What to Expect When you Visit a Women’s Health PT
Are you unsure and anxious about seeing a Women’s Health PT?
Most of the people I treat at our Women Health clinic have one thing in common—they put off seeking treatment for a long time! People don’t think twice about visiting a PT if they have a sore shoulder or ongoing issues with a sprained ankle, but when it comes to addressing pain and problems that specifically impact women and people with female genitals, patients are likely to put off getting help for months or even years—even when it’s causing a lot of pain or anxiety.
And it’s completely understandable why! A Women’s Health specialist is who you see when you are experiencing pain or problems affecting your pelvic, sexual, and urinary health, such as incontinence, painful vaginal intercourse, and the effects of pregnancy, childbirth, or ageing. These are intimate issues, and it’s normal to feel nervous or sometimes even shame. So it is my job to not only get to the root of the problem and support you on your journey to overall health, but to make sure you are comfortable during the treatment process.
This is why we put together this blog, as many people are unsure and anxious about what seeing a Women’s Health PT involves, and what the examination and treatment protocol entails.
What a Women’s Health PT Appointment Looks like
If you have ever visited a PT before, the first appointment with a Women’s Health PT is pretty much the same as a regular PT appointment!
Your Women’s Health PT will discuss what has brought you into the clinic, and take a general health history, and ask you relevant questions to determine the exact symptoms you are experiencing.
There will be a traditional PT examination and evaluation, assessing muscle function, posture, and range of movement. There will likely be a focus on the soft tissues of the lower back, pelvis, hips and abdomen as many conditions affecting women’s wellbeing affect this area.
Your PT will give you exercises that focus on strengthening and stretching the key muscles that support the unique female anatomy, targeting the hips, lower back and pelvic floor.
Your PT may also recommend assessing the function of your pelvic floor muscles with a physical examination of your vulva and vagina. However, it is up to you whether or when you are comfortable to progress with this stage. It may be recommended in the initial treatment or further down the line, and you can decide if you want to go ahead with the exam at that appointment, next appointment, or ever.
Important things to know:
- Pelvic floor examinations are not mandatory
- Your consent will be asked and repeatedly checked in on during the examination
- You are in control of the process. If you want to stop, we stop. If you need a break, we take a break.
What Is a Pelvic Floor Examination?
If you do consent to a pelvic floor examination, here is a little more about the benefits and process.
What Are The Benefits of a Pelvic Floor Examination?
The pelvic floor muscles, or Levator Ani muscle group, can become overly tight or underactive leading to pain, discomfort or multiple issues that can affect your wellbeing.
A pelvic floor examination is the best way to assess the function of these muscles, and identify specifically which individual muscles are functioning incorrectly. From here, the PT treatment and take-home exercises can be further tailored for your unique body.
What Happens in a Pelvic Floor Examination?
A pelvic floor examination involves physically assessing the function of these muscles. You will be asked to contract and release your pelvic floor muscles (like a Kegel exercise) to determine if the muscles are functioning as they should or if they are under or overactive. The engagement and release of the pelvic floor muscles affects the external and internal muscles of the vulva and vagina, the perineum, and the rectum.
An external examination involves assessing and palpating the outer muscles of the vulva to check for pain, prolapse or other conditions.
An internal examination involves inserting one or two gloved fingers into your vaginal canal to check for painful, tender, or numb areas.
If you are experiencing pain or issues relating to your bowel health, or experienced a large tear during childbirth, Your PT may recommend a rectal examination which involves inserting a gloved finger into the rectal canal to check the function of the pelvic floor muscles in this area.
Your PT will explain exactly what to expect for your unique body before the examination, and explain what will happen next throughout the process. Your PT will repeatedly check in that you are okay to proceed, and you can also request to stop at any time.
Do I Have to Have a Pelvic Floor Examination?
No! It is essential to know that if you do not want to have an external or internal examination of your pelvic floor function, then you do not have to have one.
Although the exact diagnosis of many conditions benefit from a pelvic floor examination, what is most important is considering your entire wellbeing. If a pelvic floor examination is going to cause excessive emotional or physical discomfort, or be traumatising in anyway, then this isn’t going to be helpful for you and therefore it won’t be recommended.
There are many other ways of treating pelvic floor dysfunction, and the musculoskeletal conditions that impact it, such as targeting the lower back and hips through massage and exercises, as well as emotional regulation and stress management techniques.
A Holistic Approach
Stress levels and our emotional wellbeing hugely impact our physical health, affecting everything from posture to pelvic floor engagement.
At SOPTRI we are grateful to have Sylvie as our resident specialized Women’s Health PT, who is also a trained yoga therapist. Many of our patient’s have found the relaxation and breathing techniques, such as belly breathing, that she recommends to be invaluable in their wellness journey as these techniques support the nervous system and psychological health.
Sylvie is passionate about treating women and people with female genitals because the process often doesn’t just relieve physical discomfort, but restores patients on a deeper level, allowing them to find more freedom in their bodies, minds, and emotional health too.
To find out more about SOPTRI’s Women’s Health clinic, or to make an appointment with Sylvie contact our Warwick clinic. (401) 384-6490 or make an appointment here.
Author: Sylvie Le, DPT, PYTC