My story: experience of a modern approach to pelvic floor exercises
By Lottie Grey
My friend and I heard a talk by Maeve Whelan for the Pelvic Partnership when Maeve was addressing an AGM meeting a few years ago. We were interested in Maeve’s modern take on PGP and how often PGP symptoms were linked to a struggling pelvic floor (where muscles are often over-exercised and out of balance so they fail to function properly).
We both felt we would benefit from seeing Maeve but felt it was too far and too expensive to travel to her clinic in Dublin, so we looked at her website to see if we might be able to visit one of the other practitioners/ manual therapists she lists there who use manual therapy techniques to treat pelvic floor dysfunction.
My friend Ella and I had both experienced tearing during the delivery of our children and I knew that I had a slight prolapse where the vagina wall had been weakened as a result and was no longer as strong. As advised after the birth of my children, I did a pelvic floor course to regain strength and control again. This was held at a local gym near the maternity hospital where my children were born. I am reasonably fit and healthy and I still take regular Pilates classes, swim and run but I was still prone to urine leakage if I laughed, coughed or tried to exercise with a full bladder. My GP had referred me to see a physio at my local hospital. It was useful and I learnt that I was probably passing urine more frequently than I needed and that I tended to drink too much coffee and tea which were stressing my bladder. However, although I did the exercises I was taught and could feel that my muscles within my pelvic floor were stronger, I still leaked which was annoying and embarrassing so I didn’t think, overall, that I had made much progress.
Ella and I went to see Helen, a practitioner mentioned in Maeve’s list who lives quite close to our town. We chose her because she was an experienced physiotherapist, specialised in women’s health and had postgraduate qualifications. We both spoke independently to her on the phone to see if we could get consecutive appointments on the same day, enabling us to travel together. We also discussed our symptoms over the phone to make sure that she knew about our needs and what we wanted to get out of the session. In addition, both of us mentioned that we had experienced PGP symptoms and that both of us had overcome them with manual therapy during our pregnancies.
On the day, I went in to see Helen first and she was welcoming and very approachable although I thought she looked very young! She came across as very professional and in control of the interview. After covering my medical history at the start and going over my experience of PGP and incontinence, she moved on to examining me. She started with an examination to check how my pelvic joints were moving to see that I was fully recovered. She then moved on asking about my bladder incontinence and checked that I was happy to be examined internally.
I found that I felt at ease although I did feel odd having a normal conversation as she checked the strength of my pelvic floor! Helen was able to tell where muscles felt tight and where there were weaker areas of my pelvic floor. It was slightly uncomfortable as she worked on these areas but I did not find it painful. Helen also looked at the relationship between my abdominal muscles and my pelvic floor and we agreed that, although I was quite fit, I had some very tight muscles and some that weren’t functioning very well at all. She found various trigger points and worked to release tension and to bring my pelvic floor muscles into balance again. I agreed that I also had a tendency to tense up when exercising or relaxing, which we agreed was probably a legacy of trying to manage the pain I had experienced originally with PGP. I realised I hadn’t got out of this habit and we explored ways of relaxing my stomach and doing some exercises to keep my pelvic floor working efficiently. We also worked on my breathing and how to reduce the tension in my pelvic floor through specific exercises. I found my muscles tired quickly and so I had to stop for rests during the session but this gave me the chance to really concentrate on what Helen was explaining.
My friend Ella and I booked about four subsequent visits and we both made sure we practised what we had learnt during the sessions. A year down the line, I am much less likely to have episodes where I leak when I laugh or run for the bus. I know how to avoid over-stressing my pelvic floor and how to cope if I sneeze to avoid leakage. I can feel my pelvic floor is stronger. The sessions seem to have worked very well for me and I do feel that I have made significant progress since seeking help. Mind you, I am slightly jealous of Ella who seems to be able to go for hours and hours before needing the loo! She can also go running and have absolutely no accidents – even if she needs the loo towards the end of the run – whereas I still have to make sure I am completely empty before I start…
Thanks very much for sharing your experience of seeking help to improve your pelvic floor using the more modern approach.