So often, we resign ourselves to a physical condition because we think it comes with the territory of being pregnant, giving birth, or getting older. Back pain, incontinence, pelvic pain, bowel problems. It’s just how it is.
But Drs. Amanda Carden McKinley and Kayla Beets at East Tennessee Spine & Sport say no, it may be common, but you don’t have to live like that.
“I remember seeing my mom cross her legs to sneeze and laughing about how she peed herself. Same with my grandmother,” says Dr. Beets. “Flash forward to being an athlete and having a lot of good friends who were pregnant who had issues returning to sport. I knew I wanted to work in the health field but specifically with this issue. I thought, there has to be someone out there who can train the postpartum body and get it back to sport.”
Both physical therapists specialize in pelvic health, and they are dedicated to helping women - and men - overcome the daily discomforts that become barriers to living an active, satisfying life.
“We are orthopedic therapists, first and foremost. We assess the whole body first. We look at your hips and spine, the strength in your hips, your core strength,” says Dr. McKinley. “To look at your pelvic floor, we can do that in a couple of ways. Pelvic Health PTs have extra training to do intra-vaginal assessments, so that’s what the private rooms are for. The important thing to know here is that we’re only going to do what the patient is comfortable with. We always get consent, and patients can have a chaperone if they prefer. We can do the internal assessment where we can press on the muscles and see how they move, but if a patient is uncomfortable with that, we can do some external assessment techniques where we can feel over the skin and clothing.”
The private rooms are available for both assessment and physical therapy, so if a patient decides to go through with the program, she isn’t required to do the exercises in front of other patients. Additionally, potential patients are welcome to start with a phone call consultation prior to visiting one of the three locations - West Knoxville, Fountain City, and Oak Ridge - that offers pelvic floor physical therapy.
Treatment looks different for each patient depending on her specific circumstances. While pelvic floor problems are most commonly attributed to pregnancy and childbirth, it’s certainly not limited to that demographic. In fact, the age range of their current patients runs the gamut.
“It can start in middle school with track runners, cheerleaders, and gymnasts,” says Dr. Beets. “We see the whole spectrum of the lifespan, from 85-year-old women to high school girls.”
Pelvic health physical therapy is anything entailing that set of muscles that runs like a sling from the front to the back of the pelvis. So while postpartum women make up the bulk of their patient base, they see plenty of women who’ve never had children but have pain with intercourse or daily activities, urinary or bowel problems, or pelvic organ prolapse. And since Tennessee is a direct access state, patients do not need a doctor’s referral to see a physical therapist.
“Lots of women come in with referrals from their Ob/Gyn, but you can come in without it. Men have pelvic floors as well and can have dysfunctions,” says Dr. McKinley. “We find out what your goals are, personalize your treatment, and tailor it to what you’re trying to get back to. If your goal is to jump on the trampoline again, we won’t keep you on the table doing exercises. We’ll get you doing jumping-type exercises. If you want to get back to running, we may start with exercises on the mat, but we’ll get you on your feet so you’re able to tolerate those kinds of forces and those kinds of loads.”
“We take these symptoms seriously,” says Dr. Beets. “We’re gonna do everything to make sure patients are comfortable and that it’s a good experience for them.”
For more information, visit EastTNSpineSport.com/Services/PelvicHealth.