Section on Obstetrics and Gynecology - See more at:
Originally called the Section on Obstetrics and Gynecology - See more at:
created to be a resource for physical therapists interested in the healthcare of women before, during, and after pregnancy. As it grew, practice in this area grew to include a variety of health concerns of women including incontinence, pelvic/vaginal pain, prenatal and postpartum issues, osteoporosis, lymphedema, and chronic pain. In 1995 the name was changed to the Section on Women’s Health (SOWH) to mark the specialized education regarding women’s physical therapy needs. But as we treated incontinence and pelvic pain in women, we began to see how these treatment techniques could also benefit men. In 2011, the Mission & Vision statements for the SOWH were changed to recognize specialized Section members who also treat males affected by incontinence and pelvic pain. So despite the name, we do in fact treat men as well. This is often a source of confusion and you can see why!

Back to the topic at hand, another problem with spreading the word about Pelvic PT is that there are relatively few therapists out there doing this. So unfortunately in many areas, there is no education occurring about the options available to patients dealing with these issues, because there is not a PT in the area to speak to the local physicians and let them know what can be done.

Now, getting back to the topic of your "vagina therapist," (or whatever you may call your Pelvic PT) I have a request. I know this is a big deal and a sensitive area, but please tell someone. It is important to tell your friends and family what you are going through because you need to have a support system, especially if you are dealing with chronic pain. I also think it can be so powerful for someone going through these issues to be able to lead another person down the right path toward finding help. Many of my patients who initially would never have dreamed about talking about why they come to see me, have become more comfortable and confident with talking about these issues as they have seen how therapy has changed their lives. I have a patient who recently told me she overheard someone in the gym locker room talking about how she laughed so hard she had tears running down her legs! I was so proud when she told me that she turned to that woman and said "You need to see a pelvic floor physical therapist, they can help you with that." Just that one comment could change someone's life! Even if you don't feel comfortable discussing your issues, just bringing up the fact that there is such a thing as pelvic PT can be a huge way to lead others to get help!

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