“I had a baby. Now I’m leaking. And it’s not normal.”
Ashley is a young mother who, like most new moms, was entirely focused on her newborn in the first few weeks after giving birth. When she had her six-week checkup, everything appeared to be healing well and she was quickly out the door.
“She was cleared to have intercourse again and resume her normal fitness activity.” Dr. Karyn Staples, PT, Ph.D. of ProHealth Physical Therapy and Pilates Studio says. “However, every time she exercised or took a walk with the baby in a stroller, she leaked urine. She thought it would get better over time, but a few months down the road it was still a problem.” In talking with her friends, Ashley realized urinary leakage wasn’t normal. One of them recommended she see a physical therapist that specializes in pelvic health. Staples has treated hundreds of women like Ashley for urinary leakage, with a success rate of 80%.
“There are a lot of countries in the European Union where physical therapy assessment after delivery is just standard, but that’s not the case here in the United States,” Staples says. “It is covered by insurance, so you can have a PT assessment just to make sure everything is functioning well.”
Eliminating urinary leakage through physical therapy is generally a four-to-six week process, Staples says. Clients come into the office once per week for private one-on-one sessions and are given specific exercises to do at home during the interim.
“This is a partnership,” she explains. “I’m essentially a coach saying ‘here’s the things you need to do at this point, and then here’s the things you need to add’.”
Millions of women will experience some form of pelvic floor dysfunction during their lifetime, yet many go untreated due to lack of understanding of the underlying medical problems, or even shame about this sensitive area of the female anatomy.
Maintaining pelvic health, especially as it relates to childbirth and menopause, can be achieved through effective physical therapy techniques, says Dr. Staples.
“As a physical therapist, not only am I checking the ability to contract and use the muscles in the pelvic floor, especially after delivery of a baby, but also is there any muscle separation that’s contributing to a change of control in the abdominal cavity, meaning the ability to handle intraabdominal increased pressure with activities such as walking or running for instance, or even coughing and sneezing,” Staples says. “If there’s an imbalance in this central core, that’s going to create other issues. So the idea of physical therapy is looking at this whole inner unit — the abdominals, hip muscles, pelvic floor, breathing diaphragm — and how they function together and getting things moving in the right direction.”
Physical therapy can also address the issue of painful intercourse, whether caused by muscle trauma following the birth of a baby, or hormonal changes brought on by menopause. Staples insists on an individualized approach, focusing on each client’s specific needs and their privacy as well.
“In both cases, we work in conjunction with the OBGYN to determine what we are able to do,” she explains. “With someone on the menopausal side, that might include taking prescriptions that the doctor recommends to help thicken the vaginal tissue. Then on the new mom’s side, making sure we have good healing of any trauma caused by delivery. From there, we determine specific manual therapy techniques that need to be done.”
Assessment is done in a private treatment room, with just the client and Dr. Staples present. Depending on why the muscles aren’t functioning properly, there are manual therapy techniques that can be done to help reduce tension and exercises to strengthen weak muscles.
“From these intimate discussions we create an individualized exercise program that they can focus on at home,” Staples says. “Sex should be enjoyable. Inability to be intimate may create issues with your partner, feelings of inadequacy, and loss of self-esteem. This is about trying to make sure that all the parts function, so the woman can participate, and be respectful of her own body.”
Physical therapy can also be effective in treating scars in the pelvic region, particularly those caused by childbirth.
Women interested in physical therapy for pelvic health needn’t worry about privacy issues. They may simply call ProHealth and schedule a pelvic health appointment with Dr. Staples. They won’t have to describe their issue or answer any questions over the phone.
“Women struggle with pelvic health issues for an average of seven years before they get help,” says Dr. Staples. “That’s seven years too long, and I want to help.”
ProHealth Physical Therapy and Pilates Studio is located at 1777 Georgian Park in Peachtree City. To schedule a pelvic health exam with Dr. Karyn Staples, call 770-487-1931. For information about any of the ProHealth programs and services, visit www.prohealthga.com.