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Pelvic Floor Therapy at St. Luke’s: Improving Lives by Treating a Common Condition

Category: Patient Stories
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Karen Weaver, OTR and Erin Martin, PTPublished in The Woman Today magazine, August/September 2016

Pelvic Floor Therapy at St. Luke’s: Improving Lives by Treating a Common Condition

Pelvic floor issues, such as incontinence and pelvic pain, can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about. Sometimes pelvic floor dysfunction is even brushed off as a normal part of aging, or as something that just happens after childbirth or surgery. But, “it’s not normal,” stresses Erin Martin, a St. Luke’s physical therapist and pelvic floor specialist. “We can usually do something to relieve discomfort and help our patients. They don’t have to live with it.”

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that run between the pubic bone and the tailbone. These muscles provide support for organs such as the bladder, uterus and intestines, and play an important role in continence and childbirth. When the pelvic floor muscles stop functioning properly, normal daily activities such as sitting may become painful, it may become difficult to go to the bathroom or to wait to go to the bathroom, and sexual function may be disrupted.

St. Luke’s physical and occupational therapists treat a wide range of pelvic floor dysfunctions such as incontinence, prolapses, post-surgical dysfunctions and many others. “Pelvic floor therapy is under recognized as a treatment,” says Martin. “Most people don’t realize that treatment exists.” The therapy itself consists of several techniques and varies depending on the patient.

“We can do internal and external assessments,” explains Martin. “We determine whether the pelvic floor is too tight, too weak, if it is causing pain, or if the muscle balance is right.” St. Luke’s therapists use manual muscle palpitations, biofeedback and electrical stimulation (e-stim) therapy to help patients coordinate muscle usage. They work to get the pelvic floor muscles to fire, and to stretch and strengthen the muscles.

“Patient education is a huge part of what we do in pelvic floor therapy,” Martin explains. “Instead of just showing someone an exercise and sending them home to do it, we teach them what muscles they should be using, we show them how those muscles aren’t working properly using biofeedback, and we teach them how to get those muscles to fire properly.”

Pelvic floor therapy, just like any form of physical therapy requires motivation on the part of both the patient and the therapist. Patients who are willing to put in the time at the clinic and at home doing their exercises tend to see the best results. Martin says, “I have patients who can’t help but share the successes they’ve had with pelvic floor therapy. They tell their friends and family, and that helps more people benefit from this therapy.”

St. Luke’s began offering pelvic floor therapy in March, and the program is currently taking new patients. “I was so excited when St. Luke’s started talking about offering pelvic floor therapy. They asked if any of the physical therapists wanted to get certified, and I volunteered right away.” Martin herself had been through pelvic floor therapy about four and a half years ago.

After giving birth to her child, Martin began to feel pain and discomfort in her pelvis when she sat on the floor. Pelvic floor therapy helped her regain the ability to do normal daily activities without pain. When her father had prostate cancer, Martin suggested pelvic floor therapy for him as well.

Martin explains most people are surprised when she tells them that she specializes in pelvic floor therapy, but she finds it extremely rewarding. “I love helping people talk about something that makes most uncomfortable,” says Martin. “I think it really helps that I can tell my patients ‘I’ve been there.’ Once people start talking about their pelvic floor dysfunction, I can help them change their lives for the better.”

Even though pelvic floor dysfunction can be an extremely sensitive topic, Martin encourages people to reach out and talk to their doctors if they think that pelvic floor therapy might help them. “Spreading awareness about this under-recognized aspect of physical therapy is key. No one should have to live with pelvic floor dysfunction when it can be treated.”

For more information about pelvic floor therapy and to schedule an appointment, contact 218.249.6040.