So today I’m going to write about my experiences with physical therapy. There’s nothing graphic or super personal in the post, though because it’s not appropriate dinner table conversation, I thought I’d give you the option of reading. Click below if you want to hear how it’s going! If the thought of anything below my waist is gross to you, this might not be for you.
In case you haven’t heard, I have a bladder disorder called interstitial cystitis. It’s similar to having a permanent UTI. Through diet and some medicine, my bladder has (knock on wood) gotten a lot better. Unfortunately, IC is a lonely disorder, meaning it doesn’t like to be alone. So it tends to come with a host of other disorders to really just add to the party. So though I usually just talk about IC, it turns out I also might have some combination of IC, vulvodynia, pelvic floor disorder, and endometriosis. (I swear, every time I go to the doctor they send me home with a new disorder. I would much prefer getting the sticker and fun eraser that I got as a kid).
Basically, everything between my knees and my belly button is a royal SNAFU, resulting in a lot of pelvic pain. It’s impossible to tell what exactly is causing what, but basically I’ve felt like I’ve been on my period for the last 6 months. My lower abdominal muscles have seized up and refused to let go and so now I basically just feel like I have permanent cramps. God bless my husband, he suggested Icy Hot which is the one thing that has kept me sane an been able to deal with the pain.
A few weeks ago, I started physical therapy. The goal of PT is to teach me how to relax my pelvic muscles, since apparently I am incapable of doing that on my own! I went for the first time the week before last. I can’t even tell you how nice it was to just do the intake appointment. I mean, the doctors I see are nice and all, but the physical therapist was fantastic. My Uro and Gyno have just been writing off the pain as “well, yeah that happens, take Aleve.” The physical therapist, on the other hand, seemed to really know a lot about pelvic pain. I had been telling docs about this localized pain on my right side for years, and they all responded with some version of “well, when you have pain in one area, you get it another as well.” She pushed right on it and said do you mean there? Apparently, it’s part of my inner-hip-flexor (I forget the “technical” term) and it’s common for it to be sore in people who have pelvic problems. So you mean it’s not a cancerous cyst about to erupt? Good to know! (and forget you, WebMD. You were wrong!)
After giving her my life story, the physical therapist taught me some deep breathing exercises. You know how people always say deep breathing is a cure all for everything? Apparently I was doing that wrong. Didn’t even know you could breathe wrong. The therapist explained that I was an “upper respiratory breather” meaning that when I took a deep breath, my upper chest expanded, and my abdominals contracted, putting pressure on my bladder. Instead, I should concentrate on filling out my lower abdominals/chest while breathing in, and at the same time, bearing down on my pelvic floor (as if I was trying to pee). Since I basically spend my life subconsciously holding my bladder as if to keep myself from peeing, doing this would teach my muscles that it’s OK to relax. Then, when I breathe in, I should lift my belly button into my spine and contract my pelvic floor muscles (think the muscles you use for Kegel exercises).
Besides the breathing exercises she also gave me some hip exercises, because apparently my hip strength is ZERO.
After week 1 of doing this, I can’t say that I’ve had that much of a difference in pain. Part of that though is that my pain fluctuates for unknown reasons. Though the deep breathing does seem to give me satisfaction about doing something for my muscles. Kinda like how you rub your sore neck muscles. It probably doesn’t change how long your neck is going to be sore, and it kinda hurts to do it, but for whatever reason it helps.
Today I got to do biofeedback therapy to see what was going on down there. Meaning, get this, I got to use what is essentially an electric tampon. I put it in, and then she plugged into a computer. I felt like I was an iPod being charged. The biofeedback thingy measures the electrical outputs in my body and displays it on a little screen, kinda like a heart rate monitor. First thing the therapist said when she got me hooked up was “Oh!” Dear health professionals: Please avoid words like “Oh!” and “Huh” when talking to your patients. It is not reassuring. Apparently, on the scale of 0-25, I was about at a 10. Most people who come in for therapy are around a 3 or 4, and then are able to relax to 2 or 1.5. Oops.
She had me squeeze a ball in between my legs and then release. There was no change on the monitor. What we should have seen is it going up and down as my muscles tensed and relax. Mine were too tense to relax. I had some more success with pushing my legs out. Next she did some relaxation techniques with me, focusing on breathing, relaxing my body, etc. By the end of that, the biofeedback thing was bugging my bladder so I had to take a break and go to the bathroom.
When I came back to try again, the monitor had started to go down towards 4 or 5. So that’s good news. I’m not completely broken! She gave me a few exercises to take home with me, such as squeezing a pillow between my legs, and then pushing my legs out with one of those rubber physical therapy bands. I’m going to go back in a few weeks to see if I’m getting better. To be honest, I have no expectations that I will get cured in a few weeks. But I think the people I am seeing really know what they are talking about, and have been really kind and very empathetic. I’ll update this again in a few weeks to let you know if things are improving!