PTPC- One Step Closer!

The Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute is excited to announce that we have completed the "blueprint" for the Pelvic Therapy Practitioner certification (PTPC). In this post I will share the components of the examination and the anticipated date for launch of the exam. What I am unable to share yet (you will be updated each step of the way over the coming months) are specifics about the when, where, and how of test administration. We do know that we will offer two opportunities per year to take the test and the test will be administered at testing sites in the areas where test takers live. The Institute is also working on details such as examination fees, study guide information, and those important factors, and you will be made aware of all updates as they are finalized. The tentative launch date for the computer-based examination is Spring of 2013.

What I can tell you is this: there are 8 domains on the certification examination and the test will be based on 150 questions. The chart below lists the domains, the general percentage of content in the exam for that domain, and the approximate number of test questions pertaining to the given domain.

Category # of Questions
Anatomy (15%)
22 or 23
Physiology (20%)
Pathophysiology (20%)
Pharmacology (5%)
7 or 8
Medical Intervention & Tests (5%)
7 or 8
Tests & Measures (10%)
Interventions (20%)
Professional & Legal (5%)
7 or 8

The next step in the process is item writing. The Institute's Subject Matter Experts (SME's) will be busy writing questions that are specific to pelvic rehabilitation and the above categories. Questions will be based in evidence, in best practices, and will be about conditions or situations that are common to the pelvic rehabilitation provider. It is not necessary to take any particular courses, as you will be provided with a detailed list of the content areas of the exam, and the manner in which you satisfy the knowledge of material can vary. We will create a list of resources and recommended materials as we get closer to the application date of the examination.

The PTPC credentials that will appear after your name once you have passed the examination will allow you to identify yourself as a certified pelvic therapy practitioner who has worked towards advanced knowledge and skills in pelvic rehabilitation. The process to achieve the ability to utilize the professional designation of PTPC has been extensive and rigorous, and many faculty members as well as the Institute founders have already invested significant time and energy in devotion to this endeavor. We look forward to providing you with more information about the details of the examination and the process. Keep your eye on the blog and the newsletter for such updates!

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Emotional disclosure

While recently researching the topic of fibromyalgia, I came across literature related to the phrase "emotional disclosure." I thought that the phrase is a perfect way of describing what often happens when we are in the clinic working with patients. I know that all of you, regardless of your caseload in pelvic rehabilitation, have worked with patients who have symptoms of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome (I mean them as separate entities although research questions if they are one and the same.) And regardless of the patient having a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, the fact that so many of our patients emotionally break down in our presence once they recognize that first, we believe them, and second, we have some strategies to offer towards healing, makes this an interesting topic.

Back to the research. One article describes the relationship between depression, anxiety, and the tendency to "engage in diminished emotional disclosure." The authors found that in the college students who participated in the study, depression was tied to the tendency to avoid emotional disclosure. From a psychological stance, increased disclosure in a counseling session was found to lead to a "deeper" session. Interestingly, not all patients benefit from emotional disclosure, and there is limited evidence in randomized, controlled trials to know which patients should be encouraged to share.

While most pelvic rehabilitation providers are not licensed psychologists or other mental health and behavioral specialists, disclosure happens. We should not be engaged in trying to get a patient to discuss prior trauma or emotional issues unless he or she initiates the dialog or unless we are screening the patient for adverse events so that we can be sensitive to the patient's needs. As the patient is often discussing intimate and emotionally-charged symptoms with us, it is very typical that trust develops quickly in the therapeutic relationship. It is this trust that may allow the patient to feel safe enough to share information about life stress, prior injuries (emotional or physical), and to share feelings of how their physical symptoms impact other domains in life.

The founders of the Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute, Holly Herman and Kathe Wallace, have always instructed students to inquire of the patient if she has a counselor, psychologist, or trusted friend who can be a listening ear if the pelvic rehabilitation process should bring up some challenging emotional issues. They have also encouraged therapists to keep a list of counselors so that if a patient is interested in talking to a specialist, the list can be easily shared.

Lastly, I wanted to share an article with you from PubMed Central (free, full text!) that discusses the prior 10 years of research on pain and emotion- what a rich topic! The research concludes that emotions are critical in the understanding of, assessment, and treatment of pain, and we need to know more about when to facilitate the sharing of the emotions versus when to encourage the release of the emotions to be replaced by more positive ones. This is an area of health research that I believe will continue to grow dramatically and that will offer us new insights as well as confirm what we observe clinically.

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Patients Seeking Outpatient Pelvic Rehabilitation

In the current issue of the journal Physical Therapy, Wang and colleagues describe the characteristics of patients (and their pelvic floor diagnoses) presenting for outpatient physical therapy. 109 outpatient clinics participated in this data collection and included information about 2452 patients. The system used for collecting data is FOTO (Focus On Therapeutic Outcomes), and you may have heard the results of this research presented at the most recent Combined Sections Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association. The results of the study include that most of the people presenting to the clinics for pelvic floor dysfunction were women (92%), and that many reported a combination of urinary, bowel, or pelvic pain symptoms. The authors found a mean patient age of 50 with a standard deviation of 16. Most patients reported symptoms as chronic (74%). You can see from the following chart that is adapted from the article that subgroups of patient populations were noted, and the categories used for reporting include urinary disorders, bowel disorders, and pain (not all subgroups of combinations of pain are included in the chart below.) In general, 67% of the patients reported urinary dysfunction, 27% reported bowel dysfunction, and 39% reported pelvic pain.

Breakdown of Diagnoses and Subtypes
Urinary Bowel Pain
Leakage (32.1%) Constipation (53.7%) Abdominal (15.1%)
Frequency (10.9%) Leakage (27.9%) Rectal (3.7%)
Retention (2.7%) Leakage, constipation (18.4%) Sacroiliac (5.9%)
Leakage, frequency (30.2%) Vaginal (23.9%)
Leakage, retention (5.1%) Abdominal, sacroiliac (4.5%)
Frequency, retention (4.7%) Abdominal, vaginal (17.1%)
Leakage, frequency, retention (14.3%) Abdominal, rectal, vaginal (5.1%)

This study delivers valuable information about who is showing up to outpatient clinics and receiving care for pelvic rehabilitation services. There are certainly reasons for which patient data may not have been captured, such as patients voluntarily choosing the portions of the data collection to complete. Although the authors attempt to extrapolate epidemiological incidence of male versus female pelvic floor dysfunction compared to population samples, we have to keep in mind that there are several confounding factors that can influence such attempts. Firstly, it is difficult to obtain accurate data for prevalence of pelvic floor dysfunction in either men or women when varying criteria and definitions are utilized and when symptoms are known to be underreported. It should also be taken into consideration that patients will attend a clinic for a program of rehabilitation when there is awareness on the part of the patient or the referring provider that a particular program exists. In other words, there is still a lack of awareness that pelvic rehabilitation providers are available, that there is a broad scope of what we can evaluate and treat, and that we treat both men and women for pelvic floor dysfunction. This brings us to the fact that not as many rehab therapists treat men, and therefore such a service is likely not being promoted and utilized to its potential in a community clinic.

Although this research targets outpatient physical therapy clinics, regardless of the setting or of the discipline involved in care of patients with pelvic rehabilitation, the use of outcomes data is critical. Some insurances will not reimburse for rehabilitation unless outcome data is collected. It should be a common practice to include at least one outcome tool in evaluation and in the discharge planning process. As pointed out by the authors of this research, the use of computerized systems for medical records allows increased access to patient demographics, diagnoses, and information about treatment. It is terrific to see pelvic rehabilitation highlighted in the Physical Therapy journal, and hopefully the inclusion of pelvic floor dysfunction in mainstream publications will continue to improve awareness of these diagnoses and to further normalize the dialog about such conditions.

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Women's Pelvic Health & Continence Center Celebrated!

The National Association for Continence (NAFC) has recently created a press release naming the Women's Pelvic Health & Continence Center and the Woman's Hospital of Texas a "Center of Excellence (COE): Continence Care in Women." The release highlights the fact that this is the first time a community hospital as well as a private group of physicians have been given this award. A healthcare institution that meets the pre-qualification requirements can apply and then independently collected patient satisfaction data, a site visit, and employee interviews make up part of the rigorous process that can, upon award of the COE designation, help patients find centers of care that the NAFC can stand behind and promote.

Fatima Hakeem, physical therapist and director at Woman's Hospital of Texas, has created the foundation for program development and excellence at her facility which won this prestigious designation. Many of you may know Fatima as an educator, mentor, author, or by the work that she has created for marketing and developing the business of physical therapy. Her advice towards developing a women's health practice was featured in the physical therapy magazine "Advance" in 2005, click here to read the article. She has authored various publications related to the practice of women's health physical therapy, including chapters in Irion and Irion's Women's Health in Physical Therapy. Fatima's accomplishments are many, and you can learn more about the steps on her journey by visiting her website:

Fatima, along with Holly Herman, founding faculty of the Institute, made an epic journey to Saudi Arabia where they took on an 11 day comprehensive women's health training of more than 30 women. (Click here to see the blog post about that trip!) Both educators and the Institute were honored by the Princess herself. Their next travels will be to Dubai later this year, keep an eye out for a blog update about the upcoming trip and learn where the Institute and esteemed educators such as Fatima and Holly will be sharing their wealth of knowledge. There are many women who have paved the way for the growing numbers of pelvic rehabilitation providers, and through tremendous efforts and acts of generosity they have and will continue to provide opportunities for therapists in this country and abroad. Opportunities to offer support and skilled care for other women and men who so desperately need to hear that their conditions can be alleviated or improved. Hats off to Fatima for her dedication to the profession and to her facility, which is now celebrating a "Center of Excellence" award!

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Multiple Sclerosis and Urinary Incontinence

The prevalence of urinary incontinence in women who have multiple sclerosis (MS) is dramatic, according to research recently published in the International Neurourology Journal. The authors conducted the study within a treatment center that is dedicated to the care of patients with MS. Out of the 143 women surveyed, stress UI occurs in 55.9%, urge symptoms in 70.6%, and 44.8% had both stress and urge symptoms, also known as mixed incontinence. The authors report that the condition of UI significantly impacts quality of life (QOL.) The Urogenital Distress Inventory (UDI-6) and the Incontinence Impact Questionnaire (IIQ-7) were utilized to collect data about both stress and urge urinary symptoms and QOL impact. Women in the study ranged in age from 20-72 years of age, and the subjects who reported stress urinary incontinence were older and tended towards a higher body mass index (BMI). The women with complaints of stress UI also scored higher on the Incontinence Impact outcomes survey as it related to physical activity. This article is available for free in full-text format by clicking here.

One of the challenges for the patients who have MS and for the providers who work with them is the potential fluctuation in symptoms. This chronic neurologic disease is characterized by "flare-ups" that usually require a period of medical intervention followed by a time of recovery in which the patient often has to gradually return to prior levels of function. Neurologic lesions of MS can occur in varied levels of the nervous system, thereby influencing the neurologic control of the urinary system to a varying extent. If a patient is going through a flare-up it may be best to limit the amount of intervention such as strengthening of pelvic muscles until the exacerbation has eased. Some patients are fortunate to experience periods of relative stability in symptoms, even so, fatigue and the risk of increasing fatigue through overactivity is significant. During your subjective history taking, you can inquire of the patient how the disease has tended to manifest for him or her, and then inquire about stability of symptoms and the patient's warning signs for fatigue. It is also important to screen for signs of a urinary tract infection (UTI), as UTI's frequently occur in this patient population. Regarding objective examination, it is imperative to assess the patient's current level of pelvic muscle awareness, strength, sensation, coordination, and endurance. The patient may return for another bout of care at a different time and present with very significant differences in level of function, therefore it is not safe to assume that the patient has a similar baseline to the last bout of therapy.

In my clinical experience, patients who have MS often experience both urge and stress symptoms. For clarification of this terminology, please click here. Utilization of electrical stimulation for either strengthening or neuromodulation of urge symptoms can be a useful adjunct to education and home program management. You can use the knowledge that you have regarding application of electrical stimulation for any patient population, with the consideration that significant fatigue should be avoided. This requires that your exercise prescription skills are applied carefully to the patient's current level of strength and endurance, with close follow-up prior to any increase in home program strengthening. An earlier study by McClurg et al. (2008) suggested that electrical stimulation in addition to pelvic muscle training and biofeedback should be offered as a first-line treatment for lower urinary tract dysfunction in MS. Sacral nerve stimulation is also an option that your patient may have utilized or is interested in discussing. Information about sacral nerve stimulation can be found here. The National MS Society in the US has a clinical bulletin published regarding many medical topics for both health care professionals and patients. The bulletin regarding urinary incontinence can be accessed here, and although it does not discuss the use of rehabilitation, there is a useful algorithm that medical providers are utilizing for the treatment of UI, and the bulletin also emphasizes that early referral to an urologist is important. The study referenced in the first paragraph of this posting points out that the majority of patients in their study were consulting with a neurologist, but not a urologist. It is also significant to remember that urinary symptoms may be one of the first signs of a neurologic disease or condition, and that medical evaluation must be completed prior to rehabilitation commencing so that conditions may be identified and treated early in the process.

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Who are pelvic rehab providers?

As many of you know, the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute is currently developing a Pelvic Therapy Practitioner Certification process (PTPC). As part of the multi-step process involved in the development of a robust certification, the job task analysis survey was completed by more than four hundred providers (403 to be exact.) The Institute was thrilled that so many current, past, or future course participants believe in this process so strongly that even a seemingly endless survey could not deter you from completing the tedious, yet crucial questions that were posed. In another step of the process that occurred after the results of the survey were tallied, I was able to view the tables of responses and I found the information very interesting- I thought that you might also be interested to know a bit more about the answers that we received in the survey.

Keeping in mind that the pelvic rehabilitation specialty is one that is not as well-represented in the clinic as orthopedics, for example, and yet is a specialty that is gaining in popularity, it was interesting to note that nearly 1 in 5 therapists completing the survey had less than one year of experience working in pelvic rehabilitation. Approximately 82% of the more than 400 people completing the questions has been working within pelvic rehabilitation for 10 years or less. In terms of the education of the people represented, the highest degree earned at the time of the survey was a doctorate for 41.4% of people, with 8.4% of those represented by transitional doctorate degrees, and less than 1% by an academic doctorate.

Several people indicated that they had board certifications in either cardiovascular and pulmonary (2), geriatrics (2), neurology (1), pediatrics (1), sports (3), and orthopedics (23), or women's health (17). Other qualifications listed by those completing the survey included LANA certification for lymphedema therapy, manual therapy certifications, yoga, Pilates, and biofeedback certifications, to name a few that appeared frequently.

Geographically, most were from the United States, with the addition of 7 Canadians and 4 "Other." The states in the US most represented included California, with 54 people holding a license in that state, followed by Washington (38), New York (30), Illinois (27), and Florida (22).Employment status for the most part was reported as full-time salaried (55%), and part-time salaried (29%). Just over 13% of those responding reported that they were either full-time or part-time self-employed. Only 5% reported spending 50-100% of working hours in an acute care hospital setting, with approximately 3.5% working in acute care setting 90-100% of the time. 1 out of 3 respondents work exclusively in a health system or hospital-based outpatient setting, and an additional 1 of 3 people work in a private practice setting. Other work environments such as home care or rehabilitation hospital made up a very small percentage of work settings reported. Direct patient care constituted 71-100% of the workload for 92.1% of the group, and nearly 3/4 of the respondents reported spending 0% of his or her time completing administration. Nearly 90% answered "0" for percentage of time spent on research, and the most amount of time indicated for research (by one person) was 20%.

When addressing pelvic rehabilitation specifically, here is an approximate breakdown of time spent in treatment:

% time in pelvic rehab % of respondents

0-3% 7.2
5-10% 14.4
15-30% 20.6
30-50% 21.3
55-75% 16
80-90% 15.3
94-100% 10.3

74% reported never working with children ages 12 and younger, and 34% reported never working with adolescents 13-20 years of age. Other age groups were fairly evenly represented. In terms of how many therapist treat male patients, let's look at another breakdown.

Male patients treated % of respondents

0-3% 11.6
5-10% 13.1
15-30% 28.2
35-50% 42.9
55-70% 3.4
80% 2 (1 person)
100% 2 (1 person)

When we look at how the survey collected information about diagnoses, nearly 98% of respondents reported treating pelvic organ prolapse or fecal incontinence 0-20% of the time, whereas pelvic pain and urinary incontinence occurred more frequently as a condition treated. Many therapists listed general orthopedic conditions as appearing the most frequently on the caseload. Referral sources or providers who send patients for services include family practice, obstetrician/gynecologists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, urologists, chiropractors, other physical therapists, sex therapists, psychologists, midwives, acupuncturists, yoga instructors, naturopaths, "the internet", former patients, and massage therapists.

One question on the survey asked "what motivated you to enter the pelvic rehabilitation field?" Of the 396 people who answered this optional question, almost 1 of every 4 chose "personal history or family history" as the reason. 40% chose "practice or clinic need" which certainly corresponds to what we hear at live courses. Very often we are told that a therapist who usually treated the pelvic rehabilitation population went on leave or moved, and so the clinic needed to train another therapist. Many therapists wrote in comments about how they wanted to serve a population with true need, or help restore quality of life. Salaries ranged from $25,000 or less (2.5%), $25,000-$50,000 (12.4%), $50,000-$75,000 (44.9%), $75,000-$100-000 (26.3%), $100-$125,000 (3.2%), $125,000-$150,000 (1.2%), and $150,000 and higher (1%). Of the 403 who completed the survey, 8 were men.

389 of those who completed the survey also indicated ethnic origin. Results indicated that 86.1% are Caucasian, 4.5% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 1.5% Hispanic, 1% Filipino, with less than 1% indicating African American, Native American, or Other (included Asian Indian, Caribbean, Eurasian, Latino non-Hispanic, Latino American, and Middle East represented as write-in options.) Reported ages included 21.5% being age 30 or younger, nearly 40% in the category of 31-40 years of age, 23% ages 41-50, 14% 51-60 years, and the remaining approximately 2-3% in the category of 61-74 years of age.

We want to keep in mind that this is a sample of primarily physical therapists who, for the most part, are currently involved in treating at some level patients who have pelvic dysfunction. It appears that many of those who responded are working in outpatient, orthopedic settings, nearly all respondents are female, and most are Caucasian. If I were to go so far as make recommendations or state hopes for the results of future surveys, it would be that more pelvic rehabilitation providers offer a solid representation of the various ethnicities which also make up our patient populations, that more male therapists are treating patients with pelvic rehabilitation needs, and that we find pelvic rehabilitation providers working in a wide variety of settings, with more pediatric patients and with more male patients, so that we can catch the dysfunctions early on in a patient's life, and so that men and women have more of an equal chance at healthy pelvic function. Thank you to Kriterion for providing such detailed and interesting data, to the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute for investing in this endeavor towards a pelvic therapy certification, and mostly, to all of the participants in this survey who provided thoughtful replies so that we can generate meaningful data and most importantly, so that we can move forward in this process of recognizing those who strive to be excellent pelvic rehabilitation providers.

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Hopefully you are enjoying the heat of August, and staying cool while we enjoy record breaking heat in many states. This time of the summer is often when we feel the panic of the season slipping away, preparing to enter into the fall season of back-to-school and changing our wardrobes. It may seem slightly out of season, then, to discuss handwarming at a time when most of our hands are staying pretty toasty, but it is such a simple, tangible, and effective clinical tool that it is worthy of a blog post. Hand warming, also described as temperature biofeedback, is a form of self-regulation that allows a small probe to be heated, or warmed, by the skin temperature. Recall that biofeedback is a broad term that describes an approach in which a subject is given some type of information, perhaps in the form of an audio or visual signal, which is related to the subject's physiologic response to an intervention or experience.

According to the very thorough textbook "Biofeedback: A Practitioner's Guide" by Mark Schwartz and Frank Andrasik (3rd edition), the measurement of changing skin temperature is meaningful because sympathetic arousal is correlated to vasoconstriction. When the nervous system is calmed, and the blood vessels dilate, more heat is allowed into the local vessels thereby increasing local temperature. I was first introduced to the clinical tool of "handwarming" using a thermistor by Janet Hulme who taught a wonderful course on the topic of fibromyalgia. On her website she offers a device called the PhysioQ for $25. That seems like the going rate for many of the devices on the market, including this "stress thermometer" sold by The bio-medical site also has a terrific page explaining the concept of handwarming as well as specific strategies to apply for teaching its use. Click here to access that page.

The instruction in the clinic of handwarming can be billed as part of your home program training. In this time of decreasing reimbursement and emphasis on self-care, a device such as a thermistor could be a perfect training tool for your patient who wants to continue to manage stress, tension, and to use handwarming as a part of his or her rehabilitation program. The great thing about devices that give feedback is the instant gratification and measure of success that a patient can achieve when the ability to monitor and influence physiologic measures is seen. A thermistor typically has a wire that terminates in a sensor that can be attached (with tape or a little piece of velcro) to the underside of a fingerpad. The readout is observed in degrees, and some devices will have the ability to set goals or use tones for audio feedback. The use of a thermistor has been documented in the literature for the treatment of Reynaud's syndrome, migraines, and other conditions that have a stress-related component.

Schwartz & Andrasik recommend considering the following to avoid "artifact" which can alter the accuracy of readings when using temperature biofeedback.

  • A very cool room can also cool the sensor.
  • A very hot room will affect the ability of the subject to reduce heat in the hands.
  • When coming in from the cold, allow the hands to warm to room temperature first.
  • Avoid placing a blanket or other item that will restrict air flow and affect the sensor.
There are other devices that are a bit more expensive, such as the eSense temperature biofeedback device. For $170 your patient can plug the device into an iPhone and use software to record session results. Some patients are really into use of technology, so for some people, that might be a really great option. Other patients can be shown the concept of handwarming in conjunction with instruction in autogenic retraining or other relaxation strategies including breathing and then make the connection in her mind about stress and physiological responses. She may not need a unit at home. A unit that I always hear great things about is called the "stress eraser." It measures heart rate variability and it costs about $180. Your clinic might choose to keep such devices around for demonstration and home program instruction, or you might choose to describe these various products to patients who are interested in learning more ways of improving their focus on awareness and relaxation.
As we continue to learn, much of the physiologic distress that leads to illness can be caused by or exacerbated by a stress response in the body. How often do we meet patients who actively practice relaxation? How often do we meet patients who don't need relaxation and awareness training? Truth is, most of us could benefit from a little more slow breathing, visualization, and all that good stuff that has been around for a long time, and that now science continues to validate as scientifically meaningful for optimizing health. If you want to read more about complementary medicine practices including meditation, breathing, yoga, you can check out the NIH funded CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) website with a link located here.

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The Grey Effect

I have seen several articles talking about the “Grey Effect.” The idea is that the incredibly popular book series beginning with “Fifty Shades of Grey” has created a frenzy of female sexual interest. (When I say “incredibly popular” the series has allegedly outsold the paperback Harry Potter series…) I won't go into detail about the book, or about the various critiques and controversies, let's save that for the people who are well-poised to do so. In a nutshell, the book series contains “explicitly erotic scenes.” Reports suggest that the book series craze is sending women in droves to the sex toy shops and is giving women permission to explore their sexuality. What does that have to do with pelvic rehabilitation?

The book may be a topic of discussion with our patients and this in itself may encourage us to explore our own comfort zones related to sexual health. How do you respond when a woman says that she has pelvic pain, is using a sex toy to stretch the vaginal opening, but her husband's penis is much bigger than the toy and she still has pain? How do you give advice about masturbation- or do you? What is the correct response to "my partner thinks I should be able to have an orgasm with penetration?" The replies to any of these questions depend on several factors, such as your level of knowledge about sexual health including anatomy and physiology, your own belief systems, the standards and culture at your place of work, as well as your understanding of sexual practices that are different from your own. What are the ethical issues that surface when faced with the above questions? If you are outside of your comfort zone and do not want to talk about sexual function, is it ok to say so, or are you denying your patient access to available information? How much do you share, knowing that these conversations are intimate and potentially confusing if your patient has poor boundaries? What if a patient asks you some questions and you are feeling unclear about the patient's motivations? These are really good topics for discussion, and outside of giving comprehensive answers, I would like to point out some ideas and resources that may be helpful to you. The Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute offers several courses that provide education about sexual health and function or dysfunction. All courses in the series discuss sexual function to some extent, and the Level 3 course has quite a bit of detail about sexual health. The Male course discusses rehabilitation of male sexual function, and there is a newer class instructed by Heather Howard, PhD, all about sexual interviewing and counseling.

It can be a challenge to navigate this territory as this type of “real-world” education rarely happens in school. First, we have to respect ourselves enough to take care of ourselves. This means that when you are not feeling very comfortable with the content of the conversation, say so. A statement such as “I'm not really comfortable with our conversation, let me think about your questions and come back to that next visit if that works for you.” This allows you to take the time to consult with a mentor, a supervisor, or a textbook if needed, or to process how you feel about the question so that you can give a more objective answer. If the patient is being inappropriate, such as asking for your phone number or saying anything suggestive, bring it up. “That is an inappropriate comment, and in order for you to continue to attend rehabilitation here, you must respect that.” If the inappropriate behavior continues, fire the patient, document it, contact the referring provider, and move on. If you are not really sure what sexual technique or act the patient is referring to, a phrase that can be helpful is “tell me more about that.” It is possible to discuss body mechanics in a respectful, professional manner even when discussing sexual health. It's not typically the way we are acculturated, so it takes practice and thoughtfulness.

When patients are interested in accessing websites for the purchase of devices to stretch, stimulate, or vibrate the pelvic muscles, the vendors listed on the website have ordering information for some commonly chosen devices. Other sites that are helpful for the patient are or The American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists or AASECT website is also one that might be helpful for you as a provider or for your patient as a consumer. If you are looking for a certified sex therapist, that site also lists them by region. Most experienced therapists will tell you that as long as we stay open and listen well, it is our patients who will teach us as much as we can learn in any course or textbook. Optimizing our own comfort levels with sexuality can bring us closer to having meaningful dialog with our patients who trust us enough to inquire about such sensitive topics.

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Cochrane review: postprostatectomy urinary incontinence

A colleague recently sent an inquiry through the Institute asking if there is new research supporting pelvic floor muscle training after radical prostatectomy. As a matter of fact, I chose not to report on some recent research that I read, because it does not support conservative care for urinary incontinence (UI). The Cochrane review for postprostatectomy UI was updated this year, and the results of the review indicate that we need more and better research. (If you are unfamiliar with the Cochrane library, one of its 6 databases contains systematic reviews of the literature that are updated periodically.) Although within the abstract of the reviewthe report states that there is a lack of consistency in the interventions, the populations, and in the outcome measures, the value of conservative approaches is deemed "uncertain." The authors do conclude that benefit from one-to-one pelvic floor muscle training is "unlikely" following transurethral resection of the prostate, or TURP.

The critiques of the research listed in the review include the above mentioned lack of consistency in outcomes and interventions. Most of the studies also did not include a report of pre-surgical outcome status, of adverse effects, and lifestyle changes as an intervention was never identified in any of the research. This leads us to this question: why are we treating men for UI or erectile dysfunction (ED) if this systematic review brings into question the efficacy of what we do? Certainly patients are improving as a result of pelvic rehabilitation, or I doubt that the medical providers would continue to refer patients to the offices who provide rehabilitation to these patients. What we do not know about each of the studies is how much of the male anatomy was affected by the procedure for the prostate. The patient's pre-surgical status and the skill level of the surgeon are both known factors for outcomes following prostatectomy, yet how are those quantified in the literature?

Most importantly, how can we be a part of the solution when it comes to creating research to support the services that we provide. It may be helpful as therapists to be certain that we are maximizing the level of knowledge about the surgeries, the anatomy involved, and about the available treatments. This can mean attending coursework that is specific to or includes discussion of male pelvic floor issues. (Check out the Pelvic Floor Series level 2A course or the Male Pelvic Floor Courses offered by the Institute, especially if more male patients are finding their way to your door.) Speak with referring physicians about surgical techniques, observe some surgeries, or attend a urology conference (maybe there's one near your hometown, or you want to attend with your local referring urology group.) Always document using outcomes studies when you can. Write a case study. You can even purchase a text book that teaches you step-by-step how to write a case study. I know that you don't have, create a weekly lunch meeting at work with a colleague where you each work on and critique each other's project. Getting involved with local university programs can also allow you to be part of the research solution.

In summary, we need more and better research that documents how we are helping our patients. In relation to male patients following prostate procedures, who is screening these men to decide if they have tight, painful pelvic floor muscles versus weak muscles with lack of awareness of their use? We are the best chance the patient has in helping with the rehabilitation process. It is also imperative that we are testing muscle function in men to help categorize the patient as someone who might improve with an exercise-based approach or as someone who might need a trial of pelvic floor muscle electrical stimulation. If you tend to complete internal muscle testing with women, yet feel uncomfortable with this approach in men, I encourage you to move forward in your practice of this critical skill. We need to catch the patients early on who seem to have no muscle function and no awareness, and then refer that patient back to the surgeon within a reasonable time frame if there is a lack of progress. A few of the men I worked with who went on to have a male sling had very positive outcomes, and they also were very grateful that they had a pelvic rehabilitation provider to give guidance and feedback along the way. Patients who are more aware of their pelvic muscles, how to use them (and not use them!), and who know how to take care of their pelvic muscles throughout their lifespan are better poised to handle the post-surgical pathway if they should require further intervention.

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Vitamin D and pelvic health

What pelvic symptoms can vitamin D deficiency be causing in our pelvic rehab patients?

Vitamin D deficiency has been researched heavily in relationship to topics such as autism, fertility, multiple sclerosis, orthopedic health, muscular pain, osteoporosis, as well as pelvic floor health. Deficient levels of the vitamin have been reported as reaching "pandemic" levels, with risk factors including old age, dark skin, obesity, Chrohn's disease, occupations that require indoor activity, or living in cultures that require covering of face and body. The use of sunscreen to prevent UV exposure has also been linked to poor vitamin D levels as the sun is one way that we receive vitamin D.

Following is a brief list of research that has linked vitamin D to pelvic health issues:

  1. A study published this year reported that symptoms of dysmenorrhea were significantly reduced with administration of a single oral dose of vitamin D.
  2. Research regarding prostate cancer prevention is thought to be assisted by Vitamin D, with animal model research demonstrating protective effects, yet significant questions remain about the true effects in human populations.
  3. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with urinary incontinence in men in this national study, and also with other lower urinary tract symptoms.
  4. Higher vitamin D levels are reported in this research to be associated with a lower rate of pelvic floor disorders in women including urinary incontinence.

It is also important to be aware of comorbid conditions and current medications as both can lead to vitamin deficiency.According to the National Institute of Health's (NIH) Quick Fact sheet, medications that may interfere with vitamin D include corticosteroids, weight-loss drugs such as Alli, the cholesteral lowering drug cholestyramine, and some anti-epilepsy medications. The NIH has a more detailed fact sheet for health professionals that can be accessed here.While it may or may not be in your scope of practice to prescribe nutritional supplements, it is appropriate to share research reports and to inquire if the patient has had nutrient levels, such as vitamin D, checked by her physician. Further research may clarify the effects of low vitamin D levels in the body which are critical for healthy function.

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