Are you getting what you want? Part 2: Questions you could ask your GP, midwife or physiotherapist
Exploring techniques and approaches that could help
In part one of this blog (see below), the focus was on looking at how to take a lead in finding what you want and need to recover from pelvic girdle pain (PGP) symptoms. In Part 2, the emphasis is on what questions to ask frontline healthcare professionals to get what you want. This is followed by a look at how to frame the questions that might prompt a positive response.
What are some questions to ask?
If you are new to the symptoms of PGP, then have a look at the Pelvic Partnership website and particularly the first three sections: ‘What is PGP’, ‘Symptoms’ and ‘Treatment’. There’s also a really useful ‘Stickmum’ leaflet that Pelvic Partnership launched at the end of last year which you can download free from the website and perhaps show your GP or midwife. These will give you some useful background information. Then it is worth noting down your symptoms and some questions you might want to ask your GP or midwife ahead of seeing them as these are the key healthcare professionals who can get you a referral to see a physiotherapist (physio) on the NHS. Before you see a physio, if you don’t know about their experience of treating PGP you may want to ask:
- I have: lower back pain, (or pain in the front of my pelvic), difficulty walking, pain when turning in bed, etc. Have you ever seen this before?
- Have you ever treated this before? How many times?
- Will it be possible to have an individual assessment of my condition?
- Do you offer manual therapy to provide relief?
- How quickly am I going to start to improve?
Keeping the questions and the preamble short and simple will make the most of the time with the practitioner. These questions can also be used if you want to try a private physio, osteopath or chiropractor through a sports injury clinic or perhaps a private women’s health clinic. Have a look at our ‘What to expect from treatment’ page on the website as this shows what you should expect from an assessment. You can ring ahead before you actually book an appointment and ask to speak to one of the physio team and see if their responses tie up with the key information on the Pelvic Partnership website and in the literature. If you aren’t happy with the answers to your questions, you may decide to choose a different manual therapist .
If you are in the middle of some treatment and feel you are not seeing improvements after a number of treatment sessions, you have every right to ask questions. You might want consider the following questions:
- I am concerned that there has been little progress so far; can we discuss this?
- What are my options? (This shows that you have a choice and implies that it is your prerogative to choose).
- I’m feeling… (as no-one can counter that with “no you are not!”) and, I was wondering, what can you do for me?
- When you raise your voice like that, I feel uncomfortable, could we discuss…what do you think could be done?
Help inside or outside the NHS?
Another question is whether to look inside or outside the NHS for help. As the NHS is free to (most of) us, it is a good place to start and there are some excellent physios within the NHS. However, a downside is that sometimes women find the waiting list for NHS treatment is not just weeks but months and in that time PGP symptoms can become worse. In some areas women are invited to learn about PGP in a group session and need to specifically book a subsequent one-to-one session for an assessment and diagnosis of their PGP. In the past, exercises alone were the basis of treating PGP within the NHS. The Pelvic Partnership believes that treatment is more likely to be successful if it features manual therapy to relieve ‘stiff and stuck’ pelvic joints and asymmetry of movement of the pelvic joints. Exercise can be useful to strengthen core muscles (to keep the pelvis aligned and functioning well) once manual therapy has helped to normalise joint movement and reduce pain.
There are some wonderful professionals in the NHS, so it’s worth looking at the NHS for help ahead of searching for private treatment. If you are very close to your due date and time isn’t on your side, you could always ask your GP or midwife to refer you and to see if there’s a cancelled appointment before looking for other options. If you haven’t found relief from PGP symptoms within the NHS, is it worth looking outside? Again there are pros and cons. Private manual therapists (such as physios, osteopaths and chiropractors) charge a fee for treatment. Whether you opt for manual therapy through the NHS or to a private practitioner, it is important to keep checking whether or not the experience is helping. You should come out feeling better than you went in (although some people do feel initial soreness after a session but this should settle down within a day or so). Even if progress is slow, you should feel some difference after treatment such as freer movement, greater mobility and less pain.
Whoever you see, it is important to give the practitioner a chance. With PGP, just one session of hands-on treatment to address a misalignment may not sort out the problem, so having realistic expectations can help as can checking the literature on the subject, making contact with our support helpline (via phone or website) and generally giving an appropriate length of time for the improvements to appear. Overall, there should be steady improvement in your symptoms, and if this doesn’t appear to be happening, you have the right to question the care and lack of progress.
Confidence in asking
Having the confidence to speak out can be very difficult and particularly when you are feeling tired, frustrated and in pain. Noting down some questions and anticipating responses from healthcare professionals can help you to prepare what to say. Sometimes it gets easier to ask questions if you keep practising so that, over time, sheer experience will help you to be more assertive and confident. However, if you feel that your confidence is undermined because you are in too much pain, or feel too upset or too vulnerable to do the asking on your own, then why not ask someone to come along and support you? Taking someone with you to act as your advocate can help you to confront a situation where you may otherwise say nothing. A friend, your partner or your mum could accompany you, so that if you are asking the questions, they can back you up or raise the questions you don’t feel confident to ask. Sometimes, just having someone with you can help you to feel empowered to ask the questions you want answered.
Some approaches can work better than others
Your approach to asking a question can sometimes influence how you are answered. For example, talking to someone you see as an authority figure by starting a conversation with “Sorry to bother you but could you…” which suggests that we are not worth seeing, treating and so on. Similarly, if we experience frustration and counter it by becoming angry, the anger is unlikely to be helpful if we are short or rude to someone while trying to obtain information or a service from them. This frustration is particularly understandable if we have had a lack of success in asking for a referral, the kind of treatment or birth we want, for example, and quite rightly feel a strong sense of injustice. However, becoming cross or irritated seldom works in getting a positive outcome from the person confronted at the time. In fact, our experience of venting anger will recall many more negative responses than positive ones. However, anger can be very useful because it can drive your determination to get answers and results. So, even after a number of setbacks, it can help you to keep looking for the right person to help you to overcome your PGP.
How did you find the right person and quickly?
It may not be easy to find the right person straight away but you will need to be persistent and to keep trying. Sometimes the help can come from places you might not expect at first. For example, excellent care for PGP can arise from sports physios rather than through the more obvious route of through a midwife to a physio attached to the maternity hospital. Similarly, keep taking opportunities to ask family, friends and any health professionals you meet about anyone who has had PGP or is used to using manual therapy to treat it because their knowledge and experience could prove useful to you.
Click here for the third part of ‘Are you getting what you want,?’, the blog will look at other ways that can help to get you the kind of birth and support you want and what to do if you don’t feel you are being listened to or cared for in the way you want.