Physical therapy is a great tool to help patients recover from injuries, address pain and improve their strength and mobility.
At Regional One Health, therapists incorporate a number of techniques to help patients achieve those goals, including pelvic floor physical therapy and dry needling.
When paired with therapeutic exercises and lifestyle changes, both options can have a significant positive impact on a patient’s quality of life.
Patients undergo physical therapy for a variety of reasons, but the overarching goal is to improve quality of life through reduced pain and enhanced function. That includes some options many patients don’t expect, like pelvic floor physical therapy and dry needling.
Darianne Butler, PT offers both at Regional One Health. “They’re great tools and very beneficial for patients, but they’re both underutilized,” she said. “We want to be proactive as opposed to reactive in our treatment, and these modalities can prevent worsening of certain chronic conditions and even keep patients from needing surgery.”
During National Rehab Week, our rehabilitation therapy professionals are educating the public on how they can help with a variety of concerns. Butler described what to expect if you seek out pelvic floor physical therapy or dry needling.
Pelvic floor physical therapy
Pelvic floor physical therapy can help patients with a variety of complaints: urinary or fecal incontinence and urgency, constipation, pelvic pressure, back pain, and pain during sexual intercourse, internal exams or when using a tampon.
“Just like any other muscle group in your body, the pelvic floor muscles can become overstretched or tight,” Butler said. “This can lead to pain and dysfunction.”
Butler starts with a thorough exam and interview. During the interview, she asks about medical and surgical history as well as the complaint specific to pelvic floor dysfunction: symptoms, how long they’ve been happening, what makes it worse or better, if there are patterns or trends.
“I also listen to what they want to get out of therapy,” she said. “Then together we set a plan to achieve the goals we both agree upon.”
Education about lifestyle changes can help many patients. For example, a better diet might help with constipation or incontinence, or ergonomic improvements can help with back pain.
Butler also teaches patients exercises for the pelvic floor muscles. “Kegels aren’t always the answer,” she noted – she also targets the core muscles to improve strength, flexibility, posture, etc.
Pelvic floor therapists can also use modalities such as electrical stimulation to reduce pain and biofeedback to encourage the muscles to contract or relax. Heating pads or cold packs can also help patients ease swelling, pain and inflammation.
While pelvic floor therapy is specific to one part of the body, dry needling is a technique that can address pain just about anywhere, Butler said.
“Dry needling is similar to acupuncture, but we’re looking at it from more of a musculoskeletal standpoint,” she said. “Patients can develop trigger points, which are taut, irritable bands of muscle. They can cause pain and refer pain to different areas of the body.”
Again, treatment starts with a thorough evaluation. Butler learns about underlying conditions that could impact treatment, and asks about the location and severity of the pain.
During a session, she inserts a thin needle into the trigger points. Using a gentle winding motion, she manipulates the needle to encourage the muscles to relax.
Dry needling can be used almost anywhere on the body, Butler said. If patients are experiencing pain in more than one place, she focuses on one area per session.
Butler said some patients feel mild soreness after a session, but many get immediate relief from their underlying pain. A series of treatments can provide long-term lasting improvement.
“It has shown to be effective for everything from headaches to tendonitis to scar mobility to chronic pain conditions,” Butler said. “There’s even a protocol for knee osteoarthritis, and studies show it can improve lubrication to the joint and prolong the need for replacement.”
Comprehensive therapy care
Butler said patients can access physical therapy in the state of Tennessee without a physician’s referral. That includes dry needling and pelvic floor therapy, and both are typically incorporated into an overall physical therapy program to fully address the patient’s needs.
“We want to pair these techniques with therapeutic exercises, strengthening and stretching,” she said. “When patients are consistent with doing their exercises at home and incorporating healthy practices like improved diet, they see excellent results.”