Space Aliens and Your Pelvic Floor

This is a follow up to Not Smelling Like R. Kelly’s Sheets. So if you haven’t read it, go back into my archives and enjoy, or be horrified. The choice is yours. 

In April I started physical therapy for my pelvic floor. I made my appointment. The receptionist asked for my email to send me a “packet” that I would need to read and complete before I arrived. It was 16 pages. It included a detailed bladder function diary, and details about what to expect. There were multiple references to vaginal and/or rectal sensors (AKA alien rectal probes) for biofeedback and electrical stimulation. I decided I should stop reading or I’d cancel the appointment. I figured this would be invasive, but had not considered the potential for probes of any kind.

I tried to keep an open mind. I’ve had a baby and all sorts of modesty and respectability go out the window in that experience. I’m not particularly shy anyway. It would be fine. Clinical and fine. My physical therapist was bubbly and chatty and very passionate about the pelvic floor. She had just returned from a conference on the subject and loved to educate her clients. She also informed me she tried not to use probes (not an alien in disguise). Thank the sweet baby Jesus.

She took a brief history of my life and lifestyle. Focusing on the late in life baby, 18 months of breastfeeding, my activity level, and being a homecare nurse for most of my career. Then she looked at me sternly and said, “You have to stop power peeing”. I’d never heard the term, but I knew exactly what it meant and I had no idea how to stop. It’s the way I pee. Is there another way to pee? Apparently there is. You’re not supposed to use your muscles to shove the urine out of your body as fast as possible. You’re actually supposed to sit there, relax and let gravity do its trick. Who knew?

In a nutshell, I have a chronically overworked pelvic floor. She likened it to lifting a fork to my mouth with the same effort I’d use to curl a 25 lbs weight. Tension to task. It makes sense. My pelvic floor is locked up. I need to relax my vagina.

She would apply tension to my pelvic floor muscles (use your imagination) and I was supposed to relax them and then tense them for five seconds. I couldn’t do either without a lot of focus and coaching. When I tried to contract the muscle I could only hold it for 2-3 seconds. It’s like I have a level of constant tension that makes me already fatigued and unable to increase that tension. My pelvic floor is a hot mess. 

This woman was the most enthusiastic vagina expert I’d ever met. She gave me article after article and recommendation after recommendation for my tissue health and hormone balance. I actually bought a product she recommended called V-magic, and all of the affected parties in my house found it pleasant. She was a wealth of information and seemed to delight in the many ways I was a textbook case of jacked up pelvic muscles. 

  1.  I started ballet when I was three and have been in some type of athletic activity most of my life. She would laugh and say “this is why I like to stay fluffy” and pat her voluminous lower abdomen. “All that muscle tension is bad for you”.
  2. I’m a woman. We are perpetually sucking in our stomachs to impress stupid boys, who quite frankly are plenty excited by an ounce of flesh. I don’t know why we try so hard.
  3. I had a baby and breastfed for 18 months. The hormone swings of pregnancy followed by breast feeding relax some important muscles, and it makes you feel like all your organs are going to fall out through your pelvis. Naturally you lock up a little to decrease that horrible sensation. Apparently I never stopped. 
  4. I had a second pregnancy and had to end it because the baby implanted in my Fallopian tube and not my uterus. This is a sudden death scenario for all parties, unless it’s discovered in time. Our baby didn’t stand a chance, but I would survive if we ended the pregnancy. It was either that or bleed to death, so the choice was pretty obvious. However,  the hormone swings of being pregnant to suddenly not being pregnant did a number on my tendons and ligaments. They loosened for pregnancy and then had to tighten right back up. All of this action threw off my pelvic floor, once again. 
  5. I’m a nurse. To be clear, I’m a homecare nurse. Ask any nurse or teacher and they will tell you they don’t pee. So not only am I in a profession dedicated to bladder retention, I upped my game by working out of my car. I don’t like to pee in patients homes, so I look for gas stations, churches, relatives homes on my route and so on. If I had a patient in Redfeather or by the Wyoming border, forget about it. I can hold my bladder like Hercules and I release it the same way. I’m a power pee-er. All very bad things. 

It’s pretty deflating to find out that you don’t pee right. It makes you wonder what else you think you’ve had figured out since toddlerhood and are completely jacking up. I probably don’t walk right either and am systematically disintegrating my joints every step I take. Evolution at its finest. #weaklink

I think I saw her weekly for 6 weeks. She gave me homework and asked if my husband would be willing to help. I laughed and said he’d be delighted. She said you’d be surprised how many men are uncomfortable helping their wives do these exercises. That baffled me. Who are these men??? My husband is not big on PDA. If you see us in public you’ll think he finds me completely unattractive. Don’t let him fool you, when we are alone he expects to be treated like my personal stripper pole. 

I was doing pretty well for a while, but then summer came and vacations and other distractions. I kind of ignored all I’d learned and drifted back to my locked up pelvic ways. Muscle memory is a bitch. It hit home a few weeks ago at CrossFit when we did something in the warm up and I felt the drip I hadn’t felt in months. “Damn it, I deserve that” was all I could think. I told Garry I needed to get back to my exercises. He was elated. 

Sadly, it was probably a bit too little too late, because within a week I had horrible hamstring and calf pain. This pain eventually worsened from soreness to nerve pain, numbness and tingling from hip to foot. I also developed a limp and felt as if my muscles weren’t firing right.  This is when it sucks to be a nurse. We get the slightest odd sensation, and we will find a terminal illness to go with it. We are amazing players in this mind game of terror. I was pretty sure it was sciatica, but I was also considering a deep vein thrombosis, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and a brain tumor.

Life has taught me that early intervention is key. I went from mild to aggressive treatment in a matter of days. Acupuncture didn’t fix it on Monday. Urgent care’s muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories didn’t fix it on Tuesday. By Thursday it was clear I was getting worse and not better. So I limped my poor broken ass to the emergency department. The PA who saw me was clear I wasn’t dying. I did have a bulging or slipped disk and needed a higher dose of steroids followed by physical therapy. He said I could swim, but no bending, twisting or lifting more than 30lbs for two months. I took that to mean no CrossFit. 

At this point we were two weeks into the CrossFit open, and surprisingly I was bummed I wouldn’t finish. It’s surprising because I didn’t ever want to be in the damn open. I didn’t sign up for it. So, it was a mystery when I received an email welcoming me into the CrossFit open. The open is the annual ritual of separating the men from the boys, so to speak. It’s composed of a series of 5 particularly grueling workouts over a five week period. You get to log these workouts for the world. They have the prescribed workout and a scaled workout option.  I don’t need the open to show me or the world how I rate, but other athletes think it’s fun, my husband is one of them. He thought it would be even more fun to do it together. He’s romantic like that. I did a great deal of bitching, and even cried while making dinner one night. “You don’t know how much I scale things already! I can’t do the open scaled workouts, I know I can’t.” I knew I’d suck at the open. Sciatica should have been a welcome reprieve, but I really hate not finishing something I started even if I’d make a lousy showing. 

At my first PT appointment the therapist started right in on how strengthening my pelvic floor will be my ticket to recovery and maintaining good spine health. Damn it! The pelvic floor again! She didn’t make any mention of probes, but did give me some hints and exercises to relax and strengthen the muscles (no probes needed). 

Currently, I’m on day four of my steroid burst and I’m feeling a little violent. One more day and I’m off them. I’m trying to mitigate becoming a danger to self and others for the next 48 hours. I’m planning on swimming tomorrow and I’ll bring up the stationary bike next time I see the physical therapist. My limp is lessened, although still present. 

When push comes to shove, I’m shallow-vain-girl. It’s important to me that I age well. I know CrossFit is great for my muscle mass and bone density. It promotes mobility and balance and all the other wonderful things. More importantly, I love the way I look. All the things that weren’t so high and tight are getting higher and tighter. In the next two months I’m terrified my boobs will sag. I was going to put my membership on hold, but in discussions with the manager we agreed to let it ride. I used to work with her at a rehab hospital and I trust her with my spine (and boobs). They have worked with injuries more significant than mine. It is surprisingly possible to scale a workout more than I already do. My one claim to fame might be that I can scale the shit out of any workout. Like.no.other. 

I’m going to get past the acute part of this injury and live a life dedicated to my pelvic floor health. My grandmother lived to age 105, so I really do need to be kinder to my body parts. If you have my genetics and are looking down the barrel of a long life. You should probably do all you can to ensure prolonged quality of life or that long life is going to suck ass. Unless you are one of the fortunate individuals to experience alien abduction complete with rectal probing. I am now convinced that these benevolent space creatures are deeply concerned for our pelvic health and maintenance. If I have learned anything this year its that a functional pelvic floor appears to be central to species survival, or at least mine.

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