My Journey Back to Optimum Health
When I was about nineteen I remember sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. A commercial came on the TV for a medication for a women’s incontinence drug. There were flashes of women running to the restroom with a catchy tag phrase like: “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now.” I found it humorous and quietly giggled to myself. A woman seated nearby, interrupted me and commented “Don’t laugh, that is a real problem for some people.”
Little did I know that down the road, after two natural child births that would be my problem too.
Last spring about three miles into my run it happened. All of sudden I started peeing and I could not stop. I was so embarrassed, drenched and a mile from my car. Thank God I was running alone and there was no one else on the trail.
I was in shock. In my head I said to myself. Incontinence? This happens to old people. This happens to people who are not fit. Why did this happen to me?
Sure, there were hints that something was wrong. Like when I sneezed or did jumping jacks. But I thought that was normal. Typically, I had an instant reaction to stop the flow of urine. But not in this case.
I discussed the situation with my midwife at my annual exam the following month. She mentioned that Kegels don’t fix everything, and that there can be various reasons why someone could experience incontinence. She recommended that I try pelvic floor physical therapy, and she wrote me a script.
Still I waited three more months to do something about it. I found other exercises to do to avoid the problem. I made excuses about there being too much going on in my family to get therapy. I worried about getting a male physical therapist.
But finally, six week ago I bit the bullet and set up my first appointment. Surprisingly, I discovered that not all physical therapists can treat pelvic floor dysfunction. After calling a few places, I discovered that my neighbor worked at a rehab center which offered the type of therapy I needed.
Martha, a Physical Therapist Assistant and my neighbor explained there are various approaches to treating pelvic floor dysfunctions.
According to Martha, “External PT is appropriate for less complicated cases and uses various exercises to strengthen and support the pelvic floor muscles. If the symptoms are more complex and upon exam, your OB/GYN finds prolapse of the bladder and/or uterus, then often internal PT is recommended. Internal PT is administered by a Certified Pelvic Health Physical Therapist and it relies on internal feedback into the therapist’s hands as well as biofeedback to ensure correct muscle activation and monitor progress.”
At my first appointment, I met Dr. Vanessa Burns, PT, DPT, OCS. She made me feel at ease from the start. Having three children of her own, childbirth and women’s issues were close to her heart.
She said to me, “If you can stop and restart your flow while urinating five times then your condition is more likely external pelvic floor dysfunction. If you can’t, it is most likely internal pelvic floor dysfunction, which usually require biofeedback.”
After completing a brief assessment of my mobility, she asked me to go to the bathroom and give it a try. Thankfully, I was able to start and stop my flow. I was relieved to discover that my condition was rather mild. Dr. Burns said that “Some women wait too long and they develop chronic back pain as a result.”
My therapy began with some really basic exercises to strengthen my pelvic floor. They almost seemed too easy, but they were essential building blocks to repair my body.
I was surprised to learn about the connection between breathing and pelvic floor muscles.
Because the diaphragm sits on top of those muscles, if you hold your breath, those muscles don’t have the room to move or flex.
I went weekly for therapy and was instructed to complete some of the exercises daily. After attending six weekly sessions, I was cleared today to return to my previous activity level. I did 50 jumping jacks the other day to test things out and I felt fine. I am so excited to start running again. Fall is my favorite time to run outdoors.
To be honest, I was nervous about writing on this topic. But I thought, I am not the only woman struggling with this. And sometimes the only way to help others is by making yourself vulnerable. So, if you are struggling with this problem, seek help and prioritize yourself before it becomes a bigger problem.
Thank you, Dr. Burns, Martha and your team at Total Rehab and Sport Medicine for giving me my freedom back.