Physical Therapy, Yoga, and Childbirth Education

This post was written by H&W instructor Ginger Garner, MPT, ATC, PYT. Ginger will be instructing the course that she wrote on "Yoga as Medicine for Labor and Delivery and Postpartum" in Washington this August.


Physical therapists often see women during pregnancy and postpartum, but what can physical therapists do to foster better birth outcomes?

A 2012 study conducted in Norway underscores the importance of childbirth education, which can take place as part of patient education and counseling in physical therapy. The study looked at 2206 women with intended vaginal delivery in order to assess the association between fear of childbirth and duration of labor. Labor duration was found to be significantly longer in women with fear of childbirth, with the rate of epidural analgesia, induction, and instrumental vaginal delivery also being higher in fearful women. The authors posit that “anxiety and fear may increase plasma concentrations of catecholamines, and high concentrations of catecholamines have been associated with both enervated uterine contractility and a prolonged second stage of labour.” (Adams et al 2012).

Yoga is a mind-body intervention that is supported to lower pain perception, anxiety, reported stress, and discomfort, all variables that can improve overall birth outcomes and reduce fear of childbirth. Integrative physical therapy practice uses a biopsychosocial model, one that uses energetic, emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual support methods to prepare a mother for her labor, delivery, and beyond. Mason et al (2013), in a study that compared standard diaphragmatic breathing to yogic breathing, found yogic breathing to be superior in all measured areas, including increasing/affecting: 1) cardiac-vagal baroreflex sensitivity, 2) oxygen saturation, 3) oxygen absorption, 4) tidal volume, 5) vagal stimulation, 6) parasympathetic activation, and 7) overall reported physical and mental health.

Yoga can address more than just flexibility or relaxation for laboring moms. It fosters calm awareness, mind-body concentration and focus, develops postural control and lumbopelvic health, including neural and myofascial health and motor patterning, all of which, combined with conventional physical therapy practice, can be more efficacious than exercise prescription or childbirth education alone. Ginger’s course, Yoga as Medicine for Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum addresses the systems-based changes of the pregnant patient, and prepares the physical therapist to meet the needs of the laboring or new mom with a mind-body holistic perspective.

To learn more about Ginger’s course, visit Yoga as Medicine for Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum

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Ankles and SIJ's


When assessing sacroiliac joint (SIJ) stability and function, pelvic rehabilitation providers often use the single leg stand test. During transition from double-leg stance to single-leg stance, dynamic stability is required and there are several ways to describe the observed behaviors in patients. If a patient, for example, loses her balance when transitioning to a single leg stand, what is contributing to her loss of stability? Could it be the SIJ, abdominal and trunk strength, ankle proprioception, visual or vestibular deficits, or hip abductor weakness? Of course, these are not the only potential confounders to postural stability, yet represent some of the considerations of the rehabilitation therapist.

A recent study aimed to further define techniques to measure "time to stabilization" in a double-limb to single-limb stance. The authors measured 15 healthy control subjects and 15 subjects who presented with chronic ankle instability (CAI) and the researchers tested the ability to achieve stability in single-leg stance during eyes open and eyes closed tasks as well as with varied speeds of movement.

The research found that in subjects who had CAI, following transition to single-leg stance, increased postural sway was noted. In the same subjects, when performing the task with eyes closed, those with a history of ankle instability performed the transition much more slowly than those in the control group when allowed to choose their speed of transition. Prior research (described in the linked article) had postulated that time to stabilization (TTS) following double-limb to single-limb transition was an important variable to measure, yet this research did not find that the TTS was significantly different between the groups studied.

This research highlights the value of considering the total limb and trunk stability during testing of functional tasks, as well as considering visual assist versus eyes closed variables for task completion. The speed of task performance should also vary so that deficits can be perceived by the examiner. The authors of this research propose further specifications to future research that will add to the meaningfulness and accuracy of the described testing methods. They also conclude that in patients with chronic ankle instability, an altered and poorer strategy is used in the overcoming of a postural perturbation. If you would like to further explore the sacroiliac joint examination, evaluation and treatment, and discuss concepts of stability, join Institute faculty member Peter Philip at the continuing education course Sacroiliac Joint Treatment this July in Baltimore!

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Fascia is finally getting proper respect, rather than being that "white stuff" that was cut away during anatomy labs. Researchers continue to explore the cellular mechanisms and the total body functions that require healthy fascial layers. Fascial planes and connections are increasingly considered in strengthening programs as well, rather than only being considered in the design of stretching or flexibility programs. Tom Myers author of Anatomy Trains, and student of Rolfing founder Ida Rolf, contributes not only to the anatomical knowledge of therapists, but also to the functional applications of fascia in daily life and in exercise regimens.

Within the world of exercise training and physical fitness, muscles have often been considered in isolation, as is pointed out in this article written by Tom Myers in IDEA Fitness Journal. Yet muscles rarely work functionally as an isolated structure. Consider this fact when teaching pelvic floor muscle training. How many times have you instructed a patient to utilize thigh adductor muscles, exhale (respiratory diaphragm), or activate transversus abdominis to augment or facilitate the pelvic floor? While there is value in requesting that a patient focus on or emphasize a pelvic muscle contraction, or in teaching a patient to quiet dominant abdominals or gluteals, rarely do we find it effective to teach total isolation of a muscle in functional re-training.

Mr. Meyers uses anatomical information to drive the emphasis on fascial training, pointing out that there are ten times more sensory nerve endings in fascia than in muscles, and describes fascia as requiring our knowledge of accurate anatomy to engage the fascial planes as an "organ system of stability." Myers makes the case that fascia responds better to variation than to a repeated program when aiming to build fascial resilience. Varied tempo, varied loads, and varied movements are key to improving fascial health and efficiency. Integration of kinesthetic awareness via the fascial tissues rather than the muscles is also an important concept that is discussed- bringing awareness to movement through skin and superficial tissue movement rather than directing attention only to joint motion is another concept proposed for advancing movement training programs.

Considering these concepts may or may not change how you are currently designing your patients' fitness and rehabilitation programs, depending upon how you were trained and upon how you have continued to access continuing education and research. Breaking old habits and re-learning how to train movement does take effort on the part of the rehabilitation therapist, and fortunately, many instructors are integrating concepts of fascial planes into coursework. One such course that focuses clearly on integrating fascial training into sports-specific rehabilitation is Biomechanical Assessment of the Hip and Pelvis taking place this August in Arlington, Virginia. Instructor Steve Dischiavi, physical therapist and athletic trainer to the Florida Panthers, offers an excellent course that includes exercise concepts specific to the idea of fascial "slings" and that is sure to add some new exercises to your tool bag.

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Yoga for Depression


A recent literature review addressing the effectiveness of yoga for depression reports that the positive findings are promising. The 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that yoga was one of the top 10 complementary health approaches used among adults in the United States. (The linked page for the NHIS also includes a video of the scientific results of yoga for health.)

Yoga is not only about bodies bending- ancient yoga traditions offer physical, mental, and spiritual techniques that are designed to be holistic in nature. Many instructors in the US focus on the many physical benefits of yoga, yet there are many types of yoga, many instructors with varied levels of training, and many health issues that require an individualized program of yoga therapy. In relation to the potential effects of yoga on depressive symptoms, theories in neurobiology point to the potential positive effects on the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, according to the linked article by Lila Louie.

While none of the articles described in the literature review are specific to the one patient group or population, the subjects studied include incarcerated women, older patients, university students, and patients from the general population who struggle with depression. One group of patients known to be at risk for severe depression is postpartum women. The definition of postpartum varies, and a generous definition may include any issue that, once imparted in a postpartum period and left unaddressed, could persist throughout a woman's lifetime. This is commonly seen in the clinic as uncorrected postural dysfunction, pelvic floor dysfunction, or gait changes, for example.

Because both yoga and exercise "appear to ameliorate depression," the author of the literature review states that motivation and compliance towards either modality should be considered during treatment planning for patients. Louie further states that yoga practice of asanas is safe, cost-effective, versatile, and can be used on its own or as an adjunct to medication. If you would like to learn more about the use of yoga for the postpartum population, sign up for Ginger Garner's continuing education course: Yoga as Medicine for Labor and Delivery and Postpartum offered in Seattle in August. To read about Ginger's Yoga as Medicine for Pregnancy course, click here.

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Athlete and the Pelvic Floor


While information about "core" strengthening and pelvic dysfunction can be found in the athletic literature, often there remains a disconnect between the level of depth of knowledge among many of the coaches, trainers, and athletes when related to issues of urinary continence. The prevalence of urinary and fecal incontinence related to impact sports has been established, and it has been determined that having children is not a necessary precursor to developing symptoms of leakage. It has been my experience that the term "athlete" can mean different things to different professionals. For example, Institute founder Holly Herman has always been adamant about mothers as "athletes" regardless of the level of sport involved; the simple act of lifting strollers, car seats, children, grocery bags, and kneeling, squatting, lunging involved requires a significant level of athletic ability. With this in mind, knowing the actual requirements of the typical daily activities of any patient is critical to providing a meaningful rehabilitation approach.

So how is the pelvic floor related to athletics? Faculty member Michelle Lyons addresses this question in her new course (offered for the first time in the US this August in Ohio) titled The Athlete and the Pelvic Floor. The course is designed to "bridge the gap between pelvic floor therapists and sports medicine practitioners." Gender and sport specific issues will be covered, and participants will have the opportunity to combine concepts from respiratory, pelvic, and orthopedic perspectives.

With regards to urinary incontinence in female athletes, pelvic floor rehabilitation has been demonstrated to be an effective approach. In a study by Rivalta et al., three nulliparous women described urinary leakage during sport (volleyball) and daily life. Intervention included functional electrical stimulation with internal sensor completed 20 minutes 1x/week using a 50 Hz frequency, biofeedback 1x/week for 15 minutes, pelvic floor muscle exercises, and pelvic floor muscle exercises with a vaginal cone, all for three months. The vaginal cones were weighted, of three different weights, and used for up to 10 minutes at a time. Treatment adherence was recorded by a physician at a weekly visit. The pelvic floor muscle strengthening protocol used the "Kegel" protocol from 1952- at least 300 pelvic floor muscle contractions/day divided into six sessions, avoiding coactivation synergies. The chosen protocol is interesting to note as most therapists trained in pelvic rehabilitation would choose a functional approach to exercising, with less emphasis on avoiding co-contractions as long as the patient performs pelvic muscle contractions appropriately. The combination of biofeedback, and electrical stimulation, and cones is also not typical, yet is evidence that pelvic muscle strengthening in a relatively short period of time can ease symptoms of leakage with functional activities.

The good news is that all women at a four month follow-up were able to report involvement in sport and daily life without urinary leakage. All three women were also able to discontinue use of a panti-liner used to prevent leakage into clothing. Join Michelle Lyons as she covers a wide range of pelvic dysfunctions in athletes and how the best evidence combines with clinical practice pearls to get your patients back to function.

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The Pudendal Nerve and Order of Movement

Pudendal nerve dysfunction, when severe, is truly one of the most difficult conditions treated by pelvic rehabilitation providers. While peripheral nerve dysfunction anywhere in the body can be challenging to treat, access to the nerve along its many potential sites of irritation is limited when compared to other peripheral nerves. Many research studies have been completed that investigate how structures like the median nerve move in the body, and to what extent the nerve movement changes in cases of dysfunction, yet we still have very little to work with regarding the pudendal nerve. Little, that is, except anatomical knowledge, nerve and tissue mapping and palpation skills, expert listening and evaluation skills, and an abundance of existing and emerging methodology directed to treatment of chronic pain conditions.

The Neuro Orthopaedic Institute (also known as the NOI group)has led the physiotherapy world in seeking and sharing knowledge about the evaluation and treatment of conditions involving the nervous system. In a prior posting within the "noinotes" available as a newsletter from the NOI group, the following is stated: "…for the best clinical exposure of a peripheral nerve problem, take up the part that you think holds the problem first and then progressively add tension to the nerve via the limbs." Let's say, for example, that you gently tension the pudendal nerve by completing an inferior compression of the right levator ani muscle group (towards the lateral portion of the muscle belly versus at the midline). At this point, what limb movement should be performed to increase tension to the nerve? Does a straight leg raise tension the nerve, or hip rotation, hip adduction? What evidence do we have that this nerve tension increases in terms of elongation of the peripheral nerve, and by what connective tissue attachments is this tension proposed to occur? And for using order of movement in the clinic, do we start with a pelvic muscle bearing down or contraction, then add trunk or limb movements?

The "Ordering nerves" post describes listening "…to the patient about the sequence of movements which aggravate them.." so that with clinical reasoning, for evaluation or treatment, the nerve symptoms can be reproduced to an appropriate extent. For example, if a pelvic muscle contraction significantly aggravates a patient's nerve-like symptoms, why should a patient be instructed, or allowed even, to do Kegel muscle exercises to a degree that causes significant pain? If a patient has low grade, annoying symptoms that are only reproduced with posterior pelvic floor stretch combined with an anterior pelvic tilt and passive straight leg raise with internal rotation of the hip, then that position should be incorporated into a clinical and a home program if able.

Just because we don't yet know how patients with true pudendal nerve dysfunction present clinically in terms of nerve gliding ability, and what movements typically engage particular portions of the nerve (such as the proximal portion in the posterior pelvis, the portion that lives along the obturator internus, the portion housed by the Alcock's canal, or even the longest portion of the nerve that extends to the genitals), that does not mean we should default to a one-size-fits-all pelvic muscle strengthening or stretching approach. Each patient must be met with curiosity, and with keen knowledge of anatomy, nerve evaluation principles, and pain-brain centered skills so that an individual approach is designed. As is concluded in this post from the NOI group, we must "Keep playing with order of movement."

If you would love to fill up your toolbox with concepts and techniques for treating pudendal nerve dysfunction, sign up quickly for the last chance this year to take Pudendal Neuralgia and Treatment in San Diego this August.

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Quality of Life in Children who have Urinary Incontinence

The goals of a recent research article were to determine the degree to which lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) are related to quality of life (QOL) and also the reliability of parents to accurately report on QOL disturbance in children who have urinary incontinence (UI). Outcomes tools utilized in the study include the Dysfunctional Voiding Symptom Score (DVSS) and the Pediatric Urinary Incontinence QOL tool (PIN-Q). Parents of forty children ages 5-11 (10 males and 30 females) and diagnosed with non-neurogenic daytime wetting completed the outcomes tools and responded to open-ended questions about incontinence and QOL. All children had daytime wetting, more than 50% of them had recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI's), and 89% reported urinary urgency.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK), night-time wetting affects 30% of children who are 4 years of age, with the condition resolving in about 15% of children each year. Additionally, wetting at night persists in about 10% of 7 year-old, 3% of 12 year-olds, and 1% of 18 year-olds. A summary handout about Urinary Incontinence in Children is available here.

The study found that parents were reliable in reporting quality of life and symptoms in their children, as the outcomes scores completed were not different between them. (I would point out that nearly all parents involved were the patient's mothers; and it may be interesting to know more information about how the responsibility of managing urinary incontinence in children is shared among parents or caregivers.) Confirmed in the research was the knowledge that urinary dysfunction in children causes significant quality of life impact.

The subjective complaints of how some of the children avoid activities such as sleepovers, or worry that classmates can see or smell leakage is heartbreaking. The parents' complaints of feeling frustrated and angry about the issue is also understandable as there is a variable amount of support and understanding that each family has about how to manage the incontinence. A child's teacher or friends will also display a wide variety of supporting or sabotaging reactions that can add dramatic increases in stress. The authors point out that there is a significant "…need to improve teacher education and make attempts to engage the educational system to help these children."

If you would like to learn how to be a part of the solution, you can attend the Pediatric Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction continuing education course taking place in August in South Carolina. It's the last chance to take the course this year!

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Sacroiliac Joint Pain and the Long Dorsal Sacral Ligament


Sacroiliac joint pain can be a challenging condition to treat. One of the clinical pearls that I feel changed my practice for the better is the palpation and direct treatment of the dorsal sacral ligament. At a course many years ago, I listened to Diane Lee describing some ofAndry Vleeming's work addressing the potential role of the long dorsal sacral ligament (LDL) in pelvic pain. His valuable research was conducted in women who had complaints of peripartum pain, and it has been my experience that the information is easily extrapolated to other patient populations.

Vleeming and colleagues describe the long dorsal sacroiliac ligament anatomy as attaching to the lateral crest of the 3rd and 4th sacral segments (and sometimes to the 5th segment), and as having connections to the aponeurosis of the erector spine group, the thoracolumbar fascia, and the sacrotuberous ligament. Functionally, nutation in the sacroiliac joint will slacken the ligamentous tension in the LDL and counternutation will tension the ligament. This structure can be palpated directly caudal to the posterior superior iliac spine (PSIS).

The referenced study examined how many women had tenderness in the LDL who were also diagnosed with peripartum pelvic pain. Patients included in the study had pain in the lumbopelvic region, pain beginning with pregnancy or within 3 weeks of childbirth, were not pregnant at the time of the study, and were between the ages of 20-40. In patients with peripartum pelvic pain, 76% of the women reported tenderness in the LDL- this number increased to 86% when only patients scoring positively on the active straight leg raise test and posterior pelvic pain provocation (PPPP) test were included.

The study proposes that strain in the LDL may occur from a counternutated sacrum and/or an anterior pelvic tilt position. In my clinical experience and as instructed to many pelvic health therapists by expert clinicians such as Diane Lee, balancing the pelvic structures, activating stabilizing muscles of the inner core (pelvic floor, multifidi, transverses abdominis), and addressing soft tissue dysfunction in the ligament frequently resolve long standing localized pain in the sacroiliac joint area. The authors of the study conclude that "…knowledge of the anatomy and function of the LDL and the simple use of a pain provocation test…could be helpful in gaining a better understanding of peripartum pelvic pain." They also reported that combining tests such as the ASLR, the PPPP test, and the long dorsal sacral ligament palpation test "seems promising" in the differentiation of patients categorized as having pelvic pain versus lumbar pain.

To learn more about sacroiliac joint anatomy and function, diagnosis and treatment, come to Peter Philip's very popular continuing education course, Sacroiliac Joint Treatment, offered for the last time this year in Baltimore in July!

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Do Loving-Kindness Meditators Have Bigger Brains?

Carolyn McManus

In the world of pelvic rehabilitation, brain morphology has been a hot topic for several years. Research has identified changes in various brain structures in patients who have specific conditions: irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pelvic pain, among others. (See prior blog about the brain, pain, and pelvic rehab by clicking here.) The research related to meditation is deep and rich, and the medical system continues to acknowledge the potential health benefits and cost savings from this simple technique that requires no equipment. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (a division of the National Institutes of Health) states that meditation may work through effects on the autonomic nervous system. The nervous system in turn regulates functions such as breathing, heart rate, and digestion.

I had the opportunity in 2006 to take a course titled Mindfulness-Based Strategies for Relaxation and Stress Management from Carolyn McManus. In addition to discussing an abundance of research from a variety of disciplines, Carolyn taught us practical strategies and clinical approaches for patient care. She also instructed us in mindfulness techniques so that we increased our own skill set. Carolyn has instructed similar strategies to health care providers from many disciplines and to her patients, many of whom have tried years of other types of therapy. Since that time, I have constantly recommended the CD's that Carolyn created for patients, and with the many approaches she has (including contract-relax and autogenic retraining) I have found that there is something for everyone. The Institute is honored to host Carolyn's continuing education course, Mindfulness-Based Biopsychosocial Approach to the Treatment of Chronic Pain this November in Seattle. Keep in mind that the course is open to many disciplines- would this be a great course to take your student to, or to invite a referral source to attend with you? Undoubtedly, this course will offer beneficial information not just for the patients, but also for the participants to use in their own daily self-care.

In addition to Carolyn's new offerings, we are thrilled to host a course that is taught by siblings who represent the fields of physical therapy and psychiatry. How wonderful it will be to hear from Nari Clemons, PT, and Shawn Sidhu, MD, expert clinicians who treat patients from their own perspectives, and to be able to receive information from these different view points. You can sign up for the Meditation and Pain Neuroscience continuing education course taking place in Illinois in September. You can also read about Nari and Shawn's new course in Nari's recent blog post.

Now, back to the title of this post. Researchers studied MR images of 25 male patients while they were practicing a type of meditation termed loving-kindness. 10 of the men were deemed experts with practice in the technique for more than 5 years. Compared to the novices, the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri had increased gray matter in the experts. The authors note that the regions identified as being larger are related to affective regulation associated with empathy, anxiety, and mood. Bottom line? We are still learning a lot about meditation and the potential implications towards health, and there is continual attention given to understanding how the changes are created in the body. If you want to learn practical and evidence-based information about mindfulness and meditation, please join us at our new courses! And if you want some increased gray matter in some seemingly really valuable parts of the brain, practice a lot!

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Negative Consequences of Hip Dysplasia

Abnormal hip joint development causes 25-50% of all hip disease, according to an article by Goldstein and colleagues on hip dysplasia in the skeletally mature patient. An acetabulum that is dysplastic tends to be shallow and anteverted while the dysplastic femur tends to have a small femoral head and an increased neck shaft angle. These abnormalities cause increased joint contact pressures and lead to joint breakdown in the hip, and are associated with issues such as altered hip and knee biomechanics, hip instability, hip impingement, and labral or chondral dysfunction.

Developmentally, the altered joint surface contact also affects acetabular development: the well-formed contact pressure in healthy hip development helps to deepen the acetabulum. The shape and position of the acetabulum and femoral head will also influence the relative angle of the femoral neck, represented as retroversion or anteversion. Soft tissue changes occur in response to the altered bony mechanics that affect length-tension curves in the muscles and therefore affect muscle performance. Because of the primary and secondary dysfunctions that can occur with hip dysplasia, early recognition of hip dysfunction is important.

Measurements for hip position are easy to implement in the clinic and can include Craig's Test for femoral anteversion/retroversion. Treatment approaches focusing on hip abduction strengthening have been demonstrated to improve hip stability in patients with dysplastic hip. With shared structures including muscles between the hip and pelvis, pelvic rehabilitation providers must be able to assess the hip's influence on conditions of pelvic pain or other dysfunctions. To learn about detailed examination and treatment of the hip, there is still time to register for the Institute's upcoming continuing education course instructed by Ginger Garner.

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