An urgent (bladder) matter

Do you have a problem with your bladder and feel you need to speak to someone about it? To talk about bladder issues is a big deal for many people because it feels very private. But, did you know that 1 in 3 women in Australia have a bladder control problem? Yes, it really is THAT common. This month’s blog aims to release the fear of speaking out about a condition known as bladder urgency, and to show you that help is at hand.

woman with bladder urgency

What is bladder urgency?

Bladder urgency is a sudden, desperate and uncomfortable need to empty your bladder. Imagine walking down the street doing your weekly window shopping and instantly feeling like you have to wee. At this point it’s a frantic scramble to try and find the nearest toilet to avoid having an accident there and then. The feeling can be described as a “busting need to go to the toilet”. This can occur several times a day, and if it does, this need to urinate over and over is known as frequency.

Types of bladder urgency

There are two types of bladder urgency:

  • Dry urgency: You have the sudden urge to urinate and are able to reach the toilet without leaking any urine
  • Wet urgency: You have the sudden urge to urinate and leak urine on the way to, or as you reach the toilet

Dry urgency will commonly go undiagnosed because women who experience it think it is their normal bladder habit, and do not seek the help of a professional. It is those women who have accidents before reaching the toilet (a distressing and often embarrassing experience) who tend to speak up and ask for help.

Causes of bladder urgency

There are many causes of bladder urgency, including:

  • An overactive bladder that contracts when it should not
  • Overactive, weak, or damaged pelvic floor muscles
  • An overly sensitive nervous system (triggered by stress, anxiety, poor sleep and even winter chills)
  • Constipation
  • Low oestrogen levels (commonly associated with breast feeding and menopause)
  • Poor toileting habits
  • Trained family habits extending through generations

A common picture we see in clinic is that of someone experiencing urgency due to an over-sensitive nervous system. A normal bladder can store anywhere between 500-700mls of urine before the brain tells you to go for a wee. In a normal setting, this occurs without the sudden, urgent feeling. With an over-sensitive nervous system, only small amounts of urine collected stimulate nerve endings in the bladder wall, sending messages to the brain to tell the woman to find a toilet… and quick. The bladder (said to be overactive) is unable to fill to its normal levels, and many people will start to develop a pattern of lots of toilet visits, combined with only eliminating small amounts of wee each time. Unfortunately for many women, this can run through the day and night, leading to disturbed sleep patterns, which increases stress and anxiety levels.

Now throw COVID-19 into the equation. The current pandemic is creating a lot of added stress and anxiety for many of us. Here at Physiotherapy for Women, our therapists have noticed a marked increase in cases of bladder urgency presenting to the clinic over the last four months. The pandemic has forced many of us to work from home, providing the convenience of a comfortable toilet nearby whenever needed, leading to poor bladder habits. As you can see, there are many factors at play here with lots to consider for the therapist and patient when implementing treatment.

Treatment

Assessment and treatment of every woman’s bladder issue requires a Physiotherapist who has completed the required post-graduate training in women’s health. The aim is to help each woman develop her own skills in reducing the bladder urge, frequency of urination, and any leakage she may experience. Everyone’s circumstances are different and requires a unique approach for the individual. We have treated many women with bladder control conditions, meaning we know how to work with you to find out what works for you.

Treatment techniques may include:

  • Release of overactive pelvic floor muscles
  • Strengthening and re-training of weak or damaged pelvic floor muscles
  • Stress management
  • Advice on training your bladder habits

Do not let your bladder be the boss of your life. We encourage you to speak up now and side-step the negativity surrounding bladder problems. Call us on 08 8443 3355 to get help from our experienced, highly trained Physiotherapists.

Core topic: The thorax

Hello ladies and welcome to another installment of our health blog. This month we are focusing on the trunk, specifically the mid-back region of the trunk known as the ‘thorax’. This is one of the most commonly treated areas of the body in our clinic. It is central to many disorders we see on a daily basis, including neck, shoulder and low back complaints.

Anatomy

The trunk or ‘torso’ is the central core of the human body, out of which comes our arms, legs and neck. The torso can be broken down into three parts: the thorax, the abdomen and the pelvic bowl. The thorax, being the top part of the torso, is separated from the abdomen (the lower part) by a big muscle known as the diaphragm. Above the diaphragm sits the lungs and heart which are surrounded by our protective rib cage. The rib cage is made up of 12 pairs of ribs that (for the most part) attach at the back to the ‘thoracic’  vertebrae in the spine, and at the front to our chest bone (aka the ‘sternum’). It is an intricate part of the body which is made up of lots of joints, ligaments and muscles that all function together to allow us to move and breathe efficiently.

An analogy

woman being massaged helping her thorax and mid-back pain

The thorax, being a large part of our core, plays a pivotal role in the transfer of loads or forces that act on the body when we move. Our body is a unit, so it makes sense that a problem in one area can affect another area distant from that part. The mid-back has close connections to the neck, shoulder, low back and pelvis. If we have pain or are not moving well in the mid-back, then this can lead to problems in all the other areas (and vice versa). We liken the thorax to a train station. The trains coming into the thorax are the various loads or forces that are transferring from other parts of the body. Choo-choo!

A good example here would be if the muscles that span and stabilise the thorax are too tight, too weak, or simply activate at the wrong time in an attempt to handle one of the trains (forces) transferring through the region, the station becomes loud (ouch!) and over-excited. What results is pain and poor movement patterns.

A stiff rib or spinal joint may be able to cope with the loads temporarily, but eventually derailment occurs, and chaos ensues. The same can be said for joints at the other end of the spectrum. An overly flexible joint will struggle to deal with load just as much as an overly stiff joint does. Again, poor movement and pain occur.

The emotion of it all

Treating a person in pain is a complex thing. Yes we have to take into account how someone is moving and what they do daily to increase load on their body, but there is commonly an underlying emotional aspect to a person’s pain that we also need to break into with our treatment. Many women we treat do not realise the effect that stress has on their bodies. Pent up energy from everyday life stresses and difficult work and social aspects, gets stored and held in the thorax region of the body. Common areas we treat here include the tops of the shoulders, ribs and diaphragm. Muscles become tight, joints become stiff, and unless we can help to restore balance to this busy area of the body, the cycle continues with poor movement and painful episodes. When the trains aren’t running on time, it can get a bit much!

Problems in this region can also lead to poor breathing mechanics which can lead to a variety of issues including lack of energy, fatigue, and poor muscle function. A release of the diaphragm muscle under the rib cage can be helpful in releasing the tension and emotion held within us.

Treatment

Every woman we see in clinic requires a specific treatment plan, based on their presentation and needs. Pregnant, young, old, active or sedentary… We listen carefully to every woman who comes through our door before carrying out a thorough examination. Our findings will then help formulate a unique treatment plan which we discuss with each patient in depth before commencing treatment.

For complaints in the thorax, whether it be an angry over-worked muscle, a stiff spinal joint, or a sprained rib joint, we use a combination of:

  • Hands-on techniques to relieve tight muscles and stiff joints
  • Exercise prescription to increase strength and flexibility, and improve movement patterns
  • Postural advice / exercises
  • Stress management techniques to increase a patient’s awareness of their emotional state

Next steps

If you are struggling with mid-back, rib or pain elsewhere in the thorax, please call us today on 08 8443 3355. We’ll focus the spotlight on your busy train station and get things running smoothly and on time in no time at all.

Injury blog: Gluteal tendinopathy

Do you have pain on the outside of your hip area? If so, this blog will be worth a read. This month we are looking at a common issue we see in clinic involving a group of muscles known as the gluteal muscles. These muscles are prone to developing sore tender spots in them, but we are going to focus more on the tendons of these muscles… Specifically on an injury known as ‘tendinopathy’.

Your glute anatomy

The gluteal muscles are found in the hip and buttock region of the body and consist of three muscles altogether. These are:

  • Gluteus Maximus: A large buttock muscle which helps to move the hip backwards and rotate it outwards.
  • Gluteus Medius: A fan-shaped muscle found on the side of the hip between the pelvis and the hard bony ball you can feel a short way down your upper leg on the outside. This muscle helps to move the hip out sideways, as well as rotate the hip and stabilise the pelvis when we walk or run.
  • Gluteus Minimus: Another fan shaped muscle which sits deep to the gluteus medius muscle and performs a similar role.

The tendons of the gluteus medius and minimus muscles, where they attach into the thighbone, are commonly exposed to high amounts of compression and loading, which over time leave them open to injury. We will be talking about the medius and minimus muscles here.

What is tendinopathy?

Tendinopathy is the name we give to an injured tendon, whereby the tendon has undergone physical change, due to excessive loads acting on them when we move incorrectly over a long period of time. An example involving the gluteal muscles is where imbalances in the relationship between the pelvis and thighbone (i.e. from weakness of the gluteal muscles) result in the hip moving in an abnormal and inefficient way. Over time this places excessive strain on the gluteal tendons as the hip moves when we walk or run.

Initially the tendons and other tissues around them respond by becoming thicker, due to chemical changes that are occurring inside the tendon. A thicker tendon is able to cope more with the compression it is under, but there is a downside. During the thickening process, the tendon fibres also become disorganised or deranged, leaving the tendon less able to cope with the force a muscle exerts on it when it contracts or ‘pulls’ on it. As the process continues the tendon becomes more and more degenerated and eventually the tendon is no longer able to adapt to the excessive forces acting on it and a tear can occur. A tear can be the result of an untreated tendinopathy.

Who does it affect?

In the active population, gluteal tendinopathy is commonly seen in athletes, like runners. It is also commonly seen in people who are inactive where the effect of de-conditioning leads to weakness and changes in the way we move. So, you are not safe from this injury even if you don’t regularly exert yourself!

Signs and symptoms

The main symptom is pain on the outside of the hip that comes on without any real obvious ‘injury’ or event. This pain then worsens over time and is usually brought on by weight bearing activities like walking, running and climbing stairs. As with many tendon injuries, you may feel pain at the beginning of an activity, with a lessening of pain as the activity progresses, and then a worsening of pain again after you finish. A common symptom of gluteal tendinopathy is pain experienced at nighttime when lying on the injured side. You may also feel pain that radiates down the thigh to the knee.

Treatment

The good news is if you seek treatment early in the injury process, you can avoid long term complications like tears, which are notoriously much harder to treat. Our advice to you is come and see us as soon as possible after you start to feel pain.

We are extremely well versed in treating gluteal tendon injuries and can get to work immediately. There is a good chance weakness in your gluteal muscles will have been a factor in the development of the injury, as well as a disengagement of the way the trunk, pelvis and legs act together as a unit. Strengthening exercises which focus on building muscle mass, as well as specific exercises to gradually re-load and strengthen the tendon to its full capacity will be key to your recovery. We will also have to re-train your movement patterns to ensure any abnormal movements are corrected. That way we can be sure when you return to your full training schedule, or whatever activity you want, we won’t be seeing you back for the same problem two months down the line.

We may use any number of treatment techniques to help you back to full fitness. These may include massage, joint mobilisation, dry needling and shockwave therapy. So, if you have hip pain, come and see us today – we can help.

Staying sane during isolation

Hello readers! We hope everyone is staying safe at this very crazy and uncertain time. We realise for a lot of our clients that life has changed drastically over the past weeks and months since COVID-19 has made its entrance to the world. Here at Physio For Women we have also been adjusting to some changes that have been instilled upon us in the healthcare world. We want you to know that we are still here and continue to work hard every day to ensure we uphold our high standard of care for all our patients.

This month we thought a focus on self-help advice during isolation was warranted. Trying to juggle working from home whilst looking after children and adjusting to being around partners and other family members 24/7 is a big task for anyone. We’ve highlighted a few key areas that are worth considering to keep on top of your health (and sanity) during isolation.

Home office set-up

If you are used to working in an airy and spacious office or other workplace, then being plunged into the world of working from home can come as quite a shock. Many of you won’t necessarily have the space or equipment at home to match your workplace, so taking some time to set up a space that works for you is worth it, to reduce the impact on your body. We suggest the following:

  • If you can make it work, set yourself up in a separate room like a study and designate the space for work only. If this is not possible, choose a corner of any room and make it your own. This will allow you the best chance to concentrate on work when you are there.
  • If you don’t have a desktop set-up and are working on a laptop, ensure it is on a table and avoid working on your lap. A table with a supportive chair is best, and try to break it up with periods of standing at the breakfast bar or kitchen work top. Boom… You have your very own sit-to-stand desk!

For a desktop set-up, follow these pointers to reduce stress on your body whilst working:

  • Ensure the top of your computer screen is level with your eyes, or just under
  • Sit upright with feet planted on the floor, arms relaxed by your side, and elbows bent at 90 degrees
  • Avoid cocking your wrists back during and between typing. Keep them relaxed.

Work routine

This is a must if you have children and other family members at home who you will be interacting with more than usual. Have some set times during the day when you try to focus on work. We realise this is not always possible with children, but have the routine in place and use it loosely. Children need attention and interaction (now we realise how much they get at school!), so set your expectations low and be fluid. Have the colouring pencils, craft box, toys and games at the ready and set the kids some tasks for when you are working. And if you really need to get some work done and it’s just not happening, it is OK to allow the kids to watch TV or a movie for a few hours. Unusual circumstances may mean unusual routines for a while. Children are resilient and will bounce back from these changes… Everything in moderation.

Ensure you give yourself regular breaks from screen time to have a stretch, move the body, and give the brain a rest. We recommend getting up from your workstation every 30 minutes.

Family routine

You might be finding it tough being around the family 24/7. This is natural and don’t feel bad about it. It’s a good idea to set out some ground rules, particularly if you have to work on a daily basis. Everyone has a role to play to make sure the household cogs keep moving smoothly. One family member can do the washing, another can stack the dishwasher, etc… On top of this, allow time to get out and exercise and make sure you have alone time as well. Being around family can be challenging, especially when you are used to being at work for eight hours a day normally.

Seek out physio when needed

This is an important one. We realise it has not been as simple with booking appointments and getting that face-to-face time with us. But if you have any aches or pains that are not responding to exercise, stretching and other self-help remedies, then please get in touch. We are still open but are working to limited hours. We also have strict screening and hygiene protocols in place, and this is to ensure the safety of both you and us. Call us today on 08 8443 3355.

We wish all our clients the very best during this difficult time. Please practice social distancing, good coughing and sneezing etiquette, and wash your hands regularly with soap or alcohol hand sanitiser. These are still the best measures in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

We will get through this!

Lower back pain and lumbar disc bulge

Hello readers! This month we are going to talk to you about a common low back complaint. Let us paint you a picture. You’re a busy mum that tackles the same daily challenges of getting the kids through their morning routine, school drop off, housework and a day job. It’s hard work, not to mention having this niggly, nagging low back pain to deal with at the same time. Sound familiar?

It’s a scenario we are all too familiar with here at Physiotherapy for Women. We see so many busy mums who are struggling with low back pain, but are just so caught up in the daily grind that they don’t find the time to come get checked out. Usually the pain carries on for some time, then one day they’ll bend down to tie up a shoelace and bang… Crippling pain! It’s often at this stage that people come to the clinic barely able to move and in a very distressed state.

So what has happened?

The scenario of long-standing low back pain followed by a single episode of acute pain (often following a seemingly trivial movement) is common with a lumbar disc bulge. Let us explain what it is, how it happens, and what we can do to help get you back to being super mum again.

The spine is broadly made up of bones called vertebrae and discs that sit between them. The discs are responsible for allowing movement, whilst being strong enough to hold the vertebrae together. They also act as shock absorbers for the varying forces that our body must withstand on a daily basis when we move. Each disc has an outer and inner section. The outer section is a tough and fibrous material (aka the ‘Anulous Fibrosus’ or AF), whilst the inner section is more gel-like (aka the ‘Nucleus Pulposus’ or NP).

A lumbar disc bulge occurs when the NP pushes through the AF and the disc material moves into a space in the spine that it would not normally reside in. This causes inflammation and depending on the severity of the bulge, can press on nerves that run down to the legs. It’s important to point out that discs don’t just spontaneously bulge for no reason. The NP will slowly push through the AF over a long period of time (hence the long standing niggly pain), usually because we have spent this time doing lots of bending and lifting (who doesn’t with kids, right?!), which places high amounts of stress on the discs. Then there is the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ moment when things turn worse suddenly (in the example above, it was the tying of shoelaces).

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a disc bulge will depend greatly on the level of the spine that is affected. Most commonly, it affects the lowest two discs in the spine. The nerves that exit the spine at each level have a specific role and will run down to serve different parts of the legs. Broadly speaking, you may experience any or all of the following:

  • Low back pain (especially when bending and sitting)
  • Pain that travels down one or both legs
  • Pins and needles, tingling or numbness down the legs
  • Weakness with certain leg movements

A severe disc bulge can lead to more serious signs and symptoms which include problems with your bowel, bladder and sexual function. These are rare but can occur.

Treatment

Recovery from a disc bulge usually takes 3-6 months, depending on the severity. That doesn’t mean you’ll be in pain for that long. Generally speaking, the acute pain from a disc bulge will start to settle within a few days to a week. Inflammation is a process the body goes through when injury occurs and it is vital for our recovery. So the early stages will definitely be the worst, but the good news is things will start to feel better quite quickly with some treatment and by following some simple rules. Coming to see us early on is important because we can educate you from the word go. It is normal in the early stages of an injury like this for people to want to stop everything, including moving, through fear of injuring themselves further. However, it is very important to keep moving! The worst thing you can do is to lie down on a lounge and do nothing all day. They say motion is lotion, and that’s true when it comes to disc bulges. Doing things like heavy lifting and bending is off the cards to begin with, but walking and mobilising the spine regularly is allowed and encouraged.

The injury will have left you with restricted joints and muscle tightness. We will use massage and joint mobilisation techniques to free you up and get you moving again. We will also give you some exercises to start following which we will progress slowly. These will aim to restore full movement to your spine and limbs, muscle tension to normal levels, and strength to the trunk and limb muscles that have been affected.

Many mums we see with this issue have poor core stability, most likely stemming from pregnancy and poor movement and breathing over the years. Being unable to stabilise through the trunk and pelvis during movement will have been the main reason the disc has bulged in the first place. So, it is natural for there to be some core strengthening needed for full recovery and to reduce risk of re-injury in the future. Over time we will start to re-introduce full movement, including bending and lifting. But this time round you’ll be moving well and safely.

If you have low back pain, we recommend you come to see us at the earliest possible convenience. Don’t wait for the big bang as recovery will be longer. Give us a call today on 08 8443 3355.