Remember, it’s OK to Walk Before You Run.

Today I just wanted to remind you that its okay – in fact not just okay, but necessary – to walk before you run. To slow things down and master the basics before trying to get to the advanced stuff. To recognize that just because you aren’t achieving your end goal at this moment in time, it doesn’t mean you won’t get there. And most importantly to appreciate that its your habits over time that make the biggest impact on your results.

I once had a goal of doing a pull-up. So, in an effort to achieve my goal I would jump on the pull-up bar and try with all my might to do a pull-up. My legs kicked everywhere, my neck got all tense, and I pretty much just shrugged my shoulders instead of using any sort of useful strategy to lift my body upwards. Oh, and then I would always have to let go of the bar because I didn’t actually have the grip, back or core strength to hold on to it for long.

I was trying to run before I walked.

I was trying to perform my end goal before developing the strength and movement patterns needed to successfully execute this goal. And in my effort I ended up just creating a number of compensations that were harder to break later when I focused instead on learning the fundamentals.

Fast forward to today: I still can’t do a pull-up, but I can hang on the bar with all the right muscles engaged and hold myself there in a solid position. If I have a coach around, with their assistance I can pull-up without those wonky strategies I once used – no flailing legs, sore neck or shoulder shrugs. And I know that this puts me at a much better trajectory towards the end goal of a pull-up than if I had just kept trying to “do a pull-up”.

I think we are all guilty of this sometimes. Of wanting to reach our end goal so badly that we skip steps along the way. But most always the process of learning the skill is so important and doing so properly under the guidance of a coach will help you achieve your goal at a much faster rate AND avoid a lot of frustration along the way.

What This Means in Relation to Our Pelvic Health

When it comes to our pelvic health I find a lot of times women start running before they walk. And to be clear, I don’t mean literal running and walking. I mean trying to do advanced versions of their pelvic floor exercises or advanced exercises (with little to no coaching) that they may not yet be ready for.

The progression of what we work on will differ, of course, depending on the individual, the presence of any pelvic floor dysfunction and the activities they are doing. But to give you a few examples of the most common cases of running before walking I see are as follows:

  • Practicing Pelvic Floor Muscle Contractions (PFMC aka Kegels) when you are not ready to do so (either due to incorrect technique or oversight pelvic floor muscles
  • Holding the contractions longer than you are capable of, leading to compensations
  • Doing other exercises with poor form (holding breath, increasing intra abdominal pressure unnecessarily)
  • Doing exercises your pelvic floor is not yet able to tolerate

Sometimes doing these things can lead to further dysfunction (aka worsening symptoms, which no one wants!), or simply putting forth a substantial effort with little to no results from all the hard work. Either way, it can be incredibly frustrating to work towards something without seeing the results you want.

When this happens, we just need to re-adjust and focus on finding out what it is we need to be doing to see continued progress! And I am here to help you do just that

How Do You Know What is Too Much?

Quite simply, you will know by working with a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist who will assess your body (including your pelvic floor) and determine what is best for you.

You see, during an assessment we look at the whole body (posture, alignment, movement, range of motion, coordination, strength, tissue health) including a detailed assessment of the pelvic floor. When speaking of the pelvic floor we assess your ability to voluntarily contract and relax those muscles (in other words, can you do a Kegel properly? Can you relax those same Kegel muscles?), the strength and endurance of the muscles, the coordination of your pelvic floor (does it contract and relax when it is supposed to? Is the timing right?), and how supportive it is to the organs above/is there a prolapse present.

Based on this assessment we will guide you and coach you on how to train the muscles of your pelvic floor to work on any one or combination of the following: strength, endurance, power, and/or coordination. We will coach you on how to move and exercise effectively to both improve your overall fitness and health, but also to both protect and improve your pelvic health.

When your body starts making compensations, or symptoms start occurring (incontinence, pain) we know that we have to adjust what we are doing. Common compensations related to the pelvic floor include holding your breath (which can sometimes lead to more pressure on the pelvic floor) and recruiting other, bigger, muscles or strategies, such as using the abdominal muscles, glute muscles, squeezing your thighs together and tensing your upper body.

What this Blog is NOT Telling You

I want to be clear: I am here to work with to ensure you experience success when it comes to your pelvic floor muscle training and training in general. I will help guide and coach you on how to progress your pelvic floor muscle training, chat with you about all the lifestyle and behavioural strategies we can use, and work with strength coaches to ensure you are incorporating physical fitness.

When I say you have to walk before you run, what I am NOT telling you is this:

  • You can only walk for fitness
  • Running is bad for you
  • You can’t workout and train
  • You can’t do most exercises
  • You are not doing as well as you should be or you are not good enough
  • Something is “wrong” with you
  • You won’t get better
  • You are alone in this

No. All of these are NOT true.

You can workout. You might be able to run. You can do most exercises, though some may just need to be modified slightly.

You see, it isn’t so much about what exercise you do, but how you do it. And luckily I work with some amazing strength coaches who are highly educated and skilled so they can ensure you can have a great workout doing things you love that will not only not negatively affect your pelvic floor, but that will help!

You are good enough. Nothing is wrong with you. You will get better. You are not alone.

So many people think that whatever they are dealing with – be it incontinence, pelvic pain, prolapse, weakness – is just going to be their new normal. That they just have to get “used to it”. This is absolutely not the case! Regardless of what symptoms or things you are experiencing know this: it is common, but there is SO much we can do and you will see change. Because you are not alone in this. So many other women experience these same symptoms, and they, along with us are here with you. We will guide and coach you and ensure that you can be your best you.

Remember: it’s not only okay, but it is also necessary to walk before you run. Allow yourself to go through the process instead of rushing to the finish line. I promise, it will be worth it in the end.

What to Look for in a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist

Your pelvic health is such a huge part of your overall well-being and quality of life, and I’m so happy to see that this critically important aspect of our health is starting to get some more attention in mainstream media and news as of late.

Women have long since suffered from pelvic floor dysfunctions including pelvic pain, incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, or pain with sex, usually believing that these symptoms are simply their new ‘normal’.

One thing that us pelvic health physiotherapists have known for years, and what we have worked tireless to educate the world on, however, is that though these symptoms are incredibly common, they are NOT normal. This means though many women experience these things, there is so much that we can do about it to make you feel and move better and to help you rid yourself of these symptoms and feel amazing!

Though North America isn’t quite as advanced as many places in Europe such as France and the Netherlands that include pelvic health physiotherapy as mandatory after women have a baby, our medical professionals and patients alike are learning more and more the importance of having your pelvic floor assessed and treated if any of the above symptoms occur, or after giving birth to a baby.

And though I’m incredibly happy to know that this change is starting and to hear that more and more women are taking charge of their own health by seeking out help with a physiotherapist, I must caution one thing:

Please beware of who you entrust your health to.

Do not pick just anyone, just any practitioner who tells you they treat pelvic floor dysfunctions.

Find someone who you can trust, someone who is highly educated and who treats you as a whole person.

As amazing as it is to me that we are talking more and more about pelvic health in popular media, we must be careful as it is also becoming “trendy” to talk about, which means even those people who are not truly educated and skilled in assessing and treating the pelvic floor are jumping on the pelvic health bandwagon in an effort to not be left behind.

This is why I want you to arm you with some important knowledge before you pick the physiotherapist that you will work with to better your health.

  1. Your physiotherapist should perform an internal examination

I am quite shocked at the number of physiotherapists who claim to treat common pelvic floor dysfunctions who are not trained in, nor perform, an internal examination.

Though I do applaud and think it important that all physiotherapists take continuing education on pelvic health and learn some basic external clues and assessments for dysfunction, it is not appropriate to entrust these same therapists to assess and treat your pelvic floor dysfunctions.

Assessing the pelvic floor without doing an internal exam is like an orthopedic surgeon or physiotherapist assessing the shoulder without ever touching it, or a physician assessing your abdominal pain without lifting up your shirt.

This would (rightly) be thought of as ludicrous and completely unacceptable, yet for some reason has been thought of as ok in the world of pelvic health.

You see, the pelvic floor muscles are on the inside of our body. They surround the opening of the urethra, vagina and rectum and the only way they can truly be assessed is via an internal assessment where a physiotherapist uses a gloved finger in the vagina or rectal canal. In fact, research study after research study has shown that the gold standard recommended first line of defense against most pelvic floor dysfunctions is pelvic floor physiotherapist using internal assessment and treatment techniques.

Though it is important to look at external factors, muscles, and movements during assessment and treatment (as it would be with any injury and to not look at the body in isolation), not addressing the pelvic floor muscles themselves is missing a big part of the picture.

In order to fully test muscle symmetry, strength, length, and tone, there must be an internal exam. In order to look at the presence of trigger points, the irritability of the peripheral nerves, to see if the connective tissue is involved, there must be an internal exam. In order to assess sensitivity, blood flow, myofascial restrictions, and the positions of the coccyx and organ positions, there must be an internal exam.

And in order to properly teach and coach you on what to do – whether it be how to properly contract those muscles to strengthen them or learn to effectively relax those muscles to decrease tone – an internal exam is truly the game changer and the gold standard.

So, when it comes to working with a professional when it comes to your pelvic health, please ask the questions and make sure they are trained and educated in how to properly assess and treat the pelvic floor internally as well as externally and accept nothing less.

  1. Your physiotherapist should also have a strong orthopedic background

Your body, including your pelvic floor, does not work in isolation. Instead it works together as a system, a unit, to create movement. This is why it is important that your pelvic health physiotherapist has a strong background and knowledge in orthopedics as well. That they understand proper movement and exercise. Good alignment, movement, and overall body strength is a huge part of pelvic health as well and should not be overlooked.

Common areas that may be involved in pelvic floor dysfunctions include your spine, SI joint, hips, core, and even your feet! Having a physiotherapist who can effectively assess and treat these areas of your body and how your body moves as a whole is so important in order to best treat you as a whole.

In addition, your physiotherapist should be able to teach you and modify exercises so that you can continue (or start!) to incorporate full body strengthening and fitness into your life as this is such a crucial part to both our overall and specific pelvic health. They should also have a referral network of trusted and skilled strength and conditioning coaches whom they work closely with in order to help you get your best results.

  1. Your physiotherapist should discuss with you behavioural and lifestyle changes that are crucial to your pelvic health

There is so much amazing research out there that shows the huge benefit of pelvic floor muscle training done with a physiotherapist for a number of pelvic floor dysfunctions. However, there is also a ton of amazing research out there that shows the huge benefits of behavioural and lifestyle changes on pelvic floor dysfunctions as well.

This is why it is crucial that your physiotherapist not talk ONLY about the exercises you should do, but also about important strategies and modifications you can make throughout your day to day activities that can make huge and positive changes for your health. These should include, but are not limited to, nutrition and physical activity, bathroom behaviours, managing constipation, and managing fluid intake.

These tips and tricks may oftentimes seem simple, but they are not always common sense and oftentimes need to be discussed to understand their importance. I remember when I was first delving in to my pelvic health education I was shocked at how obviously important these were but something that I had never once previously considered.

  1. Your Physiotherapist is current on new research, evidence, and is using the best methods to help you get results

It is so important that your physiotherapist does not using a cookie-cutter approach to treatment. This means that what works for one person may not work for another, and your therapist needs to be prepared and be able to work with a multitude of different conditions with a variety of different treatment methods to ensure best outcomes.

It is also important that they stay current with research and best practices in the world of pelvic and orthopedic physiotherapy to offer you the best treatment possible.

For example, you may have heard of some therapists using what is called biofeedback while others do not. What’s that all about?

Essentially, biofeedback (in the pelvic health world) uses sensors both internally and externally that measure muscle activity which then give a visual representation of what the muscle are doing on a laptop screen. This gives you the ability to know, in real time, what muscles are doing what by seeing the activity on screen. You will be able to see if your pelvic floor is contracting or relaxing, or if other muscles such as your abdominals or glutes are taking over and compensating. The key with this tool is that you get this feedback in real time and can make immediate adjustments to better learn.

And according to a Cochrane Review (a highly authoritative and reliable research resource) looking at incontinence it was determined that women who received biofeedback in addition to pelvic floor muscle training were significantly more likely to report that their urinary incontinence was cured or improved compared to those who received pelvic floor muscle training alone.

Though there may be times when biofeedback is not necessary, there are also many times when it is highly beneficial, leading to significantly improved outcomes for pelvic floor dysfunctions.

It is therefore important that your therapist is trained and set up to use this important tool in their practice in order to help alleviate and cure your symptoms effectively and efficiently!

In Conclusion:

These are just a few important things to consider when choosing the right health practitioner to work with and I could go on and on adding about 10 other things, but I don’t want to bore you with yet another long read by me, so I will leave you with these, most important points.

Know that it is OK to ask your practitioner questions. Ask them about these things, about their education, about their experience, about how long they have been doing this, about who their colleagues and mentors have been. You have to advocate for your own health and it is OK to want only the best for yourself.