Purpose Statement

This blog is intended to educate women on issues that affect women. Although we are all healthcare professionals, we are not here to give medical advice. Rather we hope this will encourage women knowing that help is available and give them the courage to seek help.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How to Strengthen Your Pelvic Muscles

Muscles in your pelvic floor can get weak just like any other muscle in your body. Some of the common reasons these muscles get weak are aging, inactivity, pregnancy, childbirth and hormonal changes. There are other factors such as obesity, chronic cough and chronic constipation that put constant pressure on the pelvic floor and cause it to weaken over time. A weak pelvic floor can not function optimally and you may begin to experience urine or fecal leakage, organ prolapse (this is where the pelvic organs such as the bladder and uterus start to fall down because the muscles are too weak to hold them up where they should be) and decreased sexual response.

If you are not currently experiencing any of the above problems, now is the time to start exercising your muscles to prevent future problems. On the other hand, if you are currently experiencing symptoms of pelvic floor weakness or pain, then I would suggest you talk to your doctor or women’s health physical therapist. If you are not doing the exercises correctly they may not be beneficial or could possibly aggravate your symptoms.

So, how do you exercise those muscles? Well, first you need to know if you are using the right muscles. Many people try to use their abdominals or hip muscles and aren’t actually contracting their pelvic muscles. One way to identify these muscles is to try to stop your urine flow in midstream. If you have weak pelvic floor muscles this will be difficult but these are the muscles you would use to stop the flow. Only try this a time or two to get an awareness of these muscles. It is not good for you to do this regularly because it can lead to other urinary issues.

You can do these exercises anywhere and anytime but in the beginning you may want to do them lying down so you can concentrate more. Start with these 2 exercises:

1. Squeeze your pelvic muscles and hold for 10 seconds (if you can’t hold it for 10 seconds then start with less and work up to 10 as you get stronger). You will want to squeeze as you exhale. This is a great time to practice your deep breathing as instructed in our last blog. After you squeeze for 10 seconds then you need to relax for 10 seconds to give your muscles a quick break. Repeat this process 10 times and try to do this 3 times a day.

2. Remember in our previous blog on anatomy we talked about 30% of the muscle fibers in the pelvic floor are fast twitch fibers. The way we exercise these is to squeeze but don’t hold. So this time you will squeeze and let go. Repeat this 5-10 times. I like to call these the “red light exercises”. How easy it is to do a few of these while you are stopped at the red light!

Remember, be patient and don’t get discouraged. It takes time to strengthen a muscle but it is worth your time. Consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions. Happy exercising!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Do you know how to breathe?

This may seem like an odd question but most women don’t know how to breathe correctly. Have you ever watched a little baby sleeping on their back? They look so peaceful; their little bellies just rising and falling. As you get older and are exposed to the stressors of life we start to take more shallow breaths, using our upper chest. You stop taking those deep relaxing belly breaths that we took as babies.

So what is deep breathing? Deep breathing is breathing lower into your rib cage using your diaphragm. The diaphragm is the breathing muscle. It is a large domed shape muscle that sits under the rib cage, wrapping all the way around to the back. When you breathe in, the diaphragm flattens into the abdomen. This causes the belly to rise and the rib cage to expand out to the sides. Your shoulders and neck should stay relaxed. Your upper chest will move some but the majority of the movement should be in your belly and lower rib cage area. As you breathe out, your belly should fall and rib cage should go in. Make sure you don’t push your belly out as your breathe in; think about your lower belly gently expanding as you take that breath in. As you breathe out, make sure you exhale all the air out. Your exhalation should be longer than your inhalation. Try counting to 5 breathing in but then count to 10 as you breath out.

Practice your deep breathing lying down, maybe before you go to bed. Think about your lower belly staying soft and relaxed. When you get really good at your deep breathing, you may begin to feel your sit bones opening up or spreading as you breathe in. As you breathe out, they should slightly come back together.

So why is breathing so important? Deep breathing oxygenates your muscles and improves the blood flow throughout your body. Taking deep breaths is also calming to your body and lowers your heart rate. If you suffer from pain, taking deep breaths is a great tool to help manage your pain. Deep breathing is crucial to relax the pelvic muscles if you suffer from pelvic pain. If you suffer from incontinence, breathing is essential to engage your pelvic floor muscles correctly. We may not need to take deep breaths all day every day but it is SO important to be good at it and practice occasionally throughout your day.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Family Culture

A young artist I know is creating a retrospective of the 1960s. As she describes each photograph, I am reminded of how far women have come in their ability to talk about their health and their sexuality. Over the past 50 years, times have changed enough that women of today are desensitized to advertisements on female nutrition, exercise, menstruation, birth control and menopause. Teenage girls are free to use words like "period," "pregnant," "condom," "tampon," "vagina" and "penis" without embarrassment, and adult women confidently describe vaginal dryness, yeast infections and hot flashes.

Though times have changed, each of us carries from our pasts our health legacy. What did you inherit? Is it a family history of breast cancer? At what age? What was the treatment? What was the outcome? Is it a legacy of hysterectomy? Heart disease? Incontinence? Gallbladder disease?

In addition to inheriting a health history, we inherit an emotional health history as well. In Toni’s family, for instance, all the women had hysterectomies around age 50 because in 1947 Grandma died of uterine cancer. As Toni approached 50, she was insistent that she have a hysterectomy, too, although her gynecologist assured her that her body was healthy. Through counseling, Toni realized that her wish for a hysterectomy had more to do with "fitting in" with the women of her family than it did with her health.

Toni’s case is an example of how the women of our families convey to their images of sexual health to us. Some families teach the girls in a natural way about good sexuality, common sexual problems and ways to maintain sexual health. Others are the opposite. Young adolescent girls are shocked to find they are bleeding vaginally and are frightened that something is wrong with them. Some brides are taught to have sex with their husbands no matter how painful or demanding it is. Others learn that you never discuss sexual issues with anyone, including the doctor. And yet, others learn that women are subservient to men, and the family focus is on the males and their satisfaction, while devaluing the females.

What is your emotional health culture?


To discover more about your emotional health legacy, draw a family tree and after labeling the family members, write down what you know about:

their health history
their sexual history
how their health and/or sexuality affected their behavior
how other family members reacted to them
what has been taught to you
what are your perceptions about your own emotional health history

Monday, May 9, 2011

Interstitial Cystitis

It is a just another normal day except for this nagging need to urinate every 30 minutes, feeling a constant urge to urinate, and now having pain with urination.  Uh Oh sounds like another UTI.  This is the fourth time this year you’ve had these symptoms, so you must have another urinary tract infection (UTI).  Or is it a UTI?  The symptoms are the same as the previous three times.  Every other time you went to your provider, gave a urine sample and left with a prescription for a UTI.  Not a UTI, what else could it be?  It could be a condition called Interstitial Cystitis or Painful Bladder Syndrome.
Interstitial Cystitis (IC) is an inflammatory condition of the bladder that can mimic a UTI.  The symptoms of a UTI and IC are often the same however the urine culture is negative for an infection with IC.  IC is characterized by frequent urination (>8 times per 24 hours), urinary urgency (sudden or constant desire to urinate), pain or burning with urination, pelvic pressure, pelvic pain, and pain with intercourse.  You may experience only 1 or 2 of the symptoms or all of the symptoms.  The symptoms can come and go or remain constant.  IC symptoms can be triggered by certain foods, stress, allergies, and sex. 
Approximately 4 million people have interstitial cystitis with the majority being women.  Diagnosing IC can be challenging as the symptoms can mimic other diseases and syndromes.  IC is not clearly understood and it is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. Often patients see several different providers before obtaining an accurate diagnosis.  The good news is that IC is gaining more attention among medical providers and being diagnosed more readily.  Once you are given a diagnosis of IC there are treatment options available to help the symptoms. 
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and suspect you may have interstitial cystitis, I encourage you to seek help.  If you are not sure who specializes in IC in your area, please visit http://www.ichelp.org/ and click on Find a Provider to receive a list of providers.
In future blogs we will go into more detail about IC, symptoms, and treatment options.