I met my husband during graduate school. We got married, started our careers, and I got my doctorate in physical therapy. In 2011, we decided we were ready for parenthood, and fortunately it didn’t take long to conceive. We were super excited and scared. We were going to be parents! Being an active individual, I thought that I would have a great pregnancy. Everyone had those cute baby bellies and commented about how being pregnant was so exciting.
Everything was going to be easy and perfect, right? I was so far off. I was miserable from almost the start. “Boomer,” as we called our peanut-to- be, was resting so uncomfortably in my belly I thought I was going to die. Every step I took, every movement I made, it felt like my pelvis and back were going to rip apart from the inside out. I tried stretching, I tried positioning myself better, I tried working with better body mechanics, I tried support belts. Nothing worked for me. So I just went with the flow and dealt with the discomfort up until the day “Boomer” decided to head south.
Lucky for me, I was able to get my epidural as we had planned but unfortunately it took 32 hours of labor before “Boomer,” now known as Graeme, made an appearance in this world. Through the lovely experience of childbirth, I ended up having a grade 2 tear, requiring significant amounts of stitching and leading to several months of continued discomfort.
I was fortunate to be able to stay home on maternity leave with my little man for about four months, however, I continued to have perineum and sacroiliac (SI) joint discomfort with moving, especially with sitting. I really didn’t start working out until about 4 months post delivery due to the pain and discomfort I was still having. I would enjoy a nice walk with Graeme but I didn’t want to push myself as I didn’t know what normal was after having a child. I knew my hormones weren’t quite right yet and things were still changing, so I just figured this was normal and didn’t worry about it too much.
About a year after delivery, my SI joint continued to be painful with walking, especially with running. Being a physical therapist myself, I tried treating myself, but couldn’t figure out what was going on. I ended up talking to one of my best friends who was a physical therapist as well, and she agreed I should come in to have things looked at. We started off with some muscle energy techniques to reset my pelvis and help correct some rotated vertebrae, but nothing would stay. After a couple sessions, she recommended I see another therapist who works with patients with women’s health issues. I obliged, as I didn’t really care who I saw, as long as they were able to help me get rid of the discomfort I was having. By the time I saw a pelvic health specialist, I could only tolerate sitting on the ground for about 10 minutes before pelvic pain and discomfort would start in, so playing with Graeme on the floor was uncomfortable. After the 10 minutes of sitting, I would after either have to reposition myself or place a pillow underneath me for some relief. Walking and running were still painful in the SI joint as well as now in the pelvic bone.
My first visit with my new therapist started with giving her some background. I explained to her my delivery history and the tearing, how long the pain has been present, what brings the pain on, as well as what relieves the pain. After giving my history, she explained to me my options. She recommended we start looking at the pelvic floor muscles. At first I was little confused, as this wasn’t where I was having the pain. She continued to explain to me what she wanted to do. She said I would lay down on the table, she would gently use her first digit and enter the vaginal canal and assess my pelvic floor muscles, looking for tightness or tenderness. I looked at her and thought she was crazy! You want to what?! So many questions were going through my mind at this point. How can my pelvic floor affect my SI joint? How often does one do this? How many people has she done this with? However, at this point I didn’t care and thought if she can help me with what’s going on, then let’s do it.
Well, needless to say this was a godsend for me. I attended several more sessions geared to treating the pelvic floor muscles with internal releases, all of which helped me feel so much better. My back was able to stay in alignment, my SI joint was not causing as much discomfort as I had when we had started, and I could feel relief throughout my pelvis that I hadn’t felt since before being pregnant. Through therapy, we focused on stretching and relaxation as well as some core strengthening due to weakness that had remained since being pregnant.
I had been in therapy for almost a year by the time we finally got my pelvic floor to be healthy again. I still occasionally have some discomfort, but I now have the knowledge to know how to treat myself and perform releases of those muscles as I feel needed. Throughout this experience, I was able to realize how important this type of therapy is to patients. The therapy I had gone through allowed me to experience something so many other people have gone through or are going through and has guided me down the road to become a pelvic health physical therapist.
When my department heads asked if anyone was interested in pursuing further education in the area of pelvic health over a year ago, I jumped on the opportunity. Having had so much therapy and exposure to this area, I thought it was a great fit for me professionally as well as offering a new challenge. I have since completed several courses offered through the Herman and Wallace Institute that is based out of Seattle, WA as well as having taken a visceral manipulation course. I am planning on completing more education in pelvic health and am looking to achieve the certification offered through Herman and Wallace, the Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification (PRPC). The PRPC is a certification that allows clinicians to distinguish themselves as an expert in the field of pelvic rehabilitation.
Through my personal experience and training, I now have the tools and education to treat an assortment of patients ranging from the late teens to geriatric population and treating female and male patients with varied diagnosis including, but not limited to, disorders of the bladder and bowel, urinary incontinence or retention, sexual dysfunctions, organ prolapse, and pelvic pain/dysfunctions.
My best advice to new and old moms is to listen to your body. My little guy is now five years old and is doing amazing! I love being a mom and wife, but sometimes we focus so much on our families and home life that it makes it easy to forget about taking care of ourselves. I didn’t know who to go to or who to ask questions to as our society doesn’t always allow us to express our concerns or feelings as easily as it should as these conversations tend to make people feel uncomfortable. If you are experiencing pelvic pain, discomfort or incontinence, contact your physician and don’t be ashamed to talk to people about your symptoms or what is going on with your body. You are the one who can identify if something isn’t right.
Erin Martin is a physical therapist at St. Luke’s. You can find out more information on their services here.