Caring for the complex pelvic patient with Physical Therapy
Physical therapists specializing in pelvic health are confronted with a myriad of pelvic floor diagnoses and impairments which may result in pelvic organ prolapse (POP). Pelvic floor weakness secondary to muscle fiber damage or connective tissue abnormality may account for this phenomenon. Extenuating circumstances, such as a vaginal birth after cesarean section (VBAC), add further dimension to the patient’s presentation clinically. A 2014 study suggests that 65% of women experience successful VBAC deliveries, and there seems to be a growing trend of women requesting them.
I recently had the privilege to treat such a woman in the clinic. The patient was a 34 year old female referred to physical therapy (PT) by her obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) for evaluation of pelvic organ prolapse. The patient presented to physical therapy para 2 grava 2 (P2G2) indicating 2 pregnancies and 2 live births. On the day of evaluation she was 5.5 weeks post vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) of her second child. This three part series will analyze how documentation supported the evaluation, treatment, and outcomes of the patient.
At the time of initial evaluation her physician had not assigned a grade to her pelvic floor prolapse. Furthermore, the patient had not been evaluated for prolapse during cough; bear down, or in standing position, per patient report. Her primary concern was a feeling of heaviness and a sense that her organs were falling out, especially during standing and lifting tasks. Her physician had not yet performed a complete six week post-delivery examination, though this appointment was scheduled for three days after physical therapy evaluation.
The patient reported neither pain nor unintentional loss of urine (incontinence), though she felt weak throughout the abdominals and pelvic floor. Pertinent past medical history consisted of cesarean section 11/19/12 (almost two years prior to PT evaluation date) with subsequent hematoma at the surgical site which resolved with use of an abdominal binder. She is otherwise a very healthy woman with no comorbidities. The patient lives at home with her husband and two children, works as a physician assistant specializing in hospital based gastroenterology which requires prolonged standing during procedures and patient rounds.
She is an avid runner and aerobics instructor. She reports that there is good stress in her life with the birth of her second child. She was concerned that she would be unable to safely lift her toddler, run, or teach classes in her current state. Her primary goal was to be able to safely lift each of her children without the sense of heaviness in the pelvis. Secondary goals were to return to running and teaching aerobics classes which are her primary sources of recreation and stress reduction.
Past medical history is easily entered and accessible in the electronic chart.
There is burgeoning evidence to support physical therapy intervention for pelvic organ prolapse. A Cochrane Database System Review analyzed three randomized control trials (RCT’s) and found that pelvic floor muscle training may result in prevention of symptom worsening, and better self-reported patient outcomes. Furthermore, there is Level I evidence via 3-D ultrasonography that supervised pelvic floor training can increase PFM volume, close the levator hiatus, shorten muscle length, and elevate the resting position of the bladder and rectum in patients with POP. The researchers noted improvement in muscle thickness in both stage I POP and in symptomatic women with stage II or greater as determined by the Pelvic Organ Prolapse Quantification Scale (POP-Q).
As a measure of functional outcome, the patient was asked to complete the Pelvic Floor Impact Questionnaire-short form 7 (PFIQ-7). This outcome measure is a patient report of impact of symptoms of bladder, bowel, and prolapse impairments, and allows the therapist to gauge the level of impact and frustration that the patient experiences due to their symptoms so that treatment may be tailored to fit their individual needs. The PFIQ-7 was found in long form to be valid and reliable for women with disorders of pelvic floor including urinary and fecal incontinence, as well as pelvic organ prolapse. It is internally consistent (0.96-0.97), and reproducible (0.77-0.92), and the prolapse section was found to be significantly correlated with the stage of prolapse of the individual. The short form is faster for the patient to complete, and was found to maintain excellent correlation with the long form (r=0.95 to 0.96), with test-retest reliability P<.001). The outcome may be analyzed in subsets for bladder, bowel, and pelvic symptoms, respectively. This patient received a score total of 0 on the bladder and rectum subsets, and a score of 19 on the pelvis subset for a total score of 19 on the scale.
Musculoskeletal screening included assessment of posture in standing and sitting as this can be beneficial as an assessment of structural alignment according to the American Physical Therapy Association’s Guide to Clinical Practice 2nd Edition. The patient demonstrated mild forward head, mild anterior shoulder positioning with mildly increased thoracic kyphosis and lumbar lordosis. Pelvic symmetry was assessed by palpating the bony landmarks of the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) bilaterally, and the pelvis was mildly anterior rotated on the left. This pelvic position was verified in the supine position to account for possible interaction of limb length discrepancy. Limb length was measured and found to be insignificant with the right lower extremity measuring 1 millimeter longer than the right. Abdominal strength was graded 3+/5 as she was able to lower her legs no greater than a 60 degree angle while maintaining posterior pelvic tilt, according to Kendall’s muscle testing scheme.
PT examination sought to determine the nature of the heaviness in the pelvis through observation and palpation of the pelvic floor in supine hook lying position. This is done in order to assess the response of the pelvic floor and determine which walls of the pelvic floor appear to be affected.
Musculoskeletal physical therapy differential diagnosis included pelvic floor dysfunction resulting in prolapse, and increased abdominal pressure due to visceral adhesions from previous c-section.
Documentation to demonstrate verbal and written consent for external and internal pelvic floor examination are pertinent.
bestPT is able to create unique objective components to demonstrate that consent has been verified. Furthermore it is possible to scan in and attach release forms that have been signed by the patient.
In the next installment, we will discuss treatment techniques in this unique women’s health sub-population.
-Amanda Olson, DPT