June is Pelvic Organ Prolapse Awareness Month, and I wanted to share my personal experience with pelvic organ prolapse (POP), and my return to sport and training. I know from personal experience that the diagnosis of prolapse is just as much about emotional recovery as it is the physical. I know that many women see this diagnosis as a “death” sentence for returning to their life before baby, but everyone needs to know that this just isn’t the case.
My daughter was born at home, in the water, and in the caul. It was a beautiful and easy birth, and I spent those first few days in pure bliss. Compare this to my son’s birth 3 years prior – 27 hours of back labor, 3 hours of pushing, and one 3+-degree tear that required surgical repair. I got my precious first born from that experience, but the birth of my daughter was heaven compared to my first experience. I thought that nothing could go wrong… until about 4 days after she was born. I have been feeling some heaviness, and upon inspection, I saw something sitting at the opening of my vagina. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be there, and I also knew from my doula and midwife training that it was most likely a prolapse.
I called my midwife right away and arranged to come and have it assessed. She confirmed that I had a prolapse and referred me to a local Women’s Health Physical Therapist for further treatment. My PT was wonderful, but the new was devastating to me. I have the trifecta of prolapses – cervix, rectum, and bladder. Moderate grades, but enough to impact my life. I was devastated! Hope was I supposed to do the work that I loved? Get back to my rowing? Play with my kids? Be intimate with my husband? My life came crashing down and I turned to the internet looking for support, help, guidance — anything that could assure me that my life would return to normal. I didn’t find much. And so I decided to find my own answers.
What I found was the healing a prolapse and returning to my active life and sport wasn’t much different than how I treat my athlete clients with sports injuries. It required manual therapy, rehabilitation and corrective exercises, proper nutrition, and counseling. This was something I could wrap my head around. So I trained. I trained for my own recovery – I prepared a rehabilitation plan for myself that got me back to feeling normal again and enjoying life. It took about a year, but I have basically fully returned to my pre-pregnancy level of training. I can run without leaking or heaviness. I can lift heavy weights and a scull overhead without needing a pad. I can play with my kids without incidence. And I can be intimate with my husband without pain. Is my prolapse completely healed? No. Do I have occasional setbacks? Yes. But, the key piece here is that my pelvic floor is functional again and armed with new training techniques, I can once again participate in life as I’ve always enjoyed.
During this journey back to sport, I researched, participated in new education programs, and learned some valuable lessons along the way. I found that had to reclaim my own life and be responsible for my healing, in order to get back to the sports and activities that made me feel alive! The key is to arm yourself with the tools necessary to get you back to your life, to your sport, and to your family.
In that spirit, I wanted to share the top 5 tools that I used with my clients to help them reclaim their lives and rise above their POP diagnosis:
Seek out a Women’s Health Physical Therapist
Whether you’ve just discovered that you might have a prolapse or have known for years, a WHPT can be the foundation to your healing program and return to sport. Find one who you connect with, because you need to be able to let go and make a connection in order to heal. I personally went to a more holistic-minded PT who was able to perform both physical and emotional releases that truly helped me to heal. And what I found was that much of what caused my prolapse was due to my first birth, and that I had not totally recovered from the trauma that I had experienced.
Other, more traditional physical therapist will do some of the physical releases, but will combine that with some exercises geared toward re-establishing the function of the pelvic floor.
Invest in yourself.
I think this is the key to healing. You have to commit to your healing if you want to get back to activity. This means listening to your body and accepting any limitations it has. It means being patient and trusting in the healing process. This last part is the downfall for many athletes and what keeps them out of commission longer. You must do the rehabilitative work in order to literally rebuild the foundation of your body. If you do not, you will continue to experience setbacks in your training that will ultimately keep you from your sport and daily activities. As with any injury, you must progress your activity and return slowly to allow the tissue to adapt and strengthen. If you’re experiencing leaking, pain, bulging, or heaviness while you’re exercises, these are signs that you’re overdoing it and it’s time to step back. And remember that you will have good days and bad days. Respect your body – if you’re “hanging low” (as I call it) one day, it isn’t the time to go for a run or lift heavy weights. I always remind my athletes that healing an injury is like a little dance – you take two steps forward, followed by a step back. This is normal. This is just how it work. Pushing through with the idea of getting back to activity faster usually only ends in regression. You have to find the sweet spot in intensity that promotes healing and strength, but doesn’t tip over to re-injury.
Seek a qualified professional.
Whether you choose to hire a trainer or coach, or are searching online for information, make sure the personal helping you is trained in pelvic floor issues. Here’s a hint – most trainers and coaches are not. This is not something that is covered in either college classes or traditional certification courses. There are techniques to lifting, running, and other activities that must be learned in order to perform well and without issue. And performing a constant kegel or bracing the abs are not these techniques. These common suggestions can actually make things worse! Just as you wouldn’t hire a swimming coach to train you for a marathon, don’t hire a trainer who isn’t thoroughly educated in the specifics of training someone with a prolapse. If nothing else, the trainer who you hire should have a relationship with a Women’s Health PT and is willing to collaborate with them on developing a training program for your unique needs.
Eat to heal.
When we train in our sport, we do so with a specific outcome in mind. And we also tailor our diets to fuel our bodies in order to attain that goal. The same approach should be used when healing our pelvic floors. We need to eat to encourage healing and avoid foods that could make the condition worse.
The primary focus in our nutrition is to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet. While there are many different versions of this out there, the key components include are a plant-based diet focusing on unprocessed foods that are low in sugar and high in fiber. This doesn’t mean vegetarian, but we want to focus on foods that will reduce constipation and bloating, which in turn will decrease excess pressure on our pelvic floor tissues and promote healing. In addition, we can look at simple supplements to fill in the gaps in our diet. Supplements like Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Calcium, and Omega-6 have been shown to support muscle function and tissue healing. If you’re not getting your daily allotment of these in your diet, then supplementation might be helpful. Another supplement that is getting attention lately is animal gelatin and collagen supplements. While there is limited research in this area, there is some evidence showing that collagen supplements (either in powder or bone broth), can benefit some women who are healing both pelvic floor prolapse and diastasis recti. Finally, make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet. Just like we need protein to help in rebuilding our muscles after training, we also need sufficient protein to help heal injury to our muscles, as in the case with POP.
Find your tribe.
I believe one of the most overlooked aspects of POP is the emotional healing that must occur. The reality of this condition is devastating for many women, who feel very alone and misunderstood. It’s not a topic that you’re likely to bring up in casual conversation with friends. My husband is wonderful, but he failed to understand the depression that I fell into in the months following my diagnosis. If we don’t find a way to express our emotion and concerns surrounding our condition, then we cannot fully heal.
Luckily in the past 3 years, there have been an increased focus on this need, and more and more online support groups are available. Facebook has a few wonderful communities where women are coming together to discuss the highs and lows of their journey. Someday I hope to have a local support group where women training with POP can come together, but until that time I have some other suggestions. If you can connect with someone local, that would be the first choice. Schedule time to meet up for coffee and conversation, or even to train together know that you have similar restrictions. If this isn’t possible, reach out to find an online buddy. Again, share your ups and downs, what rehab and training programs are working for you, and anything else that you need to emotionally heal. Finally, reach out to your husband or partner and explain the support you need. Once I did that with my husband, he was able to have a better understanding of my fears regarding intimacy, and my low points when I felt like I was regressing in my rehab. Part of our primary nourishment in health is our social community and friends. If we don’t have this, we cannot fully heal and live. It’s an uncomfortable step for many of us, but it’s a needed step. So reach out and find your healing tribe.
BONUS: Start reclaiming your life TODAY with my FREE Daily RE-Boot Download. I give you 6 Simple Exercises to help improve your core and pelvic floor function and get you back to the activities that you love – all in just 1 minute a day!
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Have you found something the really allowed you to heal and reclaim your life, in regards to sport and activity? Head on over to our Facebook or Instagram pages and please share. Or, post a comment below. I always love adding more tools to my collection, especially when they come from my clients and followers!
Looking for help in your own journey back to your sport? Beth offers online private consultations and customized program design. Contact her for more information!