Pelvic floor disorders—which encompass issues like urinary or fecal incontinence, and primarily impact women—are surprisingly common. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that, nationally, close to 24 percent of women had a pelvic floor disorder. And getting even more specific, research shows that urinary incontinence affects up to 8 percent of people around the world—and has been on the rise for the past 10 years.
But what exactly is the pelvic floor? “The pelvic floor describes a group of ‘core’ muscles, tendons and ligaments at the bottom or ‘floor’ of the pelvis,” explains Marielle Blackburn, PT, DPT, OCS, CLT, Cert. MDTm, clinical specialist in Pelvic Health Rehabilitation at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital. “Pelvic organs including the bowel, bladder and reproductive system are within the pelvis above the pelvic floor.”
The good news is that rehabilitation for pelvic floor disorders can be helpful in treating the issue. Here’s what you need to know about this type of therapy:
Who should consider pelvic floor rehab
Not sure if you should seek our rehabilitation for pelvic floor disorder? “Individuals with pelvic pain, pelvic cancer, post gynecological surgery, incontinence (urinary or fecal), constipation, sexual dysfunction, and who are prenatal or postpartum may benefit from pelvic floor therapy,” explains Blackburn. And while pelvic floor disorders occur more commonly in women—for instance before and after pregnancy—men can also benefit from rehab, including for issues such as post-prostate surgery, chronic constipation, and sexual dysfunction, among others.
What rehab might look like
Treatment of pelvic floor disorders is highly specialized—and individualized, says Blackburn. “Rehabilitation primarily consists of therapeutic manual therapy techniques performed internally (inside) and externally (outside) on the pelvic area of the body,” she explains. “Other treatments may include biofeedback, strengthening, stretching and pelvic health education.” Rehab always happens in a private therapy room, and typically, patients come in about once a week.
Also important: Therapy doesn’t just end with your appointment. “Patients can make the most of their therapy experience by partnering with their practitioner to improve their condition, being consistent with exercises and other recommendations at home,” offers Blackburn.
Why a specialist is key
“Not all healthcare professionals are knowledgeable about pelvic floor rehab,” explains Blackburn. “If you feel you could benefit from this type of rehab, feel free to mention and/or discuss it as a possible option with your provider.” But when you do so, make sure that the therapist you decide to see is specialized in pelvic floor rehab. “Because of the degree of specialization required to manage these conditions, practitioners can be challenging to find.” To help, Blackburn advises talking to your therapist ahead of time to make sure they have experience in treating your specific condition. At Burke, for instance, the pelvic floor rehabilitation program is staffed with specialists who are skilled at treating a wide variety of pelvic floor disorders and conditions.
Learn more about Burke’s Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation Program.