The role of physical therapy in women's health has expanded significantly over the past three decades. Originally focused exclusively on pregnancy-related issues, physical therapy now plays an important role in treating many more women's health issues, including incontinence, pelvic pain, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, rehabilitation following breast surgery, painful intercourse and lymphedema management.
Fibromyalgia: Understanding and Relief
For fibromyalgia sufferers, muscle pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, headaches, irritable bowel symptoms and depression are a part of daily life.This debilitating condition affects an estimated 3-6 million Americans, predominantly women (more than 80%) between the ages of 35 and 55.
Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, treatment can relieve the symptoms. Specially-trained therapists at the FMH Women's Center develop customized treatment plans that may include a special type of gentle massage, aquatics, relaxation techniques, nutrition, acupuncture and acupressure.
"Most patients benefit from low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, water aerobics, and biking," says Daniele Serro, Director of Rehabilitative Services.
"Besides helping with tenderness, regular exercises can also boost energy levels and help with sleep."
Note: Aquatic therapy is currently only available at FMH Rose Hill.
Living with Lymphedema
While Patty Tripplett's breast cancer is in remission, its treatment left behind a painful and lingering side effect that the 42-year-old instructional assistant will likely deal with for the rest of her life.
Called lymphedema, the condition occurs when fluid builds up in the soft tissues of the body, usually in an arm or leg, causing swelling and pain. According to Patty's physical therapist, Angela Roberts, this sometimes occurs after breast cancer surgery or other treatment.
"Patty's treatment plan includes a gentle form of massage called 'lymphatic drainage' and compression bandaging," says Roberts. "We also encourage lifestyle changes and a special exercise program."
"Coping with the discomfort of lymphedema is a challenge," says Triplett. "but my therapist, Angela, really helps relieve the swelling and pain. She also gives me a lot of emotional support. I never feel like I'm battling this alone."
Pelvic Pain and Dysfunction
Physical therapists at The Women's Center Rehabilitation Suite are trained to evaluate and treat many types of pelvic, prenatal and postnatal pain and related problems. Using hands-on techniques, targeted exercises, biofeedback and postural training, these experienced therapists specialize in restoring women to a better quality of life.
Stress incontinence is the leakage of urine caused by things like sneezing, coughing or laughing. This often occurs when the muscles that stretch from the pubic bone to the tail bone become damaged or lose tone due to aging, childbirth, illness or surgery. Strengthening these muscles - also known as the "pelvic floor" - prevents leakage upon impact, allowing many women to resume more normal activities.
An aching or burning in the abdomen or pelvis for more than six months is considered chronic pelvic pain. Frequently caused by joint dysfunction, muscle weakness or imbalance, and nerve entrapment, persistent pelvic pain (including painful intercourse) can also be related to the presence of scar tissue after childbirth or surgery.
Altered posture and shortened muscles mean an increased risk for lower back pain. Surrounding ligaments-which are stretching to support the growing uterus-can cause sharp pains on the side of the pelvis and down the thighs. The sciatic nerve may also be crowded, causing a painful or sometimes a numb feeling in this area as well.
Following delivery, fluctuating hormone levels combined with additional physical changes may also result in musculoskeletal problems such as excessive joint mobility, weakness of the core stabilizing muscles and altered spinal mobility and function.