New Approach to Pelvic Health Addresses Formerly Taboo Concerns

By Katie DeTar

Incontinence. Pain. Constipation.  Often considered taboo in society, these health issues affect women and men, and can drastically reduce their quality of life. Specially trained pelvic floor physical therapists are bringing new treatments, hope and healing to patients of all ages.

Jennifer Morin is a physical therapist at Specialty Physical Therapy in Brighton, specializing in pelvic health and orthopedics. She is one of a few pelvic floor physical therapists practicing in Western New York, but her approach is unique.

“The treatment used to be focused so much on kegels, doing hundreds of repetitions,” said Morin. “For most people that means I’m going to squeeze my muscles as hard as I can and I’m going to do it while parked at a stoplight. But what we know from research and clinical experience is that it doesn’t always fix the issue.”   

Kegels is a term for a series of exercises involving the squeeze and release of the muscles of the pelvic floor.

For many years, kegels were the prescribed therapy for urinary incontinence and other pelvic health issues.

“What that was neglecting was teaching people how to use their muscles in the moment, and how to respond to different motions and forces that come on our body,” said Morin. “It’s not just about your pelvic floor, it’s about how your pelvic floor is intertwined with your breath and the rest of the core.”

Activities including running, picking up and carrying children, and pushing and pulling heavy objects are all dependent on the proper functioning of the pelvic floor — the bowl of muscles in the base of the pelvis. These muscles provide stability and support to the pelvic bones, help to control bladder and bowel function, and play a role in sexual activity.

An often-overlooked aspect of proper pelvic floor functioning is muscle tension and tightness. Sometimes patients are dealing with incontinence and pain because of over-tight muscles, and the old prescription of hundreds of kegels will not heal those symptoms.

“You can have dysfunction not just because it’s weak, but because there is tightness and lack of flexibility in the muscle,” said Morin. “So we’re working on range of motion and flexibility first, then we work on strength.”

A typical exam with Morin is focused on making the patient comfortable and at ease discussing what can be embarrassing health concerns. Women of all ages, including pregnant and postpartum women, as well as men — sometimes while undergoing prostate cancer treatment — start with an initial, fully-clothed assessment. An ultrasound machine is used to gauge the general functionality of the muscles. Future visits often include an internal exam, essential for properly assessing the pelvic floor muscles and diagnosing any harmful muscle tension or pressure points.

Treatment plans then vary in length, and include exercises, in-office manual therapy to stretch muscles and mobilize soft tissue, and home strengthening and stretching regimens.

Morin is also bringing her unique, whole-body wellness physical therapy approach to an online audience. Through her web business, Core Capacity Physical Therapy, she’s teaching online classes and seminars.

“The online platform is a good way to get information to more people who may not have access to this,” says Morin. “And with how busy people are and the cost of insurance, I wanted to give people an option to get accurate information in the comfort of their own home.”

The telemedicine-style treatment does not replace a physical exam, but offers basic, quality information to get a treatment plan started. Morin can then recommend a follow-up appointment in her office, or connect a patient with a practitioner in their home area.

Physical therapy with a professional trained in pelvic floor health is a great, non-invasive alternative to surgery or medications, she said. Tools learned in treatment will further correct and relieve pain, incontinence, and discomfort.

As with any medical condition, talk with your doctor and determine the best course of action for your body.

“The hope is that people learn how to properly use their pelvic floor,” said Morin. “It’s really nice to see the sparkle in patients when they can get back to doing what they love to do.”

Photo: Jennifer Morin is a physical therapist at Specialty Physical Therapy in Brighton, specializing in pelvic health and orthopedics.