After more than 20 shots and two surgeries, I’d given up hope that I’d ever have relief. Suffering from endometriosis, I sort of came to terms that pelvic pain was now a part of the norm for me.

Kristen Barnhardt

That was until I was introduced to pelvic physical therapy.

I know what you’re thinking, it doesn’t sound like a real thing – I was thinking that too.

I associated physical therapy with sports injuries or rehabilitation after a surgery, and that was about it.

My doctor brought up pelvic physical therapy and I was referred to a pelvic physical therapist at Novant Health Rehabilitation Center.

During my eight appointments, I learned that pelvic physical therapy can help a lot of conditions.

It's not just for women

I’ve seen the countless adult diaper commercials and heard women joke about peeing when they laugh. Apparently, urinary leakage is something to just accept these days. It shouldn’t be.

Pelvic physical therapy can help with many conditions, including urinary urgency or frequency, bowel conditions, chronic pelvic pain and painful intercourse, as well as helping patients before and after some surgeries.

Sandy LaComa

Sandy LaComa, a physical therapist and pelvic rehab specialist with more than 20 years of experience, works with women and men of all ages.

"Pelvic rehab isn't just for older women or people of a certain age. My practice is a mix of men and women," LaComa said. "Some therapists specialize in working with children who have bowl or bladder issues that continue beyond potty training. Teens and young adults may develop pelvic pain, too. We also see people before surgeries like a prostate removal to train men how to coordinate their muscles (or Kegel), something they've never had to think about before. In fact, pre-hab has been shown to be more beneficial than treating someone after a surgery."

Pregnant women can also get help both during and after pregnancy. "Prenatal and postpartum care can help prevent chronic problems from developing," LaComa added.

Pelvic physical therapists work with patients to develop a treatment plan. The ultimate goal, LaComa said, is to help them manage their condition on their own.

How it helped me

In my case, and often with patients suffering from chronic pelvic pain, the weekly sessions last about 45 minutes. Because when people are in pain, their body is constantly in a fight or flight response where they are tense. I jokingly call it the “permanent Kegel.”

To alleviate the constant tension associated with pelvic pain, pelvic and occupational therapists try to coax the body out of that fight or flight mode through various massages, exercises and stretches.

Like with most physical therapy, I was walked through some “homework exercises,” simple moves and stretches I could do at home.

Thankfully, I found relief before I had any other major issues. And I went from skeptic to believer after five years of chronic pain came to a halt.

It’s all about the process

Patients don’t need a referral to see a pelvic physical therapist. And many insurances cover the sessions, but be sure to ask upfront.

Treatment is usually just a few visits, though LaComa said chronic conditions may require more visits.

"The goal is to find or fix the underlying cause of the problem," she said. "This can help relieve pain or leakage, and ultimately, we teach people how to manage it on their own."

If you think this might improve your quality of life, have a conversation with your doctor about pelvic physical therapy as a potential solution.