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menopause and pelvic health

What are the Links Between Menopause and Pelvic Health?

Menopause is a period of life transition for many of us. Today we will review what menopause is and how symptoms can negatively affect pelvic health, including bowel, bladder and sexual function.

What Happens During Menopause?

Menopause is an important life transition for those with female anatomy, marking the end of the regular menstrual cycle and the transition to life beyond the reproductive period.

Babies born with female anatomy have a set number of eggs which are stored in their ovaries. The ovaries make the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which control monthly periods and ovulation. Menopause happens when ovaries no longer regularly release an egg every month and menstruation stops.

The age menopause starts can vary, but usually it is after the age of 40. Some people can go through menopause early, usually after a hysterectomy, damage to the ovaries, and sometimes from chemotherapy.

=Menopause Symptoms Can Affect Quality of Life

More than 80% of those with menopause report physical and psychological changes the period before, during and after the last menstrual cycle.

In Minkin et al.’s 2015 study of over 8,200 people going through menopausal found that up to 77% of respondents experienced changes in their genitals (vulva, vagina, pelvic floor) that affected their lifestyle, emotional well-being, and sexual function.

Common Menopause symptoms that affect the genitals:

Other common symptoms that affect quality of life:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Weight gain
  • Mood Swings
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches

Layered on top of the changes that happen with menopause are other underlying issues that existed before the onset of menopause like pelvic floor dysfunction, orthopedic dysfunction, vulvodynia, pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence, and bowel issues including chronic constipation and IBS. An existing pelvic floor issue with some menopause sprinkled on top can contribute to aggravated symptoms and reduced quality of life.

Common Menopausal Pelvic Health Issues and How Pelvic Floor Therapy can Help

Urinary Incontinence

Losing urine when with coughing, sneezing, and laughing is known as stress urinary incontinence. It is common to hear stories about this, as well as “overactive bladders” and “nervous bladders” which lose urine on the way to the bathroom and with strong urge.

Between 12.8 to 46% of women deal with urinary incontinence during their lifetime, with an increase during and after menopause. This is due to: a reduction of elasticity in the genital tissues, thinning in the tissues lining the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder, and reduced muscular strength in the pelvic floor, the group of muscles that supports your pelvis and keeps your “holes” closed.

How Pelvic Floor Therapy Can Help: Pelvic floor therapy can help you train your pelvic floor muscles, increasing the strength of the muscles. A pelvic floor therapist can will also correct muscle incoordination that can lead to leakage.

Bowel Issues

The research is inconclusive as to whether or not menopause directly causes or worsens constipation, diarrhea, and Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS). However it is clear that stress tension, and anxiety all affect bowel health and regularity.

How Pelvic Floor Therapy Can Help: A pelvic health therapist can help you with neuromuscular re-education, biofeedback, and self care techniques such as abdominal massage that can regulate the GI system and promote regularity.

Pelvic Pain and Painful Sex

According to Minkin et al. 77% of women with menopause report vaginal dryness, and about 40% report pain with sexual intercourse and touch to the genitals.

When sex is painful, this can trigger anxiety about sex. This anxiety then triggers a new cycle of sexual problems: muscle guarding, decreased lubrication, and pelvic floor tension.

How Pelvic Floor Therapy Can Help: A pelvic floor therapist can help break the muscle tension cycle with manual therapy and teaching you self-treatment to maintain gains at home. By releasing pelvic floor tension, you free pelvic floor muscles, allowing for pain free sex. Pelvic floor therapists can also screen for musculoskeletal dysfunction in the spine, hips and pelvis; educate about sexual ergonomics and help you find positions that reduce pain during intercourse. Pelvic floor therapists can also provide you with self care programs which can reduce dryness and irritation in the tissues of the vulva, labia, and vaginal canal.

Give the therapists at Femina Physical Therapy a call today!

Resources

Callan, N. G. L., Mitchell, E. S., Heitkemper, M. M., & Woods, N. F. (2018). Constipation and diarrhea during the menopause transition and early postmenopause. Menopause, 25(6), 615–624. doi:10.1097/gme.0000000000001057

Castellani, D., Saldutto, P., Galica, V., Pace, G., Biferi, D., Paradiso Galatioto, G., & Vicentini, C. (2015). Low-Dose Intravaginal Estriol and Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation in Post-Menopausal Stress Urinary Incontinence. Urologia Internationalis, 95(4), 417–421. doi:10.1159/000381989

Maltais ML, Desroches J, Dionne IJ. Changes in muscle mass and strength after menopause. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2009;9(4):186-97

Minkin, M. J., Reiter, S., & Maamari, R. (2015). Prevalence of postmenopausal symptoms in North America and Europe. Menopause, 22(11), 1231–1238. doi:10.1097/gme.0000000000000464

Mehta, R. S., & Staller, K. (2018). Menopausal transition and bowel disturbances. Menopause, 25(6), 589–590. doi:10.1097/gme.0000000000001110

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor.

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What Our Patients Have to Say

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Testimonial by A.B.

Before I was referred to Heather Jeffcoat I was living in a nightmare. I had been married to my husband for three years and I was suffering from Vaginismus. That all changed when I visited my OBGYN and she said she knew of someone with a great success rate. To be honest I was hesitant at first because my first doctor had already told me that all I needed to do was order dilators from the internet and I should overcome my problem. She was wrong because I had followed the book on how to use the dilators with absolutely no advancements in my condition. However, that all changed when I went in for my first visit and Heather took the time to explain my condition and how we were going to work together to overcome it.

I remember leaving her office with a glimmer of hope that I could live a normal life. As my sessions continued I began to see immediate results. With only four sessions and a strict dedication to my home programs I was cured of Vaginismus. In the beginning of this process I was made aware that my health insurance company might not cover the costs, which was disappointing but today I can say one hundred percent that it was the best money I ever spent. Now thanks to Heather I am finally enjoying my life to the fullest with my husband. Thank you Heather, I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all that you have done for me. I will never forget it. Those who are suffering from these types of conditions don’t be afraid because she makes you feel so comfortable and the end result is worth it. Good luck to you all and I hope you experience the success I have.
-- A.B.

Testimonial by Mary L.

I started seeing Heather to treat my Interstitial Cystitis in November 2016. At this time, I was extremely miserable, in constant pain, and felt as though no one was listening or understood what was going on with my body. I have just finished my last appointment and I can honestly say that my life has completely changed for the better because of Heather and her team of PTs! I live almost completely pain free, and when I do have flare ups, I am able to treat them at home on my own. I am so grateful that this office was recommended to me a honestly cannot recommend them enough!

Read more: Testimonial by Mary L.

Testimonial by Mary L.

I started seeing Heather to treat my Interstitial Cystitis in November 2016. At this time, I was extremely miserable, in constant pain, and felt as though no one was listening or understood what was going on with my body. I have just finished my last appointment and I can honestly say that my life has completely changed for the better because of Heather and her team of PTs! I live almost completely pain free, and when I do have flare ups, I am able to treat them at home on my own. I am so grateful that this office was recommended to me a honestly cannot recommend them enough!

Read more: Testimonial by Mary L.

Testimonial by J.H.

My last appointment with Heather was over 6 years ago but I still think of her every day. I don’t take for granted that I can easily get out of bed, care for my two active and busy young boys, run, play tennis, clean my house, or sit at a desk for several hours at a time. None of these tasks were easy for me before meeting Heather. Eight years ago my car was struck from behind by a tractor trailer that was estimated to have been speeding. I spent 3 years working with different PTs and Drs trying to heal and move on with my life. When I became pregnant and the hormone relaxin that “relaxes” all the joints of the body and the additional weight gain erased all my progress and I was suddenly in a lot of pain again. My OB sent me to Heather for one last try.

Read more: Testimonial by J.H.

Testimonial by R.D., age 38

"I had a severe tear during childbirth that was not stitched together correctly and therefore healed poorly. Even after having a surgery a year later to remove the scar tissue, I was still having pain, and no one could explain why -- there was no overt 'reason' to explain the pain. I had tried other 'specialists' and even saw another physical therapist who had me do hip / leg stretches -- what a joke! I was about to give up and just 'live with it' until thankfully I kept searching online and found Heather.

Read more: Testimonial by R.D., age 38

Testimonial by M.N., age 28

A personal journey and testimonial from one of my patients:

I was diagnosed with vaginismus 4 years ago. I never heard of such medical condition until after I got married. At first my husband and I didn't know what to do, we didn't know what the issues were or how to overcome it. Being born and raised in Armenia and being Christian I wasn't that open about talking to sex with others and so it wasn't easy to seek help. But eventually I went to an Ob-Gyn and luckily she knew about the medical condition (not many doctors know). She referred me to a physical therapist and I couldn't believe it and thought it's something I can handle myself. I ordered a kit from vaginismus.com and started practicing with dilators. There was some small progress but wasn't much helpful.

Read more: Testimonial by M.N., age 28

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