HANCOCK - Physical therapy is a treatment option commonly associated with restoring one's full range of motion after injury, however, it's also a natural solution for treating conditions unique to women.
"Diagnoses like pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence, lower-back pain and we can treat sexual dysfunction," Dr. Stephanie Peterson said. "A lot of people don't know that physical therapists treat this area."
Peterson, who is the newest addition to Portage Health's medical staff, is a women's health physical therapist, specializing in the evaluation and treatment of pelvic pain, abdominal dysfunction and pelvic floor dysfunction. Originally from Houghton, Peterson will begin seeing patients Monday.
"My goal is to provide care in a comfortable, non-intimidating environment, so patients can live without the fear of leakage or pain with daily activities," she said. "I truly believe in this alternative and look forward to getting to work."
Among the list of women's health issues, Peterson said the most common cases involve patients experiencing urinary incontinence, or urine leakage, and pelvic organ prolapse.
Prolapse, she said, is when one or more organs inside the pelvis slip from their normal positions. Urinary incontinence occurs when structures that hold urine in the bladder become weak. Medical evidence shows physical therapy can treat patients with either condition, she said.
"Kegel exercise is commonly used as treatment because you need to strengthen the pelvic floor," she said. "A lot of people, when they're told to Kegel exercise, will compensate with a different muscle instead of that small group of muscles they should be using."
Women typically experience incontinence by the age of 60, Peterson said, however, the condition is common with young athletes as well.
Peterson said many women are uncomfortable talking to their doctor about incontinence, and unfortunately, they end up dealing with the condition rather than treating it.
In some cases, it can affect their quality of life.
"You start not going out into the community and spending more time on the couch," she said.
"It affects the whole family. It can also lead to additional orthopedic problems and muscle issues."
For that reason, she said it's important women know there is a treatment available and they don't have to live with it.
"It's a pretty big deal that people don't know about," she said.
Patients are required to have a doctor's referral before they make an appointment, Peterson said, and the patient evaluation is similar to a general orthopedic examination.
In addition to acquiring general intake information the process may involve asking the patient to keep a bladder/bowel diary.
"That's to help me get an idea of how much fluids they're taking in, what they're eating," she said.
Medical technology such as a biofeedback machine or an electrical stimulation unit, may be utilized during a patient's visit depending on the condition.
The biofeedback machine, she said, can be attached to muscles on the inner thighs or buttocks to determine if the muscles are firing when they should or should not be. The e-stim unit uses electrical stimulation to help muscles fire if the patient cannot do it on their own.
"I had a patient who was not able to voluntarily contract the pelvic floor and she was experiencing urinary incontinence," Peterson said. "What we did was give her a home unit and she was able to strengthen those muscles."
Patients are also provided with instructions for various exercise regimens they can do in the privacy of their home.
"(Treatment) is very much home-based because they just really need to strengthen the pelvic floor," she said. "People with chronic pelvic pain or sexual dysfunction, a lot of it is just learning how to manage it and how to treat yourself so you don't have that pain."
For more information, visit portagehealth.org/womenspt/ or call 483-1750.